Category Archives: alone

Let’s Dream!

Imagine being ethnically different from your classmates. Imagine feeling completely American, but knowing you aren’t quite like those around you. Imagine your fear in others discovering who you really are.

International adoptees feel this way. While we may feel out of place in school, in our community and sometimes in our home, we possess an identity. Almost immediately we become American citizens, courtesy of our adoptive families.

Now, imagine if you brought here at a young age, feel a connection with your community, but cannot fully enjoy being American solely because of where you were born?

The immigration reform issue has touched me. More specifically, four extremely brave, young people have been on my mind. Their stories can be found on the website, The Dream is Now. I encourage you to watch the trailer. Much of what they say has played over and over in my head.

Mayra, who is secretly taping her segment says, “I didn’t choose to come here. It was a decision my parents made for me in order to give me a better life.”

Osmar says, “I’m full American. I speak English; I know the culture. I am from here.

I have said some of these things, and I suspect that other international adoptees have felt some of these feelings. But that is as far as the similarities go. Adoptees are able to pursue college scholarships and degrees. We are granted all the benefits of being American.

The interesting thing is that the Dreamers, too, have lived here as long as many international adoptees. They share similar experiences that relate to their ethnicity, while feeling completely American.

Their faces could be our faces. Their voices could be our voices. Their dreams are our dreams.

With my citizenship, I hope to make a difference in the lives of my fellow dreamers. Go Dreamers!

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Undercover Adoptee

Yesterday morning at breakfast, I heard this Story Corps taping (before you continue, you might want to listen). 
This dialogue between a mother and daughter will surprise you when you reach the end. In less than three minutes we discover the mother was adopted but did not discover this until adulthood.
This 2012 was a year of discovery in my adoption story, but mine focused on the discovery of other adoptees. 
Up until this year, I wandered around believing that I was quite alone and undercover. Every now and then, my secret identity would need verification through statements like, “I have no medical family history because I’m adopted.” and “Well, that isn’t really my birthday, it was given to me by the Korean government.”  
As I have mentioned, my life has been recently touched by three Korean adoptees. In a couple of instances, the adoptee knew immediately upon meeting me face to face that I must be adopted … few Koreans have a full Puerto Rican name.
Over the holidays, I had a cookie exchange. While introducing people, a new friend, Amy. (not to be confused with Amy in this post), asked how Miya and I knew one another. We mentioned that our adoption histories were similar.  At this, Amy said with a smile, “I’m adopted too!”
Amy is a caucasian woman with blonde hair. Her identity as an adoptee is not written on her face, nor does her name give any indication that she is adopted. Amy, Miya and I started sharing our common frustrations with routine questions like “Do you have any diseases in your family history?”
Like me, Amy lost her adoptive mother too soon. Like me, Amy has a younger sibling who is not only six years younger than her, but the sibling is also the biological child of her adoptive parents. 
Unlike me, Amy lost her father to cancer and had a middle brother who was also adopted. She had a sibling with whom she could confide as well as share her adoption questions as they became older. 
Amy is an art teacher. It is our love of art education that brought us together. When she began teaching, she spoke with her adopted brother about her fear that any of the children she was teaching could, in fact, be biologically related to her. Being so close to her birthplace and much like the adoption story in Story Corps, there was the possibility that those whose social circles intersected hers could be biologically related to her. Her brother assured her that she would be a fabulous teacher regardless of the background of her students.
Amy shares the deep love of her adoptive family that I do, but now I see another side of adoption. Those adoptions that are not international pose completely different questions and challenges. When you aren’t racially different from your family, you are undercover. My race has helped me find others like me, albeit some 40 years into my life, but for Amy and the woman in the Story Corps article, no one assumes that they are adopted.
This year has brought me rich relationships with people who share my adoption experience. I am truly grateful for these friendships. While we are all adopted, each of our stories varies and flows in differing ways, but we all can relate to one another in a way that others cannot. With one another, we are no longer undercover.

Who are you?

Today, at my dental check-up I was surprised that my hygienist had changed. My name was called by a young Asian woman with highlights like mine.

As we walked back, we made casual exchanges, and I asked her where she had her hair colored. (Since moving to Wisconsin, I have yet to find a stylist to color my hair as I like it.) She obliged with a name. She noticed and asked about my accent. I commented that hers wasn’t the typical Wisconsin accent.

She also continued to tell me a bit more about herself … her background living in Massachusetts and Long Island, then moving to Wisconsin as a sophomore in high school. After a very pleasant visit, I got up to leave.

As I put on my coat, she suddenly mentioned that she was Korean and adopted! I let her know that I, too, was adopted and Korean. This prompted her to reveal even more.

She was adopted in the 1980s at one-and-a-half years of age with her biological sister, who was three at the time. Their birth mother had died of cancer, and her father could not care for them. They were moved several times to different homes, her aunt’s, a parish, and finally the orphanage. Adopted by a family that had two natural sons but wanted two daughters, she spoke of her childhood in a Caucasian community.

Recently, a letter had arrived for her and her sister. It stated that there had been a “development” in her and her sister’s adoption case. While she said she was curious and ambivalent, she said she was allowing her sister to take the lead on it. She revealed her sister’s sense of abandonment growing up and her struggles with their adoption and heritage.

I explained how her differences with her sister mirrored mine with my adoptee friend. I mentioned that I consider myself American first, while my contemporary adoptee friend, Miya, sees herself as Korean. This young woman said she felt the only thing she kept of her ethnicity was her love for kimchee, a pickled Korean cabbage. “I eat it every day!!” she said.

Like this young woman, I don’t feel those feelings of abandonment. That will need to be the subject of another post. After the visit, I went to my car and called Miya. In the past, I would have called my husband, but she does feel like family now.

“I’ve spent my entire life explaining who I am,” I said to Miya. “Now, I don’t have to explain. She just recognized me as adopted!”

Miya replied, “You’re still in your adoptive infancy, and I can’t wait to see you grow.”

Hapa

Living in Rwanda, my husband experienced something I had felt for a long time.

He could not hide the fact that he was different. When we were in the market, kids and adults would point and whisper (though he could hear), “Wazungu,” Kinyarwandan for “white person.” It was disconcerting.

As I have written, two Korean adoptee women have entered my life and are teaching me a little more about myself. They each adopted two Korean children, something for which I admire them deeply. In the process, one of them said her husband mentioned that the tables had been reversed once they visited Korea. In Korea, he couldn’t hide his race. His wife, on the other hand, could finally blend in.

I have spent a good portion of my life trying to blend in and secretly wishing to meet someone as confused by race as myself. On the one hand, I wanted to be seen as white or Puerto Rican. On the other hand, I wanted validation that being Asian was okay. As a teen in the 80s, I searched Teen magazine for Asian models. There were few, maybe one every few months in the Teen Model Search finalists.

TV gave me no respite. The media had few Asians other than Connie Chung, to whom I was often compared as I studied print journalism in the late 1980s, and Yoko Ono, to whom I was referred when I wore large sunglasses. At the time, I was trying to assimilate, and in my efforts to do so, I would often shun such comparisons.

Regretfully, I didn’t share this feeling of alienation with my parents. My mother sensed some of it, as she special ordered an Asian baby doll for me.

These experiences drive me today to create a better childhood for my own children. While they are mixed race, both Korean and Caucasian, they are often placed solely in the Asian category. My husband and I have sought to place them in racially diverse communities and schools. I’ve tried to make sure they see themselves as both races.

We own a fantastic book, Part Asian, 100% Hapa. In it, photographer, Kip Fulbeck, has photographed numerous subjects who are part Asian, from children to adults. My children pour over this book. It is worn from all the page turning and marking. It affirms them and assures them that they are not alone in their confusing ethnicity.

While I hated the references to Yoko as a teen, I relate to her now as a mother. Her son, Sean Lennon, has written the forward in Fulbeck’s book that addresses my children’s feelings.

Sean Lennon says, “It is only human to want to belong to a group. … If, like me, you are half-Japanese and half-English, you will in Japan be considered white, and in America be considered Asian. This can be lonely at times … ”

Yet, this book reassures my children that they are not alone in their feelings.  They are indeed Hapa!