Friday, March 14, 2003
Since I have nothing good to say at the moment... I'll let somebody who does. Read what my homie Justin has written and educate your mind.
Fading the Yellow: Adopting Asians into Caucasian American Families
Far from the romantic tale of being saved from psychological instability by an upstanding American family, the issue of adopting Asians into white American homes is sullied by an abysmal assortment of flaws. Questions on the reasons for being given up and who his birth parents are, as well as the issues of abandonment, feeling unwanted, and fear of committing to others are commonplace in all adoptive households. There is little consideration given to achieving racial balance between white and Asian. Sandra Patton, in BirthMarks, is one of the few authors who ruminates on this issue:
We are not defined solely by either our genetic heritage, nor by our culture and environment. Rather, like everyone else living in the complex, globalized, socially stratified United States today, adoptees' identities are intricately constructed and reconstructed by our biological histories, the various cultural meaning systems we encounter, and our interaction with public policies and social institutions. (15-16)
Yet some white American families ignore their adopted children's origins and thus do not construct them with the aid of such biological histories.
This cannot persist. Powered by American ethnocentrism, it is a discrete form of assimilation into white American culture and a silent, unconscious disapproval of plurality and diversity, both of which supposedly being ideals on which our country functions (Treacher and Katz 102).
It is a segue for instances in which an Asian American adoptee undergoes an identity crisis and makes sweeping changes in his lifestyle to accommodate the Asian traits. If adoption is done correctly, no ethnic-conscious adoptee should be forced to suffer the pangs of years of achieving cultural balance on his own. No one should endure what I did.
The Struggle for Reclamation
A serene, parent-engineered conception of adoption can only hold its grasp over an Asian child until he is exposed to an environment with a relatively high Asian population. It is in these areas where the adoptee begins to see, although he may share the common ethnic link with his peers, that he is culturally not of the same brood. Prolonged interaction with fellow Asians will invoke the very insecurities that haunt adoptees and drive them to immerse themselves in their ethnic roots.
For me, the process began on a superficial level. I scavenged the mall for the designs Asians wore and I snagged a jade pennant with gold Chinese characters on the front. The latter was obviously marketed cleverly by the Chinese for Asian fetishists who actively subscribe to the exoticism and mystique of Asian characters and their "deep, intrinsic meanings." Having my Asian roots excluded from my life, this was never apparent to me.
My angst manifested itself further when I did everything possible to disassociate myself with my family in public areas. My 15-foot distance, silence, and refusal to address them by their familial titles were how I accomplished this. I cringed every time one of my relatives called my name and thus acknowledged my affiliation with them and depreciated my own constructed idea of "Korean-ness" in front of passers by. To be seen with them was a threat to my right to call myself Korean.
Interrogative sessions harbor the typically rhetorical questions that are asked only to suggest fault on the parents. In a fit of betrayal, I blamed my ignorance to Korean culture and language on my family. I blamed them for not enrolling me in a language school on the weekends. I blamed them for not stressing to me the importance of one's ethnic origins. With nothing to quell my argument, my grandmother scolded me in a way that only frustrated me. "If you want to be Asian, you better start giving me some God damn respect because in Asia, children respect their elders!" But my anger and sense of betrayal overpowered my will to respect the people who raised a white boy out of me.
My search for the cultural balance continued with my affinity for Korean music, which is still alive today. My Korean friends are dumbfounded when I list the album discography for Drunken Tiger or the dates and events surrounding the break-up of popular groups (an all too common trend in the Korean music industry). Fanaticism would not be the best way to classify this obsession. Rather, it's more of a simple, fun medium through which I can recover some traces of my Korean identity, hence the stalker-esque knowledge.
Discussions on my country and people beg for my participation as if I was raised amongst my own. The Korean infatuation with PC games, plastic surgery, drinking traditions, obsession with aestheticism, power of taekwondo, and the political climate are standard fare in the roundtable sessions I find myself in.
These Korean friends with whom I share discourses with are not of bonds formed from my early childhood. (Perish the thought that my family would ever introduce me to a Korean.) If the desperation to alter my identity has not been clearly conveyed as of now, perhaps the confession of using AsainAvenue.com, an online Asian American community, to meet Koreans will. It was through AA that I met people who knew others and the ties multiplied all throughout the 253 and 425 area codes. (Reader may insert degrading quip for "internet loser" here: _________________.)
Without this network, I would not have the support I need to facilitate my assimilation with Korean culture. My search thrives on the enlightenment and teaching of Korean society and politics and the fusion of Korean words into everyday English. I've absorbed the tendencies and knowledge to such an extent that my friends refer to me as the "most Asian adoptee" they know.
I have acquired a greater sense of truth and a more prideful stance on my Korean identity. I am more suspicious of any covet racism I sense being aimed at my own. I am quick to cry foul when an Asian stereotype is fed to mainstream audiences for white American profit. I am learning the behaviors and generalizations of my people and the validity and absurdity in all. I have a greater understanding of my intended role in this stratified society called the United States of America.
However, knowing that I do not speak Korean fluently nor have a nearly complete understanding of Korean culture, I still continue onward. I'm practically in a position of refusing to forgive my family for what they have done, for I like other adoptees, have endured years of psychological torment finding my identity as consequence of what I was bought into (Patton 70). No Asian adoptee in a white American household should be deprived of his heritage because those who discover their inadequacy will suffer trying to alter themselves.
Happiness of uniqueness eventually descends to disenfranchisement. The socially constructed, sentimental tale of individuality published in textbooks for the adoptive parent is replaced by a plague of misguided anger, confusion, and ostracization. Once at the height of this angst, no parental soothing like "We wanted you to have a better life in America" can stand as an apology for the cultural deprivation that the adoptee was desensitized into willfully accepting.
Still a Speck of Yellow
The adoptees who are confronted on the issue of assimilation into whiteness and still gladly declare allegiance to their American culture underestimate the importance of their Asian halves. Not realizing the potential growth and maturity in having two cultural perspectives, these children manifest their American ignorance by writing off their own Asian culture as strange, foreign, and ultimately not theirs. Hangul is suddenly the Chinese alphabet. Kimchi is suddenly a Japanese delicacy. The "all look alike" stigma ascends to a grander level of normalcy and commonality.
Although it is taboo to diverge with what one's parents have taught them, it is necessary in the instance that an Asian adoptee is denied the immersion into his origins. The white parents, raised to think that racism was eradicated by the civil rights movement and that the U.S. is a "color-blind" society will raise him to be a white American incognizant to racism (Patton 70). His mind will be polluted with convoluted ideals like individual meritocracy being the sole determinant in one's success. His conception of an Asian American will be a martial arts master who flirts with the borders between human and primate, masculine and feminine, when his typified windmill arm movements and high-pitched "Hai-ya!" are integrated into the trendiest Saturday morning cartoon in circulation. Stereotypes will be all that the child knows of his own race and he will distance himself from them, claiming to be a superior exception that does not possess their socially constructed, trademark flaws (Patton 69).
Further distancing himself, he may even conform to the white standards of aestheticism and be disgusted with his own appearance (Feigelman and Silverman 167). If so, he will want blonde hair, blue eyes, and folded eyelids.
The child will unknowingly subscribe to the set of unearned advantages that a white American has over ethnic minorities, advantages that a white American is taught to accept as normal and thus be oblivious to (Patton 68). But he will be cruelly reminded of his ethnicity when he is paid less than his white counterpart in the workplace and a swarm of white children surround him and scream, "Ching chang chong!" He will wonder why he has not been accepted by the people he thought he was part of. The answer will lie in his different hue of melanin, the epicanthic fold of his eyelids, and his diminutive physical stature. His subsequent attempts to connect with his Asian half will be thwarted when interrogated on his sparse knowledge of his ethnic tongue. They will not claim him as one of their own because he so willingly sided with his whiteness. He will issue forth excuses for not attempting to embrace his Asian background arguing that he's been raised one way and does not want to traverse the arduous journey of change and readjustment. He will never acknowledge the ethnicity that inhibits his progress in the United States because he is predisposed to instinctively feign whiteness, all the while remaining an Asia-ignorant fool unconsciously upholding a notion of white superiority that does not apply to him. No change is sought, and therefore no resolution found.
I've witnessed these adoptees who are so sickeningly comfortable in their faux white skin. Two are in my own family. They have no pulse on the behavior and society of their ethnic group. They don't know the trademark physical features that distinguish one Asian ethnicity from another. The ultimate blow is their failure to recall their original name when asked. So heavily pinned to their whiteness are they that they regard their given names as insignificant and meaningless. It is through these indicators that I sense their apathy and indifference to the skin under which they are born.
The teachings of this American Ethnic Studies class have fueled a greater distrust of American government within me and an inclination to scrutinize every one of their actions almost as if they were conspiring. I sometimes can't help but believe the idea of adopting Asians into white American homes was a grand scheme orchestrated by our own government to acquire the unwavering allegiance of more ethnic minorities, all the while returning the favor with neoracist, institutional inhibitors. In theory, it most certainly is not. In practice, however, the growing number of Asian adoptees with no devotion to their cultural origins supports the validity in my seemingly radical claim.
As a Korean American adoptee, it is important to clarify that I do not oppose adoption of Asians into white American families. I am far better off than the average abandoned child who must live a life of bouncing from foster home to foster home and never realizing the possibilities of a close-knit group giving forth its love and protection. Everyday, I am grateful for the necessities that my family has provided me with. But if an adoption of an Asian child into a white American family is to be performed, it must be done correctly. The child's ethnic origins cannot be compromised for the dominant Anglo Saxon culture. "Whites need to learn how to decenter Whiteness as normal, as generically human, and above all, as innocent" (Patton 75). Equal importance must be given to both cultures in order to rear a child who will grow to have dual perspectives that will reduce the chances of bias, racism, prejudice, discrimination, and offending others in both his actions and his words. He will challenge otherwise acceptable forms of racism directed at his race and formulate a positive conception of himself (Patton 71). Making him cognizant and proud of both heritages will also prevent the catastrophic disappointment of finding that he cannot benefit from white privilege and ease his adjustment into accepting his adoptive life (Feigelman and Silverman 168). He will know his role as an Asian American in Caucasian-dominated America that he is not to set his sights on too lofty a goal because his physical appearance will work against him. Through this immersion, parents of the adoptee will grow to respect his culture and they will diversify their views, perhaps destroying prejudices (Patton 70). The sappy stories of an Asian's arrival in the States and the happy life he was given can only be true in the instances that the parents both adopt and adapt.
Feigelman, William, and Arnold R. Silverman. Chosen Children: New Patterns of Adoptive Relationships. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1983.
Patton, Sandra. BirthMarks Transrational Adoption in Contemporary America. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
Treacher, Amal, and Ilan Katz. The Dynamics of Adoption: Social and Personal Perspectives. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2000.
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