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27 November 2014

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Adam Roberts and Jessica
Lady in red: Jessica on her wedding day

Jessica's journey

When Jessica Emmett got married, she wore red. This wasn’t just a fashion statement on her big day: it was the first step on a journey of self-discovery.

Exodus Shorts

  • festival of short films on the lives of the region's refugees
  • part of Refugee Week, 18-23 June 2007
  • screenings at Urbis, Imperial War Museum North and Cornerhouse
  • see Exodus Shorts website for details
  • produced in conjunction with Community Arts NW
  • and Exodus, the Greater Manchester Refugee Arts Partnership

Twenty-five years ago, Jessica was born to a Vietnamese refugee, one of thousands of boat people forced through poverty to seek a new life abroad.

Her mother survived a treacherous crossing to Hong Kong, only to give up her newborn baby for adoption. If her wish was for a prosperous life for her daughter, it worked: Jessica was adopted by a wealthy English couple working for the British government.

In Vietnam and China, brides wear red for good luck and prosperity. So when Jessica, a  recent arts graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University, chose to respect the marriage customs of her birth mother’s country, it caused quite a stir at home.

Jessica Emmett holding photograph
Row Your Boat: with her mum's photograph

“It’s taken my adoptive parents a few years for them to see that I’m actually not the same race as them,” explained Jessica.

"Because obviously, I was just their little girl. It’s not a negative thing but that difference is quite important. Because I’ve not really developed my Vietnamese identity at all. And it’s something I started to do."

Boat people

Jessica’s feeling towards her own birth mother, her adoption and her cultural heritage are explored in a short film entitled Row Your Boat featured in this year’s Exodus Shorts film festival in Manchester (18 – 23 June).

"It’s almost like when you have a jigsaw puzzle and you’ve got one piece missing. The puzzle’s finished but you have to accept that you won’t find it."
Jessica Emmett, on the search for her birth mother

In it, Jessica shows important photographs from her life, while singing ‘Row Your Boat’ in reference to the hardships of the Vietnamese boat people and her mother.

"The images are quite interesting. A year before I was adopted, my adoptive parents were on a boat trip in Hong Kong when they were called to take in a boat full of refugees and escort it to safety.

"My mum had a camera on her and one of the photographs in the film is actually one of those she took, a year before she even knew she was going to adopt a Vietnamese girl. And she always wondered, in the back of her mind, if one of the refugees had been my birth mother. It’s very unlikely but there’s this connection between the three people in my video piece."

Jigsaw piece

Emmett family photograph
A young Jessica with adoptive parents

Despite her efforts, Jessica has never been able to trace her birth mother. But she does know that she eventually made her way to the United States with Jessica’s biological brother.

Like many adopted children, there is a strong desire to discover more about her past to strengthen her sense of belonging. But as Jessica explains, she bears no resentment nor any sense of regret:

"I wouldn’t change anything in my life. I’m kind of glad that it happened, because I can’t imagine myself in any other kind of life. You can’t really choose who gets born into what family and that’s still the same with my adoption.

Adding: "People make choices every day and some are really hard and I have to respect that fact that that’s what she decided at the time. And it is very sad because, at times, I feel like I’m left with this hole of not knowing.

"It’s almost like when you have a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces and you’ve got one piece missing and you tear up your whole house looking for it. The puzzle’s finished but you have to accept the fact that you won’t find that piece. But maybe you will one day."

Exodus Shorts Film Festival is part of Refugee Week (18-23 June, 2007). For information about the films and other Exodus events, see the website for details

last updated: 18/06/07
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