I cried during Somewhere Between, Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s poignant documentary about four adopted Chinese teenage girls growing up in America. It’s hard to be a teenager, it’s hard to be a teenage girl, and even harder when your identity is complicated by race and adoption.
Somewhere Between delves into the concepts of family, roots and parental love while exploring racism, transracial adoption, and who we are as people–nature and nurture.
When China instituted their “One Birth Policy,” in 1979, many families gave their girl babies up for adoption; it’s estimated over 80,000 girls joined new families around the world. Jenni (Fang), Ann, Haley, and Jenna, the four young women profiled, reach adolescence and confront the question
Who am I?
with complex emotions heightened by their differences from the world around them. Though raised by loving parents, they call themselves
bananas–yellow on the outside, white on the inside….scrambled eggs…a Twinkie
as they struggle to come to terms with issues of race, the culture that raised them, and the culture and families that discarded them because of their gender.
Haley, who lives in Nashville and wants to become the first Chinese to play fiddle at the Grand Ole Opry, competes in beauty pageants and is actively involved in her church. Her mother has founded a charity which provides clothing and funding for orphanages in China, and the family visits China frequently. While participating in CAL/Global Girls, a international friendship group for transracial adoptees, Haley is inspired to learn more about her birth family, eventually traveling to China and miraculously locating them.
Ann, who becomes friends with Haley through CAL/Global Girls, at first has no interest in meeting her birth parents, but through her experiences meeting other transracial adoptees, their parents and future parents, experiences a radical shift. The CAL/Global Girls meet with a critic of transracial adoption born in Korea and raised in the Netherlands who encourages the girls to look for their families before the records disappear.
Fang as she’s called at home — at school she prefers Jenni–was adopted when she was 5 and raised in Berkeley. She can still remember being left on a bus bench by her stepbrother when her family decided they could no longer raise her. Her American mother learned Mandarin so she could could communicate with Fang, while her father spoke English to her and her sister, who was adopted a few years later. Fluent in both English and Mandarin, Fang feels she’s a stranger in both China and America. While visiting foster care homes in China, Fang sees a little girl with cerebral palsy and over a period of years provides financial aid for the little girl, eventually facilitating in her adoption to a family with another CP Chinese child.
Jenna is driven to excel. When we meet her she is attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, plays ice hockey, is a competitive ice skater and the coxswain of the JV crew team. Standing out as a Chinese girl raised by white parents has made her really want to stand out even more. As the film progresses, she becomes more introspective, shifting from crew to yoga and skating to find her personal best. She also volunteers to work at the orphanage where she lived as an infant.
Somewhere Between demonstrates the love of families for their children–born and adopted–while exploring the need for the adoptees to discover who they are. The film also shows the impact of transracial adoption while giving an inside view of the adoption process through the eyes of the girls who went through it, as well as giving us a look into the cause and effects of the One Birth Policy. And most of all it is about families– Linda Goldstein Knowlton was inspired to make this film as she adopted her daughter Ruby, the film is dedicated to her.