Meika Clarke was 13 months old in Jiangxi, China, when she was adopted by an Ontario family.
Now, more than 26 years later, she’s learning to connect with her Chinese heritage on Lunar New Year.
“I’ve never gotten the opportunity to celebrate my Chinese identity,” Clarke said.
Asian Adoptees of Canada (AAC), a non-profit which aims to help connect and support the Asian adoptee community within Canada, hosted a meetup Sunday to celebrate festivities in Toronto’s Chinatown.
Clarke was among more than a dozen adoptees from Korea and China who attended the event to meet one another, connect over traditional Chinese food and enjoy the street fair and dance festivities.
“It’s really nice to be surrounded by and supported and connected with people who are exploring their [own] sense of identity,” she said.
Clarke grew up in Sundridge, Ont., a small village in Parry Sound, north of Toronto with a population of just under 1,000 people.
Also known as Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year began Sunday, according to the lunisolar calendar. This year is the Year of the Rabbit — one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The holiday, which is observed by over a billion people worldwide, is celebrated by those of Chinese descent and East Asian cultures.
Clarke, who now is a social worker, moved to Toronto in August after living in Ottawa for eight years. She said the diversity in Toronto has allowed her to connect with other adoptees with a similar experience.
“Being able to go to events like these helps me have a better understanding of my Asian identity,” she said.
AAC president Leah Kim Brighton, an adoptee herself, said the purpose of the organization is to provide a space for adoptees to connect with each other.
“I think a lot of adoptees can feel really isolated in that experience because it is so distinct and unique,” Brighton said. “A lot of other people can’t really understand or identify with [it].”
Brighton was born in Korea and grew up in an orphanage. She was adopted by a family in Vancouver, B.C. just before her fifth birthday.
She said hosting cultural and social events both in-person and online has allowed adoptees to feel a sense of belonging while learning about their culture and community.
“The chance to celebrate part of their traditions and cultures and history is really important because I know certainly how important it was for me,” Brighton said.
Shelley Rottenberg was also born in China and adopted by a single mother at eight months old. Growing up in the Hamilton area, she said not seeing enough Asian representation made it difficult for her to connect with her Chinese culture.
“For the longest time, I struggled, [asking], ‘Where do I belong?'” said Rottenberg.
“I feel like with the adopted community finally feeling like this is a place where I 100 per cent belong and I don’t feel like I’m not Asian enough or not Jewish enough.”
Rottenberg said observing the Lunar New Year and looking into what the Year of the Rabbit means has helped personally connect her to the Chinese culture.
“We’re talking about how it means prosperity and peace [and] I feel like it helps to acknowledge it,” she said. “I do feel part of my culture and then it can set the tone for the the next upcoming year.”