Karissa Hui-lan was born in a small district of southern China called Dianbai, not far from Guangzhou. Now, she is an eighth grader in a small mid-western town. Her smile is contagious. She has big dimples and an optimistic outlook on life. Like many Chinese-American girls, Karissa was adopted into a loving American family when she was a baby. She doesn’t have any direct memories of China but her family has always shared their memories of China as well as thousands of pictures with her. She has a “special box” filled with everything from Chinese newspapers to the first outfit she ever wore. Karissa is the youngest of five children. She has three older sisters and one brother. One of her older sisters, Jada, was also adopted from China. They have a special bond but have never missed a beat with their older siblings. Many of Karissa’s earliest memories are of her siblings.
“I remember when Kirst and Kels, my oldest sisters, would dress me up and teach me all kinds of dances and jumps. Even though they are like twelve years older than me, we all played together for as long as I can remember. Really, they still play with me today and they are almost thirty! In the summertime, we would go outside in the morning and do all kinds of stuff, we wouldn’t even come inside until it started getting dark out. I always loved jumping on the trampoline and playing at the park behind our house. They introduced me to all kinds of sports — soccer, dancing, cheer-leading, volleyball, nerf-gun-wars! I am very close with all of my family. Being the baby is fun because, well, I get to be everyone’s baby! [laughs] I love spending time with my big brother. We play video games a lot of the time, he is really funny and always makes me laugh!”
Karissa is also very skilled at building. From the time she was very little, she showed an interest in stacking cups and cards in unique arrangements. She would use blocks and magnetic balls to create all sorts of things. As she got older, she started using computer programs to build incredible designs and constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated program. Her fascination has inspired an interest in architecture and engineering because she is very technologically savvy. She looks forward to taking some elective classes on these subjects next year in high school.
While she is involved in all kinds of sports, elective classes, and after-school activities, Karissa’s favorite thing to do is spend time with the people she loves. These people include her best friend, Maggie, her mom and dad, all of her siblings, and her pet cat Pablo. She is a normal teenager, trying out new hair styles and make-up trends, but still isn’t afraid to go outside and get dirty while playing a good game of volleyball.
“I am interested in visiting China again someday, as long as my family comes too. I think it would be cool to walk on the Great Wall and maybe even visit the town where I was born. I know that China is a part of me, my past and present, and I know that it is in my future too. I look forward to maybe going again, but really I don’t need anything from it, maybe just some new memories. I have everything I really need right here, my mom and dad, and my family. They love me and we are lucky, well blessed, to have each other.”