Mixing With Non-Adoptees of Your Race.

Winter is here and for me so is a “spring” semester of college. It’s kind of exciting, but colleges are crawling with Asians! And I don’t mean other adoptees. I mean Asians with Asian parents, with Asian last names, who can look right at me and know I’m American. Or at least it feels like they can scan me and know like some sort of racist video game. “Target acquired! Barrels down, Barrels down! Target is Korean! Oh wait.. She’s culturally Caucasian. FIRE!” It’s quite the intimidating experience for me.

No matter how much I own being Korean and dressing Korean, I feel like a fake around them. I see them with Asian-American friends, Caucasian-American friends, so why don’t I feel like I can belong with them? I feel judged and paralyzed around non-adopted Asians. Perhaps it’s from my upbringing of being told everything culturally Asian is negative. When you’re in openly social situations (school, work, parties, malls, etc) how do you feel about yourself around those who are the same race as you, but not adopted? Do you avoid those people or do you try and interact with them? Lately I’ve been manning up and saying hello, but mostly I runaway. Sometimes literally.

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8 thoughts on “Mixing With Non-Adoptees of Your Race.

  1. From elementary school through seventh grade, my parents would relocate our family from Washington state to Southern California twice per year for approximately 6 weeks. I don’t know if being a white kid with a Hispanic last name in that setting made a difference; I failed to track it, because it just never crossed my mind. I wasn’t raised to think poorly of Hispanic people, And not because my father was one and wanted to assimilate. It just never came up, that I remember.

    But your description of being in the crosshairs is one that I did experience a lot, especially on the first day going to school in Southern California when I would always end up walking into class late, because there was all the paperwork to fill out before hand. That experience, of stepping into the classroom and having literally everyone turn to look at me left a very, very deep impression on me that made me very, very leery about ever being late to things or giving people a chance to stare like that at me.

    But your post also makes me wonder–and I apologise if asking this is ignorant or if it invites bringing up unpleasant memories (in which case, please disregard it), but what are some examples “of being told everything culturally Asian is negative”–for some reason, I’m assuming these were from your adoptive parents as well. Did they say things directly to you, or did you over hear them, or, ???

    For me, every day seeing the images of heterosexuality everywhere had a double effect of negating me: not only did I not see any images of males with other males, but the heterosexual images also told me that images of men and women together were the only ones that could exist. That was how I was told every day that I was less than negative–how I was told, “You don’t even exist.”

    Thinking back on it, this double absence (not only that gay imagery didn’t exist, but that only heterosexual imagery could exist) was far more damaging than any amount of overt discrimination I’ve since experienced.

    • My adoptive parents were never interested in Korean culture. They sent me to Korean Culture Camp (a 5 day day camp in MN). My dad never came to any of it, my mom came to a couple Saturday programs, but always made me leave early. They never asked me about camp, and didn’t want to hear what I did that day. Oddly we went to Chinese restaurants. Around the house there was prints of famous Chinese paintings, a couple Chinese/Japanese lanterns, and something referred to as “the China cabinet”. They never owned anything Korean, but their two daughters.

      They make it extremely clear now by stating they do not like Korean food, culture, or language. They are not interested in ever going to Korea or being educated on Korean anything. They admit that they adopted from Korea because it was the fastest country to adopt from. To them they were getting babies to raise themselves by their own beliefs and rules, not Asian babies that come with their own sets of rules as Koreans not Caucasians.

      There are more traumatic things that happened with the, regarding my race growing up, but those feel like their own post.

  2. Great article – it took me right back to the first time I ever met other Chinese people – in China town, in London. Naive as I was all those years ago, I thought, perhaps I hoped I would be welcomed with open arms. Ho wrong could I have been. I realised fairly late on that any hopes that I might have “romantically” held about being welcomed into the bosom of my culture family were unrealistic. Neither could I find solace amongst the host nation. Truth was culturally, linguistically and socially I was a frankinstein. I gave up trying to create links long, long ago. But times were different then and that was over thirty years ago. People now seek me out and they have to take me as they find me flawed, linguistically challenged and most definitely not like any other “Chinese” person they may have encountered. But the weird thing is – and this comment has been passed by more than one Chinese person, you are very Chinese. It is said as a compliment and I take it as such. There are still those from within the British East Asian community who consider me as a freak and want nothing to do with me; similarly there are those within the Caucasian community who would like to see me deported and sent back to my country of origin.

    You are not fake, you are you. Maybe you just don’t know it yet. Perhaps you still need a while to get comfortable in your own skin, your own being. It’s doesn’t matter what clothing you wear, what exterior adornments you drape yourself in. It’s what you believe internally. You’ve heard the saying that ‘only you can let someone else make you feel inferior’. Well, only I (you) can let someone make me (you) feel less than I am (you are). I’m sure this might seem distant and far away from what you’re actually experiencing and easy for someone else to say. But believe me things do get better, will get better. Why avoid people? Say hello if they want to say hello back they will if they don’t, well you tried. Don’t forget they are flesh and blood too and they experience the same fears, concerns, doubts as you do maybe in different areas but they are perhaps not as confident and as self assured as you may think they are. If you don’t talk to them you’ll never know. Friends waiting to be found maybe?

    • I don’t have a problem connecting and talking to Others/strangers as people. The problem is when trying to connect with people because we’re both Asian, and trying to learn more about Asian-American culture/dating. It’s not just things and interests that make up who our friends are, it’s also race. I grew up culturally Caucasian with other Caucasians, naturally most of my friends have the same background in being white. Not being culturally Asian makes it extremely difficult to have that “Asian connection” with others who were raised more Asian than American.

      I live around the twin cities and there are a couple of night clubs that have rather high Asian populations. When I go up and talk to anyone people don’t seem to care that I’m adopted. They’re all “omg you’re Asian, Awesome!” When I go up to other Asians most of them make a point of saying their Asian last name, and ask my ethnicity. Why? Because being culturally Asian matters, and whether you’re Korean, Chinese, or Hmong matter.

      They hear my first and last name are both American and that I’m Korean, so they immediately ask if I’m adopted. Most cultural Asians then walk away from me or say something about me being white and that they’re only interested in real Asian girls. Very few cultural Asians say its cool that I’m adopted, and we continue. When I run into another adoptee the conversations goes to how not Asian we feel, and how judged we feel for being culturally Caucasian.

  3. I feel for you. I was raised in a small, mostly white town in Oregon and didn’t know any other Koreans until I went to college at 18. My university was neatly 1/4 Asian — I chose it partly for that reason, although diversity on campus was merely one important factor out of many, of course. I had always looked forward to being in a more diverse environment in college and making more Asian friends. But I hadn’t fully realized how difficult it can be when you look like a Korean and have no idea how to really BE one. (Not that all of us are/should be the same, but there are major cultural differences between me as someone raised de facto white and other Koreans raised in Korean families…as has been pointed out to me numerous times by numerous Korean people, including members of my birth family.)

    As it happened, and despite those feelings of being a “fraud,” I did make some great Asian and Korean friends in college and after. I tend to have more in common with the most “Americanized” ones — but my closest Asian friends, for what it’s worth, have turned out to be those with the strongest connections to their cultures. I’m not sure why that is…it’s just worked out that way. I’m not naive about this, and I do know that some Koreans might not accept me because of how I was raised and how I act and look now — I am especially nervous about potentially meeting my relatives who still live in Korea. But I can’t and don’t apologize, either, for how I was brought up, which was not of my choosing. And it hasn’t really kept me from making good friends who are way more Korean than I am.

  4. Growing up, the names of neighbors and classmates only ring now in retrospect as Lebanese: Maalouf; Boutros; Barood; Kevra… I remember driving around where I grew up a few years back and there was a huge Lebanese flag in front of a church reflecting a Lebanese denomination. I had no inkling of such a presence when I was young.

    Not once can I remember any of these people acknowledging me as “Lebanese” growing up, or sharing anything of the culture with me. I think everyone was hellbent on hiding their cultural heritage, assimilating like good immigrants, and so the weird focus on me as “Lebanese” just made me an Outsider inside of the Outside.

    There was equally a large Arab Jewish population from Syria, and in retrospect I find it fascinating that these families were more likely to maintain their culture [in the home], though I’m sure they had no idea of what to make of me. I was just the “paper boy”.

    In college in Paris there was a huge expatriate Lebanese community there. Here I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t “really Lebanese”. Ironically, this came from, among others, a student whose mother was Lebanese and father was German. According to Lebanese law, because women cannot pass down nationality, she wasn’t “really Lebanese” either. Further irony was their desire to “out-French the French”, and not be seen in any way as “Arab”.

    Back in Lebanon is where it gets really crazy. Hired as an American at the foreign university here, I was paid higher wages than local Lebanese.

    During the war on Lebanon in 2006, the then-provost “overlooked” warning “Americans” who didn’t look the part to evacuate. The evacuation itself came in three stages of racial segregation: “All-American”; American by marriage; naturalized American.

    Colleagues who saw me as “American” invited me to ex-pat parties where the host would be horrified to find a “Lebanese” not of of the serving staff.

    Other colleagues who saw me as “American” talked garbage about the Lebanese people all the time in front of me without blinking an eye. Lebanese colleagues who didn’t appreciate my choice of neighborhood referred to me in Arabic as a “yob”; a “working-class thug”; or in English as a “hybrid”.

    To the former I said this was a compliment; to the latter I replied that hybrids are “artificial; monstrous; cannot produce; and are parasitic”, which described more the culture criticizing me.

    Still other expatriate professors told me that I was “lucky” because I “fit in”, or, if my beard grew in, told me I looked like a “hoodlum”.

    The guys in my “yob” neighborhood tell me that I am “Arab by blood”; that I am their “brother”. My neighbor upstairs refers to me as her “son”. When people openly criticize the United States or the “West”, no one apologizes to me any more.

    When I presented at the Socialism Conference in Oakland in 2010, I was deferred to and allowed to speak as if my acculturation were Arab/Muslim, just by virtue of six years spent in Beirut. This scared me, and I pointed it out. It also scared me that my Arabic was better than many of those present who were actually acculturated Arab-American.

    In New York on my most recent trip, a friend of a friend (Lebanese-American) asked me to “teach her” about Lebanon, so much the discussion went missing in her family.

    In terms of the Egyptian/Yemeni/Palestinian workers I would engage with in the City, my Arabic passed muster.

    To me there is a kind of spectrum of acceptance that diminishes the more distant the person “judging” me is from “home”, and the higher the person judging is on a self-ascribed scale of class.

  5. I’ve had very similar experiences as well and it still happens all the time – I think young people can be quick to judge who ‘fits in’ and who doesn’t, at least in the black American community. I’ve always had a difficult time fitting in, but I think a lot of it has to do with class (so yes, I get along fairly well with other middle-class, college-educated black people). But then, some older adults will be quick to say that I’m “bougie” or “wanna be white”, just like the high school teenagers. Just be yourself and be proud of yourself – this is easier said than done, but I think you’ll find your identity and acceptance in time. That said, I’m working on it myself, but I recognize myself as a cool black American girl, defined by lived experience and having a stong network of accepting, open-minded friends (of all races).

  6. KangSunLee, I really like the way you refer to being “culturally” Asian or “culturally” Caucasian. Because the flip side of the denigration we might receive from those “acculturated” in their ethnicity is our choice to accept or break out of such acculturation. This has limits of course. Sara K speaks of the epithet “wannabe white” which implies this choice that we perhaps never consciously made. Once aware of this “choice”, what then? Is there any room for us to “man up” as you said and express to those who might use this against us that, in fact, they too, to greater and lesser degrees, have acculturated themselves (“white” or “Caucasian”) in a similar way, or that this has happened equally against their “will”?

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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