Students of color are allowed to enter the classroom but never on an equal footing. When they walk in, they are subject to the same racial stereotypes and expectations that exist in the larger society. Students of color do not have the advantage of walking into a classroom as individuals; they walk in as black, brown, or red persons with all the connotations such racialization raises in the classroom. They do not walk into a classroom where the curriculum embraces their histories. They walk into a classroom where their histories and cultures are distorted, where they feel confused about their own identities, vulnerabilities, and oppressions. There is no level of liberal reforms that can alter these experiences for students of color without directly challenging the larger systems in society.
My story is unique, yet it is nothing new.
Born almost 26 years ago, in a small clinic outside the bustling city of Seoul, a young woman gave birth to me. Less than three pounds in weight, two months early (I suppose this was a good indication of how I’d be later in life - I’m so impatient!), I was certainly not an easy burden to bear. According to the file I’ve read time and time again, my biological mother was somewhere around 21-years-old, single, and unwed. She was 5’0” and 110 pounds. She met my biological father and, under the guise of having a future together, had a whirlwind romance that ended when he left her - and left her with me, growing inside of her. He was tall, and skinny, and spoke in a traditional Seoul dialect, so the paper says. I’ve never thought much about him.
She wore no sort of physical binding to conceal her pregnancy, and she suffered no morning sickness - something that always seemed like a glimmer of hope for me when I finally decide to have children. I always grew up with the understanding that my name, Chae-Won, was one she had given me, but I believe the adoption agency in South Korea gave me that name. I don’t know what she called me or if she called me anything at all.
I was put into foster care two months after being born, two months in which I can only assume my birth mother tried to take care of me and nurse me to health. My foster mother fed me, gave me things like tangerine juice, and saved me from succumbing to pneumonia. In the first picture my parents received of me, the hair at the top-rear of my head is sticking in every direction having been shaved to insert an IV due to the pneumonia.
My siblings and parents have often told me their versions of the story. My sister was nine, my brother was seven. Their accounts are somewhat different than my parents, but all of them recall the day they received my picture in the mail. I was tiny, my eyes almond-shaped and large with fright, placed on a tiny black-and-gold throne. At my feet, a placard read, “Kim, Chae-Won:” it was one of the only mementos of my Korean life I had with me when I finally arrived on January 15, 1988.
Growing up wasn’t necessarily easy when it came to being “different.” The only Asian child for most of my elementary school years meant a lot of unnecessary questions (the common “Who are your REAL parents?” amongst others), bullying (“The only reason you’re adopted is because your REAL parents didn’t love you!”), and general confusion at the fact that my parents were white. Maybe it’s only in retrospect, but I’ve always thought it is easier to spot an adopted child than it is an adopted adolescent or adult. I remember walking with my dad in the city once as a teenager, and I remember the amount of disgusted, horrified stares we got because people assumed this older, white gentleman was dating a young, teenage Asian girl. But when you’re a child, Asian, and with parents who are a different race, it seems generally understood that you’re adopted.
I’ve been met with a lot of insensitively curious people who come up to me out of the blue and ask me where I’m from. I usually respond with, “New York.” Then they retort with, “No, where are you REALLY from?” Never being one to lie, I will usually oblige with, “South Korea.” While I understand that we tend to have a natural curiosity about our fellow human beings, the question gets old very quickly. Why can’t you just accept that I may not be from another country, just because I look different than you? For other Asians who ask me where I’m from, I understand that they are trying to establish a connection, a rapport based on similar origins. But I am afraid I can’t offer much in that realm since I know only a handful of words in Korean, have no knowledge of Korean culture, and am really alienated from the country in which I was born.
For fellow adoptees, I would like to say that you may come to a point in your life where you question your entire existence. I know that this journey started for me when I was about sixteen years old. I finally began to wonder about my biological family, where I fit in, where I belonged. I have yet to find the answers to those questions, but I am beginning to understand and accept that maybe there aren’t answers. Maybe, for adopted children or bi-racial children, there is no ONE place for us to fit in. Maybe we’re an amalgamation of different cultures, different people, and maybe that’s completely okay. Maybe the rest of the world hasn’t caught up to the idea that we don’t have to fit into a neat, little box - that we can be a mosaic of cultures, and a beautiful one at that. Whenever this journey starts for you, I wish for you peace. I wish for you acceptance. I wish for you strength and happiness. The world will try to take those things away from you; please, don’t ever let them.
For adoptive parents, I want to stress to you that you have know your children will face struggles. They will question their identities. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, respect you, or want to be a part of your - THEIR - family. Please be supportive of them as they discover the meaning of who They are. And please acknowledge the fact that yes, they are different. They were born somewhere else, they are a different race, they will experience things you will never understand first-hand. Be there for them. Love them regardless. But don’t be color-blind. Don’t pretend like they are the same as you, because they aren’t. Acknowledge that they will deal with ignorant people (like the man who argued that my sister and I couldn’t be sisters because we didn’t look alike), but that they can still be a whole person. Support them on their journey, on their exploration of the world and the world according to them. Don’t be afraid when they want to know where they’ve come from or the woman who gave them away. Hug them when they cry about feeling abandoned. Love them all the same.
Q:I think this is a great blog, but it is highly exclusive of South Asians and Middle-Eastern Asians, which is severely problematic.
Thank you for your criticism and I see that.
It is rather difficult when this is a submission blog and not very many people may be comfortable with sharing their oral histories of what it is like to be adopted. Or some people may not find it important to share their stories as well.
I had set up this blog as a space to generate dialogue. I’ve posted some adoptees stories and later had let them know which they are comfortable with since they have publicly posted on Youtube, and networked with a few people who I had asked to tell their stories after they had found my blog. I would like to emphasize that I do not want to be the only one having to hunt for stories and I want this blog set up so that those who define themselves as such feel free to own this space to provide the dialogue much like Microaggressions.com had done so.
I understand the exclusiveness of South Asians and Middle Eastern Asians and I have no intention to silence them. I want this blog to be their space whether to submit it anonymously or publicly. So I am free to take any suggestions and criticisms.
UC Berkeley’s ACE Program
So this is kinda my life story…or at least the beginning of it
Hey guys, I’m Ju, I’m 16 now and I was adopted from China when I was nine months old. Due to being so young then, I don’t have any memories of China which kind of saddens me because I have nothing to remind me of my homeland. However, then again it can be considered a good thing there’s nothing and no one to miss. My adoption was smooth, a clean break, unfortunately other people I know weren’t as lucky.
Anyway I guess this is pretty typical for us adoptees, but I was left on a busy street when I was very young (since then I’ve found out that the street was relatively near the airport) and was found by a policeman who took me to an orphanage in Hunan Province. There I stayed until my parents came for me.
Then I came to live in London with my parents. My Caucasian, English parents. They’re supportive of me and have allowed me to have a much better standard of life than when I was in China. Sure, they can be very annoying sometimes but hey, nobody’s perfect, I sure as hell am not. I’ve always received the, “no, not them, who are your real parents?” This always annoyed me, because the definitions of real are, ‘not illusory’, ‘actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed’. All my life I’ve referred to my parents as real because they raised me, and here is the definition of ‘parenting’: ‘to be or act as a mother or father to (someone)’. I’ve highlighted ‘act as’ because it is the most important part of the definition. It does not matter to me who gave birth to you, to me, it matters who brought you up. To me that person will always be your parent, and therefore no less real than your biological one and for that I love them.
I go to an all girls school and the worst thing about it is parents evening. Parents evening is when your whole year group sees you and your parents together. Now it’s not everyone, my friends have gotten used to it and have met/seen them before which is great. However, I can feel the stares boring into my back as I hug my parents, I can literally feel the judgement as they wonder “Why the hell is Ju hugging some random white couple. Oh wait, white? why are they white?” So that’s always fun…
The upside though to having white parents is that I am, as some of my friends call me, a ‘Banana’. White on the inside, yellow on the outside Personally I think it’s pretty awesome that you can be bi-ethnic, it’s like bridging the gap between two cultures, you just adapt to your surroundings and I’m proud to say I’m Chinese, but also proud to be a Londoner.
I went back to China a couple of years ago, it was an amazing experience. The colour, the bustle, the intensity, oh and the food. I loved it. But I loved it as a foreigner would love it. It was my first time visiting the country, ever and because I did not have any proper memories of my homeland, it felt very new and very strange. This was partly to do with the fact that I don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese at all and so I felt very awkward when people kept asking/yelling things at me and I was expected to reply. I still think it’s a wonderful country, full of life, energy, and years of culture and one day I hope to visit again. However I love my city, and most importantly the people in it, so although China was and always will be my homeland, London is my home.
Thank you if you’ve read this far, I know it’s pretty long but it really means a lot to me. If you have any questions, or need any advice, please ask and i’ll try my best to help :)
Today is International Women’s Day. We wanted to commemorate by sharing what one of our heroes, Grace Lee Boggs, wrote last month about her understanding of feminism.
As we approach March 8 and Women’s International Day, I’ve been thinking about how my understanding of Feminism has evolved over the years.
I was born female to Chinese immigrant parents above my father’s Chinese American restaurant in Providence, R.I. My mother did not know how to read or write because there were no schools for females in her little Chinese village. When I cried, the Chinese waiters used to say, “Leave her on the hillside to die. She’s only a girl baby.”
So I realized at an early that huge changes in women’s rights and lives are necessary in our world.
That is why as a teenager, after reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, Women and Economics, I decided I was a feminist. What I meant mainly was that I would never become dependent on a man for my livelihood.
I didn’t begin to think more deeply about the role of women until ten years later when I became a movement activist in the black community. That was how and when I learned that the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott which launched the civil rights movement had been organized by women.
Within a couple of hours after Rosa Parks’ arrest on Friday afternoon, December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, the Women’s political Council had blanketed the city with 50,000 “Don’t ride the bus” leaflets and was busy organizing the boycott.
To keep people off buses, they created an alternative means of transportation, contacting and pooling hundreds of volunteer drivers, mapping out routes to get workers to all parts of the city, following regular bus routes so that workers who “walked along” the streets could be picked up.
It was a model of Visionary/Solutionary Organizing. On Monday, December 5, the buses were empty.
In recent years, as Detroit has been devastated by deindustrialization and the struggle for a new non-capitalist society has been developing in Detroit, I have discovered that when one society is coming to an end and a new one is emerging, women play a solutionary/revolutionary role because women’s work, of raising and caring for the home and family is ongoing.
Thus in Detroit today Asenath Andrews has created the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public high school for pregnant teens. The Boggs Educational Collective is starting a place-based school. Time Banking is being organized by Kim Hodge et al. Ann Heler is pioneering a Free Health Clinic.
Thanks Grace. Thanks to all the women in our lives who do such important work every day.
A Bad Case of Stripes
- By David Shannon
I was introduced this book today in my Intro to Social Work class. We were split into groups and had to create a scenario as to how we would utilize this book for clients in either a individual or group setting.
The story is about a girl named Camilla. She is new to a school and begins drawing concerns with making friends and finding acceptance in her new environment.
While reading this we found many scenarios that we could use this book in and some that are very obvious observations. I don’t want to go in depth too much about the book because I recommend those interested to go to their nearest library and check it out.
- Cross-cultural differences
- Life transitions (i.e., changing to different schools, moving, work, families)
- Self acceptance and accepting others’ differences
- Labeling (racism, sexism, -isms, etc.)
- and more…
Binitay (Teaser Video)
By: James Beni Wilson
“Binitay” will be a documentary film about James Beni Wilson, a Filipino adoptee, who was born in the Philippines. It’ll highlight his journey through his struggles of culture identity, healing, and reconciliation with his past.
This is only a tentative opener for the video documentary. Filming progress will be an approximate eight month or longer process and its final release will be in the late summer or early fall of 2013.