Element #12 - Xiaoling Keller

Welcome back to our series! Sorry we got a little busy this past week, we needed to take a quick breather from all the hype during #WorldAdoptionDay! Do not worry, we have exciting things coming soon, so stay tuned! We cannot wait to continue our #ElementsofAdoption series and we're super pumped to present our next element, Xiaoling! She is all things AMAZING and we can't wait for you to learn her story!

XIAOLING KELLER -she/her(s) - Adoptee

Instagram - @xiaolingkeller and @adoptee_love

Special date: Birth certificate birthday: August 17, 1995 - Assumed to be real birthday - October 1, 1995

Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, my name is Xiaoling! I was adopted from Jiangxi, China in March of 1996 at the age of 6 months old. I was raised in the suburbs of New York City. I am currently living in South Carolina but I travel consistently around the United States.

I am a landscape and nature photographer. I love hiking, camping, backpacking and taking photos. I also just started the Instagram account @adoptee_love which focuses on adoptees sharing moments of loving their life and themselves. During NAAM, there's much more of a focus on uplifting adoptee voices speaking about their adoption but throughout the year, it will be more focused on moments of joy and love as a human experiencing life.

What is the biggest challenge you faced related to adoption?

I wish I had the language to talk about adoption when others would tell me what my life was like but instead, I'd just keep silent. When someone would say "you were saved", I would nod my head. I'd internalize that feeling of someone who had to be saved. Someone who owed my parents my life. Someone who owed it to society to be the best Chinese American possible, I wish I could have had a better response than just nothing. Because that response felt like I was keeping myself safe from critique but it was really damaging. It also told others that those comments were acceptable. That being said, I don't actually wish anything different because all of my experiences have made me the person I am today.

What do you wish people knew about adoption?

I wish people understood that adoption is complex. I grew up hearing "Your parents saved you" "You must be so grateful" "You should be grateful" "Your parents are so generous" "You could have died but you were given a second chance" "You...etc" Let adoptees come to their own conclusions about life. Nobody should tell others what their life is about and how they should feel. Adoption stories are all different.

Let adoptees tell you how they feel about it before you jump in and make conclusions. It can be beautiful, sad, amazing, traumatic, joyous...It's not just one thing.

What have you done to support the adoption community?

I love connecting with other adoptees and supporting their work. I've been inspired to create my own adoptee focused instagram account @adoptee_love because of everyone else. I've seen a lot of adoptees talking about their trauma, their healing, moments in life they enjoy without even mentioning adoption and I wanted to combine those stories onto one account. It's also an account that I wish I had seen when I was just coming out of the fog. I thought, will I feel sad and depressed forever? Now that I've seen adoption as trauma, will I always feel this angry and upset? But no, adoptees all have their own journeys. We all have moments of love and acceptance and light in our life. So I want one place where it's full of adoptees telling their stories of healing, self growth, love and acceptance.

How has your opinion about adoption changed as you got older?

When I was 23, I came across a youtube video where someone my age was talking about adoption being complex. I was shocked. I thought adoption was all great. I was happy growing up, I had a loving family, I didn't think adoption was anything but good. I also had a lot of people telling me that story. I was saved, my parents were saviors, they were so generous, I should be grateful etc. That's when I started watching more videos and seeking out other adoptees talking about adoption. I began to "come out of the fog" and see the complexity of adoption. I had a happy childhood but that doesn't mean I didn't have those moments where other kids would question my asian-ness or lack thereof. Not white enough to be one of them but not Asian enough either. There were moments when teachers would be confused about my name, my last name, my comment about my older brother etc. All of those moments were blurred because I didn't have the language to express my discomfort. I wanted to be the happy, well-adjusted, grateful adoptee. I am grateful for my life, not because I was adopted, I'm grateful for my life because this world is beautiful and I love experiencing it.

What has helped/supported you through learning your adoption story?

Listening to and connecting with other adoptees and feeling less alone. I have definitely found my community through Instagram and Facebook. Subtle Asian Adoptee Traits is a Facebook group I didn't even know I wanted or needed. I've made great connections with people through the zoom calls, the group discussion page, the many subgroups for specific interests and through personal messages. I particularly love the zoom calls. I had never been around so many people who looked like me and who I can relate to without having to explain my adoption. It's also a space to chat about daily life. I love the wide variety of ages, genders, Asian birth countries, current locations etc. It's been such a welcoming and supportive community.

I'm very excited to grow my new instagram @adoptee_love and connect with more adoptees of different backgrounds. I am most familiar with resources and groups for Asian adoptees but I want my page to be inclusive of all different adoptees. I look forward to learning from others and helping others find specific communities, resources, events etc. that they've been looking for :)

I also spend a lot of time outside and I think that helps me more than I even realize. I've spent at least 3 months outside the past three years, hiking, camping, backpacking, taking photos. It's where I feel happiest and alive.

What is your favorite quote/lesson you learned?

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined" -Henry David Thoreau

I've always loved this quote but I haven't always followed it. A lot of my "dreams" seemed to be dictated by other people, parents, teachers, friends etc. I have a teaching license and it seemed like if I wasn't in a classroom teaching, I wasn't worthy. I internalized that feeling. I don't feel that way anymore. I am worthy with or without using my teaching license. I can help others even if I'm not in a classroom. I feel like I am finally learning to follow my own voice and go after what I want and what I need. Spending so much time outside isn't seen as "productive" or "sustainable" in life but it doesn't really matter to me if I can make it work.

Tell us a wacky fact about yourself no one else would expect!

I love making stained glass pieces and if I ever settle down in one place, I want a stained glass studio. I took a month long class in college and immediately loved it. I took an open studio course each month for the rest of the year. I made a lot of personalized Christmas gifts. I loved the feeling of working with my hands to create something beautiful and personal.

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