Unexpected Discovery: Spears student Lily Bolka stars in Netflix documentary
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
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There are a lot of questions when you don’t know about your past.
Adoptees may be curious about their family history. Wondering if you look more like your mom or dad, if you have any siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles. Searching for answers may take a lifetime, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find one person or maybe two who know exactly how you feel because they are wondering, too.
Lily Bolka is a 2022 Oklahoma State University accounting graduate who was adopted as a baby from China and discovered through DNA testing she has two cousins who were also adopted and in the U.S. Together, they embarked on a journey to find any connections to their birth families in China. Bolka and her cousins, Chloe Lipitz and Sadie Mangelsdorf, star in the Netflix documentary, Found.
Filming for Found wrapped in early 2020 and missed out on being entered into film festivals due to the pandemic. Netflix was interested in the film and won the bid. Found premiered in October 2021 on Netflix to positive audience and critical reviews. The film maintains high praise from movie critics for the New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, The Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times as well as websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
During high school, Bolka became curious about her past as emotions and feelings began to reveal themselves as she grew older. She took a DNA test and was satisfied with the results, not expecting to uncover any more family history. A few months later, she was contacted by a film director who told Bolka she has two cousins around her age who were also adopted and living in the U.S.
The film director, Amanda Lipitz, is the aunt of Chloe Lipitz.
The cousins all grew up in the U.S.: Bolka was raised in Oklahoma City by a single mother as an only child, Mangelsdorf’s family lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and Lipitz lives in Phoenix. The cousins were all adopted from the south China province of Guangdong. Bolka and Lipitz were at the same orphanage only a few years apart.
The cousins met for the first time through a video call coordinated by the film crew. As they grew closer, all of their calls stopped being filmed and they had a chance to really get to know each other.
Bolka filmed throughout her college career and the film crew often came to the Stillwater campus during game days, as well as to Oklahoma City to film with her mom.
Bolka experienced highs and lows during filming and battled with the desire to find her birth family and get the answers to questions she had long been asking — all while balancing school and other responsibilities. Bolka often had to miss class to film and travel. Filming could sometimes be tedious and took a toll on her emotions, but she found her professors to be very accommodating to her schedule and her mental health.
“One of the things that stood out to me was when [Professor Rachel Domnick] asked how my mental health was during a Zoom meeting. I had never been asked that by a professor,” Bolka said. “For me, [filming] was really scary sometimes, but I just got so used to it. So it was really nice that she made sure that I was OK and checked in on me.”
“We are all really close now and got really close while we were in China. We had to do some pretty hard things emotionally. It was something all three of us understood being adopted. We could rely on each other.”
The cousins worked with genealogist and private investigator Liu Hao, who works in China finding answers in identity and possibly finding DNA matches with families who had to give up their children because of China’s one-child policy.
Between 1979 and 2015, China implemented the one-child policy to help curb the country’s population growth. The one-child policy meant many second children were abandoned because of the nation’s strict enforcement of the law. Parents who did not adhere to the law were expected to pay expensive penalties and fines, ranging between three and six times a family’s annual income.
Female babies were disproportionately given up. Males inherit the family name and property and are traditionally responsible for caring for the elderly. The number of babies that has been given up is unknown; it is thought to be from the hundreds of thousands to millions according to research conducted by Daniel Goodkind.
The one-child policy continues to have major repercussions on Chinese culture and its people. Lower birth rates and even loss of fertility in women have affected the current population in China, raising concerns for who will look after its aging population and the shrinking workforce.
The cousins and their families traveled to China, where they spent the 2019 winter holidays together. Each cousin was able to go to the place where she was discovered as a baby and the orphanage where she spent her early days. They met nannies and aunts and spent time together as their families reminisced. The trip also gave each of them a chance to visit the tourist spots in China like the Great Wall and temples.
Bolka and her cousins were aware that the chances of finding any relatives would be slim, but they wanted to learn about where they were born and the culture. Traveling to China brought back memories and emotions that could only be understood by those who have had similar experiences.
Having Lipitz and Mangelsdorf by her side made the hard moments easier, Bolka said.
“We are all really close now and got really close while we were in China,” Bolka said. “We had to do some pretty hard things emotionally. It was something all three of us understood being adopted. We could rely on each other.”
On her ancestral journey, Bolka learned Liu Hao had found a potential match for her birth family and was waiting for DNA results. Bolka was apprehensive about finding her birth family for fear of meeting a family who had abandoned her. Although the DNA did not end up being a match, Bolka and her cousins met the family while they were in China.
“It was something I never thought I would be doing in my life,” Bolka said. “It was a little sad not just for me but for them, too. It brought on a lot of emotions that I didn’t know how to handle, but it was really good having Chloe and Sadie there with me as a support system because it was something I couldn’t talk about with my mom or the film crew.”
Bolka is exploring her options to continue her education with a master’s in accounting and studying for the CPA exam. Bolka and her cousins remain close and are in the early stages of partnering with the Asian American Girl Club and Blue Shift Education. They are also collaborating with Chef Kristen Kish to promote the film and share their story.
Bolka is not currently pursuing finding her birth family. She maintains a typical OSU student lifestyle and joined Alpha Chi Omega sorority and Beta Alpha Psi, an accounting fraternity. Her DNA is available to any family looking for her, but, for now, she is soaking in her first few months as an OSU graduate and looking forward to the future.
Story By: Grace Hentges | Engage@Spears Magazine