Monday, December 17, 2012

The Holidays

Today, as I pulled into the post office and mailed my father and his wife’s package, I had a sinking feeling.  I wanted to be mailing a package to my mother.

As those who have read my blog before know, she passed away just after the holidays in 2001.

During my errands, my car brought me to an Arby’s.  I hadn’t eaten there in years.

My fondest memory of Arby’s was a winter’s day in the mid-1980s.  As the South does when snow is predicted, my county high school canceled classes for the day. My younger sister, a city schooler, had class.  So, it was a Mama and me day!

She drove us to downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. We walked around her old haunts.  She told me stories of her best friend, Service Merchandise and the days courting my father. She took me to Arby’s where we ate French Dips and curly fries, then washed them down with Dr. Pepper, her favorite soft drink.

So today, I did the same.  I ordered my French Dip, curly fries and Dr. Pepper. I sat in a corner, quietly cried and wrote this:

Dear Mom.  Today, my car took me to Arby’s as I remembered one of the most precious days I had with you. High school was out because of the threat of snow, but Angela had school.  We drove to downtown Knoxville where you showed me your old haunts. We had French Dips and curly fries. The holidays are hard when my thoughts rest on your memory. I love and miss you, Mama.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gangnam Style makes us all feel Korean … or not.

Today, Gangnam Style, a video by the artist PSY has hit more than 835 million views. It is the most watched video of our time.



Interestingly, this video on its own has opened up the Korean culture to mainstream. As a middle-aged woman, I first heard about this song at the ChuSeok celebration this past September. At which time, my twelve-year-old son gave me the “Seriously, Mom, you haven’t heard this?” look.

So now, it has finally reached my sphere and entered Glee. This week, the Glee cast will perform their version of this song.



The question this brings to my mind is “How does Jenna Ushkowitz feel in all this?” The actress is a Korean adoptee, like myself. From this snippet, it appears that she feels somewhat out of place trying to learn the correct Korean pronunciation.

Here is a glimpse of what we all as Asian adoptees feel at some point in our lives. We desperately feel that we are just like any other American. Yet, we are lumped in the Asian category, and in Ushkowitz case, we are typecast as the Asian student … overachiever, dating within our race, going to “Asian” camp.

We aren’t as simplified as that, but the media portrays us all as stereotypes to some degree. To be fair, Glee works in these stereotypes for all its characters.

I’ll sit back this week and enjoy the Glee version of Gangnam Style with Jenna Ushkowitz giving it her best Korean performance! Perhaps we will see more character development as well.

So, it’s hip to be Korean, at least to dance to Gangnam Style!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

This day …

Today, at my daughter’s parent-teacher conference, I signed a required form and finished by dating it 11-15-67. My husband said, “Well, you just told everyone your age!”

I’m 45 today, or at least, I’ve been conditioned to believe my birthday is today. It’s been quite a history for the fifteenth of November.



Many of my sweetest memories on this date include my mother. She always made my day. (See this entry.) Today, when the phone rang, I wished her voice would be on the other end. Instead, I heard a voice on the other end say, “If you are a senior citizen … ”

This week, my father also called to leave sweet serenades on the answering machine and my mobile voicemail. I loved my father’s heavily accented “Happy Birthday” as his wife played on the piano.



In November 2000, I sat with my sweet boy. I immediately knew the wonder of parenthood. We were preparing to surprise my mother for Thanksgiving. This was the last birthday with my mother. While she was recovering from a stroke, her pride in the newest addition to her family was unmistakable.



In 2002, on this date, I went for my 12-week prenatal appointment. My husband and my son had just given me a platinum band to celebrate our growing family. It had taken my husband several moonlighting overnight shifts in the animal ER to pay for it. I was on a high that Friday.

My OB said, “Let’s check on the baby with a birthday ultrasound!” My day was getting even better! There was excitement, then silence, then another OB, then blood tests. The news wasn’t good. I lost that baby on the Sunday, and a stone fell out of my new ring.

Within the year, we were blessed with our very sweet girl.



Forty-five years of many things … happiness, sadness and immeasurable love. What a path I was given! I’ll keep November 15 and all its memories.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Separate But Same

Today, as I sat waiting, I combed through my coupon organizer, a blue plastic expandable folder. Miya and I had arranged to meet. She arrived and upon seeing me, produced an almost identical blue plastic folder. Eerie, right?

Our childhood photographs look very similar as well, despite the fact that she grew up in New York state and I, in Tennessee. Little square Polaroids of each of us playing with our siblings in our adoptive families.

We have been comparing our baby albums and our adoption letters and papers. Having seen her adoption paper cover, signed by one John W. Bligh, Jr., I remarked at how similar it was to mine. Of course all this was from memory.

Last week, I invited her husband and her children to our home so that the families could finally meet. My boy took her boy and wandered to his room. My girl took her girl and disappeared into her room. The men sat on the sofa and chatted.

Miya and I began looking at our legal adoption papers, side by side. I presented the thin tissue paper packet that sealed my adoption.  On the top was my Certificate of Acknowledgement, signed by the same John W. Bligh, Jr., the Vice Consul of the United States. “Strange,” we remarked.

Then, the date … my paper was signed on the 6th of December 1968, and hers was signed on the 9th of December 1968.

Two girls adopted in the same week in Seoul now sat as women, reunited by all of our commonalities.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

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.”


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hapa

Living in Rwanda, my husband experienced something I had felt for a long time.

He could not hide the fact that he was different. When we were in the market, kids and adults would point and whisper (though he could hear), “Wazungu,” Kinyarwandan for “white person.” It was disconcerting.

As I have written, two Korean adoptee women have entered my life and are teaching me a little more about myself. They each adopted two Korean children, something for which I admire them deeply. In the process, one of them said her husband mentioned that the tables had been reversed once they visited Korea. In Korea, he couldn’t hide his race. His wife, on the other hand, could finally blend in.

I have spent a good portion of my life trying to blend in and secretly wishing to meet someone as confused by race as myself. On the one hand, I wanted to be seen as white or Puerto Rican. On the other hand, I wanted validation that being Asian was okay. As a teen in the 80s, I searched Teen magazine for Asian models. There were few, maybe one every few months in the Teen Model Search finalists.

TV gave me no respite. The media had few Asians other than Connie Chung, to whom I was often compared as I studied print journalism in the late 1980s, and Yoko Ono, to whom I was referred when I wore large sunglasses. At the time, I was trying to assimilate, and in my efforts to do so, I would often shun such comparisons.

Regretfully, I didn’t share this feeling of alienation with my parents. My mother sensed some of it, as she special ordered an Asian baby doll for me.

These experiences drive me today to create a better childhood for my own children. While they are mixed race, both Korean and Caucasian, they are often placed solely in the Asian category. My husband and I have sought to place them in racially diverse communities and schools. I’ve tried to make sure they see themselves as both races.

We own a fantastic book, Part Asian, 100% Hapa. In it, photographer, Kip Fulbeck, has photographed numerous subjects who are part Asian, from children to adults. My children pour over this book. It is worn from all the page turning and marking. It affirms them and assures them that they are not alone in their confusing ethnicity.

While I hated the references to Yoko as a teen, I relate to her now as a mother. Her son, Sean Lennon, has written the forward in Fulbeck’s book that addresses my children’s feelings.

Sean Lennon says, “It is only human to want to belong to a group. … If, like me, you are half-Japanese and half-English, you will in Japan be considered white, and in America be considered Asian. This can be lonely at times … ”

Yet, this book reassures my children that they are not alone in their feelings.  They are indeed Hapa!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Race Matters


“No one will date you because you’re mixed race.”

My heart sank this past week when my son told me someone had said this to him, but I hid my hurt.

I said, “Did you tell him, ‘That’s okay, because I won’t date racist people’?”

“No!  I never thought of that,” he replied excitedly, “That’s good.”

I explained I had many years of experience thinking of comebacks. Yet, this wasn’t the first time my son had experienced prejudice. At eight, he had his first bout with it as I described in this post. At the time, he didn’t seemed phased, but he admitted this week that he had held onto that memory as well.

As we talked further, he felt better. He realized that he was not alone, that his mother had grown up with the same, and that as author Eric Hoffer once said, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”

I’ve spoken about some personal incidents of racism in this blog, but recently, I’ve been able to pinpoint some things for myself.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, my life was about assimilation. I wanted to be white. I wanted to blend in to the Appalachian human fabric and disappear. During those years in the South, those around me often reminded me that I was different, strange, or simply “not normal.”

My mother tried to console me when these things happened, but after time, I realized that she truly did not know how I felt. My father, on the other hand, did to some degree.  As a Puerto Rican whose English was heavily accented, he had endured his share of racism. We spoke some but rarely about it.

I have spent my life longing to “fit in” racially. In Virginia, I found my two closest friends, Katherine and Adrienne, strong Asian women. I have blogged on how they taught me a great deal about Asian culture, another crucial step in my development.

What they lacked was the experience of being raised in a family where one feels racially out of place. Enter my next step in development … meeting two adult contemporary Korean adoptees.

We are just learning more about one another. In the coming days, I hope to share with you the continuing maturation of the person I haven’t fully known … myself.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Her scent …

White linen and the scent of comfort. That is how I remember my mother when I see this photograph.


I thought about this when I read an article today on the Huffington Post website. Find it here. While I am not adverse to having my photograph taken, I am often the photographer. So, the majority of our family photographs are of the kids, the cats and the chickens.

My husband is also frequently absent. We should change that. But in the meantime, for posterity I share this image of me and my peeps.


This was a memorable Mother’s Day a few years back. With full tummies, smiles and warm embraces, we sat for a quick photograph.  I love how our hands came together naturally. I hope my children look back on this image and remember that day at the Frank Lloyd Wright Cafe in Spring Green. It captured that fleeting moment before our lives went back into full gear, and we rushed off to the boy’s soccer match.

Time to stop and record. Make memories that bring back the scent of mothers and fathers.



Thursday, September 27, 2012

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.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Melancholy Mother’s Day


On the eve of Mother’s Day, I must always reflect on my own mother.  I do this to clear my sadness and to prepare myself for my own day … one where my children become the focus.

My mother passed eleven years ago. But every day, I think of her, remember her, miss her. 

Tonight, I flipped through the images of my history with my mother. In the August 1968 photo above, my mother and I are meeting for the first time. Her face says it all. She was my mother from that smile on.

Only in the last few years have I been able to truly enjoy Mother’s Day. That has been in part due to my children growing up to an age where they fully relish the celebration. How can I be somber when they are so joyful? 



Happy Mother’s Day to you all.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Biological influences?

This week on Modern Family, the Dunphy-Prichett-Tucker households, contemplated surrogacy. They cooked up an idea to have the egg from the sister combined with the gay partner of her brother to produce a genetic mix of both families for the gay couple.  Claire Dunphy said, “If there is one thing I have learned today, it is the pleasure of looking at your children and seeing both, BOTH, of you in there. … And something else guys, I make really good babies. I have like magic eggs or something.”



I was a bit conflicted by this plot line. As you know, I am very happy with my adoptive family.  But with children of my own, I have questions about my biological background.

We switched health providers, and this week, I was asked again about my family history.  As I have countless times before, I said, “None. I’m adopted.”

But I see reflections of myself in my children, just like Claire Dunphy observed this week in her children. It’s both beautiful and thought provoking.

This week, after everyone was tucked in bed, I heard sobbing coming from my daughter’s room. I climbed the stairs (Yes, her crying was that loud.), and found my girl crying uncontrollably. Before asking, I imagined the worst. A lie, some trouble at school, friendship troubles …

Through gasps and sobs, she spilled forth in anger, “I’ll never win a Caldecott! The book I’m writing is too girly-girl!”

After waiting for her to calm down, I explained that Caldecott winners were grown-ups who have spent years writing, and that the Caldecott award is a pinnacle of one’s career. I told her that no eight-year-old has ever won a Caldecott.

But it brought back memories of 1984. I had read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders more than four times, and I owned two copies (one in pristine condition, one for the numerous readings). I also carried a notebook around as I wrote my first and only book, “We, Four.” I had high hopes that it would speak to other teens like myself and be made into a movie.

That girl isn’t far from the budding eight-year-old author I have in my household.  I like to think that somewhere another Korean man or woman is flicking through the pages of a childhood novel and remembering the aspirations of youth.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Inspirational Children

Tonight, my son shared a video with me. His struggles with being happy in his own skin and his need to be accepted has been worrying me. He’s entering the age where one questions oneself and often takes on the attitudes of those around him.

As a parent, I know he must make the journey, but having gone down the same road, I know the conflicts he will face. He has faced some in the past … being called “Chinese” (not that China is bad, but it is often said in a very derogatory way). I explain that such references only means that the speaker is uneducated about the different Asian races.  While I say this as neutrally as possible to him, I cannot deny that it puts a pit in my stomach as it did when the same was said to me as a young girl.

I was called “Chinese” as well as “Cambodian Refugee,” and children would pull their eyes into slants to mock me.  In gym, I was paired with the only other Asian child, a boy, during square dances. While I struggled to just fit in, I was always reminded that I was different. I was not white, nor did I have a plain Jane name.  I wanted to blend into the background; I wanted to be white or black, for those were the two races in my hometown. I wanted desperately to fit in.

Before our decision to become parents, my husband and I talked about my childhood and what we could do to save our children from the heartaches I had felt in rural Tennessee.  We decided that we would always live in a racially diverse community. We chose the Wisconsin home we did because of the racial make-up of its public schools.

As my boy entered middle school this fall, we felt we had done all we could to make sure he would blend in. But in reality, we have learned that no matter what we do, there will be children who want to belittle others. No matter what we, as parents, have done, we cannot protect them fully from the growing pains of bullying and belittling.

What we have done is made sure that he knows that he is well-loved and that he is beautiful just the way he is. Tonight, I realized as I watched this video with him that he not only knows he’s special in his own way, but that he sees that he is not alone. He understands the lyrics of this Lady Gaga song, and he felt a kinship with this little girl.


This is just the kind of performance I needed to see … shared by my boy.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trade Offs

It is February 2nd.  February isn’t the best month for me.  If you have followed me for a while, you know that today is the anniversary of my mother’s death.  In addition, the second most influential woman in my life, my mother’s mother, died on February 10th.

These two women have left an indelible mark on my life, although my life path hasn’t exactly followed theirs.

As a child in Tennessee, I had my grandmother just a short walk from my house. When I was lonely or had argued with my mother, I had only to make the short walk … where my grandmother would offer me my grandfather’s leftovers of country ham and biscuits. She would listen to me and let me sit with her at the kitchen table, or she would ask me to help her snap beans.

My son could use a grandparent next door. He is adjusting to yet another transition in schools. He has entered middle school, only two years after our big move to Wisconsin. He is a sweet boy, but he longs for acceptance. I know that longing. It was that longing that made me choose this life path unlike my mother’s … to live away from my hometown and family. Moving away meant that my children would go to school in a more racially diverse community, but it also meant that we would sacrifice the proximity of family.

This week, after a nice spell of having my husband home in a holiday holdover, he resumed his travels for work. It has struck both the boy and me very hard. Our family is fractured, and we’re both lonely. We miss family and the comfort we had in Virginia with friends we had spent ten years knowing … they were our family there.

We are building friendships in Wisconsin, but it will take another ten years to have what we once had. Perhaps someday we will be able to impulsively invite our friends over for dinner like we did in our Virginia days. Or we could drop in and have leftovers at a friend’s house.

As a mother, I want to see my son build lasting friendships. But lately, his desire for friends is wound up tightly with the dynamics of middle school, and he is having a hard time untangling his feelings. I listen, but I also do not want to risk alienating him from me. It’s a fine line. We are our family here. I cannot risk that loss.

However my mother did what a mother is supposed to do, she risked that loss. She watched as her child move away, and I know that it broke her heart to be so far from me and my sister.

In the loneliness of February 2001 with the excitement of the holidays behind her, she quietly slipped away. February is indeed a hard month …