Few children have stolen as many hearts in the Mid-South as Anna Mae He did when she was growing up. At the age of nine, when she moved to China after a long custody battle, most Mid-Southerners didn’t expect they’d ever hear from her again. Little did they know ‘Anna Mae’s Amazing Journey’ would mean coming back to Memphis her freshman year in high school and she’s about to graduate from Germantown High’s International Baccalaureate program.
When Jerry and Louise Baker of Cordova adopted Anna Mae He, they thought they were doing a good deed by helping a Chinese couple attending the University of Memphis on student visas. The couple could not afford health care for their baby, who was born prematurely.
But it quickly became an ugly custody battle. Many times, Anna’s father, Jack, would be critical of the Bakers. He’d liken them to kidnappers.
After a ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Bakers ultimately lost the legal custody battle. The adoption papers were not air tight.
Soon after, a court order led to heart-wrenching video played around the world when Anna was forced to leave the family who raised her from infancy, to toddler, to straight-A student. The He’s left for China as a family reunited in 2008 – parting Memphis International Airport for Beijing.
However, just two months later, Jack He abandoned his family. There was a nasty divorce. And when Anna got to high school age, came a huge twist of fate. Anna’s birth mother, Casey, wanted Anna to attend school in the United States and called the Bakers to see if they’d take her in.
Of course, the Bakers said yes. And now, as a senior, Anna told Local 24’s Richard Ransom she was nervous about graduating at the beginning of the school year. But now she’s over any nervousness. She’s also willing to talk about her past, something she’s been so reluctant to do, she’s never even Googled her name. She says, “Remembering something from my past is inevitable. It’s part of me and I should embrace the truth about myself.”
Embracing the past also includes frank discussion about her estranged father, who she says she usually only hears from when he’s asking for pictures. “He just posts pictures of me, but doesn’t try to make an effort to actually contact with me,” Anna said. “Like when it was Christmas or my birthday, he won’t even budge to buy me a gift or even call me.”
It obviously hurts, but Anna is not one to dwell on the past. She’s focused on college essays now, campus visits and a future career. “Since I’ve been traveling a lot, I really, really want to be an American ambassador,” she said.
There were so many potentially tragic outcomes to this story and Louise Baker is quite grateful. “It really is a miracle the way things worked out,” she said. She and husband, Jerry, fully appreciate the irony that Anna is with them now and couldn’t be more proud of the young woman she has become.
“You asked earlier if there were any regrets. There are no regrets. Anna has turned into an amazing young lady. Speaks three languages and just a delightful person,” said Jerry Baker.
They and Anna can now look at the past and say things happened for a reason. Anna said, “after all I’ve gone through, I can pick myself up and laugh about what’s happened.” Then, as if everything she endured in her childhood flashed before her eyes, quickly corrected herself. “Well, smile. Not laugh.”
For her college applications, Anna has written a college essay. It’s also the first time she’s ever shared with anyone her thoughts about her childhood on paper. CLICK HERE to read it for yourself. She wants to attend a university in the New York City area and became a US Ambassador.