Adopted from China at age three, Grace Newton ’16 (Middleton, Wis.) had always wondered about her origins and the decisions that led to her adoption. She enjoyed a mostly happy childhood in a suburb of Madison, Wis., but, like many adoptees, had unresolved questions around being removed from her original family, culture, and language, and placed in a Caucasian family and a society where race continues to be an issue.

During her second semester at Macalester she enrolled in a 300-level American studies course about the politics of transracial and transnational adoption, and, as she puts it, “gained a history and a vocabulary to express ideas I’d long had.”

Along with some of her classmates, Newton formed a Macalester identity collective for transracial and transnational adoptees and began to explore her own thoughts and feelings through her blog, Red Thread Broken. (The name refers to an ancient Chinese proverb that says an invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, a proverb that has been co-opted and sentimentalized by the adoption community).

Through her blog, says Newton, she has been able to connect with thousands of people across the globe, challenging the traditional adoption story and stimulating discussion of controversial issues.

In her sophomore year Newton volunteered at an adoption conference held at Macalester, where she met Kevin Vollmers, founder of Land of Gazillion Adoptees and its online magazine, Gazillion Voices. Vollmers soon asked her to write for the magazine. Last summer she began interning there, editing its college section. Newton’s involvement with Gazillion Voices has honed her writing and editing skills while allowing her to join a respected group of adoptee writers, researchers, and activists. “I’ve benefited in so many ways,” she says.

Her most recent accolades occurred when Buzzfeed included her in its story “Seven Asian Adoptee Women You Should Be Paying Attention to, Like, Right Now.” The online publication wrote, “Grace writes with a level of insight, tenacity, maturity, and humility rarely seen in the adoption community, regardless of age.”

Next semester the international studies and Chinese double major will return to her hometown of Nanjing, where she will study Mandarin through CIEE and hopes to volunteer in the orphanage where she once lived. This will be Newton’s second trip back to Nanjing, and she’s excited to return as a young adult. She traveled there as a 13-year-old, visiting her orphanage and the nanny who cared for her, enjoying “a different level of comfort than I’ve had on my other travels,” she says. Newton is looking forward to exploring the city in greater depth and immersing herself in the culture.

Although Newton is aware that not all adoptees share her quest to come to terms with transnational adoption, she urges them—and their parents—to at least be open to the questions. And she is thankful that Macalester is a place where this kind of critical thinking is encouraged. “Although the class I took was the catalyst for my growth,” she says, “my friends, family, and the whole Macalester community have supported and encouraged my work and involvement in the adoptee community.”

October 7 2014

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