‘Adopted from Korea and in Search of Identity’

From the New York Times:

As a child, Kim Eun Mi Young hated being different.

When her father brought home toys, a record and a picture book on South Korea, the country from which she was adopted in 1961, she ignored them.

Growing up in Georgia, Kansas and Hawaii, in a military family, she would date only white teenagers, even when Asian boys were around.

“At no time did I consider myself anything other than white,” said Ms. Young, 48, who lives in San Antonio. “I had no sense of any identity as a Korean woman. Dating an Asian man would have forced me to accept who I was.”


23 thoughts on “‘Adopted from Korea and in Search of Identity’

  1. The report, which focuses on the first generation of children adopted from South Korea, found that 78 percent of those who responded had considered themselves to be white or had wanted to be white when they were children.

    Not to trivialize the extra burdens of being a transracial adoptee, but I bet at least 78 percent of second-generation non-adopted children of color in North America wanted to be white when they were children.

    As a child, I used to have dreams of being a white boy and having adventures, probably because I watched way too much TV shows about white boys being the protagonist having adventures, and I wanted to have adventures. I honestly thought that I couldn’t have adventures because I wasn’t a white boy.

    Now I know that I can’t have (fantasy-themed) adventures, because it’s fantasy and not real, not because I wasn’t a white boy.

  2. a big difference for 2nd gen poc is that at the end of the day these children will be able to look at their family and realize there are other people who look like them. Even though it’s probably rarely discussed among the family I think this can be a powerful element.
    Of course there are always exceptions and I’m not not trying to trivialize the experience of non white immigrants either. I do believe there are connections between ir/intnl adoptees and 2nd gen poc.

  3. This study actually consists of adult adoptees over the age of 18. So, technically, they aren’t all in the “first wave.” It’s misleading and leads to this kind of mentality, that the “older” generation of adoptees had to suffer through what the “younger” ones don’t. If a respondent was 18 when they participated in this study (conducted in 2006-2008) then they would possibly be adopted as recently as 1989 and that’s if they were an infant <1 year. 1955-1989 is a big "first generation."

    What it might mean is that someone who is 20years old today and someone who is over 40 like myself (cough) may have reported having the same types of experiences or expressing the same feelings about their racial and cultural identity. Even though culture camps etc. etc. began in the late '70s and early 80s.

    I echo js718 too. Yes, there are similarities but there is a huge difference if even your family is white along with everyone else.

    On another note, I am reading a book that describes a study of black and biracial transracial adoptive families (white families, black/biracial children) from the 1970's written by an African American sociologist. The thing I find most interesting and ultimately sad? It could have been written TODAY.

  4. I do think that transracial Asian adoptees and second-, third- and fourth-generation Asian Americans are more likely to find similiarities. Interesting that white adoptive parents typically aim only to meet immigrants.

    Thanks for that clarification, Jae Ran. I have to say that given the many white adoptive parents I’ve met, I’m not so sure that people have made that many changes. Sure, there’s a lot more info out there. But you can’t make people read or accept it.

    Are you by any chance referring to Joyce Ladner’s book? I read that some time back, but yes, it could have been written today.

  5. 1955-1989 is a big “first generation.”

    Yes, it is misleading to call this a single generation. Also, the *current* “generation” (1989-present day?) may well be among the last generations, since Korea hopes to scale back and eventually end its intercountry adoption program. The hope is that there will one day be enough families in Korea willing to adopt children domestically. There’s still a long way to go in terms of overcoming the adoption stigma in-country, but Korea has a better shot at ending its international program than many other countries, simply because of the nation’s relative affluence.

    This was a tough article to read for me as a transracial Korean (but born in the U.S.) adoptee — I can relate to so much of it.

  6. The TRA experience is a metaphor for the Asian American experience in particular, given the high percentage of TRAs that either identify with or wish to be White.

    There are many Asian Americans who are like this in everything but name. A quote from the writer Frank Chin aptly captures this condition for Asian Americans in general:

    “In terms of the utter lack of cultural distinction in America, the destruction of an organic sense of identity, the complete psychological and cultural subjugation of a race of people, the people of Chinese and Japanese ancestry stand out as white racism’s only success.”

    This issue also demonstrates that White Supremacist culture is pervasive. It’s ubiquitous like the weather.

    White Supremacy poisons one’s brain. It is like air–polluted air–that you take in with each breath.

    It sickens and rots the soul of minorities who inhale it.

    And only through struggle–often painfully personal in nature–can its destructive effects be meliorated.

  7. I get what Frank Chin is saying, and I agree, but I’d expand it. White people are also white racism’s successes. People who used to be Irish, German, Serbian, or Italian in more than just name gave up their cultures to become Americans which meant to become white.

  8. White people are not the victims of White racism; they are the victimizers.

    The idea of Whiteness was to form a coalition of different European settler colonists to identify with the nascent American Empire and its internal caste system.

    This was all part of the greatest land theft and genocide in human history: the Western conquest of the “new world.”

    As Matthew Lyons explains:

    “Unlike the European countries, capitalism [in the US] did not emerge from feudal society, but rather was imposed abruptly through a special kind of mass colonial conquest. . .primarily the rule of White nationalism,”

    “In the US the populist vision of cross-class unity is related to the dominant US ideology of classlessness, social mobility, and liberalism in general, but populism tends to break with political orthodoxy by circumventing normal channels and attacking established leadership groups, at least rhetorically.”

    “White nationalism has meant (a) the absence of feudal remnants and the pervasiveness of liberal capitalist doctrines and institutions, and (b) a racial caste system that made working-class Euro-Americans part of a socially privileged White collective.

    In other words, White Supremacy and racism are fundamentally connected to Western modernity itself.

    That is why they are so deeply rooted and trascend issues of stereotypes or even institutional discrimination that “anti-racists” limit the debate to.

  9. I know the history of whiteness, Lxy, and that’s a good quote. Tim Wise also has wonderful writings/talks on the origins of whiteness. Note, though, I didn’t say white people were victims of white racism — I said they were successes of white racism. I simply noted that white racism was sucessful in making a variety of Euro ethnic groups lack of cultural distinction in America, etc. European ethnic groups were told, “Give up your heritage, and we’ll let you become white.” East Asians get told, “Give up your heritage, and we’ll let you become the next best thing ‘a model minority’ ‘the other white meat.’ As one of my Af Am studies professors once said, “Whites can avoid becoming a minority by continuously expanding the definition of whiteness and holding out the reward of white status to selected ethnic groups.” The Irish today, the Japanese and Chinese tomorrow… Understanding how Europeans became white helps us understand what is currently happening to East Asians.

  10. The reasons why the idea of Whiteness was a “success” in assmiliating European settler colonists into the American Empire significantly arises from a common phenotype that these Europeans had and also the shared idea of a common Western modernity and “Western civilization” (sic).

    For East Asians, it remains to be seen whether this program of White racial cleansing will be able to overcome obstacles such as different phenotypes and geopolitical/civilizational differences such as evidenced by the imperialist West’s proud tradition of racist Orientalism.

    There is also the minor little issue of resistance to White cultural genocide from Asian people themselves.

  11. Lxy, I’m a little confused. Is whiteness only a success in assimilating people with Euro phenotypes or is Frank Chin’s quote that East Asians are the successes of Euro racism accurate? I’m not saying many Asians don’t resist cultural genocide, but you said earlier many Asian Americans were only Asian in name.

  12. I used to assume that transnational Asian adoptees were like 2+ generation Asians (I don’t say “Asian Americans”, because I want to include Canadians like myself). However, I talked to Mei-Ling (a Chinese Canadian transnational adoptee), about identity through e-mail, and because she was born in Taiwan, she refers to Taiwan as her “homeland”. This was shocking to me. Since I am Canadian-born, I have no other homeland but Canada, I am not “from” somewhere else. I think it shows that knowledge about where you were born has a significant influence on your identity. My story about how I came to be in Canada is very different from her story about how she came to be in Canada.

    However, I was a bit hurt that people like me, non-adopted Asians, are assumed to be prejudiced against Asian adoptees, as if I think of her as less Asian than me. As if I have no identity issues myself and didn’t have doubts about my own Asian authenticity (before I identified as Asian through our shared experiences of being racialized as ‘Asian’, rejecting the idea of cultural points).

  13. from wikipedia”Children born overseas out of wedlock

    There is an asymmetry in the way citizenship status of children born overseas to unmarried parents, only one of whom is a U.S. citizen, is handled.

    8 U.S.C. § 1409 paragraph (c) provides that children born abroad after December 24, 1952 to unmarried American mothers are US citizens, as long as the mother has lived in the US for a continuous period of at least one year anytime prior to the birth.

    8 U.S.C. § 1409 paragraph (a) provides that children born to American fathers unmarried to the children’s non-American mothers are also considered US citizens if the father takes several actions:

    * Unless deceased, has agreed to provide financial support to the child until he reaches 18,
    * Establish paternity by clear and convincing evidence and, while the person is under the age of 18 years
    o the person is legitimated under the law of the person’s residence or domicile,
    o the father acknowledges paternity of the person in writing under oath, or
    o the paternity of the person is established by adjudication of a competent court.
    + 8 U.S.C. § 1409 paragraph (a) provides that acknowledgement of paternity can be shown by acknowledging paternity under oath and in writing; having the issue adjudicated by a court; or having the child otherwise “legitimated” by law.

    Because of this rule, unusual cases have arisen whereby children have been fathered by American men overseas from non-American women, brought back to the United States as babies without the mother, raised by the American father in the United States, and later held to be deportable as non-citizens in their 20s.[6][7]. The final element has taken an especially significant importance in these circumstances, as once the child has reached 18, the father is forever unable to establish paternity to deem his child a natural-born citizen. [8]

    This distinction between unwed American fathers and American mothers was constructed and reaffirmed by Congress out of concern that a flood of illegitimate Korean and Vietnamese children would later claim American citizenship as a result of their parentage by American servicemen overseas fighting wars in their countries. In many cases, American servicemen passing through in wartime may not have even learned they had fathered a child. In 2001, the Supreme Court, by 5-4 majority in Tuan Anh Nguyen v. INS, first established the constitutionality of this gender distinction”
    thought this was interesting take on transracial adoption and citizenship in the United States.

  14. @Lxy, You asked me if I were white – not what kind of POC I am, and frankly I don’t intend to produce a pedigree upon demand. And, really, the term POC is meaningless and vague? Why do so many antiracists of color use it then? I answered your question — will you answer mine — Is whiteness only a success in assimilating people with Euro phenotypes or is Frank Chin’s quote that East Asians are the successes of Euro racism accurate, because you have implied both at different times on this thread.

  15. @ flower.

    I want to see where you are coming from. I am not your Asian American Studies tour guide. Why should I answer questions about Asian American identity for someone who is not Asian and has no lived stake in the community? This is no better than White people and their voyeuristic “anti-racism.”

    In fact, if you are familiar with the work of Frank Chin or have any knowledge of Asian Americans, I wouldn’t need to answer your probing questions.

    And the term “POC” homogenizes the experiences of racial minorities;glosses over the conflicts and imbalances in power among them; and most importantly, many actual “POC” don’t identify as such in the real world.

  16. @Lxy, I didn’t ask you to be my Asian American studies tour guide. You don’t know whether or not I am Asian or what community I live in. I didn’t ask you a probing question — you made two opposing statements, and I asked you to clarify yourself. Your breakdown in logic has nothing to do with my knowledge of Frank Chin or Asian Americans — and if your logic hadn’t broken down you wouldn’t have needed to try to switch the subject of the conversation to my identity.

  17. Your breakdown in logic has nothing to do with my knowledge of Frank Chin or Asian Americans — and if your logic hadn’t broken down you wouldn’t have needed to try to switch the subject of the conversation to my identity.

    Whatever. Keep on telling yourself that. As I said before, if you were familiar with Chin’s work, the political context of his quote above, or Asian American issues, you wouldn’t be asking these questions to begin with.

    “You don’t know whether or not I am Asian or what community I live in. I didn’t ask you a probing question — you made two opposing statements, and I asked you to clarify yourself.”

    That’s because for some strange reason, you refuse to clarify where you’re coming from.

    And are you really a “POC”? You remind me of these White anti-racist activists/intellectuals (sic) who just love to theorize about the lived oppressions of minorities.

    I don’t believe in playing native informant about problems in the Asian American community for people who have no lived stake in them and are interested only because of some b.s. intellectual fancy of theirs.

  18. @Lxy, I have read Chin and have referenced him on other threads — out of deference to Resistance I’m leaving the rest of your comments alone.

    @Resistance, sorry, I’ll leave this alone from now own.

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