In 1979 the People’s Republic of China implemented the “One-Child Policy,” limiting each family to one child as a means of population control. Thousands of children, mostly girls, were abandoned as a result and roughly 80,000 were adopted by American families. Linda Goldstein Knowlton tells the story of four such adoptees, Haley, Jenna, Ann and Fang, in her deeply compelling documentary, “Somewhere Between.”
The film profiles the four Chinese-American teens as they deal with questions of race, gender, belonging, and the fundamental issue of self-awareness. “Somewhere Between” is in many ways a coming-of-age film. Viewers become a part of the emotionally turbulent journey of these young women as they search for connections to their long-forgotten pasts while struggling to understand their own transnational identities.
Haley, a 13-year-old beauty queen from Nashville, describes her unique racial cultural position, saying, “I’m a banana: I’m yellow on the outside and white on the inside.” The disconnect between physical appearance and personal identity looms large in the lives of the four young women, raising key questions about stereotyping and race.
Knowlton triumphs in her sympathetic yet critical depiction of the historical and social forces which led to the abandonment of so many Chinese children. Chinese tradition designates sons as caretakers for aged parents, so baby girls are often a financial burden for poor, rural families. Such was the case for Fang Lee’s biological family, who left her on the sidewalk in a Chinese city when she was just a little girl. Fang’s life changed drastically when she was adopted by an American family and moved halfway around the world to Berkeley, Calif. Speaking to Fang about her experience as an adoptee, she was not only personable and articulate but extremely open about the pain and self-doubt caused by her early abandonment.
In the film, Fang discusses her conflicting loyalties between China and her adopted home, the United States. Even growing up in Berkeley, a city so accepting of diversity, Fang admits to feeling like a “banana.”
“There’s an NPR piece we did in New York where I describe myself as a banana,” Fang said. “But I don’t think it’s the only way I describe myself and see myself, but its definitely an accurate representation of how I feel sometimes, especially when I’m in America, you know, where I look very Chinese, very like a minority, and I feel like I’m very much a part of mainstream white culture and I feel white sometimes.”
One of the most poignant scenes in “Somewhere Between” is when Fang helps facilitate the adoption of a young girl with multiple sclerosis by an American family. Although she does not see herself pursuing a career in adoption, Fang does have advice for adopted girls: “I would say search for your path, but don’t let your path define you … don’t let yesterday take up too much of today. What I mean by that is, yes, you may have been abandoned or given away or put into the orphanage or put up for adoption, but that doesn’t define who you are. If you can turn this sadness into opportunity, then you have a very strong frame of spirit.”
This theme of yielding opportunity from sadness resonates throughout the film as its subjects find strength in their struggles. The wisdom they share is valuable to all audiences, be they adoptees, minorities, or anyone searching for their own sense of self. “Somewhere Between” is a beautiful reminder of the commonality of human struggle, as experienced by four remarkable young women.