Grieving the Loss of My Identity

~Kim Libertini

Stunned. There are no other words to describe the moment. I looked in the mirror at the reflection that has been staring back at me for 46 years. How many times had I attributed visual characteristics like my high cheek bones and rounder eyes to Caucasian genes? Adopted at five-months of age, for most of my life I had very few answers to explain who I was. From as far back as I can recall, I was told I was the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an American GI. This was part of my story. My identity. I was a part of Miss Saigon. Over the years, I have shared it hundreds of times.

     Six weeks ago I took a DNA test. I excitedly posted and joked on Instagram and Facebook, “I’m about to find out who my daddy is!” I fully knew that the likelihood of finding my genetic parents was slim to none.  I took the test because my sons (12 and 14) had been asking to find out what other backgrounds were in their genetic make-up. And admittedly, I too was curious.  

I was in a meeting when the push notification from the 23 and Me App reported that my results were in. My jaw dropped and my breath was stolen.  It felt like a sucker punch.  

“99.8% Vietnamese.”  I feverishly scrolled as I thought, “Wait. What? Where is the Caucasian?” 

Just like that……the person I was for 46 years disappeared. “Noooooo!! This can’t be.  But my story….” 

     For almost a week as the news set in, I felt uneasy, unsure and empty. Grief.  What do you do when your entire identity has been stolen away by the results of a DNA test? My mind generated questions.  “What happened to both of my parents in the war? Did my father die? Did my mother die?  Did they give me up so I wouldn’t have to be raised in a war ravaged country? How did I get to the orphanage?”  If only my birth certificate had not been blown up on the doomed first flight of Operation Babylift maybe I would have a chance at finding out the answers.  

Weeks later, my reflection in the mirror looks different. It is amazing how perspective can shift so quickly. For now, I will hold onto the pieces of my story that I know to be true. Born in Vung Tau, South Vietnam and brought to the US through Operation Babylift, I am 99.8% Vietnamese. Despite all that has happened in these 46 years ….I know that I am …..a survivor.

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