How One Transracial Adoptee Is Using Her Voice

“I value being comfortable with who I am because I spent a lot of time feeling the opposite.”

Carrie Carrollo’s adoption was never a hush topic of discussion in her family. Born in Jiangyin, China, adopted at 7 months old, and raised in downtown Chicago, Carrie always understood her adoption and never felt a lack of love from her parents as she grew up. But what she felt was a lack of understanding from those in the spaces around her which led to feelings of “confusion, resentment, and pain that narrowly derailed the development of her self-identity.”

Now at 24, Carrie is living in New York and has started to use her voice to shed light on her upbringing as a transracial adoptee and  the lessons she’s learned along the way to embracing her full identity as Asian, adoptee, and Asian adoptee.  

We chatted with Carrie to learn more about life as an editor, how her identity has shaped her sense of self and the importance of representation especially when facing identity issues.

Tell us a little about what you do and how you began writing?

By day, I’m a branded content beauty editor at POPSUGAR, where I work with beauty brands and retailers to write articles integrating their products. I get to be really involved in the creative process from start to finish, which is very cool. Nights and weekends — and as of 6-ish months ago — I do YouTube and interior design. 

I’ve always been a writer. Partially, I credit it to who I was as a kid: quiet and introverted, but could still always write things better than I could say them out loud. I’m also just comfortable with myself. I grew up loving magazines and knowing the editorial industry was my dream, but it felt exactly like that — a dream. It took me a long time (honestly months after my college graduation) to realize it was a job that I was capable of and wanted to pursue. 

Tell us the why behind your writing?

To me, purpose and passion are parallel, and passion is what drives the most compelling and cohesive stories as a writer. As I’ve begun exploring my Asian, adoptee, and Asian adoptee identities, all different but all equally important, in the past year and a half-ish, the way I want to talk about them feels more meaningful than anything I’ve ever cared about — purposeful and intentional for sure. 

Most importantly I value being comfortable with who I am because I spent a lot of time feeling the opposite. I’ve done and still am doing a lot of the work to feel that way, and have realized that these experiences are not necessarily my own. So now I just want to make people whose identities overlap mine in any way feel seen, and educate current or hopeful transracial adoptive parents on what that can look like for adoptees. It’s a crucial, yet ironically overlooked perspective in the adoption narrative. 

How do you currently identify yourself in this phase of your life?

A Chinese adoptee, Chicago native, New York resident, Asian-American, woman of color. I also consider myself a creator and a writer through platforms that I intend to use for educating, connecting, and learning. I wasn’t sure I’d ever say half of these things without hesitating, but I feel really good about them. 

What was the catalyst that inspired you to write your personal piece on being a transracial adoptee? Was this the first time you have ever publicly spoken about your experience?

It was! It was the first time I’d ever spoken about it that honestly and detailed — even among my family, friends, therapists, anyone. I internalized it so deeply for my entire life until about a year and a half ago. I felt a shift and started sifting through all of the different layers to begin connecting experiences and checking in with myself.

At the time it didn’t feel like a catalyst, but in writing that piece, I realized that the fallout of a very chaotic and transitional five years of my life was beginning to settle. I’d grown a lot in that period and gained back the mental and emotional space I needed to process all of my adoption experiences. Earlier this year, I found out POPSUGAR was formally rebranding their Moms vertical under a more inclusive “Family” title. The lack of adoptee voices was always something I noticed and knew was needed, so it was the perfect time. 

Has there been a full circle moment from the time your personal article was published?

For sure. In the weeks after the piece went live, I followed the comments and conversations across the internet pretty closely. It was incredible to see the response as well as those sharing it — adoptees who felt seen, parents who felt better equipped to understand their kids’ identity journeys, and people far-removed from the adoption community who, maybe for the first time, felt a little bit closer to it. To hear that I was able to articulate experiences and feelings that many have not been able to was a surreal moment for me. The most full circle moment of all was hearing from someone who crossed paths with my parents in China in 1996, when they were there to adopt me. They found the article, recognized my last name, and reached out. Insane! That really put into perspective how powerful the adoption community is, and the power that my most intimate story and words could have.

Do you believe it is different to grow up transracial in today’s world as opposed to when you were growing up? 

In trying to put myself in other people’s shoes, I like to think so or at least I really hope so. When I think back, everyone I looked up to as a kid was white and probably blonde. Those were the people on TV, radio and my bedroom walls. Now, nearly all of the women, artists, and peers I most admire are people of color because the representation and emphasis on those narratives is there in a way it hasn’t always been. Although let me stress that there’s still a *lot* of work to be done and progress to be made. When you’re raised in communities that alienate you based on your physical appearance, a common reality for transracial adoptees, seeing that representation is not only powerful but also comforting.

“When you’re raised in communities that alienate you based on your physical appearance, a common reality for transracial adoptees, seeing that representation is not only powerful but also comforting.”

What advice would you give to somebody struggling with identity issues?

The process of developing and discovering your identity is not singular; it’s a complicated puzzle with a lot of pieces, and those pieces look different for everyone. This is an important point to remember on both sides, whether you’re someone working through it or someone who did the work. Knowing this can help us be more empathetic, patient, and supportive towards each other, yet most importantly with ourselves.

Talk to us about your next or latest project. What’re you up to these days?

YouTube and interior design became part of my life at the end of 2018. They’re separate but also very connected; I started YouTube by uploading an apartment tour after fully DIY-ing and decorating my studio. My channel has grown pretty quickly, just hitting 12k subscribers — crazy!, so I’m riding that out and enjoying it a lot. Now that my apartment is fully done, I’m ready to start designing for other clients. I’ve been working on my friend’s apartment for the past few months and am beginning to take on projects under the name #spacesbyspicycurray. So if you or anyone you know needs help with their space, I’m your girl.

A positive parting message for our readers. 

Identity and self-identity are different things; I feel strongly about this. Pieces of your external identity are open for others to see, make assumptions about, and pass judgement on — your profession, your background, or your appearance. But self-identity is how you see yourself and the things that only you know to be true. No one can take that away from you.

Words: Michelle Zuluaga
Photography: Provided by Carrie Carrollo

JULY 13, 2019


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