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Broadcasting new voices

The Best of Dayton Youth Radio: It's Just Family

Olivia Brintlinger-Conn
Basim Blunt
Olivia Brintlinger-Conn

Since its start, Dayton Youth Radio has featured the voices of over 200 Miami Valley teenagers from nine area high schools.  Starting this week, we’re going to share some of the Best Of Dayton Youth Radio so far, and we’ll be back with new stories in the spring.

In 2016, then-Yellow Springs High School student Olivia Brintlinger-Conn talked about family and adoption.

My name is Olivia Brintlinger-Conn. I'm 17 and a junior at Yellow Springs High School. I was adopted from China before my first birthday, and my parents are both Caucasian. I live with my mom, dad and younger brother Zach. My story is about adoption because I don't understand why some people hide the fact that their child is adopted or why they think it makes a family any less real. I asked people from my school, what do you think defines a family?

"I think being able to express your feelings to your family members is very important," said Gordon Bittner.

"I think that family is a community of people who love and support each other," said Kiley Smith.

"Spending a lot of time together and enjoying each other," said Ammond.

I also want to see how other people whose lives are affected by adoption feel. My brother Zach, Brintlinger-Conn shared a room until I was in sixth grade. I asked him what he thinks of adoption.

"That brought me my sister, who's pretty great most of the time," he said. "I didn't even really think about the fact that you were adopted until maybe I was maybe ten or eleven. My first memories, you're always there telling me what to do and trying and failing to bail me out of trouble. We've always been close. It's just how it is."

I then asked him if being biologically related to someone matters in families.

"No, no, no, no. I don't think that at all," Zach replied. "Our family has a history of adoption, we've got a Korean relative, and we've got you. My bond with my aunt or with you isn't any stronger or weaker because you're not directly related to me. I love you guys. I mean, unconditionally. I never really got into any fights, but I used to. Used to show the other kids on the playground when they would say things like, 'I mean, but she's not your real sister' and all that jazz, I mean, I couldn't stand it. I was I was very upset about that."

"Why did that make you upset?" I asked.

"Because it's them devaluing the relationship that I have with my sister, which is strong. And honestly, it was stronger than their relationship with their siblings."

I sometimes forget I'm not white. I was one of two visibly not white persons at my grandmother's memorial service. I think about how it might have been hard for my grandma, who came from a German immigrant family in Illinois to have an adopted granddaughter.

But I never felt anything but love.

I then decided to interview my parents, Angela Brintlinger and Steven Conn. I began by asking them if they feel like we're a real, normal family.

"Of course I feel like we're a real normal family," my mom said. "I'm not exactly sure what normal means."

"I also don't really know what normal means, but this is the only kind of family we've ever had," said my dad. "What do you think defines a family?"

"Family is the place where when nobody else is going to take you, you can come home to our family.  It's the people that we think about first thing when we wake up in the morning and the last when we go to bed, it's the people I want to be with and that I worry about and then I cheer for."

I asked them if the family would be different if I was a biological child.

"A couple of years ago, we had the chance to go to China together," my dad said. "You and me and your brother Zach. And we went to the art museum in Shanghai, which was really quite wonderful. But outside the art museum, you and Zach started to really horse around and at one point you jumped on his back so that he would carry you down the sidewalk. And let me assure you that at that moment, you did not look Chinese. You looked American because no Chinese kids were doing that on the street and they were all staring at the two of you because you were doing stuff that Chinese kids don't do in public."

"I mean, there are things that you do that are very much like things that I do," my mom said. "I raised you, you're a lot like me and in bad ways and in good ways. And so you are who you are. But I think also you are who you are because of us. And we are the kind of parents we are, in part because of you."

Sometimes I wonder if my life would be completely different if my parents were of a different race or the same race as me. I feel very lucky that I have the family that I have and that we are so close. We love each other very much.

Olivia Brintlinger-Conn is a graduate of Yellow Springs High School who now attends Bryn Mawr College, majoring in international studies and archaeology.  Special thanks to Eli Hurwitz, Library Media Specialist at Yellow Springs High School. Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, the Vectren Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.

This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.