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Comments by YACCS
Monday, March 13, 2006

About transracial adoptions

While I don't getting a child from China is an "accessory", I think a lot of well-meaning white people simply don't have any idea of what it's like to be non-white in America.

Well, let's hear from some transracial adopted adults.

Korean-born in U.S. return to a home they never knew
Many locate lost families, others work to change international adoption policy
Vanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Seoul -- In a tiny neighborhood restaurant south of the Han River, Yun Jin Carson tackled a bowl of cold noodles with a pair of scissors.

"That's how Koreans do it," said Carson, 24, deftly cutting into the naeng mien, a traditional dish on hot summer nights. She paused.

"I still can't say we do it."

Carson wants to belong in this place that is home but not home at all.

Home was 5,600 miles away in Northern California until she spent the summer two years ago in Seoul, a city she did not remember, searching for the birth mother she never knew. Now, she is back to reclaim her cultural birthright.

In an effort to stem the exodus of children, the government has tried to encourage Koreans to adopt. May 11 is now national Adoption Day, and the government offers financial incentives to Korean families who adopt. But traditional reverence for familial bloodlines and the social stigmas attached to adoptees as well as children who are disabled, mixed race or born out of wedlock limit local enthusiasm for the program. Thus, international adoption continues to outpace domestic.

After Carson's biological mother separated from her father, she tried to make it on her own but had to put her child up for adoption.

Carson spent much of her childhood in Danville "trying hard not to acknowledge that I'm not white," she said. When another Korean adoptee at her private school wanted to be friends, Carson avoided her.

She had a rocky relationship with her adoptive mother. Carson felt demeaned and that she was not treated as well as the family's biological children.

Her adoptive parents split when she was 7. As a teenager, she decided to move to Chico to live with her adoptive father, who gave her the freedom to become outspoken and opinionated. Carson entered therapy and began taking long-dreamed-for piano lessons.

At Chico State, she studied music and feminist theory and began to think about how the politics of race and power applied to her life. Three years ago, she changed her first name from Susanna back to her birth name, Yun Jin. Just before she left for South Korea, she had a falling-out with her father and is now trying to repair the relationship.

"The whole racial thing, it's hard for my father to understand," said Sarah Carson, 30, her adopted sister, who is also South Korean by birth and lives in Los Angeles. "Everyone here is Caucasian, and they don't think about it. He lives in this bubble and (Yun Jin) tries to pound it in."

English is the adoptees' common language because many speak only basic conversational Korean. That night, a biracial adoptee from Denmark talked about how his birth mother had asked the adoption agency to send him to the United States, where there were more blacks and he might be treated better. His mother dreamed that he someday would enlist in the U.S. military and return to find her. A Dutch woman explained how she was scheduled to appear on a weekly television show to find her family.


Personal to global

While activists say they don't want abandoned children to remain in South Korea only to grow up in an orphanage, they criticize the government for failing to develop a welfare system to help more poor families afford the children they now give up for international adoption.

After another year in South Korea, Carson plans to attend graduate school in gender studies in the United States and then return to work to help stop international adoption.


"Korean children have a right to their language and their culture," she said, "to families who can understand their position in life."

Wow, what a lack of gratitude. It seems she feels upset about being different and not understood.

Why Are We Here?

"My parents never bothered to go to my country," Trenka says. "They never bothered to go further than North Dakota. They don't know what it's like to be a minority. They don't think racism is real, because they've never experienced it."

Jane Jeong Trenka and her older sister came to the United States on September 26, 1972, when Trenka was six months old. They are two of the 150,000 to 200,000 Korean children adopted internationally since the mid-Fifties. Minnesota took a disproportionate number of those children, 10,000, thanks to active adoption agencies such as Children's Home Society and Lutheran Social Service, and, as Trenka has said, "a perceived liberal culture of acceptance."

In the last decade, these adoptees have begun to tell their stories in public. Some, like the sisters of a recent Strib series, relate a comfortable tale of secure childhoods and adoptive parents who support their search for biological family. Others speak of cultural genocide.


Trenka's book describes her white, middle-class small town as a unified, insular culture, influenced by German roots, rich in ritual, thick with emotional repression: "What were my parents to know of the inescapable voice of generational memory, or racial memory, of landscape--if they had never been separated from their own people?"

I tell Trenka that I am a parent of an adopted child from China. I tell her that the stories of the now-adult Korean adoptees are invaluable to parents adopting babies internationally. I don't tell her that in 2001 our adoption agency gave my husband and me one video and some worksheets to prepare us for adopting a child of a different race--little more than Trenka's parents received 30 years ago. I don't tell her that I still see white parents bringing Asian children home to small towns where no one looks like them. I don't say that the tenor of Chinese adoption discourse in particular is still about "salvation": rescuing girls from a culture that has seemingly abandoned them. But then, she already knows these things.
"I've become friends with [transracial adoptees] from Sweden, Australia, London, Africa," Trenka continues, half enthusiastic, half wry. "The one thing they most have in common is that they were raised by white, middle-class parents. It's like there's a new class of people. I have more in common with an African-American woman in California who was transracially adopted than I do with a Korean national."

One reason for the alienation is language. Trenka doesn't know Korean, but more subtly, she is losing the ability to speak the truncated and stoic English of her adoptive parents. Communicating with her Korean mother and her other sisters requires a translator, whether a person, a phrase book, or a physical gesture. Turns out a translator would also have come in handy in Trenka's fractured conversations with the parents who raised her: Trenka fills in some of these gaps with storytelling--locating images that show her American parents' losses and gestures of love. Other gaps she leaves to speak for themselves.

"I look at this like an American, and I go, 'Why didn't someone help my dad, who was an alcoholic? Why didn't somebody make a safe house, so my mother could take me and my sisters there?'" she says. "Gloria Steinem says the greatest gift feminists can give each other is choice. My mother had the choice to keep her kids and possibly have me be killed, or to give me away forever. That's not a real choice. I just want kids to be able to stay with their mothers if their mothers want them. If that mother doesn't have the education, well, why don't we help her get education? Why are we not empowering her with that 20,000 [to] 40,000 dollars that it takes [to adopt]?

I can tell you straight up what bothered me most about the posts on the adoption thread. It was all about "I'm adopting" "They don't let that many go"

Let me explain something about America.

When you are not white in America, you will be reminded of it. Not every day, but often enough. And when people talk about culture, and teaching their kids about their culture. I realize most of them have no fucking clue as to what they are talking about.

While learning Korean or Mandarin would be nice, that's not going to help your adopted child. Why? Because that sense of dislocation that your child will feel comes from American racism. People don't feel lost because they don't know their parents, but because they are reminded that they are different.

Like being followed in stores or asked if you work there. Or about how well spoken you are or how professional you look. Or meeting guys with an Asian fetish, who only like Asian women. How do you prepare them for that?

My problem with white liberals, especially, is that they deny racism exists, in the small scale. They know all about the big bad GOP, but not the teacher who says "you should be doing better, your people always do." Or the parents who decide they don't want Suzie over any more. Or the grandparents who forget her birthday or call her "the brown one" to their friends.

Racism on the large scale is easy to deal with, if frustrating. But it is the small scale which truly hurts. It is the boys who aren't interested. The parents who don't let you play with their kids. Or the surprised look when Sam Smith isn't just a girl, but an Asian girl. The one that doesn't go away after a second.

Being not white in America is not easy or simple and too many people minimize it.

When you adopt transracially, you are taking on a very great burden. You have to explain to this child about the nuances of America and race, things you might not even know about. Because your child is going to have a different life than you. They will deal with different things.

One example?

My friend, who went to Exeter, NYU, Columbia and got his doctorate at Harvard, was going to teach in California. The department secretary asked him for his green card and where he learned English.

You cannot get a more WASPy education than my friend's, he even dressed from the Brooks Brothers catalogue. Yet, when it came down to it, he was just another gook. And this was delivered by the secretary, a woman who would have to answer to him.

Can you prepare your child for that?

Because that is what it comes down to.

I am a black man, with black parents and there were some days I just had to deal with being different when dealing with whites, but my parents understood. I have no idea how I would have felt if my parents had no clue or minimized my pain.,

When people say love is all that matters, I feel for them, because they truly have no idea how cruel and fucked up this country can be, And it isn't always about race. But it can be.

Because I think the one thing that a lot of these parents, who are defending themselves, do not get is that when you adopt an Asian child, that child is Asian, you can name her Sophie, get her bat mitzvahed and she can go to temple every week. But she will meet someone who will call her chink or gook or drool all over her because she's Asian.

Those people aren't running back to Korea because they're happy, but because they are unable to deal with the blunt force trauma of American racism or European racism, because their parents never prepared them for it.

I'm all for transracial adoptions. But I think a lot of people need to get real about what happens when you bring a non-white child to America to a white, middle class neighborhood. They will never, ever be white, no matter what they do or where they go to school. Your white skin privledge is not transferable, and no Korean lesson will negate that.

posted by Steve @ 12:14:00 AM

12:14:00 AM

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