On August 31, PBS’ POV series presents Wo Ai Ni, Mommy (Chinese for “I love you, Mommy”). It’s a compelling, candid, and very satisfying story of transracial adoption, made by Stephanie Wang-Breal. A Jewish family, Donna and Jeff Sadowsky, in Long Island, New York, have already adopted a Chinese girl, Darah, from Guangzhou, China. They want to do it again, so their littlest will have a playmate. This time, an 8 year-old, Fang Sui Yong.
The way Ms. Sadowsky describes her children, it sounds like they are all adopted, but since their non-Chinese children don’t stand out in a family photo, it makes you scratch your head.
According to the film, China opened itself to foreign adoptions in 1992; It’s been 18 years. And Wo Ai Ni, Mommy looks at the first 18 months of one adoption. Those months span from Sui Yong’s departure from China through her culture shock and conformity to America. We count down the 10 days in China to meet Fang Sui Yong and bring her to her new home, and then the days in America, which become weeks, and months. 18 months. This story is complex and intimate. It comes down to questions of “what is identity?,” “what makes a family?,” and many other often taboo ones about assimilation and “race.”
From the start, Faith slams into her first emotional cement wall: she’s really leaving, saying goodbye to her known world, to everything, and everyone she has know. She has a new name. She shows raw fear, discomfort, and bewilderment. There’s coaxing and gentle coercion that makes this ordeal, which everyone else is trying to celebrate, seem like a gentle kind of kidnapping. It’s an intense, lengthy, and wrought-up scene.
Donna says that Faith’s full name will be Faith Sui Yong Sadowsky. She thinks it’s right, respecting her Chineseness – but that’s soon forgotten or just doesn’t come up. Maybe we don’t hear her full name because most scenes take place at home, and there isn’t a dramatic enough scene for either Donna or Jeff to blurt, “Faith Sui Yong Sadowsky!”
In the final act of her story, on video, Faith tells her dad that she feels more American than Chinese. After having striven to learn English and conform to America, her Chinese has faded. She no longer feels comfortable with it, especially among people who still use it. We sense that she has turned a page; she’s wary of her next American chapter. It’s implicit, but clear.
In-turn, her sense of twoness, her dual Chineseness and Americanness, has also changed. To some people, this often connotes a destructive portion of American culture. It often also helps someone who is, and still isn’t yet, accepted to feel connected to a mental and cultural anchor. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folks,” addressed this, a century ago:
“One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
When you replace Negro with Chinese, within the concept of social duality, the experiences are companions. In Wo Ai Ni, Mommy Faith Sui Yong Sadowsky’s “dogged strength” has changed in important ways.
Controversies, rhetorical and emotional, about transracial adoption abound. Faith will live, be loved, nurtured, and probably succeed in life. That’s twice as much as many children get.
Wo Ai Ni, Mommy is one excellent telling of a transracial adoptee’s special experience.
If we were to rate this, 4 1/2 out of 5.