On Sharing


“You have nothing to prove, but everything to share.” – Ulysses Dove


Projecting so many of my personal frustrations and emotions in front of an audience through spoken word and dance was an incredibly overwhelming experience. The YDT Inheriting Ailey project was the most meaningful performance project that I have been a part of and I gave myself fully to it.


Sharing my personal story is a choice that many times I struggle with. Sometimes I feel like I am exploiting my experience as “this is what makes me unique.” Especially at a place like Yale, it is one way to distinguish myself. Other times, I feel like it is really no one’s business. Being adopted into a multi-racial family is not really that different. Except when it is.


While being an international adoptee is a very important part of my identity, it is not something that I think about often. I am lucky to be where I am today and I almost feel a moral obligation to focus on gratitude. I’ve written about my experience many times – and the thoughts and feelings behind those writings are genuine – but they have never shaken me to the core as this project as.


Given the opportunity to express my confusion, frustration, and sense of loss in such a public way, incorporating an art form that I have come to incorporate into my identity, was immensely emotional. After the performance I spent two hours on the phone crying while my mother talked to me. They weren’t really tears of a specific emotion but a combination of sadness, frustration, confusion, anger, happiness, love and relief. I was utterly overwhelmed.


After the performance I met Renee’s mother. She complimented me and told me that I performed so well I must be an actress. While the first few times I did have to consciously think about projecting and emoting, by the time of the live performances I was no longer acting. Everything I felt, I portrayed.


Unfortunately, I do not think I reflected upon the experience as much as I should have. I never fully processed my emotions. While I am proud of the work and flattered by the positive audience response, in a paradoxical way, the experience highlighted a sense of isolation for me. Although people have expressed how moving and powerful they found the dance, although we all shared in the experience of the production, it doesn’t change the fact that others will never truly understand my story.


Even though I was very conscience in what I wanted to share, I know not everyone took away from the performance the message I wanted to communicate. The most difficult take-aways from this project was coming to terms with the fact that I have no control over people’s perceptions and the ultimate isolation in my experience.


The opportunity to have a space in which I could explore these emotions, work with such talented and humble artists, and be truly valued as a dancer and human being is one that I will be forever grateful for. I am honored to have worked with Matthew, Renee, and my very talented peers. While I may not have affected people in the way I set out to, the project certainly affected me.


“You have nothing to prove, but everything to share.”

Thank you for letting me share.

Who Are My People? Where Is My Home?


The following is a collaborative piece by me (Hannah) and Luna.  We combined selections of our previous writings.  In creating the dialogue, our choices were specific in an effort to  convey key aspects of our experiences.  We performed the piece as spoken word within the ballet. 


Who are my people, where is my home?
Some diseases are left only for poor countries
And I was born in one so
For my own safety they had to vaccinate me against everything
The United States had already gotten rid of


Are you, rather are we, from Hangzhou? Sometimes I make up stories. I envision you, a shadow veiled by the darkness of the night, gingerly placing a bundle on what you hope will be a well-traveled path. You don’t look back. I choose to believe that your decision was a wish for a brighter future. Maybe there was a death in the family, or maybe money was tight. But likely I was an accidental extra past the One Child Policy quota, or I wasn’t the son you desperately desired. I am one of China’s lost girls, found along a fisherman’s path as if delivered by stork: no family history, no time of birth, no name.


they slipped cold metal into my skin before I had even boarded the plane
Needles, science
had to protect me from this heat, from these tropical monsoons
protect me from these brown skinned people from
Papaya fertility, mango-sweet acidity
These people with their coconut tree resiliency
these poor people


Some have debated my American-ness with a slight tug at the corner of their eyes, while still, others have tried to undermine my Chinese roots. Why do they think they know more about me than I do?


At night, when I flip through my thousand-page history textbook and find the Philippines mentioned twice, I crave mangos. Sometimes, the hallways of my school and bright eyes of my peers recall other eyes, other places, old eyes in thin faces, children threading through honks and exhaust selling sweet smelling sampaguitas, the highways of Metro Manila.


In search of answers, I returned to China. There I realized the could-have-beens and would-have- beens that I taste in duck tongues and hear in bicycle chains are simply snapshots fluttering in the breeze. I can chase these photos, maybe even catch a few, but they will never be a motion picture. Standing at the gate of my orphanage 18 years later, there was no grand welcome home. When I finally approached the guard, his eyes scanning across my face, I could hear the whirring in his brain as he seemed to read what everyone seems to read: “Foreigner.”


Who are my people?  Where is my home?


Finding Belonging & Feeling Good


As I watched Renee Robinson effortlessly transition between beautiful lines, a knot began to form in my gut.  The section of Blues Suite that she was about to teach us was extremely technical and I was worried.


Growing up, I actively avoided ballet.  Ask any dancer and they will tell you that this is not a very good strategy.  A solid technical foundation will serve you well in almost every style.


It took we a while to find my niche in the dance world, but I eventually did.  I never saw Asian dancers, my short athletic build is not the idealized dancer body, and my flexibility is severely lacking.  My feet are flat.  My turn out is minimal.  Yet some how I made do.  In high school I was introduced to modern dance and explored a lot of experimental and pedestrian-based movement.  I realized that dancing is so much more than high kicks and many turns, its about musicality, movement quality, and expression.  Most importantly, it’s about feeling good.


Against all odds, “Inheriting Ailey” makes me feel good.


On top of feeling self conscious about my flexibility and balance (which comes and goes), listening to the rich cultural context of the Ailey Company during the symposium made me question how I fit into a narrative that celebrates and honors African American history.  Is this ballet for me?  How in the world will I be able to do this piece justice with neither the strong technique nor cultural understanding?  How can I follow in the footsteps of megastars in the dance world?


And yet, performing the piece makes me feel beautiful.  Renee has a talent for making every dancer feel valued.  Her confidence in my ability has heightened my confidence in myself.  Furthermore, focusing my energy into musicality, movement quality, and expression has produced work that I am proud of.  I have found that when I am able fit into the pockets of the music and am able to add layers of texture and emotion to the movement, my body not only performs but also communicates.


While this project is exploring inheritance, diversity, beauty, and love individually, it is also unintentionally spurring their interrelation. By inheriting love, I have found beauty in my diversity.  As tiring and challenging as the work is, it makes me feel.  And that feeling is good.



June 2010.  China.  I hear the stiff intonations of Mandarin peck at my inner ear as I am engulfed in a crowd of Chinese people that resembles a spew of volcanic ash being puked from the Boeing 777-200ER.  For the first time in my life, I look like those who surround me.  In front of me stands Raven Hair, behind me Saffron Skin, right next to Chocolate Eyes, and Almond Lids.  Tina steers me though all these could-have-been-familiar faces as I try my best to keep focused and not get lost in place or mind.  Before I realize what has happened, I am sitting in the backseat of a car listening to the smiles and watching the frantic words of love and happiness exchanged between thin lips and small ears of mother and daughter, reunited after months of separation. 

Tina is an international student who lives in China.  I, like the other local day students, am a “day-walker,” affectionately called so by the boarding students. Tina and I met about ten months ago during one of the first few days of our junior year at a New England boarding school, an ivy-covered bubble nestled between stonewalls and grassy fields.  We both were surprised to learn that we were born in the same city.  Tina spent the Christmas holidays that December at my home.  She helped add tinsel to the tree, ate gołąbki and pierogi with my family on Christmas Eve, played with our kitties, and met my cousins, whose hair color matches their fiery personalities. She had gotten her dose of culture, and I was ready for mine.

I stare out the window at a sky of slate and listen to the bubble-gum pop music seeping through the radio.  “I love you,” “baby,” “we,” plopped throughout the Mandarin melodies.  My brain is too fried to try and catch any familiar words that Chinese II might have prepared me with.  It is my first time back in this city since 1994, when I was only seven months old, and I have no idea if anything has changed.

Throughout my childhood I had fantasized this trip many times. This journey would allow me to finally understand what kind of life I might have had if not for my abandonment and subsequent adoption into an American household as an infant.  I imagined walking the fisherman’s path where I may have or may have not been left swaddled with a thin red paper blotched with my supposed birthday.  I imagined looking into the eyes of passersby to find warmth and common history.  I imagined returning to the orphanage, where little old Asian women would smile at me and cry and pinch my cheeks.  They would say through the softness of their touch and wrinkled up faces, “We remember your chicken-leg thighs, your dumpling cheeks, the way you sucked your tongue.  My, how much you have grown.”   

Growing up I strongly believed that I was very much both Chinese and American, and God bless you if you tried to challenge me.  Many peers, and even strangers, tried to contest my culture and heritage.  Some would debate my American-ness with a slight tug at the corner of their eyes, others with a passing song of  “ching, chang, chong.”  Still, others tried to undermine my Chinese roots.  “You are American, and only American.  Your birth parents are not parents, only your adopted parents are.” What really bothered me, however, was not what they said or did, but the suggestion that they knew more about me than I did – that they could decide who my “real” parents were, what was considered my “real” hometown, if my sister was my “real” sister, and which race, culture, and ethnicity that I “really” belonged to.


It’s been a few days since I arrived back to my birth town.  My stomach rejected the duck tongue and jellyfish, and I am really craving a juicy barbequed burger.  My clothes melt to my skin, and I am still not used to the horns, exhaust, smoke, and stenches this city breathes.  I miss the chirping crickets, freshly mowed grass, and air conditioning of my rural home in the States.  Tina’s mom hangs up the phone and tells us that today is the day.  She cannot promise anything, but she is hopeful.

The sky is steel, the car ride is long, and I am anxious.  We have left the speeding buses, the curt voice blaring exercises to the school children, the innumerable threads of windows and doors, windows and doors, the metal clicks of bicycle chains, and the clouds of cigarette smoke.  We have left it all behind.  I, sitting in the back seat of a car on my way to the orphanage, am watching trees slide across my window and do not quite know what to think or how to feel. Tina and her mother are in the front seat.  Since I do not understand their rapid Chinese exchanges, I pass the time in thought.  My mother warned that the chances of actually getting in were low; she had talked to many peers who’d failed. Think rationally, I tell myself.  However, feelings of hopefulness bubble to the surface of my mind.  I’m with a native.   Surely she can argue our way in.

I leave the safety of the car, feet hitting the worn down pavement.  The searing molasses air intermingles with my sweat, and I am reminded of the two pouches that I keep hidden; one filled with paper money featuring Mao Zedong and Benjamin Franklin under my pink and purple plaid shorts, the other under my gray tank top with any official written document of my being: passport, birth certificate, the like.   From the latter, I supply Tina’s mother with pictures and documentation.

There is an official looking man sitting behind a window in his dirty uniform.  I study the powder blue painted acid-rinsed gates.  At their prime they may have looked nice, but now the metal’s tears of rust leave them weathered.  The two round painted flowers, one on each dilapidated door, mimic the hardened eyes of the government-paid guard.  Tina’s mother tries to reason with this man but her attempts are futile.  Although the orphanage has relocated, I am allowed no further than a couple feet within the gate to this abandoned building.  I see only the dull outline of a concrete structure somewhere on the horizon, concealed by misty gray fog, a fog I can’t seem to escape. 

We crawl back into the car, and the radio sighs “I love you,” “baby,” “we.”  As we drive to the new location of the orphanage, I try to decide if I will be disappointed if I can’t get in.  I was never present at this place as a baby.  The staff had probably all changed.  Would anyone remember me?  How would I feel looking upon the sweaty foreheads of unfamiliar babies, who like myself, are probably products of China’s one-child policy?  

We approach the newly built gate, and I can see at the end of the paved road a cutout Mickey Mouse, calling me in.  I snap a picture of myself standing beside a bilingual sign that reads “Children’s Welfare Institute.”  As I smile for the camera, I realize the could-have-beens and would-have-beens that I taste in duck tongues, hear in bicycle chains, and see in Tina and her mother are simply snapshots fluttering in the breeze.  I can chase these photos, maybe even catch a few, but they will never be a motion picture.  Half-knowing what’s to come, I walk behind Tina’s mother to approach the guard.  My eyes finally meet with his and I can hear the whirring in his brain, his eyes shifting across my face as he reads what everyone seems to read: “Foreigner.”