“I don’t think I could ever consider myself fully Chinese or American,” said Chinese adoptee Jenna Cook. “No matter where I am in my life, I’m always going to be sort of somewhere between.”
“Somewhere Between” is a documentary that follows four adopted Chinese teenage girls as they grapple with their identity. The film was directed and produced by Linda Goldstein Knowlton and filmed over a period of three years.
When the filmmaker was asked why she made this documentary she said, “I wanted to explore one of the biggest times of identity development—adolescence. No matter who you are or where you are in the world, you want to fit in.”
In 2006, Goldstein Knowlton and her husband adopted Ruby, a Chinese girl. “As my daughter starts to come of age, she will have all these questions and I won’t be able to answer any of them,” said the filmmaker.
“I grew up in Highland Park,” Goldstein Knowlton told the Examiner, “it’s a suburb of Chicago. I went to Sager Solomon Schechter Hebrew Day School from K-7. I was a camper at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor in Three Rivers, Michigan (Habonim is an international progressive Jewish Zionist youth movement founded in 1935) for three years, and then went on to be a counselor at sister camps in the Zionist movement in CA and PA. I worked on a kibbutz in Israel, which is associated with the Habonim movement. I have two older brothers, the oldest is Orthodox and lives in Israel with his five children.”
When asked which holidays Ruby celebrates, Goldstein Knowlton said, “In my home we celebrate Hanukah, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Chinese New Year and the Autumn Moon Festival and my husband’s family isn’t Jewish so we also celebrate an American-style Christmas.”
The film’s teen subjects are Fang “Jenni” Lee, Jenna Cook, Ann Boccuti and Haley Butler. The families that adopted them couldn’t be more different but the girls all have one thing in common. They have experienced identity crises and self-esteem issues, and have all faced racism in their hometowns.
“Somewhere Between” follows the adopted girls traveling to China to investigate their roots and connect with other Chinese adoptees. Some of what they learn is gut wrenching but they’re driven by a powerful curiosity. They want to know about their roots and the parents who gave them up.
The movie discusses the 1979 “one-child policy” mandated in China as an attempt to control overpopulation. If a family had more than one child they were forced to pay a fine. In China, male children were favored which meant many more girls were given up for adoption, placed in orphanages, or simply abandoned by being left on the side of a road.
All four girls in the film are honest, open and strong but use a self-deprecating humor to try to explain what it’s like to be them. “I’m a banana,” said Haley, “I’m yellow on the outside and white on the inside.”
The film is playing in New York City at the IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street now through September 4, 2012.