Archive for January, 2009


Does race matter?

Today we watched the inauguration of our country’s first non-EuroAmerican president. It was a truly historic day and, I think, a day to be proud, regardless of your political views. (Although my 3-year-old was way more excited about the performance by Yo-Yo Ma; not because it was another Asian but because he played a musical instrument—one of our son’s current obsesssions.)

It’s exciting to know that my son will grow up in an era where a non-white president isn’t something he only sees in the movies. My hope is that with the realization of this dream, no group in this country will feel like second-class citizens because of its skin color. My hope is that we’ll grow to see people as people, not as colors.

It’s been 45 years since Martin Luther King Jr. talked about the dream he had for America. Today’s events were a huge step forward for that dream, but I don’t think it’s a dream that’s yet been fully achieved. You know, 15 years ago I would have said we had achieved the dream. As a college student I didn’t understand why the black students needed to have their own groups. Why couldn’t we be one?

The truth began to dawn on me as I helped a group of black citizens fight city hall for things that would never have been issues in a white neighborhood (proper fire protection, for example). Still I didn’t fully realize the part race played.

Then I adopted a child who is a minority ethnicity in this country. And I began to see that racism is alive and well in our country. Often it’s more subtle than it used to be, but it’s still there. It’s evident in the stereotypical comments people often make to us after observing our son for 30 seconds: “Oh, he’s so smart.” Can someone really tell the intelligence of a 3-year-old after 30-seconds of observation? Or is it because he’s Asian, and as we all know, Asians are smart?

As race issues began to take shape in our lives through our son, we began to educate ourselves on the role that race plays in identity development. I wanted to know how to help my child be proud of his ethnicity. And what I learned concretely is that America is not a color-blind country. That racism is alive and well in America has only been confirmed again and again since I’ve been educated about it—by my friends who have experienced it first hand, by happenings at my church, by comments I’ve overheard, and through discussions I’ve read all over the Internet.

Race does still matter here, which is why son needs to know what it means to be Asian. He needs to have mentors who can help him navigate the racial waters that I don’t fully understand, because I’ve never experienced the racial issues he’ll face.

So many whites that I know still live in the bubble that I used to live in—that racism is in the past; that if you talk about race you’re racist; and that we’re a color-blind society. I believe all white Americans need to step out of that bubble; take off the blinders; own up to the privileges that you’ve experienced by being a member of the majority race in this country.

However, I especially believe that adoptive parents need to step up and educate themselves. Acknowledging the truth is the only way we can help prepare our children for the race realities they’ll likely face in the future.

Maybe our country’s race issues will be resolved by the time that my son is old enough to understand them. That would be an answered prayer. But race issues don’t seem to be resolved quickly in our country. After all it’s been 143 year since the Emancipation Proclaimation was signed; it’s been 44 years since Congress signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing racial discrimination; and only today was a black American able to take the oath of the presidency for the first time.

There are two books I highly recommend to start you on your journey to racial awareness.
Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Talks about who racial identity develops and why it’s important to know about racial identity with sections on black, white, and multiracial identity (multiracial includes transracial adoptees).

Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Through stories about the author’s children, who are multiracial (Japanese American-caucasian), and numerous interviews with transracial adoptees, multiracial children and experts in the field, this book explores how kids at different stages of life (starting with preschool) process race and gives you ideas and sample scripts to help talk to your children about race.


설날 (Seollal)—Lunar New Year

One week from today Korea will celebrate Seollal, or Lunar New Year. It’s one of the biggest celebration days in Korea and one of the Korean holidays that our family celebrates. Here are a few ideas of things you can do with your family for Seollal.

Make Rice Cake Soup (떡국; dduk guk). It’s the most important food served for Seollal. You’ll find a recipe here. Eating this soup is considered good luck, and it’s said that you don’t turn a year older until you’ve eaten your dduk guk. (In Korea you turn a year older on Lunar New Year, not on your birthday.)

Learn to say Happy New Year in Korean. 새해 복 많이 받으세요, which is pronounced “saehae bok mani badeuseyo.” This means “I hope you have much good fortune in the New Year.”

Wear new clothes. Traditionally Koreans wear new hanboks on Seollal. These new clothes are called “seolbim.” There are a couple of good children’s books about there about the new clothes. The one for girls has been translated into English. I don’t believe the one for boys has yet been translated.

Perform sebae. This is a special bow done by the children in front of their elders. In return the children receive money. Here’s a how-to.

Fly kites or play yut nori. Both of these activities have traditionally been associated with Seollal. The kites are usually decorated and made by hand. If you can’t find a yut nori game set, you can make your own. Instructions for both can be found in the book Look What We’ve Brought You From Korea by Phyllis Shalant. Check your local library or the interlibrary loan option. And sometimes you can find used copies on Alibris or Amazon pretty cheap. I found ours on Alibris for only $8.

Hang a bok jori. These are bamboo strainers that are hung either next to the front door or next to the kitchen door for luck. It’s believed that the strainers let the bad luck go through keeping only the good luck for your family. Here’s an article about bok jori with a photo what they look like. So far the only one’s I’ve found are on eBay.

Read a couple of good books. The Next New Year is about a little boy who is Chinese-Korean American. The book tells about how this little boy celebrates the new year, as well as how many of his friends from various ethnic backgrounds celebrate. Another good one is Dumpling Soup. This one is about a little girl whose family is Korean-Chinese-Japanese-Hawaiian-Anglo and how they celebrate each year by making a special soup. It’s a soup similar to dduk guk, which some people do add dumplings (mandu) to.

The Korea web site has great information on the holiday. You’ll found it here. Click Asia also has a page with lots of information about the holiday. And here’s another article listing many of the Korean New Year’s customs.

I’m sure there are more ways to celebrate but these are a few to get you started. I’d love to hear any other ideas. Just leave them in the comments.

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