BRANDON — Traci Wright admits that she and her husband, Paul, were a little naive when they got the idea of creating a new national magazine and publishing it from their Brandon home.
"Frankly, if we had known what we were getting ourselves into, we probably wouldn't have done it," she said.
What they were getting themselves into, they soon learned, was an awful lot of work for virtually no money.
But after five years, Wright wouldn't consider giving up Mei Magazine. It's a passion for her and an important part of the lives of her thousands of readers.
Mei, which is pronounced "may" and is the Mandarin Chinese word for "beautiful," targets Asian girls who have been adopted by American parents. The magazine has a fairly small but loyal readership, Wright said. Subscribers total about 2,500 girls throughout the United States and a few in other countries.
Wright got the idea for the quarterly magazine after adopting a daughter from China. She found a dearth of information for her daughter and other Chinese adoptees.
The idea, Wright said, was to make those girls realize that they are growing up with the same joys and problems of other American girls. The magazine also seeks to celebrate the girls' heritage.
"A lot of the articles are the same kinds of things you would see in American Girl," Wright said, referring to a popular national magazine aimed at girls about 8 to 12. "But most of the content is aimed specifically with Asian girls (in mind)."
Inside Mei, readers will find reader-submitted photographs of themselves along with features on such topics as Asian culture, heritage and travel.
If celebrities appear in the magazine, they're almost always Asian-Americans profiled in a regular feature about role models. Recent stories have proffered tips on traveling to China and advice on how to communicate with family and friends.
One of the most popular features is "Amanda's Place," in which New York City psychiatrist Amanda Baden, an Asian woman who was adopted by American parents, answers questions from readers.
Readers ask whether they should try to find their biological parents, or how to make friends in a small town where they may be the only Asians.
In one letter, a reader who called herself "Lily, a.k.a. 'First Runner-Up,' " asked how to deal with the feeling that her mom would have given birth to a child, if she had been able to, instead of adopting. Baden replied, in part, that just because a woman wants to give birth to a child doesn't mean she doesn't also want to adopt.
"I think you'd have a hard time finding any adoptive parents who would want to give up that adopted child for the chance to have a child by birth," Baden wrote. "Once you become a family, that bond is as strong as any other."
Mei may be the only publication that gives that kind of information and advice to these girls, Baden said.
"I think it's important for these girls to have a publication like this," Baden said in an interview. "It lets them feel that they're part of a community, even if that community is widespread."
Taylor Robinson, a 10-year-old subscriber in Brandon, said Mei gives her a sense of belonging.
"I like to read about the kids who are going through the same things I'm going through because I'm the only Chinese girl in my class," said Robinson, a fourth-grader at Nativity Catholic School. "But even if I wasn't Chinese, I'd probably still like the magazine because it's really cool."
Taylor has had her picture in the gallery section of Mei a couple of times and found a pen pal in Minnesota through the magazine.
Kathy Robinson, Taylor's mother, said she reads Baden's column in every issue and finds her advice spot-on.
"If there's anything I want to add, we talk about it," said Robinson, who recently contracted with the magazine to do some sales and marketing work. "But most of the time, (Baden) gives the same kind of advice that I, as a parent, would want my daughter to have."
One of the challenges the Wrights face is that Mei has a few thousand subscribers. That's not enough to interest most national advertisers, and there aren't enough readers in any one geographic area to interest many local advertisers. So the Wrights keep their full-time jobs and spend all their spare time working on the magazine, for no money.
"At this point it's a labor of love," Wright said. "It's exhausting, and it's frustrating sometimes. But it's a total labor of love."
Marty Clear can be reached at [email protected]