Today’s post is VERY special. A client of mine who has become a friend (this happens often,) was born in Vietnam and was adopted by a white American family when she was very young. She had shared with me some struggles in reclaiming her cultural identity. I asked her if she would be interested in doing a cultural portrait in the studio as a special project. I was so inspired by her story, her strength, her resolve – and knowing her as a PERSON, she is a warrior through and through. So I knew I would have to photograph her that way.
I am incredibly proud of these images.
And now, I’m going to let her tell you her story. It’s completely inspiring and at the same time is very educational. I encourage you to read it, and share with me in celebration of this human being, and to learn more about interracial adoption and its impacts.
“My name is Chiến Binh Nhỏ. It means little warrior. One of the most important people in my life gave me this name. This wasn’t always my name. Many people who have seen my portraits by Jenn have known me as Brittany, as that is currently my legal name. Before Brittany, my name was Trần Thúy Hằng That was what the orphanage named me. Before that, the Woman Who Gave Birth to Me named me Trần Thị Lệ Thủy. For one person, those are a lot of names. Three out of the four were/are legal.
I was born in Vietnam and relinquished for adoption when I was born. I was adopted into a white family, raised by white people, and surrounded by white people my entire life. There were many times in my life where I desperately wanted to be white so I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. I didn’t have any Asian role models to look up to and there was no representation except for Mulan. I have often asked myself where I fit in this world- I am not white, and I am Asian, yes, but am I? The majority of society believes that adoption is an act of selfless love and that the adoptee should be grateful. That is one side. Adoption is not black or white; it is very complex, especially for transracial adoptees. I would like to preface that this is not “just” my experience, but many adoptee’s experiences. I always say that I speak on this topic because I speak for the children who were like me- no voice, scared of speaking up.
I did not grow up with my name, culture, language, or first family. The truth is, adoption is a trauma. My names, which at one point meant bright light on water or the beauty of the moon was changed to Brittany. I have struggled with identity for most of my life.
I am happy to say that i have started to reclaim my culture and my name at the age of 25. While Chiến Binh Nhỏ (this is just my first name, by the way, and you have to either say the whole name or Chiến Binh, not just Chiến) was not my name at the start of life, it is now my name. I have decided to change my entire name, where the meaning is: the little warrior who moved mountains and offered light, even on the darkest of days. I have survived adoption, amongst many other hardships and traumas. I am still standing, despite everything that has happened to me. Reclaiming my culture that was taken has been an exhausting journey, yet rewarding. I feel that the person who gave me this name has honored who I am, and I am honoring who I am by truly embracing my Vietnamese self.
When Jenn asked me if I would do this project to show, through art, my journey through adoption, I had to say yes. These photos really incorporates so much – me standing and posing as a warrior, with a traditional Vietnamese garment- an áo dài. The different backgrounds, both water (a symbol of my first two names), and almost like sunrise, which incorporates new name. I am very proud of my name (and so grateful to the person who gave me my name… the first name), proud of myself for embracing what has always been mine, and for being comfortable in this Vietnamese skin. I am so proud of Jenn’s hard work with the backdrops that she painted and her vision. And, I am proud of those who don’t shy around my name; they try, I correct them in a gentle way, they try again. I am also not fluent in Vietnamese, so while I feel imposter syndrome, my name is mine; my culture is mine. And, I hope that these portraits serve as some type of representation for some child out in the world; the representation I needed when I was younger.
I give many presentations on transracial adoption and trauma, so if you would like to learn more, please DM me.” – Chiến Binh Nhỏ