Category Archives: ethnic identity

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!

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.”

Growing beyond 44.

A part of me is waking. It says, “I’m Asian. I’m Puerto Rican. … Wait!  Who am I?”

One wake-up call happened in a local coffee shop. I had arranged to meet a woman named Amy.  We shared a passion for our district’s schools.  As I arrived, I noticed an Asian woman rush by me and into the cafe. A part of me said, “You forgot to tell Amy that you’re Asian, and not a Latina.” As I entered the shop, the Asian woman looked pointedly at me.  I said cautiously, “Are you Amy?”

“I am!” she said, “You must be Rosita!”

Then, jokingly, I explained, “I meant to tell you I was Korean.  I’m adopted, thus the name and face.”

“Funny, I’m Korean and adopted as well!” she said. I had finally found a person who had lived a similar life to my own. She had grown up in an isolated community in northern Wisconsin. We chatted more about our families and our kids’ schools. In the end, I learned that she had adopted her two boys from Korea and also was the president of the local organization, Families Through Korean Adoption, Madison (http://www.ftkamadison.org). She also invited me and my family to their next ChuSeok celebration.

I had no idea what ChuSeok meant, but Amy’s sincere invitation sparked a wanting in me. This weekend, I will experience my first ChuSeok at 44. I’m excited and apprehensive all at once.

My second waking began today when my friend, Jen, sent me a personal message over Facebook about this film:

I have watched the trailer, as well as read a few reviews. Again, a part of me wants desperately to see it, but another part of me is fearful. It may bring up questions from my formative years. Am I ready to face old fears? Can I relive the awkwardness and confusion of my teen years?

My friend, Jen, has her own set of questions as she begins her journey. She adopted her daughter from China a few years back. Her daughter experiences the wonderful things I did as a child who was well-loved. She will also have so much more support than I did in the 70s and 80s. Today, there are blogs, Facebook groups and local groups supporting and educating families of adoptees.

Even more intriguing, a movie gives us a spectacular look into the lives of adopted teens, something I longed for in the 80s, as I flipped through the pages of my Holt International magazines. I remember looking at all the adoptees and thinking, “I wish I could meet them and share my hopes and my fears so I won’t feel so alone.”

This week, I have so many wonderful reminders that I am not alone. I can share and experience with others who have benefited, and yet been confused about a background that separated us from our race.

I’ve finally grown up.

Back to normal

Welcome 2011! Although, I must admit that 2011 still feels like 1977. A few days before school let out, my daughter came home saying that she wished she could have “wide eyes.”

My heart contracted in anxious pain, and my mind went reeling back to 1977. Kids surrounded me as I tried to leave my new school in rural East Tennessee. Taller kids, big mocking faces and chants of “Me Chinese. Me play joke …”

Before we had children, my husband and I discussed my hometown and my childhood experiences. We decided that once we had children, we would only live in places that were ethnically diverse. Madison is just that. So, I found it quite shocking that we would be dealing with this issue here.

As I’ve posted before, my daughter is struggling with her own ethnic identity. Of our two children, she is the one who looks less Asian. When we asked her why she wanted “wider eyes,” her response was “Because then, I would be normal like my friends.”

“Normal” is a word that creeps into my blog often (Mistaken Identity). To hear my daughter say it, not only showed her painful need for acceptance, but also brought back my old, childhood insecurities.

As a parent, I want to protect her. But life is filled with the need to be accepted and the need to conform. So now, I must pull out my best mommy advice from my mother’s guide to life.

“Your uniqueness sets you apart. Rejoice in that.”