Ming Fen: I was one of the Asian girls adopted during the One Child Policy
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
I met Ming Fen on a film set in Los Angeles.
She has a Chinese name and a Chinese look. In fact, she was living in an orphanage in Shandong, China — until 1998, an American couple came and changed her life.
Narrator | Ming Fen
Interviewer & Photographer | Nox
Transcriber | Vivi
My name is Ming fen Congdon. I’m originally from Shandong Province and a big fishing city called Yantai. I was adopted at the age of three through an Italian American family. They brought me back to the old state of Vermont in the U.S and I grew up there.
Being adopted, having white families, and going to school and seeing the different diversity — I knew who I was and I was always okay with being adopted. I think it was around age five or six, I asked my parents what my story was.
They informed me that when I was born, I was abandoned on the street of Yantai. Whoever found me brought me to the hospital and they spent about two weeks with a database for the blood scan, trying to track down relatives.
It was 1995 and technology at that time was not as advanced. They couldn’t find any blood relatives in the system. So I was sent to an orphanage.
At the time, the One-Child Policy said each family could only have one child. And a lot of people preferred boys than girls, especially in more conservative places. So if the new-born baby was a girl, it’s likely that people would abandon her and then try to have a baby boy.
In 1998, China opened its door to the Westerners, allowing a lot of Asians who were female to be adopted. And I was one of them.
The most annoying question for me would definitely have to be, “You were an orphan, so it must be for the one-child policy?”
At the time, I said yes. But I don’t want to believe that was the answer because I know multiple people were adopted that were male and also multiple people who had girls and kept them.
I had a friend in university who’s from China. She went to high school in America. She told me that because her mother kept her instead of getting rid of her as most parents do, her grandmother sacrificed five years of her life in a Chinese prison.
I thought it was really impactful and also put another perspective — maybe my parents didn’t want to deal with that or they were just too young. No one can ever really know.
I also got a lot of other questions like, “Do you know why your parents did that?” “Do you want to meet your parents?” “Do you know who they are?” “Do you have any relatives?”
Every time I have to say no. I feel like I’m making myself vulnerable in the sense that I have this tragic life in the beginning. But I don't feel that way.
I think the insensitivity that comes with being an orphan especially from a second country or third world country makes me feel actually not tragic, because I’m privileged to be able to come to Los Angeles and pursue a dream that I might not have been able to if I were to stay in China, or at least in the orphanage.
I think the hardest thing for me is that nagging question of why don’t I want to find my parents or why I don’t want to know who they are — My adoptive parents are amazing.
My adoptive parents had children of their own and they wanted another child, so they thought about adoption. After a long rigorous process, they selected me.
I've had a great upbringing. However, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from stereotypical racist remarks.
I don’t speak Chinese. I’ve had multiple people ask me if I speak Chinese and I was kind of embarrassed by saying no — which I don’t feel like I should but deep down you had that nagging feeling as if I have a Chinese look means I have to be able to speak Chinese.
People also ask me where I’m from. I say I’m from Vermont and they’re like “Cool, but where are you really from?” I say Vermont and they’re like “Really?” And I’m like okay, I just say I was born in China, and they’re like “I knew it! You have that Chinese look.” Every time I want to say you have that European look, too.
I think now if anyone asks me questions like what am I, I think I’m just gonna say I’m a human from the Milky Way Galaxy.
There is one aspect that I also get remarks on is I have learning disabilities — I’m not really good with math. People would be like, “You’re Asian, so you must be good at math.” I was like, “Why does it have to be a must?”
When I was younger, when my father was coming to a soccer match, people asked me as I was holding my father’s hand, “Oh, is that your dad?” It confused me why people were always surprised by it.
My father is my father, no matter if you’re adopted, or if you’re from a multi-racial family. It shouldn’t have to be an Oh-statement. I get annoyed by constantly being asked that and I’m sure it doesn’t have to do with the fact that I’m adopted at all. It just has to deal with people who are being insensitive, and not realizing they’re being insensitive.
My mother is a quarter Italian and she was born in Vermont. My father is Welsh and was born in Rhode Island. They both have European ethnicity. I have two awesome brothers and we would hang out all the time.
Some people say the real love that comes with a family is biological love, but I have felt genuine love in my family.
When my brothers saw me getting picked on when I was younger, not wanting me to feel bad about it, they would always say I could hang out with them, so I got two really cool big friends. When I was in eighth grade and Halloween came around and I didn’t have anyone to go trick or treat, my brothers said, “Come to a party we’re having. Don’t tell mom because you’ll get candy and all the sweets.” And I got so excited.
My brothers are like therapists, always listening to me talking about my emotions and making me feel better. Such nice connections came from being you are my sister, it doesn’t matter what you look like, you are my sister.
We have this bond of being independent, being loved, and being encouraged to pursue a dream — I feel like I’m privileged to have that and I hope others can feel that way, too.
Almost everyone can say they’ve been through bullying, discrimination, or discouragement when they’re growing up. But you have to push through it, you have to create your own identity and everyone should do it, regardless of where you come from.
Foster care system, adoption, abandonment — we all have our own packages but it’s really about pursuing your dreams, your goals, and pushing through it.
I’ve been in Los Angeles for 4 months now. So far I’ve finished a mini film and started my own production company called Little Cricket Productions.
Deciding to do film is because I have always enjoyed storytelling. When my brother and I were younger, we would get his camera to film and tell some stories.
Every great story has an element of truth in it. Films can capture that truth for individuals, be it a horror film where clowns are coming at you to attack you, to a romance novel where you feel so attached to Romeo and Juliet — Shakespeare made this love triangle of hatred, passion, friendship is to make it easy for everyone to connect to.
Films give that aspect of storytelling that’s live, that you can see it, hear it, and feel it. When you hear the sounds coming up in a horror movie, you feel like, “Oh my gosh, turn around, he’s gonna kill you!” You feel like you want to tell the person in the film but then you sit back and realize, “Oh, it’s a film.” I want to have that ability to give the audience that kind of experience.
So that’s what film has drawn me to: I want to become the creator, the magician behind the wand of storytelling in motion pictures.
One of my favorite film characters is Mulan. She was able to fight on the battlefield because she wanted to uphold the honor of her family. She’s the character that keeps me headstrong and willing to chase after things.
I identify with her because I'm ethnically Chinese and I also have that warrior spirit that she has, like me being resilient, defying my parents, being successful in the film industry.
Most people are always impressed because I’m a go-getter. I put my head down and work my ass off to make things come true. Hence I was able to accomplish my four-month goal, being out here in LA for four months, and achieved it, within that time limit, I think that was based on I have this I-need-to-prove-myself kind of zeal and persona just like Mulan.
I really wish that Little Cricket Production could become its own production team, where resilient females from different ethnicities and cultures could have the opportunities to work and prove themselves.
My production company is called Little Cricket Productions because my nickname used to be Xiao Fen (晓芬) when I was in the orphanage. To me, it felt like little cricket.
I always recognize with crickets because I talked a lot when I was younger. So the people from the orphanage kind of combined my name with my personality and they gave me that name.
I wish Little Cricket Productions can grow bigger in the new year, and I wish my voice can be heard by more people.