“Being an Asian American adoptee in the US means nothing and everything. It means being an unbalanced equation in America’s weird racial math. It means being a completed puzzle with missing pieces. People project their views of race onto you, and you bounce them back distorted, like a fun house mirror.”
Happy Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage month, everyone! Check out my piece on being a Korean American adoptee at Beyond Hallyu.
excellent, excellent piece:
"I was born in Busan and adopted to the US at six months old. I’m told I was born to an unwed mother who gave me up for adoption because of the shame of bringing up a boy without a father in Korea. I’m also told that the adoption agency I came through has a propensity for making up these types of stories. Like the refugee or the prisoner, the soldier or the peace activist, my entire existence has been profoundly human and also couched in rhetoric. The adoptee is both proud and burdened. There are days when I’m not sure who I am.
For the first 8-10 years of my life, I was actually part of that racism, brought up on the binary of good black people vs. bad black people, taught the nuances of Mexican and Puerto Rican work ethic. This was what growing up in a white family afforded me, the privilege of not having to think about my own otherness and how the system worked for me while neglecting others.
In school, things were different. My school was about half white and half black with Latin@s making up a sizeable portion of the population. Every day, someone would make sure I knew I wasn’t white. Whether it was the boy whose name and face are burned into my memory calling me ‘Chinese boy’ for the entirety of recess nearly every day for two years or kids I didn’t know who threw nonsense syllables at me trying to sound like the language they thought I spoke, I was always aware of my body as other, my flat nose and small eyes, hair dark and straight that no one seemed to be able to cut.
The adoptee is supposed to forget their identity while constantly being reminded of it.
For their part, my parents made efforts to make sure I wasn’t ashamed of my background. We went to Korean heritage festivals, and they encouraged me to research Korea for school projects, but I never saw myself in those things. Korea was a foreign country with a foreign language. It existed in food and on maps, in demographic statistics and facts about history, but not really as a part of me. I wasn’t Korean. But I wasn’t completely American, either. Eating food with names I couldn’t pronounce once a year wasn’t the same as having a family who understood what it felt like to be made fun of for the body I too often felt was a burden that I was stuck with.
I became obsessed with Tupac and Bob Dylan. As a teenager, I read WEB DuBois and Langston Hughes. James Baldwin and Anthony Burgess showed me how fiction can influence society. No, these weren’t the Asian American role models that I was looking to admire, but if I couldn’t find an image that reflected me, at least I found words that resonated. There are plenty of Asian writers I could have looked to, but I didn’t know that then. No one ever recommended Jeff Chang or Maxine Hong Kingston to me at the time—you have to remember my family still had dialup internet and one phone line—but I had friends who walked through school, bulky headphones around their necks with “Me Against the World” blasting from their Walkmen.
I ended up clinging to a lot of elements of black culture because I often felt like I didn’t have a culture of my own. While I was not a part of that community, the alienation from mainstream culture spoke to me, a different kind of alienation from that of, say, grunge kids in their worn flannel or the wannabe hippies who seem to crop up with every generation. This wasn’t about generational differences or rhetoric. This was, at its core, the struggle to be recognized as human and recognize the humanity in myself.”