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Leah Herder

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Leah Herder was born in Changde, China in 1996. In 1997, she was adopted by an American couple. She grew up in Ohio and Wisconsin and studied at the University of Minnesota.

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00:06:14

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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My name is Leah Mahaney Herder, and I am a queer transracial adoptee living in the United States of America. I am one of China’s lost daughters, and this is my story. I come from Changde, a city of nearly six million people in the Hunan province of the People’s Republic of China. I was adopted when I was eleven months old, just shy of my first birt hday. I have no information about where I was left or found, or the circumstances that led to my adoption. According to the United States government, my birthday is September 24, 1996, but I’ll never know when I was actually born. My “gotcha day,” or the day I was legally adopted, is August 27, 1997. My mother and father decided to adopt me after seeing an advertisement broadcasting the plight of little Chinese orphans, and traveled to China to take me home. We all1 returned to Florida as a group of three and rejoined my older brother, making us a family of four. I knew that I was different from the beginning, simply because I didn’t look like my family. My parents were always very open and honest with me about the fact that I was adopted, and enrolled me in classes with other Chinese adoptees. Three years later, I gained two younger siblings-Lauren, who was also adopted from China, and Jack, who was born biologically to my parents. My entire family moved across the country to Ohio, and then to Middleton, Wisconsin. I spent the next twelve years of my life in Middleton. During middle school, I began to question everything I had held true about myself. I began to wonder about who I was, what I stood for, and what I wanted to do with my life. I joined my school’s Gay Straight Alliance, or GSA, shortly after starting high school. I began to do some activist work surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, and participated in events like Day of Silence, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and Words Hurt Week. Through this group, I was able to attend a camp called Leadership Training Institute, or LTI, during August of 2014. LTI was a camp for high school LGBTQ+ activists in Wisconsin, and was one of the most monumental experiences concerning my identity that I have had in my life. Prior to this camp, I had been questioning my sexuality, but couldn’t come out or choose a label to identify myself. LTI gave me the courage and knowledge I needed to truly define myself in a way I felt comfortable with. Queer!! One of the activities at this camp was a race based caucus, and there ended up being a Queer Asian Caucus. It was during this discussion that I felt that I had finally found my community. It was my first time discussing and confronting the racism that I had experienced in my life, and the entire caucus was both healing and raw at the same time. This discussion was my first step in the journey of confronting the complexities of being a queer Asian. The people I met during this caucus became some of the most important people in my life. They were the first queer Asians I had met, the first people I knew who shared my identities, pains, anxieties, and experiences. I could talk to them about the racism I had experienced, and they validated my frustrations. It was very affirming to have this community of people who knew what it was like to be queer and Asian, and I began to feel less alone. Once I had figured out my queer identity, everything fell into place. I had a secure hold on who I was and what I stood for. I had been aware of the various injustices in the world, but only then began to realize that they had a personal effect on my friends and I. It became very important for me to fight for my rights and liberation, and I began to join queer activist groups with my friends. During my senior year of high school, I joined a queer theater group called Proud Theater. Proud Theater was a group for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies to share their own stories, since so often, our narratives are written without our permission.3.52 For the first time, I was able to tell my own story the way I had experienced it. Being able to write my own narrative was so empowering and healing, and being able to educate people about injustice was also a bonus. Proud Theater empowered me to continue sharing my story. During the spring of 2013, I traveled to China for the first time since I had been adopted. The adoption agency that had handled my adoption provided yearly trips for adoptees to go back to their birth country and volunteer at an orphanage similar to the ones that they had stayed at. I remember being very anxious about returning since I didn’t have any memories of my birth country, but I was still excited. That trip turned out to be one of the most important experiences in my life. I went into the trip expecting that I would feel an immediate connection with my birth country, but instead, I felt very foreign. I had become so Americanized that China didn’t recognize me anymore. That was a really difficult feeling for me, and almost pushed me away from reconnecting with my culture. But as I spent more time in China, I realized that the work it would take to return to my roots was worth it. This trip home influenced me to study Mandarin Chinese in college and to begin searching for my birth family. After returning to the US, I began to earnestly research the city I had come from, as well as any other information that would tell me more about my origins. I returned to China after my freshman year of college through a program at the University of Minnesota. I was again anxious, but this time, I knew what to expect. I learned a lot during this trip, and truly realized how disconnected I was from my culture. The time I spent there reignited my desire to learn more about where I came from. Right now, I am a student at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities studying political science and Mandarin Chinese. I know who I am, what I stand for, and what I want in life. There were so many obstacles in my journey to self discovery, and there were so many times when I wanted to give up. But all of the struggles were worth it because I can now live an authentic, honest life. It’s hard to be a queer Asian, but the most important thing I learned was that there are other people like me out there. And the sooner I found those people, the better my life became. I was one of China’s lost daughters, but I am coming home.