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Transracial adoptees take 'Joy Ride' as avenue to talk identity, family and belonging

From right to left: Michelle Li, Seth George and Bailey Martin-Giacolone
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
From left: Michelle Li, Seth George and Bailey Martin-Giacolone

Asian American transracial adoptees have been going to theaters to see the new comedy film "Joy Ride" for laughs. In St. Louis, they have also been discussing it for its representation of experiences they have had but never seen depicted in popular culture.

Seth George is a 24-year-old Filipino adoptee who spent his childhood and teen years in Edwardsville, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri. “Growing up, I didn't see many people who looked like me in TV or films,” he said. “Seeing an all-Asian cast really intrigued me. And I really wanted to learn more and see what their perceptions were of transracial adoption.”

For Chinese adoptee Bailey Martin-Giacolone, 26, there was admittedly some skepticism about "Joy Ride," along with questions about who made the film, what stories were in it and how personally relatable it would be. So her decision to watch it sprang from something she didn’t have growing up in Belleville, Illinois: a chance to connect with fellow adopted Asian Americans. That came in the form of a free event in mid-July.

“When I saw that the Very Asian Foundation was hosting an adoptee screening,” Martin-Giacolone said, “I was really excited at the opportunity to be in a room full of adoptees, which I don't experience or actually have not experienced. It meant a lot to be able to watch this film and experience it all together.”

The spirit of togetherness was the goal of that Very Asian Foundation screening, which included a post-film panel of local adoptees. The film’s release also spurred the Very Asian Foundation to issue guidance for reporting around transracial adoptees, birth search, and belonging – a practical, positive tool for media coverage that is sensitive and accurate, said journalist and Very Asian Foundation co-founder Michelle Li.

“With the movie "Joy Ride," we saw so much problematic language in the media, and not just YouTube bloggers. We saw it in written, traditional media. So it was like, ‘We have to do something because this is not going to stop,’" said Li, a Korean adoptee herself. "And it probably won't stop with our guide, but we are trying to make some space.”

In the context of spaces, all three guests spoke about spaces where they have sought to establish a sense of belonging through culture-specific campus groups in college, and more broadly pan-Asian community organizations in adulthood.

They also talked about aspects of "Joy Ride" that capture what they have felt and gone through – bouts of isolation and the deeply sensitive nature of talking about topics like birth search and reunion – along with what parts of their personal stories depart from what they saw on-screen. Altogether, their contributions pointed to the vast diversity of transracial adoptees’ journeys and experiences.

George reiterated representation as his motivation for sharing his thoughts so publicly. “I really wanted to come on here today, because growing up, I really would have loved to have more of an adoptee community in St. Louis. And I hope that there are adoptees out there listening today to know that there are adopted citizens in St. Louis.”

To hear more about what Martin-Giacolone, George and Li discuss with fellow Asian transracial adoptees, and the way other aspects of identity intersect in their lives, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.

Transracial adoptees take “Joy Ride” as avenue to talk identity, family and belonging

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Elaine Cha is the host/producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.