Friday, May 31, 2013

How We Must Love As Parents (part 1)

“To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control.” — Journalist and father Tom French

This quote, from a Radio Lab segment, stuck. It is stuck in my head with the memory of an old friend. His memory is constant. I have no photographs of him so I must keep him in my memory. I lost contact with him in late 1990.

His story was always meant to be here, but it is long and painful. If you are considering adoption, please read the entire story.

In early 1990, I met a man while training at Red Lobster in Clarksville, Tennessee, the town where I finished my undergraduate degree. His name was Patrick. He was a handsome blonde with sculpted features, and I was instantly attracted to him. Our first days were the things of awkward teens.

One night, I admitted my fear of relationships. Patrick patiently listened to the story of my first love, a soldier at Fort Campbell. While dating me for a year, the GI from Wisconsin revealed that he was engaged to a woman in his hometown of Appleton, and that he planned to marry her.

Hearing this, Patrick revealed that he, too, was from Wisconsin and had recently finished his service in the military. He said he had been married and was now divorced. His candor and honesty dispelled my fears, and he won my trust.

With mutual trust, Patrick explained that he was gay and that he had been married to a lesbian during his time in the military to mask his true self. His fear was a deep-seated one. He wasn’t always able to be himself.

One evening, as I lamented my inevitable move to graduate school and my fear of being alone in Knoxville, Tennessee, Patrick suggested, “I could move with you. It doesn’t matter where I live, and we both could work at the Lob!” We felt our fears of being alone dispel.

We made plans, and I wrote the following letter to my mother.



Up next, the trip home …


Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Pains of Prejudice & The Road to Racial Recovery

Today, I was struck by NPR’s Michele Norris’ newest Race Card Project subject, Elysha O’Brien, a Mexican-American married to an Italian-American.

O’Brien was not taught Spanish. Her parents wanted to spare her the pain of prejudice. Not learning Spanish at home silenced her Mexican voice, but her appearance would often betray her. In the interview, she says that when she was teased in her teens by other Mexican children she says:


It was my parents’ language; it wasn’t my language. When you’re kind of rebellious and you’re trying to find your identity, I used to say, ‘Well, I’m not Mexican, my parents are.’” 

Like many of us who are trying to assimilate to our American Imposed identity, O’Brien is struggling with the pain of rejecting her Genetic racial identity. She says very effectively in response to her teen reaction, “I think it sounds very flip. It sounds very much like I’m trying to make amends for a really deep wound — just trying to put a Band-Aid on something instead of digging out the infection that’s there.”

As a mother, she, like me, is struggling with the best way to guide her children and help them celebrate this part of themselves that has been suppressed in her. Her conversation with her children when they are presented with the ethnicity box, a box that creates confusion and frustration, is mirrored in our family. She recounts the scene:


“And there was a box for ‘white,’ there was a box for ‘black,’ a box for ‘Asian’ and a box for ‘Hispanic.’  
And my son says, ‘Well, where’s the Italian box?’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s just if you’re white.’ And he goes, ‘And what about Irish?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s white, too.’  
‘But Hispanic’s there and Italian isn’t?’ my son asked. And ... I couldn’t really answer him. But it’s interesting that when you look at the Hispanics ... Mexicans are very different from Cubans, and Cubans are very different from Puerto Ricans, and Puerto Ricans are very different from Peruvians. But yet we are all lumped together as Hispanic, and we are all assumed to ... speak the same language.  
My children have the O’Brien last name, and they’re all fair-skinned, and they appear white. I always make sure I check off that ‘Hispanic’ box. Because I know that as a white male, they’re not going to be given certain privileges as if they were a Mexican male, which perhaps is slightly racist on my own part, but I want them to be able to have access to things.


I understand this dilemma. I often felt so confused by the ethnicity questions and the boxes.  As you have read, a college researcher changed my ethnicity when she read my name and saw that I had “checked the wrong box” for Asian.

O’Brien is determined to make sure her sons learn her native language, despite the fact that she doesn’t know it. I also want my children to learn my Cognitive identity native language, Spanish. 

While my son is learning Spanish, he does not feel the same connection to the language that O’Brien’s sons will. But I will keep steering him down my road to racial recovery.



Monday, May 20, 2013

A Day of Ups & Downs

The sun was shining today as I walked my daughter to school. She asked out of the blue, “Who do I look like? Some say I look more like Daddy, but I want to look more like you.”

I had to think about this a moment, then I said, “Why do you want to look more like me?”

Her reply? “I want to be more Asian, like brother.”

I reassured her that she and her brother were a beautiful mix of her father and me, and that she was Hapa, a very special mix. She skipped into school, seemingly happy.

After school, the kids and I ran errands and then chatted as we always do at dinner. I also noticed writing on my son’s arm. “What’s that, dude?” I asked.


“What do you think it is?” he replied. “Think texting language.”

I looked at him puzzled. 

“Okay,” he began, “AZN, and say the ‘A’ as the letter.”

Still puzzled.

“Geez Mom! Don’t you get it? WAZN. AZN is Asian. I’m WAsian, because I am white and Asian. Asian Pride!”

I was quite impressed by his pride in his race. Now, I was happy, just not skipping.

At bedtime, my daughter has been reading me a book she had chosen, The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. She had chosen this book because she wanted to know more about segregation in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Tonight, the story entered the dark world of the KKK. One wife, who has been beaten by her husband, finds his white cloak in the closet. Threats are made on the women of the integrationist WEC (Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools). One letter says, “You and all the others who think like you should be tied to a car and dragged down Ninth Street, as did happen once before.”

From here, the 1927 story of John Carter, the last lynching in Little Rock, is told in some detail. I am sitting quietly as she reads this, not sure how she is taking it.

We finish the chapter, and I tuck her in bed. “Mom,” she begins, “The KKK hated lots of people who were different. Are they still around?”

I tell her yes but that they are the ones who now meet in secret and that they only protest. I try to assure her that the law protects us from them.

As I get prepared for tomorrow, a small shadow emerges. “Mom, I’m scared of the KKK. What if there are cloaks in the closet?” she asks.

I can only tell her that I will protect her and that I doubt there are KKK near us. It may be a restless night.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Wise Beyond His Years

Three of the Korean adoptees on the panel this week volunteer at a Korean American camp called “Camp Choson.”  Matt suggested that my son and I come to the camp.

This morning, I explained the camp to my son, and said I was seeing if our family of four could go.

My son was silent at first.

Then, he said gingerly, “That would be great, but how would Dad feel being the only white person?”


Slow to See Myself

The conversation in our family car went like this:

My son, “Are there any racial slurs for white people?”

My husband, “Yes, ‘Whitey’ and ‘White trash.’”

Me, “‘Honkey,‘Redneck.’ Why?”

My son, “Just asking. Does anyone use them?”

My husband, “Yes, and they are offensive.”

My son, silence.

At the conference this week, this conversation that had happened the week before kept playing over and over in my head.

I have jokingly used “Whitey” to describe my husband when I am with my Asian women friends who are also married to Caucasian men. This reminded me that I am just as guilty, and though I haven’t said it with my children around, I will stop.

But it also got me thinking. My son was asking this question as a means of exploring his racial identity. He knows he is not identified by these white racial slurs, despite the fact that he is a mix of Caucasian and Asian. The rub? Like I mentioned before, I have passed on to him the genetic and visual racial identity of Korean. Our outward appearances invite these Asian racial slurs. People we do not know, will use them on us. I asked my husband if he had ever had anyone who didn’t know him walk up and use a white racial slur on him. He said that he had not.

A new adoptee friend, Dan, had given me a recent study, “The development of racial identity in transracially adopted people: An ecological approach,” by Tien Ung, Susan Harris O’Connor and Raymond Pillidge. They discuss an interesting idea that our racial identity is five part: genetic, imposed, cognitive, visual and feeling.

Genetic is simply the biological traits we inherit from birth parents. The Imposed is more complex for the adoptee since it involves the adoptive family and is often harder for the mixed race child; it is an inaccurate “construction of race” given by those around the child. My son is questioning and struggling with this part of his racial identity.

This brings me to the Cognitive racial identity. This is “what a person thinks and/or knows her or himself to be.” The Visual racial identity is the “color one sees one’s skin.” This one lies closely with the Genetic.

The last and final one is the Feeling racial identity. This gives those of us with mixed racial backgrounds our “sense of self.” This sense of self is “heavily influenced by the race(s) of the social community that surrounds” us. Feeling is the root of my confusion. I truly have believed myself to be white and Puerto Rican.

For my son, I believe he is struggling most with the Cognitive and the Feeling, I asked my son a few questions:

Me: “Are you Korean?”

My son: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you Puerto Rican?”

My son: “No.”

Me: “Are you American?”

My son: “No.”

Me: “No?”

My son: “It is a nationality.”

Me: “Are you British?”

My son: “Yes.”

As I mentioned in the last post, I have ferociously defended my right to be an American. I have referred to America as “The Melting Pot.” But in hindsight, I believe I was fighting for the right to feel white. The nuances of this have been interpreted by my son. While he says being American is a nationality, so is being British. He is both, but he is identifying his race in a nationality. I wonder if he, like I have done, equates the word “American” with being white.

I now realize how important our Asian friends have been.  In part, what my son and I have been missing in our Virginia friends is the anchor for our Asian identity. My daughter has that now with her friend.  Her friend’s mother is Korean and speaks mostly Korean. My daughter relishes time at her friend’s house and loves her friend’s mother’s cooking. She has found that anchor in Wisconsin.

My son and I will need to work on getting that for ourselves. My fellow three, Korean panelists will hopefully be able to touch our lives with this sense of belonging. They are well beyond their years, and I am still in my identity infancy. I have a lot to learn.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The elephant has entered the room.

Yesterday, I served on an adoptee panel.


I have spoken about race and my racial identity as both a child and a mother. Yesterday, feelings came flooding into my soul and spilled into the room.

The keynote speaker, Dr. John Raible, began this cathartic day with his history. He spoke candidly and with much respect for the mostly Caucasian audience of social workers. He said things in the opening that I have said in only roundabout ways in my blog, but he peeled away another layer.

It was refreshing for me, but it set me up for an emotional panel discussion. (It has always been easier to talk with the internet as my shield.) Having lived most of my life wanting to be Caucasian (said as “American” throughout this blog), a pride in who I am started to emerge. I have been changing for my children, but now, I feel it is time to talk more candidly to create a better racial climate for my children and all the other ethnic children raised by Caucasian families.

At the end of the day, Dr. Raible began his closing remarks saying that “the gloves are off.” He asked social workers to listen to my fellow panelist, Matt, when he encouraged the social workers and parents to spend time in the cultural camps or as panelist Carmen suggested spend a week somewhere where social workers and/or parents would be the minority. He gave good suggestions but strong words, and some weighted words got in the way.

After pouring my heart out in person along will all my fellow panelists, an older Caucasian man became aggravated with the weighed word “unfair.” What ensued were more negative words directed at Dr. Raible. As the older Caucasian man spoke, claps began growing around the room. I felt small and again, insignificant.

I realize that perhaps this man was trying to say that his case load was large, that there was no time or way in which to implement any of the things Dr. Raible was suggesting, but this complacency just made me feel as though our time had been wasted.

Luckily, as others spoke, it became clear that we had reached a number of people in the room. One man, Mr. Davis, finally said it well. He said that Dr. Raible wasn’t asking for immediate change, but for everyone to take the talk home and see what small steps could be made to make the next adoptee generation feel better supported in their ethnic identity development.

The next few posts will be hard for me and for you, the reader. Words again will fail me and the emotional, gut-wrenching weight of words will be on display.

Topics will include class, race, sexual orientation, medical histories and relevant role models.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

What we pass on …

I have passed on the ridicule.

I have passed on the fear of being different.

I have passed on the guilt of my silence.



Tonight my boy recalled an incident he experienced while we were at the Smithsonian American History Museum. As I was on my phone (I should listen to Kid President’s #1 tip.) posting about the joys of our DC trip, a group of black teens said to him, “Taste the Rainbow-Flavored Nigger,” then they laughed at him.



He tugged at me, but I became annoyed and made him wait, as they stared and and continued to laugh. He held in his fear and waited for me to move us on to the next exhibit upstairs. All this has been held inside him until dinner today.

I am hurt that he was hurt. I am frustrated that the minority groups in our country fight and ridicule one another. I wonder how my mother felt, as she viewed me being ridiculed, as she heard me cry about mean words that she couldn’t fully understand. She must have felt as helpless as I do now. 

Really, we weren’t different. She fought with her weight, which became her oppression. The children that mocked me would call her a “big, fat hippopotamus” as she chased them in her motherly drive to protect me.

Like her, I will pass on other things to my boy.

I will pass on my resilience.

I will pass on my pride in being unique.

I will pass on the celebration of all that makes us different.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Regret


Tonight, after a long day, I took my family to a Poetry Slam. It was inspiring. My daughter loved it. My teenaged son was silent. In the car, we clashed. He went off to bed, and I said, “Good night.”

Before nodding off, he sent me this video via email.


I am flawed. I regret not holding my tongue. I regret not being the adult. I regret not saying “I love you.”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother Made

Rows of fresh orchids in plastic shells lined the shelves of the White Way Five and Dime. We picked each up and examined it. We were looking for the perfect red one …

Red symbolized life, and white for death. On Mother’s Day Sunday, we chose our best dresses and proudly wore the red orchids. A simple flower meant immeasurable, unconditional love. That same Sunday, we would take my mother and her mother, my grandmother, out of eat at a sit-down restaurant. This was a treat for everyone as we usually gathered at my grandmother’s on Sundays for lunch. Mother’s Day also included a visit to my grandmother’s mother’s gravesite.

My mother also saved the handmade cards we made as children for her. No Hallmark would do.


Today, I despise the lead up to Mother’s Day.  I get confused and angered by the numerous commercials that urge us to buy, buy, buy to show our love for our mothers. I’m angry in that my mother is not around to see me proudly wear a red flower or to share a special dinner with her grandchildren.

My last visit with my mother before her stroke, she had flown to Colorado to visit me in November of 1998. With her, she brought Kerr jars of canned green beans (immediately and proudly displayed over the window in the Thanksgiving photograph below). Proudly, she said, “I learned to can green beans on my own! I really wish I had learned from your grandmother, though.” It was times like this that my mother would get somber. Her last memory would crop up.


“You know, the worst thing I remember?” she would start, “I was cleaning up Mama’s kitchen, and I opened the Crisco. There inside, I found her finger marks.”

I imagine them today. Deep crevices in the Crisco. Grandma used her hands when she cooked. She didn’t have all the special gadgets that we have today. She didn’t measure but learned from her mother that biscuits took “about this much.”


So today, I celebrate the beans. The last jar has moved with me from Colorado to Maryland to Virginia and now, Wisconsin. I doubt I will ever open them. They represent the love and the loss.

I never learned how to can, but I plan to try canning tomatoes this summer. (My mother did learn the art of canning tomatoes from her mother, but I did not learn from her.) Repeated mistakes.

I can make her pinto beans and ham hocks, and her cornbread.  Again, no fancy measuring devices. Just eye-balling it.


I do enjoy the quiet time in bed with my own children as we cuddle on Mother’s Day. Our tradition is a breakfast in bed, and I love that.


If you could wear that red flower on Sunday, I encourage you to learn from her, and I plan to teach my daughter the art of mothermade.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Comic Relief

Using Facebook this week, I found a fantastic project called “Adopted, the Comic,” by Jessica Emmett and Bert Ballard. Their project’s images mirrored things in so many of my posts. (They have graciously allowed me to show some of their work here.)

This one reminds me of what Adam Pertman was saying in this post. We’re all families with parents and children.



This one reminds me of my discovery of other adoptees at the age of 44 (post). The bottom half reminds me of my friend, David, but that will be another blog post.

This one reminds me of my daughter’s fascination with Kim Yu Na (post).


And this one reminds me of the fabulous kids at the WISE Up conference (post).


My discovery of this series came from my link to the Somewhere Between film Facebook site. What a gift this film has been! Check it out. The filmmaker has commissioned three strips that you can find at these links. They speak volumes.

This one reminds me of my mother’s sense of adoption as I write here in the last paragraph.

In this comic, the constant dilemma of defining race emerges. I cannot tick one box. Sometimes, I am locked in one as I write here.

Lastly, we still struggle with responses to the question of adoption. In my eagerness to connect, I often suppress my desire to ask the question of a child who is obviously adopted. But then again, why must it be a secret. This struggle is illustrated in this comic strip. It’s a complicated one that could be less so as we move from taboo to tradition.

Jessica Emmett has now begun a new project.  Here’s her newest adoption strip.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

What is family to you?

Amy M. shared this with me tonight. Watching, I had that knot in my chest as I thought of what my family has meant to me.

What does family mean to you?

New Film Premiere - I Like Adoption. from ILikeGiving.com on Vimeo.