You didn’t have to live in Memphis ten years ago to remember the story of Anna Mae He. She was the focus of a nasty international custody battle that went to the Tennessee Supreme Court and dragged on for decades.
Anna Mae’s biological parents from China were here for a teaching assignment at the University of Memphis, but when Anna Mae was born prematurely. They could not afford her medical bills. An agreement with her adoptive parents in Memphis, the Bakers, became the focus of a legal case the Bakers eventually lost. Despite being born a U.S. citizen, she had to move to China with her biological family.
But in an incredible irony, when it was time for high school, Anna Mae quietly moved back here to live with her adoptive parents. In fact, she graduates from Germantown High School’s International Baccalaureate program in May. She’s 18 years old now and a confident and smart young woman.
Richard says he was surprised how the shy girl he remembered now talks openly about growing up. Anna told him, “It was a tough childhood, but I think it contributed to who I am as a person.”
She knows now she was shielded from a lot of what was going on in a very public way. “I just didn’t know how to feel about it,” Anna said. “Because my family, they were trying to protect me by not showing me the truth and if I didn’t know the truth until one day they came to the door to take me away. It’s quite scary.”
The day Anna remembers most was an awful day for everyone concerned. The day, under court order, she was taken from the home of Jerry and Louise Baker, the only family she ever knew. She was 9-years-old. “Leaving the house, the way they came early in the morning and picked me up, and I didn’t want to leave, so I just held onto the door frame,” Anna said.
After she let go, she moved to China for six years, along with her two other siblings, leading an almost nomadic life. Her mom and dad divorced, and mother Casey did the best she could – holding several jobs and making little money. Anna said, “We just kept switching places. That’s hard for any kid. I just didn’t know where to go. Where to call home.”
Then came the day Casey He made a call to the Bakers back in the United States and years of ugly legal battles melted away. “After all what these families went through, that phone call where Casey called and said I’d like for the children to come and spend with you,” said Jerry Baker. “Casey has sacrificed a lot for these children and I have a great deal of respect for her.”
Casey felt the language barrier was holding Anna back in school and that Anna would have a much better education and future in Memphis. Of course, the Bakers said ‘yes.’ Louise Baker said, “We’re thankful she got her Chinese culture and her American culture. She got the best of both worlds.”
Anna has chosen to see all of it as a blessing. Richard Ransom asked her, “You believe she (Casey) always wanted what was best for you. Just like the Bakers did?” And Anna responded, “That’s what I think. I think parents always want the best they can give their children.”
Anna’s younger brother, Andy, has moved back to China and is living with his father, Jack. Younger sister Evita is 16 and also living with the Bakers, and is quite a young artist.
There’s so much more to Anna’s story. Her estranged relationship with her father, Jack He. And, of course, this very exciting time in her life as she thinks about college and possible careers.