Archive for May, 2010


Self-esteem, Identity, and Pop Culture

My husband and I just got back from the movies and, of course, we saw trailers for several summer blockbusters. Being teens of the ’80s, we’ve been excited about the upcoming Karate Kid remake. But seeing the trailer got me to thinking about something–most, if not all, of the Asian boys in this movie are going to be “mean.” Another trailer portrayed Asians in New York’s Chinatown as gang members.

In American cinema and TV, it seems that largely Asian men are portrayed as either geeks or gangbangers. And I know the problem isn’t specific to Asians; most people of color are portrayed as stereotypes by Hollywood. (Interesting that now, while people of color are increasingly included on the big and small screens, “diversity” in movies and television serves mostly to perpetuate negative ideas about them.)

So my question is where can my son look to find men like him portrayed in a positive light? I know it’s best if a kid’s role model is someone in their real lives, and I understand I’m charged with creating an environment in which our son has such role models. But there’s little doubt that most of us look to Hollywood or sports venues for people to admire as well. I wonder what my son will begin to think about Asian men, including himself, if he looks to American television and movies for any part of his identity.

This thought started forming the other night after my husband and I sat down to watch Disney’s Summer Magic (a 1963 movie starting Hayley Mills and Burl Ives). For years, I’ve longed to share the live-action Disney movies I grew up watching with our children. Yet, now I’m hesitant because there are rarely people of color in these movies.

I know there’s nothing wrong with sharing these movies with my son. Yet, I realize that these movies cannot be our family’s sole source of entertainment, like they were when I was growing up. As parents of child of color, we must find films and television where our son can see men who look like he does portrayed in a positive light as well.

After watching many Korean dramas, we know that we can share some of them with our son when he’s a little older. And I’m thankful to have that option. But it’s sad to me that there aren’t many American offerings that will help our son build a positive racial identity.

For those of you who are further along in the transracial parenting journey, what do you do about movies and television? I would love to hear opinions and ideas.


Excellent Transracial Adoption Resource

When we started the process four years ago, it seemed like there weren’t a lot of resources to help us as we became a transracial family. Thankfully that’s changing. One of my recent Internet searches yield this site:

Yes, it’s the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association but it has some PDFs that can be beneficial no matter where you live. The Cultural Resources page is my favorite part of the site, which is why I’ve linked to it. On it you’ll find a PDF booklet titled “Transracial Parenting in Foster Care and Adoption: Strengthening Your Bicultural Family.” It’s a 48-page guide book that you can print to help you on your transracial parenting journey.

The Cultural Resources page also has links and information about other resources that transracial families can use. Resources are listed for families with African American children, Asian children, and Latino children.

And if you feel you’re creatively challenged when it comes to creating a lifebook for your child, this site has 70 free pages that parents can print and use. You can print the whole book in either English or Spanish, or you can print out individual pages that most relate to your child’s story.

I was so excited to find this resource. I hope it helps you on your journey.


Crash Course in Transracial Parenting

Earlier this week John Raible had a great post over at his site. It was titled “Crash Course in Transracial Parenting.” In the introduction to the course, John writes:

While transracial adoption may be all the rage, most agencies still don’t provide a parenting manual for every white adopter of children of color. No matter how Rich or Famous the parent might happen to be!But you’re in luck. Here, free of charge, is a Crash Course for transracial adoptive parents. Think of it as your guide to getting the education that you will absolutely need in order to effectively and ethically raise an adopted child of color in the United States (and possibly in comparable white settler nations, such as Canada and Australia).

The post goes on to list resources (books, blogs, and movies) that John believes all parents of transracial adoptees should be using. And the source of most, if not all, of the resources on the list are adult adoptees. Yep, while many parents bristle when it comes to adult adoptees, the fact is that those who have been-there-done-that are the most qualified to help us on our journey.

During the last four years, I’ve seen a transformation in myself as an adoptive parent. And much of that transformation can be attributed to listening to adult adoptees (both IRL and those I keep up with through the Web). I think I’ll include more about my transformation in a separate post. But I found it interesting that I’d followed the path John suggests, even before the Crash Course was posted.

So if you’re parenting a transracially adopted child, I’d recommend reading over and going through the Crash Course. You’ll find it here:

Note that there are more resources listed in the comments of the post, including links or where to find some of the resources that John includes in his list. If you’d like company as you go through the Crash Course, some parents have started a blog that will serve as a discussion board for those going through the course. You’ll find that blog at:


Culture Keeping

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that honoring our son’s Korean heritage is an important part of our family life. So for a while I’ve been wondering what Heather Jacobson found when she researched the culture keeping of Chinese and Russian adoptive families. She wrote about her findings in Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the Negotiation of Family Difference. I found the results fascinating.

The book has six chapters covering how families choose a country when considering international adoption, the purpose behind culturing keeping, negotiating the differences within the family, handling being in the public eye, and her conclusion. I found chapter four, “Negotiating and Normalizing Difference,” to be the most fascinating since it really got the heart of feelings about race and culture.

Basically our family’s attitude about identity, race, and culture didn’t fit with either the Chinese group of adoptive families or the Russian ones.

What Jacobson found was that most families in the Chinese group practiced culture keeping but largely “did” culture through consumerism and group activities with other families that had adopted children from China. This group saw their children’s activities and identities as either American (sports, things that fit in with society) or Chinese (like Chinese school, learning Chinese dances, etc.); few saw their children as Chinese Americans. The families had little, if any, contact with the Chinese American community and when sought the mothers tended to prefer interacting with recent immigrants who they viewed as “more Chinese” but largely saw such interaction as resources, not friends. Jacobson found that the Chinese families didn’t live in diverse areas and their inner circles were very diverse. The mothers largely saw culture keeping as a way of building their children’s self-esteem as a person of color without having to discuss or deal with race.

The Russian group largely didn’t “do” culture. Those who did already celebrated the heritage of the family (such as Irish or Czech) and simply added Russian heritage to the mix. When culture was done, it was done at home as a family, not usually with groups of other Russian adoptive families. Race, of course, didn’t play a large part in the lives of the Russian families since the children mostly were able to blend and share in the privilege of being the majority race in America. Many of the Russian mothers went out of their way to avoid the mention of race. One even went so far as to mention “transcultural” adoption when talking about “transracial” adoption, not realizing that she was actually part of a “transcultural adoption” since her son was born in Russia.

Both groups talked about being aware and leery of doing things that make their children feel different.

In fact one of the Russian adoptive moms was “baffled by the ‘extreme’ culture keeping of friends with children from Korea. She thought her friends were ‘obsessed’ with Korean culture keeping because ‘they’ve gone to the Korean church’ and ‘they went and learned Korean.’ She was ‘bewildered by the fact that her friends ‘completely’ changed decor of their house to a Korean-style theme. She thought a more appropriate approach would have been to limit the Korean decorations to the child’s room.”

As I read that, especially the last sentence, I was amazed. Wouldn’t singling out the adopted child by having only the adopted family member practice and learn about Korean culture do more to make the child feel different and separate from the family? That’s what we’ve always felt.

I found it fascinating how really most of culture keeping or lack thereof came down to race. The Chinese families felt it necessary because their adoptions were obvious and there are certain expectations to be met (knowing how to use chop sticks, speaking Chinese). Russian families felt it wasn’t as necessary because their children blend in.

In her conclusion, Jacobson writes:

“Whiteness and white privilege both give structure to race in the United States and are invisible to those who benefit. Whiteness became visible to the mothers in my study when they adopted across ethnicity and kinship. Through adopting internationally, these women because consciously ‘raced’–consciously white–even as their families lost biological white privilege. This increased visibility, however, created an anxiety centering on that lost privilege. This anxiety was displayed in a focus on finding a ‘correct’ balance between emphasizing birth culture and (adoptive) family, between ‘American-ness’ and ‘Chinese-ness’ or ‘Russian-ness,’ and between whiteness cast as normalcy and culture cast as difference.”

This last sentence defines the difference between our family and the families in the study (and possibly most of the transracial, transnational adoptive families out there). Our son’s birth culture is now part of our family; our son is Korean American in everything he does because that’s his whole identity; and the fact that I feel he views white as normal scares me and shows me the need for more diversity in our lives.

The fact that we don’t want our son growing up feeling “white is right” makes us want to form meaning, close relationships with people of the Korean American community and members of other ethnic groups as well. And I don’t feel that I can learn all I need to know about how to parent a child of color from my white fellow adoptive parents (which was how most of the Chinese adoptive moms felt).

In the past, I’ve envied Chinese adoptive families because they seem to have such a focus on culture that I don’t see in the Korean adoptive family community. While our family and we as parents are far from perfect, this book showed me that I’d rather stick with my views and try to achieve the life we feel us best for our family, even if it puts me outside the “norm” when it comes to views on cultural keeping.


Becoming Transracialized

I knew I wanted it but I didn’t know it had a name–transracialized. John Raible defines it as “the positive outcome can happen when a person of one race spends a lot of time with individuals of another race.”

For someone who grew up in Arkansas, I had largely transracialized childhood. We lived in the part of town that housed the majority of the city’s minority population. That population was made up largely of African American, Laotian, and Vietnamese, with some Latino and Indian (as in from India) families. My caucasian parents talked to me about race early on, when I was 3 or 4, so I knew of race, I recognized it, but didn’t feel it separated me from anyone. Many of my early friendships were with children of other races and later my most serious romantic relationship before marriage was with a young African American man. It was during that relationship that I began to realize that my parents feelings about race had either changed since my childhood or had never truly been what  they espoused them to be.

During early adulthood, I married (a white guy) and started my career. As a newspaper journalist I encountered all types of people, but didn’t really have much time for a social life as I worked to build my career. For many years, by virtue of where I lived and worked, my life became increasingly white. But when our lives settled down some, my husband and I realized that we weren’t comfortable with the whiteness. If we truly believed that all people are equal and race is just a physical characteristic, then our lives should reflect that and we should not be segregated from people of color. It was then that we began seeking and interacting with a more diverse group of people. We began attending a predominately African American church and made many close friends. And we began to feel more “normal,” as if this was what our lives were supposed to look like.

Then four years ago we began our transracial adoption journey. From the beginning we felt the importance of horoing our son’s Korean heritage. And in the last couple of years, we’ve become increasing aware of the need for our son to see himself reflected in those around him. And we don’t want Korean Americans, or Asian Americans, who will only be resources; we want them to be our friends. It will take some work since the community we currently live in is largely segarated, but it’s work we’re willing to do. And if our hopes and dreams are fulfilled, we’ll be able to move to a place where there are even more opportunities to become a part of a diverse community.

As the last couple of weeks have taught me, racism is no longer something that I can acknowledge exists yet choose to ignore. If I am to be ally for my son and my friends who are people of color, I must stand up against the attitudes that allow prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination to continue. I must try to educate those around me who believe it’s better to be colorblind and help them understand that racism still exists and the only way to fight it is to be educated.

If you want to learn more about becoming transracialized visit John Raible’s blog. The link to his blog is in now under Adoption Resources on the right side of this blog. John is a transracial adoptee and adoptive parent to transracial adoptees, so he has a unique perspective. Here’s a link to an article he wrote about nine steps you can take to have a transracialized, multricultural lifestyle.


Happy Children’s Day! (And random thoughts)

I’m really tired after a wonderful day spent with the family celebrating Children’s Day. I love that so far my husband has been able to take the day off so we can do something special together in honor of this Korean holiday. And since it’s not a holiday here, often the museums and other places we chose to go aren’t very busy.

I have a lot on my mind right now about adoption–some of it stemming from the book I’m reading (Culture Keeping by Heather Jacobson) and some of it from just observing the lives and practices of other adoptive families both IRL and through the Internet. I plan to write on both of  those trains of thought, but just not now.

The Arizona illegal immigrant law has also brought a lot of debate into my life about race and white privilege. Frankly, I’m tired of debating. But when I feel that way it only reinforces the privilege I have because I could choose to just let it go when I hear comments that are racially insensitive or inappropriate; a person of color must endure and deal with these comments and situations regularly. So, I don’t let it go. Now that I have an understanding of race and the role it plays in day-to-day American life, I want to be an ally. That means speaking up.

These race debates and discussions on adoption have set me on a course of self-reflection. I’ve been doing a lot of that since becoming a mom. It’s been a good honest look at myself and my beliefs.

So, with all that plus other stuff going on my life, I’m tired. But I’m still here.

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
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Tae Gu Ki
2009 Lost Memories

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