Archive for July, 2009


Race and Stereotypes in America

So the arrest of the Harvard professor for breaking into his own house has certainly stirred up the race debate in this country again. And, while I often try to avoid race discussions with certain people in my life, the other day I got sucked into just such a conversation. My son and I were at a friend’s house having lunch and letting our kids play when the subject came up.

As we discussed the situation, I mentioned that sadly it sounded like the professors first thoughts were that he was being stereotyped, which from what I know of the situation probably isn’t what the officer was initially thinking. But, I said, it’s my understanding that if you’ve had to deal with stereotypes your whole life, it might be the first thing you think of.

My friend, who is white, responded by saying, “Well, the majority of the time the stereotypes are true.” I was a speechless at first but responded by saying that of course, the stereotype will apply to some people in the group, but I don’t think they apply to the group as a whole and that no one should be prejudged based on their looks.

I’m sure my friend doesn’t realize what she said. Because if the stereotype is true the majority of the time, that would mean the following:
* there more black men who are gang members than there are those who are not
* most blacks can dance and play basketball too
* most of the Latino people in America are illegal immigrants
* there are more nerdy Asians who are smart in math than there are those who are best at other subjects, and most know some form of martial art
* more people from the Middle East are terrorists than those who aren’t
* most blonds are ditzy
* most redheads have bad tempers
Of course, there are people in each of those groups who fit the stereotype. I mean, we’ve all know ditzy blonds and fiery redheads, right? But it’s sad that in 2009, people are still basing their thoughts about others on stereotypes.
When my son is older, will he be seen solely as the nerdy Asian? Or the tae kwon do black belt? In our society’s pop culture, Asains aren’t typically the leading men unless it’s a martial arts movie. In America, Asian men aren’t seen as the attractive, get-the-girl types.
Not that I want our son to be all about his looks. But it does bother me that if things don’t change, he may be seen more as a study partner than a life partner. That’s one reason we are introducing him to Korean pop culture–so he can see men who look like him who are seen as attractive, who are good hearted and successful in all areas of society. Hopefully our family’s world will also reflect these truths and he’ll have Asian mentors who have found their niche in all areas of society–public service, medical, sports, and technology.
It’s my hope that our society is slowly moving past these stereotypes. The fact is everyone deserves to be seen for WHO they really are. They deserve to be liked or disliked because of the person they are and/or the acts they’re responsible for. 

A Small Glimpse into a Little Boy’s World

Since this blog only deals with our adoption journey, I thought I’d share a little bit about J’s world, as it is now. After reading this blog, someone recently mentioned that being Korean isn’t going to be our son’s only identity. Let me say that that isn’t our hope or desire at all. I guess it’s might seem that way if you read the blog since the intent of it is to document our adoption journey and what we’re learning as we grow as a multicultural family. So since readers here don’t see the whole J, I thought I’d do a post about this amazing little guy.

J is 3 years old and a bundle of energy. I’ve never seen a child with so much energy. He loves to run, dig in the sand, and play every sport he’s ever heard of.

His favorite things include animals, drawing and painting, reading books, playing music, playing Play-Doh, games, and building with Lincoln Logs. As you can see he has very diverse interests.

He doesn’t get to watch much TV, but right now his viewing obsessions are Pororo (a Korean cartoon we watch via You Tube), Wonder Pets, Wiggles, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and anything with an animal in it.

Currently, lots of things in his life reflect his mixed heritage. He sings Korean children’s songs, but also enjoys listening to High School Musical, Disney songs, Corbin Bleu, and some Broadway show tunes. He loves bulgogi, jap chae, bee bim bap, and mandu (all Korean dishes), but he loves pizza, burgers and sandwiches just as much. J’s asked us recently when we’re going to take him to Korea and what we’ll do when we go. But he also asks when we’re going back to Disneyland.

His life right now is a mixture of culture. Some Korean; lots American; some Southern (he loves sweet tea, just like his Southern parents); some western (because we live out west). There’s no doubt that J will be American. Growing up in this culture will determine a lot about his thoughts, opinions, and ideas.  But biologically he’s 100 percent Korean and that, too, will dictate certain things about his life.

We don’t know how J will feel about Korea next year or five years from now or 10 years from now. I think I’ve said before that we suspect his interest will ebb and flow as he grows up. Our hope is that when he is grown, his interest will be much what it is now–a love and appreciate of Korean culture and, of course, a love of appreciation of American culture since both countries will have helped shape him.

Just like Tarzan in the Broadway musical, our hope and prayer is that as an adult J will be able to say he’s “proud of ALL that I am… .”


What’s an Adoptive Parent to Do?

Sometimes being an adoptive parent leaves me confused and unsure of what I should be doing. Just when I think I’m on the “right” track, I’ll read something that makes me question our decisions.

This article, titled What’s My Heritage? International Adoptions and the Culture Debate, in Brain Child magazine has created just such a conundrum for me. Most of it I agree with. But once I’d read the whole article (and it’s a long one), I was left feeling like no matter what I do as an adoptive parent, it won’t be the right thing.

Part of the article talks about how going overboard with culture keeping could be as problematic as doing nothing. We are the parents who have embraced our son’s birth culture. From the day he came home we’ve listened to Korean music, watched Korean children’s shows, eaten Korean foods, celebrated Korean holidays, spoken what little Korean we know and are trying to learn more.

In the beginning I thought we were doing everything right. But over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve started to understand that there’s only so much I can do. And I mean that in a couple of ways.

First, at some point it will J’s decision about how much Korean he wants to embrace. Our hope is that Korean culture will always be part of his life, because it is part of who he is. We think that if we embrace Korean culture as a family (not singling out the one person who is ethnically Korean) that it will be something that he feels good about. But only time will tell if that belief holds true for our family.

And secondly, I know that there is much about the Korean culture we can’t teach him. Just knowing history, language, foods, and such isn’t enough to give him a true sense of what it means for him to be Korean. This has been a realization I’ve only come to in the last year. As I’ve learned more about racial identity and racism, I’ve come to understand that he needs to know what it means to be Asian in America, which is something I can’t teach. That is one thing about the article that I really appreciated–how it explains that culture keeping can’t substitute for talking about race.

What it comes down to is this: being an adoptive parent is a one-day-a-time experience. I’m a planner so there’s part of me that wants to plan out everything for the next 20 years. But I’m coming to understand that I can’t do that. At this point there’s no way to predict how my child who loves Korean things now will feel about his birth culture in five or 10 years.

So I guess all I can do is be prepared. I continue to educate myself and think I am knowledgable about adoption issues. With that knowledge, I need to work each day at listening to and understanding my son.

I suspect that as with everything we do for our children, our family’s embracing Korean culture may come down to a lot of compromises as J grows. That may sound harsh to some who think, “It’s his culture; he should get to choose.” And someday he will. I’m just not sure at this point at what age he’ll truly be ready to make such a decision. That’s something we’ll have to figure out as we get there.

After all, we don’t allow our children to eat only chocolate bars just because that’s what they want. Or allow them to decide at age 10 that they’ll quit school just because they’re not interested at that moment. Those of us who are religious don’t sit around waiting for our children to become interested in the Bible; we introduce it to them, teach them, live a life (hopefully) that’s an example to them, and pray that they’ll make what we feel are the right decisions when that time comes.

That’s how I feel about our son’s birth culture. It’s our job as his parents to start building a strong foundation for him–by learning the language, cooking Korean foods, celebrating holidays, etc. And it’s our job to help him continue to build on that foundation by having people in his life–Korean Americans and adoptees–who can help him navigate the difficult issues of race in America. People who are not simply resources for our family, but trusted friends.

It feels like each generation of transracial adoptees is a new case study. One generation is raised as caucasians and told to assimilate. That didn’t seem to work, so the next one is raised with culture keeping on some level–be it daily or once-a-year culture camps. For this one, my son’s generation, adoptive parents are being encouraged to embrace the culture themselves but to strive for balance. Only time will tell how that turns out.

My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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Be Strong, Geum-Soon
Please Teach Me English
Spy Girl
Tae Gu Ki
2009 Lost Memories

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