Monday, February 18, 2013

Let’s dream!

Imagine being ethnically different from your classmates. Imagine feeling completely American, but knowing you aren’t quite like those around you. Imagine your fear in others discovering who you really are.

International adoptees feel this way. While we may feel out of place in school, in our community and sometimes in our home, we possess an identity. Almost immediately we become American citizens, courtesy of our adoptive families.

Now, imagine if you brought here at a young age, feel a connection with your community, but cannot fully enjoy being American solely because of where you were born?

The immigration reform issue has touched me. More specifically, four extremely brave, young people have been on my mind. Their stories can be found on the website, The Dream is Now. I encourage you to watch the trailer. Much of what they say has played over and over in my head.

Mayra, who is secretly taping her segment says, “I didn’t choose to come here. It was a decision my parents made for me in order to give me a better life.”

Osmar says, “I’m full American. I speak English; I know the culture. I am from here.”

I have said some of these things, and I suspect that other international adoptees have felt some of these feelings. But that is as far as the similarities go. Adoptees are able to pursue college scholarships and degrees. We are granted all the benefits of being American.

The interesting thing is that the Dreamers, too, have lived here as long as many international adoptees. They share similar experiences that relate to their ethnicity, while feeling completely American.

Their faces could be our faces. Their voices could be our voices. Their dreams are our dreams.

With my citizenship, I hope to make a difference in the lives of my fellow dreamers. Go Dreamers!



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Our Last Valentine’s Day

In 1993, my mother and I shared Valentine’s Day. Each of us would have been alone that Valentine’s Day, had we not had each other.

For me, that day was V-Day or VD. I celebrated it as a day to enjoy my independence from the vagaries of love [LUUUUUhV].

My mother saw it as a day to celebrate her role as a mother. Our 1993 Valentine’s Day was the last one we had before I found another love. She would always remember this day in the years to follow.

In those following Valentine’s Day phone calls she would say, “Remember our last Valentine’s Day alone?  We had drinks at Red Lobster and then moved on to the Spaghetti Warehouse. Remember?”

My response would be, “Yes, Mom.  I remember. You loved downtown Knoxville. It reminded you of your days as a single woman, right?”

“I loved that we were spending THAT night together,” she would reply with a little sadness in her voice.

In March of 1993, I found the man who insisted that he not complete me, but complement me. It was a whirlwind.

We dated and moved in together that following September, against my mother’s wishes. That Valentine’s Day in 1994 she would be despondent.

For my mother, I think she felt her love had been replaced. On outward appearances, yes. Deep inside though, I still loved my mother as strongly as I had that prior Valentine’s Day.

She would feel much better about this “replacement” when the man who had “taken” me “away from her” proposed in September of 1994. This became the point of healing.

She had a wedding to plan, but it was still extremely painful for her to let go of her first child. My mother was not shy about expressing her feelings … to me and my future husband.

I still see the mixture of pain and pride in her face in this photograph taken at our wedding (Image by Rob Heller).


Someday, I will feel this pain in the same way. But for now, I enjoy the valentines my children give me and remember that evening so long ago at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Knoxville’s Old City.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mi Papi

My name reminds me of my heritage. There are palms and beaches. I hear the constant beat of the rhythm of the island. Adobo Pollochon fills my kitchen with smells from my childhood. I am Puertorriqueña. It all began in August of 1968.


Prompted by my introduction letter, my father, recovering from surgery, took early medical leave to fly to Korea to meet me. He would forever wear a long scar, one that started small but stretched upon carrying all the bags for the trip.

Our meeting included several days of me becoming accustom to my parents. I think I was pretty comfortable.


I was instantly “Daddy’s Girl.” I followed my father wherever he went. I was his shadow. 

His time in Korea, at the end of the Korean War, helped him acquire a taste for Korean food. When we are together, he often asks if there’s a Korean restaurant, and when he visits our favorite Korean restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, he texts me to let me know. He cannot have his kimchi without thinking of me.

Tucked away, I have his 1950s Korean/English dictionary. He tried to teach me Korean greetings, but I was more interested in the fun Spanish rhymes he would say.




Of course he had to cuddle me and our dog. She wasn’t going to be replaced by this new walking being.

I was introduced at the age of two to my Puerto Rican relatives. The island welcomed me, and I met mi Abuelita, mi Bisabuelita Ita and mi tio y las titis. The smells of the island kitchens still infiltrate my Wisconsin kitchen … especially in the cold months when I need the comfort of arroz y tostones.



My father’s family has committed the same unconditional love that forgets my biological race. In 2000, I brought my infant son to Puerto Rico to introduce him to the island, a land of abrazos y besos. My cousin, Richie, took us to the City Hall of Guayama and found my great grandfather’s portrait. He was the first Enrique. Richie proudly held my son against the portrait and proclaimed that my son looked just like his great-great grandfather, a former mayor of the town.

Quite a resemblance? ¿Verdad?

Enrique … that name has been passed on to every male in the family, but I broke the tradition. My stubborn will missed the subtle cues from my father in phrases like “What do you think about ‘Enrique’ or ‘Fernando’?” I realized my mistake when all the relatives asked how I came to my son’s name. Luckily, I have gotten some redemption now that my son is taking Spanish in school and has taken on the name “Enrique” for his class.

I speak of my mother often since I cannot see or speak with her, but my father is a constant presence in my life. I feel blessed for every day I have him to cuddle my children.



They are proud to have their Latino names and their Papito. They laugh when he uses his fart machine, they enjoy fishing with him as I did, and they admire his oil painting skills.

I am often reminded of the old audio reels from my father’s years in Vietnam. We were separated. I turned three in Tennessee, but I missed him. I cannot imagine now the pain my mother felt being so far away from her husband, or his pain at leaving us and not knowing if he would return. He tells me that he would often listen to the reel of me saying over and over, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!  I want my daddy!”

He returned safely to later share one of the most treasured days of my adulthood.


I will forever be Daddy’s Girl.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

The faces we are born to wear …

As I have been reading research on transracial adoptees, I am realizing that while we have similar stories to share, we also have widely varying views on adoptions. Logically, we are different people and no two of us are alike.

The interesting thing for me, is that my feelings about race align more with my first generation Asian friends (as introduced here) than with Asian adoptees.

My first generation Asian friends, Adrienne and Katherine, were Asian minorities in their childhood communities, much like me. Adrienne blogs about her small town experience:
“The moment I first appeared on the playground of my new elementary school, the noisy chatter and laughter of children at play abruptly ceased, as if someone had pushed a magic mute button. Feverish whispering closely followed the eerie hush that had suddenly descended upon the playground. Little blond heads leaned in close together as the children conferred with each other in obvious bewilderment and consternation at the appearance of this alien in their midst. Innocently, they tried to work out how my face got so very flat, whether my eyes hurt all the time, or whether one would eventually get used to the pain of having eyes like mine … ” (Read the full post here.)
Katherine recalls her childhood in this way:
“When I was growing up my grandmother used to say to me, “You may feel like you are just like them, but no matter how you feel, you will never look like them.”

I was born in the U.S., the daughter of two Asian immigrants who came here in the 1960s for graduate school. My parents disagreed on the extent of our assimilation into American culture: my father spoke to me only in English while my mother spoke to me primarily in her native tongue. My father was more adventurous in terms of eating non-Asian foods; my mother was less so. For me, there was no question—I felt 100% American and wanted to be just like the other kids, and anything that set me apart from them was a source of burning embarrassment. I begged my mother to cook American dinners like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs, buy me the same kinds of clothes and shoes that the other kids wore, and fiercely resisted her attempts to teach me any other language that was not English. Every day at school, and while playing in the neighborhood, I saw only white children—and after a while I assumed I was one of them.

But I wasn’t. Some kids would make faces at me, pulling at their eyes until they were all squinty, pretend to speak Chinese, and laugh. Some would tease me and ask me to “say something Chinese” as if I was some kind of circus freak show. And of course there was the “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees…” taunt that was said in a sing song-y voice. It seemed like every time I started to forget that I was different, I was reminded that indeed I was. Only when I went to college in New York City and saw first hand the incredible amount of diversity did I realize what I was:  a banana. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

I’ve lost track of the number of times an Asian person has approached me and started speaking to me in Chinese, assuming that I’m fluent in Chinese because of how I look.  On fewer occasions, I’ve had Caucasian people compliment me on how well I speak English, assuming that English was not my native language because of how I look. Time and time again I’m reminded of the potential disconnect between how I perceive myself and how others may perceive me. All people face this problem to some extent, but for first-generation children of immigrants who are caught between two cultures and who grew up without the benefit of racial diversity—the problem becomes especially complicated.”
Adrienne, Katherine and I are very proud Asian women. I stress the word, “women” because as I have written about in the post The Ideal Beauty, I believe some of our past insecurities stemmed from the portrayal of girls and women in the media. When young girls are exposed to blond bombshells (think Cinderella, Barbie and the girls of Teen and Seventeen magazine), we and our non-Asian peers believe that is what we should be. Asians are virtually absent from our American media culture.

My mother was fully aware of the one-sided representations. She made sure I had Asian dolls, including dolls from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and of course the Asian baby doll.


Notice, however, that my little sister clutches a blond doll. While my sister is half Caucasian, she is also half Puerto Rican. In the 1970s, there weren’t many brunette dolls, let alone Hispanic ones. My sister clutched her blond dolls until the introduction of the Darcy dolls, sporting not only a blond, but a brunette and a red-head.

While we all had our struggles with our identities, I believe that every person, adopted or not, struggles with his or her appearance intensely through adolescence and continually throughout life. Each person also resolves personal struggles in his or her unique way.
I enjoy the fact that I can text Adrienne and Katherine my photos of Asian market wares, only to find that we are having parallel experiences. (See Adrienne’s funny photographic tale here.) Their mothers are teaching them, and in turn, they teach me.

Adrienne’s parents inspire her and me. Her recent post summed up her feelings:
“At times I’ve felt like this was more their country than my own, even though I was born and raised here. Thanks to my patriotic parents, I’ve attended schools and have hung out with people who have tended to regard patriotism with suspicion – as something corny and anachronistic. I think it was only when I began to travel abroad that I realized how very much I do appreciate this country and how much there is to love about it.

‘THAT’S America,’ where nothing is impossible and where there are people hard at work making sure wrongs are eventually righted, and where there is a process to ensure that they are. That’s my parents’ America, and I’m glad to be living in it too.”
Yes, and in this country, we can freely be who we want to be … say things as we choose … even experience other cultures. That’s our America!


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Love is enough.

The subtitle for Barb Lee’s Adopted film is “When love is not enough …”.  What kind of love is she talking about here?

I argue that love is enough.

The love I know came in the form of handmade, Korean clothes for me and my entire brownie troop. That love also displayed all my Asian dolls on shelves in my room.

That love stood between me and the bullies who hurled their personal insults and attacks at her.

That love forgot that I couldn’t bear her red-headed grandchildren.

That love wore small, silver Korean shoes (Hwahye) on her charm bracelet.

That love cried as hard as I did on the day I moved to Rwanda, shortly after my wedding.

That love wrote letters almost daily and sent them across the ocean to a post box in Kigali.

That love’s eyes twinkled the first day they set their sights on her first grandson … this, despite the fact that her lips were silenced by a stroke.

That love worked tirelessly to be able to have this moment with her first grandchild.


She left us twelve years ago on this day. But her love is here and growing in me, my sister and our children. Her love will forever be with us, and that is enough.