Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Come on, Hollywood.

This weekend, my son asked to watch The Avengers.  I enjoyed the quick wit of Iron Man and the strength of the Black Widow.

What I didn’t appreciate was this scene:



Thor’s use of adoption as an excuse to distance himself from his brother left me feeling sick and hurt.

Come on, Hollywood. Be more responsible.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Power of Language

Adopted just three days apart, my friend Miya and I decided to read each other’s adoption letters. Strikingly, the language and tone of the letters were on opposite sides of an emotional spectrum.

Miya’s read, “As this child was an abandoned child, her background information about her birth, parents and family are unknown. She was named and her birthdate was estimated by the Seoul City Babies Home.” 

The word, “abandoned” has stayed with Miya her entire life. She struggles with this word. That word cuts me when I hear it. My other adopted friend, Amy M., pointed out the two uses of this word in the film Somewhere Between, and it angered her. One was spoken by an audience member at a panel discussion, and the other was said by the adoptive mother to her daughter’s birth mother.

My adoption introduction letter is written in this way:


“We are pleased to tell you that we have selected a child for you who we think will fit nicely into your family. She is from the Chong Yang Ri police station on 24 May 1968 and admitted to us and placed at our Korean Foster Home on that day.
Naturally, you are anxious to meet Kim, Sook Hyun. We have found that it is more helpful to the adoptive couples if they think of this first meeting as a time to get acquainted, and not as a time to decide whether or not this is the right child for you. It is a strain on both adoptive parents and child when their first meeting is interwoven with this question of acceptance or rejection, but this strain is removed if the parents have already made up their minds to accept the child, based on the picture and the information we provide and relying on Holt’s experienced professional judgment. 
May we therefore suggest that you too think of your coming trip to Korea in this light. In the meantime, we should appreciate your writing us about your acceptance of this child we have chosen.”

“Chosen” is a word my mother used often. She never used the word “abandoned.” She said, “You were dropped off at the police station, and we were fortunate to be chosen as your parents.”

Here is the first picture of me that was attached to the letter; it is dated June 7, 1968. I look a bit frightened.



Later, pictures show me happier, and all the pictures of me with my family show me at my happiest (until the teen angst set in).





Words can hurt or nurture. In the recent WISE Up Conference that I described in an earlier blog post, I noticed that some of the younger children chose the “Walk Away” or “It’s private,” option quite often, even when the question was simply, “Hey, are you adopted?” That sent signals to me that they felt that it was something they should be ashamed of, or something others would interpret as negative. One youngster even said that she was jealous of the other kids who lived with their birth parents and who never had to answer ridiculous questions.

Linda Goldstein Knowlton, the filmmaker of Somewhere Between, says she hopes it will spark a conservation that will begin “normalizing our language about adoption. Adoption is changing the face of the country, creating these complicated family trees — we need a way to address that.”

In the following clip by Knowlton, Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, explains the adoption language barrier in this way: 


“We don’t have words for this [adoption]. When we don’t have words for something, it makes it more difficult. It creates the aura of something ‘otherly,’ and maybe something negative, something lesser. And none of that is true. We need the language to catch up to the reality.”

Beyond Somewhere Between-The Language of Adoption from Linda Knowlton on Vimeo.

Associate Professor of Child Development at Tufts University, Ellen Pinderhughes in this segment describes our families beautifully.


 “Until we as a society can value that there are all these different ways to become parents, to become a family, that they’re all positive, they’re all important, we may continue to contend with some of this issue with the  language of adoption not getting into the mainstream.”

So, let’s not only continue this conversation, but please post your ideas in altering the language of adoption. There are children all over the world being discovered everyday. Let’s make them feel like the treasures they are!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Spectrum of Somewhere Between

Looking for an adoption film? Look no further.



While some may read my blog and believe that I am lost, or found, or searching, I direct them to an adoptee in this film, Jenna Cook. She says it so eloquently:

“All of us, this whole adoption community, we have this commonality about us, this unity. But at the same time, we each are at our own place, in our own journey. It’s a journey of our past, and we each have our own road and our own paths set out for us.”

This film, by far, is the one adoptive parents, children and families should see. The director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, has found four teens that have four different stories. Each is happy in her adoptive family, and each searches for identity. Knowlton, an adoptive parent, has brought this film to fruition for her young daughter, Ruby.

Someday, when her daughter becomes that insecure teen, she will take comfort in the testaments of these four young women, Fang Jenni Lee, Jenna Cook, Ann Boccuti and Haley Butler. I longed for this sense of belonging as I write here.

In the last six months, I have awakened. My adoption sensitivities are keener. I am thankful and rejoice in being a part of this large community of adoptees.

Knowlton continues to post videos that reinforce the feelings I have had for many years, yet suppressed in my loneliness. I see hope in the future for other young adoptees, and Lili Johnson, one of the first Chinese adoptees, gives me hope when she says,

“As an adoptee, I have no ambition to seek resolution. I am not looking to make sense of myself. I’m not looking to have a right answer or a wrong answer. … I’m not looking for like diagrams or any like pictures of what being adopted is, what it means, what people should do, what’s the right way, what’s the wrong way because there isn’t one.”

Hear the call that asks you to think of adoptees with varying degrees of feelings and experiences. Think of us as your neighbors, your friends, your classmates, or simply the person you pass on the street. Just like you, we have our families, our stories, our varied backgrounds. Rather than separate us as different or odd, celebrate us as interesting.

Johnson also says it so very well:

“I get confused thinking about, you know, is being different good? Should we emphasize difference? … Or should we say ‘You’re American just like everyone else.’”


You can see Lili’s full interview here:

Lili at NYU from Linda Knowlton on Vimeo.



Monday, April 22, 2013

Asian Attraction, Part 3

Another two installments of the “seeking asian female” series called “They’re All So Beautiful” has hit YouTube.

Here’s the third episode:



This one is interesting as it asks Asian men to join the conversation about Asian-Caucasian couplings. Some Asian men express frustration in the attraction that Asian women have for Caucasian men. In response, an Asian woman says that dating an Asian man would be “like dating my brother.” Personally, I have felt the same and refer to my two best, male Asian friends as my “Big Brother” and my “Little Brother.”

In addition, one man described Asian women in this way (I believe my husband could attest to this.), “quite belligerent, demanding, controlling, and not afraid to say what is on their [sic] mind … not afraid to act independently on what they feel.” This completely contradicts the first installment that asked Caucasian men what they sought in Asian women.

The most disturbing segment of this video (in minute 4:43) is the Caucasian women’s subtleties in descriptive language of Asian women.  These two women continue to describe the couplings as “white males and Asian girls,” and “Asian girls looking for white men.” Why refer to other women as “girls”? Demeaning, belittling, and just plain name-calling, in my opinion.

Installment four goes like this:



Here we dig further into the attraction that Asian women have for Caucasian men. The culture card comes up here. Stereotypes are being flung to all parties … Asian men, Caucasian men, Asian women!

One Asian woman says that what attracts her to Caucasian men is that they are independent (exactly what an Asian man called Asian women). Now we’re getting somewhere.

We learn that the highest percentage of interracial marriages are made up by Asian women married to Caucasian men. There it is. My love for my husband plays into a statistic that proves this Asian fixation.

Thankfully, Dr. Benjamin Tong, Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, comes to our rescue, saying:

“Love has nothing to do with selling out on a people, has nothing to do with disloyalty. Love is something that simply happens between two people, and it can cross gender and race lines … ”

I needed that, Dr. Tong, on this, our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Love is love.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Asian Attraction, Part 2

The documentarian who is producing “seeking asian female” has also produced some short video studies of the Asian attraction.  Her first goes like this:



The studies look into the term “yellow fever.” The fever refers to something one cannot control. Elaine Kim, a UC Berkeley Asian American Studies professor puts it this way, “Part of it has to do with a fascination with something that seems totally different … even physiologically different.”

A young woman is interviewed here who has dated men who have this “yellow fever.” She laments, “Can you not tell me to change my race? I can do anything else but that!” I wanted to sit down with her and say, “Don’t change anything about yourself. Just find the person who loves you for yourself!”

What are we doing? Why do women feel the need to change themselves? Why must Asian women scrutinize love for fear that it is a fetish?

In the second study, she addresses whether only white men have Asian fetishes.



Words that describe Asians?  Exotic, petite, gracious, have a level of maturity, sweet, beautiful.  The author of The Asian Mystique, Sheridan Prasso hits the nail on the head, saying, “Everyone has something that turns them on, and there is nothing wrong with that … what is wrong is when it crosses a line into expectations with behavior.”

But the quote I most reacted to is this one from Dr. Benjamin Tong, Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies,

“What fixed images tend to be prevalent in fixed communities? It would be the case that in the white community, ‘Latina women are hot, difficult to control, exotic as well, but they’re fiery, ’ ‘Asian women are more controllable; they live to please,’ ‘Black women, wow. They’re too powerful. Watch out for the Super Mama! She’s really the boss in this house.’ That might sound corny, talking like that, but in everyday language, you still hear these things.”

As an Asian American with Puerto Rican roots, I do not feel that I fit any of these white perceptions of my race. If you asked my husband, I’m sure he would tell you that I am strong-willed and certainly not submissive or controllable. In my Puerto Rican family, we have a term for such a woman. Strong women who love life, are Gonzo Girls. We relish it, celebrate it, and live it.

We spend too much time compartmentalizing people. I suppose it is human nature to make sense of ourselves by generalizing and grouping. We live in a world that wants facts, data and percentages. I argue that we are far more than that.

Click here for Part 3. “What do Asian men think about yellow fever?”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On the sunny side of life?

What a week it has been! I began my week helping at an adoption conference, WISE Up.


I met some incredible young adoptees … all third graders. The conference allows the kids to talk about their adoptions and feelings in a safe place. It also gives kids the tools to respond to outsiders’ questions. They can walk away, say, “It’s private,” share something about their adoption story, or educate others about adoption and adoptees.

As you can guess, I personally advocate the last two. I understand the need to walk away if a question is offensive, and many of the younger kids just need reassurance that they have the power to control the situation. Unfortunately, when acting out some of these scenarios, more often than not, the children chose walking away. Some scenarios just involved something as simple as someone asking if they were adopted.

That had me thinking … is adoption a negative thing? Why do young children feel negatively about their adoptions? One girl mentioned that she felt jealous of those who asked her why she was adopted. She wanted what she perceived as the normalcy of a birth family. Looking back, I had some of the same feelings. They were often rooted in experiences in public or at school. In the comfort of my home, I would feel reassured that my home was indeed the place for me.

Perhaps what needs to happen is a better atmosphere in which kids can feel proud of their adoptions. As children, we look for a clan. As I have written, there are many of us.

In this conference, I introduced the kids to Kid President. His effervescence, his optimism, his generosity … they speak to us. We watched his pep talk, and then I explained to them that not only was he in third grade, but he was also an adoptee. One little boy excitedly said, “We just watched an adoptee on an invention of an adoptee!” (Of course, I had told them about Steve Jobs too.)

In my childhood, I wasn’t aware of other adoptees. It took close to 40 years for me to understand that my experience was not unique. Adoption seems better supported than it was in the 1960s and 70s. 

But as Kid President says, “We can do gooder!”




Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Asian Attraction? (Part 1)

Recently, one of my new Asian adoptee friends qualified her Caucasian husband, as “not one of those men with Asian fetishes.”

I must admit, I was puzzled by this, and I questioned what she meant. She and another friend quickly explained that there were men who had Asian fetishes. This week in This American Life’s episode called “Tribes,” Act 3, tackles this subject by highlighting the filmmaker of the documentary “seeking asian female.” The outcome is surprising. (You can listen to the whole podcast below, or you can click on the link Act 3 to skip to Act 3.)





Watching the trailer for the documentary (see below),  and having heard Jennifer in the film, Adopted, talk about Asian fetishes, I began to wonder how I had been so naive.



My Asian friends and I have all married Caucasian men. While my two closest friends and I have joked about our “white hubbies,” none of us ever spoke of the Asian fetish. If anything, we all talked about our own attractions to Caucasian men. One friend’s parents often tried pairing her with “nice Taiwanese” men.

Growing up in rural Tennessee, young boys were more repulsed by my ethnicity than enamored. There would be no talk about the Asian fetish. That was unspeakable in Appalachia.

My first date occurred when I was 17. My date was a young college man from the big metropolis of Knoxville, who had been traveling back to Wake Forest, North Carolina. He had stopped at the Cracker Barrel where I worked, and I had mistaken him for a movie star. He took my contact details, and we wrote long letters. I enjoyed sharing with someone who didn’t solely see me from the outside. When he escorted me to my senior prom, a popular young woman asked me the following Monday, “So, where’d your mom and dad find such a cute escort to hire?” She couldn’t understand why an older, Caucasian man would want to take me to the prom.

Throughout my life, I shied away from Asian boys, as I had often been paired with the only Asian boy in my grade; his family moved to our town in fourth grade. That year, we studied square dancing in gym.  This was the only time boys and girls mixed for gym. I was always paired with this Asian boy. Our peers saw us as a match made by race.

Some may hypothesize that my attraction to Caucasian men is a product of being raised by parents of a different race, or a product of living in a community where the racial “pickins were slim.” They may also blame racial confusion for my seemingly Caucasian fetish. I theorize that we all have initial attractions that are based in physical attractiveness. But as Act 3 proves, those attractions are only the spark that may or may not lead to a lasting relationship.

My daughter recently asked me what attracted me to her father. My reply was that I thought he was cute. He had long sideburns, wore a denim jacket and sported a Smiths button on his lapel. That was all I needed to be attracted.


As we became more acquainted, I quickly fell in love with his optimism, idealism, humanitarianism, and finally, his dedication to wildlife. We were, as my mother would have said, “two peas in a pod.”

See Part 2 of this series, here. “Do you have to be white to have yellow fever?”



Friday, April 5, 2013

Wait … I’m Asian?

Take yourself back to the most memorable day in your life. Remember the elation? Remember the sheer joy you felt? Remember those who surrounded you?

This past weekend, my boy and I felt that feeling again. A couple of years ago, on a cold weekend (Aren’t most days cold in Wisconsin?), with the man away, I set out a Times Square 1000-piece puzzle.  I said to the boy, “If we put this puzzle together before your father returns on Monday, I will take you to Times Square.”


He worked diligently and completed it. So, last weekend in celebration of his journey into teenhood, we met up with our best friends from Virginia, Adrienne and her son, Nick. Our relationship with this family is like a favorite pair of pajamas … immediately comfortable.

Adrienne picked us up from our hotel in DC, and we set off to Gettysburg to pick up Nick from a school trip. 

As you may recall, Adrienne and I are both Korean. We both married Englishmen who studied at Cambridge University. Essentially being of the same genetic background, we often joke about Asian myths. Of course, the jokes this time were rooted in truth. It took us well over an hour to exit DC, despite having paper Google directions and two iPhones running Apple Maps and Google Maps. Adrienne describes this fiasco here in her own blog.

We arrived in Gettysburg at a small motel to pick up Nick. The lobby was simple with a small “Retail Therapy” shop. This shop did not put us at ease with its Confederate flags flying. Another reality … uneasiness in rural areas where few Asians live.


This uneasiness was quickly dispelled as we made our way to the Big Apple. We arrived in New York City and immediately, Adrienne and I began documenting the boy’s trip! We were fulfilling the next Asian myth … obnoxious camera-slinging mothers.



These boys are no strangers to this behavior. My boy carried his camera around as well, and eventually the boys captured us.

Adrienne also writes in more depth about our photographic obsessions in her blog. We continued to document our travels around the city that never sleeps.




Back in the days of my youth, I hated the references by others, mostly Caucasian, to those Asian myths … good mathematicians, poor drivers, obnoxious camera carriers. 

Today, I relish these commonalities with my Asian friends, and I am comfortable in my own skin. I see the same things in my son and daughter.  Their love of paper, Asian design, Asian foods and Asian trinkets emphasizes my connection to them. 







New York City was the perfect place for me to connect with our friends, my son and our Asian side. In that vast city, we discovered Pearl River, Chinatown, and Uniqlo.  Asian myths … bring ’em on!