“Seen and validated”: How Carrington Fastelin’s thesis helped her find belonging as a transracial adoptee


Taylor Cockrell, OMN Photographer

pertaining to her thesis regarding transracial adoption on May 8. On top of completing her honors thesis, Fastelin has planned to write a children’s book on the autoethnography of adoptees.

“What I’ve always known growing up and been told is that I was left in a little cardboard box with some diapers and shirts, and I was put on the stairs of an orphanage in Vietnam,” said Carrington Fastelin, who was adopted at six years old

Fastelin enrolled in Oregon State University’s honors program in the spring term of freshman year. Initially, she didn’t know what topic she wanted to explore for her honors thesis. She had planned on doing something related to her studies in public health but was swayed to craft her thesis on her personal life experiences as an adoptee.

As an adoptee, Fastelin said a lot of her experience revolved around how she fit in with people that didn’t look like her, especially growing up in a predominantly white town. 

“I’ve always felt like a banana my whole life, I’m yellow on the outside and white on the inside and sometimes it’s hard to feel like I’m white,” Fastelin said. “But then I go around and people will say racist things to me and I don’t know what to say.”

Fastelin didn’t have a mentor or even a proposal idea for her thesis until one day, she accidentally came across a video about transracial adoptees on the Valley Library website. 

Fourth-year public health major, Carrington Fastelin (she/her) works on her thesis regarding transracial
adoption in the Valley Library on May 8. She has worked in collaboration with mentor, Tiffany DeRuyter,
to complete her thesis for the Honors College. (Taylor Cockrell, OMN Photographer)

“Randomly, this video popped up about transracial adoptees reflecting on their identity 30 years later,” Fastelin said. “I was supposed to be writing my thesis proposal for the other thing, but I just spent the whole night watching that video, and going down this rabbit hole. And I was like, I really think I need to do my thesis on this because I have been … struggling with my own identity and belonging.”  

At first, Fastelin wanted to write a children’s book for her thesis project, but through more and more research and interviews with other transracial adoptees, she realized her thesis could be a medium for her to discover her identity. Through her extensive research and interviewing, Fastelin was able to come to terms with what it means to be a TRA and provided this definition.

“A transracial adoptee is somebody who was adopted either domestically in the United States or internationally into a family that is not their same race. Most families that adopt babies transracially are white, and then the other babies are usually like 90% are Asian, and then the others are African American, Latino, etc.,” Fastelin said. 

Fastelin’s thesis is titled “Transracial Adoptees, Identity, and Belonging: My Journey in a Children’s Book,” in which she describes her adoption story, introduces the history of transracial adoption in the United States, and provides a thorough “exploration of experiences,” a survey of transracial adoptees and their family members.

One of the main topics that Fastelin said was revolutionary in making her feel “seen and validated” is the transracial adoption paradox, a concept developed by Richard M. Lee, a professor at the University of Minnesota and Korean adoptee researcher. Lee explains that adoptees can be deemed both racial and ethnic minorities in society but can often be perceived and treated as members of the majority community due to adoption into predominantly white families. 

pertaining to her thesis regarding transracial adoption on May 8. On top of completing her honors thesis, Fastelin has planned to write a children’s book on the autoethnography of adoptees. (Taylor Cockrell, OMN Photographer)

Fastelin also discussed some of the struggles that TRAs face like “racism and ethnic socialization, but not racial socialization,” as they are still minorities in society who experience racism. 

“Because our parents don’t know how to teach us racial socialization, they aren’t able to teach us the tools and skills that maybe families of color might be able to share with their children,” Fastelin said, referencing research from Candice Presseau, one of the primary authors cited in her thesis. 

Overall, Fastelin said her biggest takeaway from the research was learning that there was a huge diversity of experiences within the adoptee community, especially as a TRA. 

“I met two adoptees that told me they went to these adoption camps, and it was really amazing [for them] because for the first time, there were people that actually understood [their] experience,” Fastelin said. “But then the more they [would] talk to other adoptees, they were like, you’re still a person, and I don’t really get along with you. So just because we have the same story doesn’t mean we have the same experience,” Fastelin said. 

After examining a set of children’s books to see what content already existed and what gaps were prevalent, Fastelin decided that she wanted to write a children’s book on the topic of adoptions, as she felt there was a lack of representation within not only adoption stories, but what comes after an adoption occurs. 

“85% [of the books] were written by a parent of a TRA, and then 20% were written by someone that had nothing to do with it,” Fastelin said. “Zero percent were written by birth parents that I found.”

Throughout her childhood, Fastelin did not have access to many books that depicted what comes after adoption. Instead, many of those books concentrated on the pre-adoption stage or the adoption itself.

As Fastelin finishes up her thesis, she’s also interested in creating a website for people to share their own stories and experiences in conjunction with the publication of her children’s book. The book will feature all three stages of the TRA experience, with an emphasis on the journey after adoption. 

“I [want to include] the journey, which is the hardest part because I need to somehow in children’s language, represent epistemic trauma and stuff,” Fastelin said.

 Epistemic trauma is the structurally- and relationally-transmitted harm done to a person who is trying to understand and heal through their lived experiences.

Fourth-year public health major, Carrington Fastelin (she/her) smiles on a bench by Strand Agricultural Hall on May 8. She has worked in collaboration with mentor, Tiffany DeRuyter, on her honors thesis regarding transracial adoption. (Taylor Cockrell, OMN Photographer)

“I’m gonna have spotlights of different TRAs that I’ve interviewed to show the diversity of experiences,” Fastelin said. “I’m gonna have a mood chart so that children can articulate the feelings they have because when I was little, I didn’t even know what race was and how to explain it.” 

Fastelin also discussed the significance of her thesis and children’s book through the lens of how minorities are inaccurately represented in the media. 

“There’s just a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be an adopted person and a transracially-adopted person,” Fastelin said. “Every single TRA that I interviewed, they asked me to somehow in the book address people asking really mean and inappropriate questions or saying inappropriate things like, ‘You’re so lucky.’ That’s actually not very nice to say. It’s important because people … don’t always understand what it’s like to be us.” 

To learn more, Fastelin will be holding her thesis defense, a presentation of the thesis findings and processes organized by the honors college, on Wednesday, May 24 at 2 p.m. in the Asian and Pacific Cultural Center Gathering Hall. The defense is open to the public.

“This thesis was literally everything to me and I would not feel whole without this process,” Fastelin said. “I’m so grateful that I got to do this. I’m also really emphasizing that every experience is different within this experience and every transracial adoptee’s story is their own and their own to share when they want [and] if they want, and everyone’s in a different part of their journey.”

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