I am currently a first year student at the University of Washington, Seattle and finished with the course “Contemporary Issues of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans“. It was an eye-opening class, especially at the end where my lecturer talked about adopted Asian American issues.
For the final project of the class, the class was given an option to create a creative, reflective project, and being one of the only adopted AAPIA in class, I chose mine about my personal journey as an adoptee.
I thought I would share in case others may relate to the stories that I discussed. If anyone else is in college right now, I would totally recommend taking an Asian American Studies or American Ethnic Studies course. This course has made me feel even more connected to my Asian American identity and background. Thank you for giving me a community to share this in!
by Yung Fierens, adopted from South Korea to Belgium.
Years ago, I was one of those lucky guys who could pull through Asia with the backpack on her own for almost half a year. It was a magical time when I got to meet many exciting, cool people, saw the sun take off in a temple in Angkor Wat and between the Akha Tribes in Laos. Hong Kong, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Bhutan, Singapore and Cambodia.
In the last country (Cambodia) I visited, one of the many orphanages where there were dozens of children waiting for adoptive parents, I was considering staying in the area for a while and volunteering there. I gave language lessons in english, art lessons, helped prepare meals. I would have to throw a pack of euros on the table to provide living and living because of course you can’t live on the wages of such an NGO. They need their money for those kids.
That was what I thought was going to happen, that was how I thought the situation was. Until friends who lived and worked on the scene in development aid and the experiences of others backpackers opened my eyes.
“These are not orphanages but straight tourist traps. The parents of those children are getting money to bring their offspring during the day to the so called orphanage where they are exhibited as monkeys, so that the owners can knock money out of the pockets of naive tourists.
The children are not being taught in the meantime and therefore learn nothing that can ever come in handy in a human life. When they get too big and the cuteness is over, then they get banned from those homes and end up back on the street as a beggar.
And yes, whoever wants can adopt a child if enough money is put on the table. Since Angelina Jolie’s oldest son came to be adopted / purchased here during Tomb Raider’s filming, the orphanage tourism has been booming.”
I therefore abandoned the plan and with two other backpackers, I chose to support a boy from a poor family so that he could go to school and get a diploma. He was the first in his village to learn english. The result is that not only did we help 1 young person with it, but he took the whole village out of misery. Thanks to him, other children are able to go to school, the local economy has started and … most importantly, no mother has to let her child leave for a faraway country to give it a better life.
I don’t feel like a benefactor, I have told few this story and won’t come out with it to reap admiration for it. I’m telling it to show that there are other and better, more sustainable and previously used ways to give children a better life without having to remove them from their surroundings.
Original in Dutch
Jaren geleden was ik één van die gelukzakken die bijna een half jaar in haar eentje met de rugzak door Azië kon trekken.
Een magische tijd waarin ik veel boeiende, toffe mensen heb mogen ontmoeten, de zon heb mogen zien opstijgen in een tempel in Angkor Wat en tussen de Akha Tribes in Laos hebben kunnen vertoeven. Hong Kong, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesië, Buthan, Signapore en Cambodia.
In dat laatste land heb ik één van de vele weeshuizen bezocht waar tientallen kinderen zaten te wachten op adoptieouders.
Ik overwoog om een tijdje in de streek te blijven en er vrijwilligerswerk te doen. Taallessen Engels, tekenles, helpen met het bereiden van maaltijden…ik zou er wel een pak euro’s voor op tafel moeten smijten om in kost en inwoon te voorzien. Want natuurlijk kan je niet op kap van zo’n NGO gaan leven. Die hebben hun centen nodig voor die kindjes.
Dat was wat ik dacht dat er zou gebeuren, dat was hoe ik dacht dat de situatie was.
Tot vrienden die ter plaatse woonden en werkten in de ontwikkelingshulp én de ervaringen van anderen backpackers me de ogen openden.
“Dit zijn geen weeshuizen maar regelrechte tourist traps. De ouders van die kinderen krijgen geld om hun kroost overdag naar dat zogenaamde weeshuis te brengen waar ze als aapjes in de zoo tentoongesteld worden zodat de eigenaars geld uit de zakken van naïeve toeristen kunnen kloppen. Ze krijgen intussen geen les en leren bijgevolg niets wat ooit van pas kan komen in een mensenleven. Als ze te groot worden en de schattigheid eraf is dan worden ze verbannen uit die tehuizen en belanden ze terug op straat als bedelaar. En ja, wie dat wil kan zo’n kind adopteren als er maar genoeg geld voor op tafel gelegd wordt. Sinds Angelina Jolie haar oudste zoon hier is komen adopteren/ kopen tijdens de filmopnames van Tomb Raider is het weeshuis toerisme geboomd.”
Ik heb het plan dan ook laten varen en heb ervoor gekozen om samen met nog twee andere backpackers waarmee ik in Laos terecht gekomen ben, een jongen uit een arm gezin financieel te ondersteunen zodat die naar school kon gaan en een diploma kon behalen. Hij was de eerste van zijn dorp die Engels zou leren. Het resultaat is dat we er niet alleen 1 jongen mee hebben geholpen maar dat die op zijn beurt het hele dorp uit de misérie heeft gehaald. Dankzij hem zijn er later andere kinderen naar school kunnen gaan, is er locale economie ontstaan en…hoeft er geen enkele moeder meer haar kind te laten vertrekken naar een ver land om het een beter leven te geven.
Ik voel me geen weldoener, ik heb weinigen dit verhaal verteld en kom er nu niet mee naar buiten om er bewondering mee te oogsten. Ik vertel het om te tonen dat er andere en betere, duurzamere en eerbaardere manieren zijn om kinderen een beter leven te geven zonder ze te moeten weghalen uit hun omgeving.
The love we feel for ourselves and for others is often determined by how we experienced our mother’s love as a child. Maternal love combined with the degree of “presence” of mother and child.
Have you received, lost, or is this an unfulfilled desire? Have you experienced safety or are you constantly alert and feel unsafe? Have you felt connected and live with the knowledge that you belong to something or is the feeling of being out of connection and not belonging always present?
If you balance with or without a safety net, do you have the courage to accept love and make the connection or move out of fear of loss and this creates isolation.
These processes are constantly taking place on a subconscious level. By creating awareness about this and allowing what wants to be seen, heard and or felt, you create a space in which you reduce the fear and allow love.
De liefde die we voor onszelf en voor anderen voelen, wordt vaak bepaald door hoe jij als kind de liefde van je moeder hebt ervaren. Moederliefde in combinatie met de mate van “aanwezigheid” van moeder en kind.
Heb jij de moederliefde ontvangen, verloren of is dit een onvervuld verlangen. Heb jij veiligheid ervaren of ben je constant alert en voel jij je onveilig. Heb jij je verbonden gevoeld en leef je met de wetenschap dat je ergens toe behoort of is het gevoel van uitverbinding zijn en het niet toebehoren altijd aanwezig geweest.
Balanceer je met of zonder vangnet, durf jij de liefde te nemen en de verbinding aan te gaan of beweeg je vanuit de angst voor verlies en zorgt dit voor isolatie.
Deze processen spelen zich voortdurend op onbewust niveau af, door hierover bewustzijn te creëren en toe te laten wat gezien, gehoord enof gevoeld wil worden, creëren je een ruimte waarin je de angst verkleind en de liefde kan toelaten.
I am still processing the murder of 6 Asian women in the Atlanta spa shootings. I have been posting and sharing throughout my social media accounts about my anger, my distrust, the audacity of law enforcement and society for protecting white terrorist fragility and blatant denial of racism. I can feel tension like a chink in my armour of forced composure. But I am not only processing this all as an Asian woman. I am also forced to process this threat as an Asian woman adoptee, who has been raised in a world and by people who look like that terrorist. Worse yet, I have been raised by people who have ideologies in similar veins of that terrorist. Where do I begin to grieve, where do I begin to process, how do I begin to let you know how I feel when I have spent the majority of my life living under the same roof of whiteness that claims to love me but harms people who look like me?
If I were to ask my white evangelical adoptive parents their feelings of the mass shooting in Atlanta, they will question if it was race based. After all, not all the victims were Asian. If I were to ask them if certain political leaders in powerful positions where responsible for fuelling anti-Asian sentiments, I would be met with “fake news”. But if I were to ask them if they love their Asian daughter, I would be met with “yes, however, I don’t see you as Asian, you are just our daughter”. How do I process a grief and fear so real and palatable, when it is ignored and denied by those who are supposed to be my forever protectors? How do I put it into words and wrap it, so it is presentable and comprehensible for others to see the contradictions? In this lies the problem, the problem with racism, its systemic and institutional power that is subtle but feels like bullets, and shrapnel, and death.
This is all to say that as much as my white adoptive evangelical parents claim to love me, they cannot love me. Because they cannot recognise the terrorism they have inflicted onto me my whole life. They cannot love me fully because their “colour blindness” has prevented them from seeing the whole spectrum of my identity and how I go through life. They cannot truly love all of me because they refuse to acknowledge their own racial bias towards me, and how they raised me in that environment. They cannot love me entirely because they cannot confront their whiteness, their own racism, and how they contribute to a culture of white supremacy.
I have had some extended adoptive family members reach out to me, reassuring that they care, letting me know they are worried for my safety. On the other hand, I have not heard one whisper from my immediate adoptive family. None of them. Their silence speaks volumes. I am still processing what it means to be Asian in America. I still think about the time I was told me to go back to where I came from, as if it was not whiteness that forcibly re-homed me to a country that despises me. To a country that sees me as a virus, a fetish, a communist spy, a threat and fantasy to be colonised from the East. I am still absorbing and trying to understand what the violence towards people that look like me means to me. I struggle with this all, but I struggle with this in addition to being an Asian female adoptee. I struggle to process what this means when the people I was raised by refuse to see me as an Asian woman. And that refusal could cost me my life.
by Jodi Gibson Moore born in the UK and adopted to Northern America. This is part 1 of a 3 part series written for Autism Awareness Month.
April is Autism Awareness Month
That’s what it’s been known as, anyway. Light it up blue. Puzzle pieces. Be aware of the ways our autistic kids differ from neurotypical children. Donate to “Autism Speaks.” And perhaps the most cringeworthy, “help us find a cure for autism.”
As an autistic adoptee, not diagnosed until adulthood (41), the puzzle piece has always represented adoption to me. The missing piece. We are the missing piece from our blood families. We ourselves are missing our blood family (or in the case of kinship adoptees, our rightful place in it and at least some of our family). We’re missing our origin stories; our true names; our original birth certificates; our actual, unaltered identities; our family medical history…the list goes on. This puzzlement over our origins may eventually be resolved in reunion; for some adoptees, it never is.
One of the often-cited autistic traits is the ability to notice patterns in things, so maybe that’s the reason why, since I began pursuing my own medical diagnosis, I’ve been noticing similarities or symptom overlap between developmental trauma (adoptee-specific and otherwise), autism spectrum, and other conditions often comorbid with ASD such as ADHD and sensory processing disorder (SPD). More about this in future posts.
In an autistic context, the puzzle piece has an entirely different meaning and, perhaps not surprisingly to a population historically considered unable to speak for themselves, was developed and “used without input from the autistic community” (Crosman, 2019). Crosman explains that the originator of the puzzle piece symbol was “Gerald Gasson, a board member for the (UK) National Autistic Society. He and the rest of the board believed that autistic people suffered from a “puzzling” condition, so they adopted a logo of a puzzle piece with a weeping child, displaying the notion that autism is a tragedy that children suffer from. This visualization of autism has led to decades of autistic people receiving unwanted treatments and therapies to treat a disease that they don’t have.” (from “The Ableist History of the Puzzle Piece Symbol for Autism”, 2019).
Crosman draws the puzzle piece debate into modern times with the puzzle piece ribbon symbol designed by the Autism Society of America in 1999, supposedly to raise awareness and increase early intervention, but she points out that this awareness usually involves “increased research of cures and treatments for autism” (2019), and intervention often includes controversial treatments like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Crosman criticizes ABA for “‘correct(ing) autistic behaviors by forcing autistic people to mask their autism” (2019). Masking, which I’ll cover in another post, is the exhausting and not always successful task of attempting to pass for “typical” in order to make neurotypicals more comfortable around us. So much for inclusion and acceptance.
Crosman speaks for many autistic adults when she voices her criticisms of the puzzle piece and its implications that individuals on the autism spectrum are “incomplete” or “missing pieces”, suffering from a “disease”, and do not fit in with the rest of the world. Many autistics choose to discard the puzzle piece due to its ableist connotations and history; the infinity symbol, often in rainbow colors to represent the spectrum, is increasingly visible in the autistic community. Autistic females especially are replacing the “light it up blue” with red or gold, which, with the periodic symbol Au, can mean autism. Crosman (2019) points out that blue perpetuates the male gender bias in autism: historically, autism research was only conducted on males, and due to gender-biased diagnostic criteria, females are more likely to slip through the cracks in childhood, often pursuing a diagnosis ourselves as adults, as I did. Knowing now where the “blue” comes from, I’m not going to turn my Facebook profile picture blue this year.
The attitude that organizations such as Autism Speaks have toward autistic individuals, described by Crosman as “ableist” and “infantilizing” as they claim to speak for those actually affected by autism, reminds me of the way the adoption industry, the law, and society in general has treated generations of adoptees. As the original puzzle piece logo suggests, autism has historically been viewed as a childhood disorder, with very little discussion or research into autistic adults. Not to say the supports and accommodations in schools aren’t necessary. They are. But we don’t outgrow autism. What about accommodations in college, university, career training? What about supports in the workplace? In parenting? We often end up masking so that others won’t find out our “disability” and use it against us, and masking leads to burnout, as I will write in a future post. We grow up and we’re still autistic.
Adoptees also grow up, while the law treats us as perpetual children. Most of us aren’t even allowed access to our own birth records. We are bound for life to a contract that we never signed, supposedly made on our behalf, but after we reach the age of majority we’re still adopted, and most courts won’t even think about releasing us from it, including in cases of abuse. After our adopters die, we’re still adopted. People apply the phrase “adopted child/children” to us into our 30s, 40s, 50s, after we have children and perhaps grandchildren of our own. Laws are beginning to change, but there are still many who consider us incapable of speaking up for ourselves regardless of our lived experience and advanced education. I understand that a legal declaration isn’t the same as neurological diversity, but I also know how it feels not to be taken seriously as the expert on your own life and struggles.
The opinions and feelings expressed in my online autism groups leading up to this April remind me – in a good way – of adoptees coming together to “flip the script” for NAAM in November. Those who have not experienced our reality firsthand have spoken for us long enough, and now we’re speaking for ourselves. Our voices are diverse, but we’re not puzzled anymore. We’re finding our own fit.
I’ll be here all month.
For more from Jodi, check out her contributions to numerous publications including 4 adoptee anthologies:
It’s Not About You: Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion & Open Adoption The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share their Wisdom and Tools Adult Adoptee Anthology: Flip the Script Adoption Therapy Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post Adoption Issues
In thinking about #mutualaidvscharity and how they play out in adoption, we wanted to get granular about how that plays out in our adoptee world – so we’ve explored what adoption would look like moving #fromcharitytojustice.
by Lisa Kininger, adopted from Thailand to the USA.
My name is Lisa and I am an intercountry adoptee. Thanks to my wonderful parents, they have given me a beautiful life that I’m forever grateful for. There is only minimum information about my true identity. What I do know isn’t enough to find out who I was and where I came from. Although I’m forever happy with who I’ve become and my beautiful family, I have always been curious about my true identity, as anyone else would be. I have tried absolutely everything from phone calls and emails to traveling to Thailand more than once, searching helplessly. So, when I turned 18, I decided to start my journey of searching.
I had reached out to the Thai doctor and his wife, from whom I was adopted. They were not interested in helping me but did explain that they put up 40 non-biological children for adoption. They would have their cooks and maids sign as fake biological parents. In effect, they also told me that they came up with my birth name “Malai” and the birth date 20 December 1972. They told me not to contact the people on my birth certificate as they would lie to me and take my money. With only the people on my birth certificate to reach out to, I desperately did so in hopes of finding more information. I eventually stumbled across DNA testing and used it to my advantage.
My story starts with my father being an aircraft electrician as a Sr. Master Sergeant in the USA Air Force. My parents were married and stationed in Utapao, Thailand in 1974-1975. They were unable to have children of their own and were in the process of adopting in the USA but had to put it on hold due to being stationed in Thailand.
One day my mother went to Bangkok to go grocery shopping at the base commissary. She ended up talking to a woman about the prices of meat and the woman had mentioned how she just had adopted a Thai baby girl. The woman said she knew of another Thai baby girl who was up for adoption. My mother said she would love to but unfortunately, they were leaving soon to go back to the USA, so there would be no time. While checking out at the shop, the same lady approached my mother with a phone number. The phone number was for the Thai baby girl who was up for adoption. My mother decided to call. She spoke with a woman who said unfortunately, she was adopted already. So sadly, my mother hung up the phone. Then suddenly, over the loudspeaker at the store, they announced my mother’s name. They said there was a phone call for her. On the other end of that line was a lady asking my mother to share about herself and my father. The lady said she didn’t know what came over her, but she felt the need to call. The lady said she had a Thai baby girl at her house who was very sickly. She wanted my mother to see the baby girl right away. So, the lady sent a car to pick up my mother from the store in Bangkok.
My mother arrived at the house. The people at the home were a Thai doctor and his American wife (this was the lady on the phone I talked to when I started my search, which is years after). They explained to my mother that the baby girl was very ill, only weighed 13 pounds and was rescued from the jungle. They also told her that the baby girl’s 5-year-old sibling died of malnutrition and the baby girl was going next. That baby girl was me.
Soon my mother was able to meet me for the first time. She put me in her lap and I started to play with her watch. That’s when the people decided it was the perfect match. They did however also have a Dutch couple that was going to visit me in the morning. If the Dutch couple didn’t want me, then I was my mother’s. So, they put my mother up in a hotel suite that the doctor had organised.
This was during the Vietnam war in 1974 and when my mother called my father to explain where she was and what was going on, my father became very worried as it was dangerous for civilians to be off base. Fortunately, the next morning the Dutch couple wanted a boy, and I could go home with my parents! The next step was for my father to get me adopted in Thailand. Adoptive parents had to be a certain age to adopt in Thailand and my parents were too young. The Thai doctor wanted my father to lie about his age and bribe the consulate with a bottle of whiskey. My father didn’t want to do such a thing because he was in the US AirForce and could get into substantial trouble. The Thai doctor then had to get ahold of my “biological mother” to sign a release form for my new parents to take me back to the the USA. The doctor arranged a visit with my father and my bio mother at a restaurant outside of Bangkok. The doctor explained to my father that she came from the south and that my father had to pay for her travel expenses. When they met at the restaurant, the doctor and my bio mother only spoke Thai; she signed and left. My father had no idea what was said.
We happily left for the USA and I had a fantastic childhood. I had the privilege of seeing and living in different parts of the world, thanks to my father serving in the US AirForce. Throughout my childhood, I always had the desire to search for my biological family and to find the truth about myself. I remembered what the Thai doctor and wife told me which was to avoid contacting the people on my birth certificate as they would lie and take my money. I took a risk and didn’t listen to them. I decided my only choice was to find the people on my birth certificate so I contacted them. In the beginning they had said yes they are my family. They proceeded to ask if I was Mali or Malai. I then said I was Malai but asked who Mali was? They told me Mali was my sister. They said to call back the next day because they knew someone who could speak English. So I did and then they told me they were not my family, but knew of my family because they were neighbours at one time. They told me the family name and said I had an older sister who died in a car accident and the family had moved away. They asked me to call back in two weeks and they would help me try and find this family. They ended up not being able to find them.
As a result, I hired a private investigator in Thailand to find them and the investigator was successful. This family acknowledged I was part of their family and that my immediate family passed away but could locate my aunt, uncle and cousins. I was able to receive pictures of them and they were able to finish the story about me and knew the Thai doctor, so I believed them.
This was in the early 2000s before DNA testing was well known. I took the initiative to take my first trip to Thailand to meet them. I gave them money because they were poor. My aunt had a stroke so I bought her a wheelchair, medication and food. I set up an international bank account so they could take out money when needed. They would even write to me and ask for more money throughout the years and said my aunt would die if I didn’t pay for her blood transfusion.
I decided to do a DNA test with my late sisters’ son and the results showed there was no relation at all between this family and me. Sadly, I gave up searching for a while. Eventually, as time passed, I contacted the people on my birth certificate again and they told me I am possibly theirs after all. So I did a DNA test with the biological mother on my birth certificate (this was when I booked my 2nd trip to Thailand with my family). Unfortunately two days before leaving for Thailand, the results revealed I was not related to her. We went on the trip anyway and met with her. When I met her in person, she told me that the doctor paid her to sign as my biological mother and that she was the one at the restaurant who met my adoptive father.
Since then, I have done DNA tests with her husband’s side of the family and no luck. Unfortunately, I’ve done countless DNA tests only to find 3rd to 4th cousins and they have all been adopted as well so no help there either. The hard part with my search is that my identity in Thailand is fake. My true identity seems like it’s been erased from existence.
It has been challenging throughout my life, wanting to know the truth but being lied to consistently with no explanation as to why. I don’t know how old I am, my real name, or where I came from. Everybody that knows some truth REFUSES to help or tell me anything. I have a beautiful family with three grown children and I’m happily married but I would love to share with my children and one day, my grandchildren, my own biological family.
Through my journey, I relate to other adoptees feelings and emotions and so I have dedicated my time to helping other adoptees find their biological families for 20 years. I am a private investigator for adoptees. I understand both sides of the story and can empathise. Even though I haven’t found the end to my story, I find joy in helping others in their journey and I’ve also found what I was looking for via the actual journey itself.
I’ve decided to share my own experiences with racism, because current events have got me reminiscing about the past. Let’s not get it twisted: much worse has happened to much better people than me. But I do think it’s important that people know that racism has been around for decades; it’s actually America’s favourite past-time. I just think that a certain person exacerbated the situation in how he chose to refer to Covid-19. And for some reason, it empowered cowardly racists to attack elderly Asian men and women (mostly from behind, because they lack the testicular fortitude to actually show their faces), and commit acts of mass murder.
MOST of the people I’m friends with on social media are people I’ve actually met. There’s a handful that I haven’t. So for those of you whom I haven’t met face to face, a little background: I was born in Viet Nam in 1974, adopted by a white family in 1975 (I’ve got three siblings, one being their biological daughter, and they adopted two more kids–both half-Black/half-white), raised in south-central PA, and didn’t leave the area until I went to university. In a round-about way, I ended up in the NYC-metro area and have been here since 2001.
I am pretty sure I had repressed a lot of what happened throughout my childhood, but the increased media coverage of racism-based violence and hate crimes towards Asians got me reminiscing about “the good old days”. I was thinking about the first time I can remember something racist being said or done toward me, which opened the floodgates. This is gonna be long, so grab a coffee and enjoy the ride down my memory lane!
I can’t remember this because I was too young but my mom told me about it: a friend of my mom’s saw me in the stroller and said that I almost looked like my mom, and asked my mom if she was going to have surgery done on my eyes so I could look even more like her. My mom, shocked, came back with, “How about I get surgery on MY eyes so I look more like HIM?”. Her friend was even more shocked and said, “Why would you do something like THAT?!” I am pretty sure they were no longer friends after that. My mom was also thanked numerous times by any number of people when she was out with me for “saving him from the dirty Commies”.
Age 5 or 6, in kindergarten, I recall other kids mocking me with, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at THESE”, and when saying “THESE”, they’d pull the outer corners of their eyes up and out to mimic (supposedly) my eyes.
In my neighbourhood, one of my friend’s older brothers nicknamed me “Hadji”. I think he said it was because I reminded him of Hadji in the Jonny Quest cartoons. It stuck. In my neighbourhood, I was always referred to as “Hadji” until I left, at around the age of 19.
When I was 8, I was walking home from a friend’s house and an older kid (he was probably 16) tried shooting me in the head from his bedroom window across the street with a pellet gun. He was a bad shot and instead hit me in the right hip. When questioned by the police, he said he just wanted to, “Shoot the slant”.
The same friend’s house I was walking home from, I had just left because his father told me, “I used to shoot lil gooks like you from my Huey in ‘Nam.”
I was called “slant” or “chink” a few times a week in elementary school.
That changed to “gook” and “zipperhead” or “zip” in middle school. The More You Know: did you know that “gook” derives from the Korean word for America/Americans, which is “miguk”? It sounds like, “me gook”, so during the Korean War, Americans probably thought Koreans were saying, “Me, gook”, turned it into an epithet and called Koreans “gooks”. That of course, transferred to all Asians, since you know we all look the same to white people. Also, “zipperhead” comes from when American soldiers would hit a Korean or Vietnamese soldier in the head with the stock of their assault rifles, it’d open up their heads like a zipper. “Zip” is just a shortened form of it.
By the time I hit high school, it had morphed into, “Charlie”, “VC”, and “riceboy”. “VC” of course derives from “Viet Cong” aka “Victor Charlie” aka “Charlie”. “Riceboy” is the one that was used the most though.
I was also told to go back to my own country a multitude of times for as long as I can remember through 11th grade.
I kept a brush and a can of paint in my locker in high school that matched my locker, because I could paint over the swastikas that were left on my locker faster than it took me for have maintenance come and do it.
At the beginning of 9th grade, a kid Mike told me to go back to my own country and I decided to tell him to go back to his. I wasn’t a very big kid. He basically picked me up and threw me down a flight of stairs which broke both of my wrists. He got suspended for three days.
Throughout middle and high school, I was asked numerous times by white classmates, “Do your Asian women have slanted pussies, because your eyes are slanted?”
I’d be rich if I had a nickel for the number of times I was asked if I knew kung fu or karate, followed up with a weak-ass karate chop and “hi-yaaaaaaaaaa”. At this point in my life, I didn’t know one bit of martial arts. Same goes for being asked if I ate cats and dogs.
The KKK and WAR (White Aryan Resistance) were both essentially clubs in my high school (not sanctioned by the school but the school did nothing about their presence).
In high school (~1,200 students, and less than a half dozen of us weren’t white), some kid got caught with something like four rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition in the cab of his pickup truck. When asked why, he said it was “to clean the school of all the mud people”. I assumed he was just a terrible shot. He wouldn’t have gotten caught if someone else didn’t see it and tell the principal about it, since it was odd to see outside of hunting season. I met a nice Catholic girl in high school at the local ice rink. It got to the point where I asked her out on a date and she accepted. I went to her house to pick her up on our date night, and her father answered the door. The conversation went as follows: HER DAD: Who the fuck are you? ME: Josh, I’m here to pick up Colleen for our date. HER DAD: That’s not going to happen, and here’s why: you’re not Irish. You’re probably not Catholic. And you sure as fuck aren’t white, so you better get the fuck off my property before I fetch my shotgun. Needless to say, I’ve never attempted to date a Catholic woman since then.
In 11th grade, I threw a football player Jamie through a window in the middle of my English class. For much of the class, he kept whispering, “Hey riceboy” from the other side of the room. I guess it was just a decade+ of pent-up anger that finally came to a head. I was raised Quaker…pacifist. WWJD and all that bullshit. I got up out of my chair, ran across the room, snatched him from his seat and threw him through a wire-mesh safety window (we were on the first floor, he didn’t fall very far). I got suspended for three days. After that, though, no one during the remainder of my junior year or senior year in high school said anything racist to me, ever again, at school.
I had gone to a Denny’s with two friends, Leah (a Korean adoptee) and her boyfriend Jeffrey (a white Italian kid). Jeffrey liked to dress in a punk style, and was wearing black Doc Martens with red laces. We were sitting there and a group of skinheads came over to our table and asked Jeffrey why he was sitting with “two of the mud people”. Jeffrey was confused. They said only earned skinheads can wear black Docs with red laces (as I found out later, black Doc Martens with red or white laces, laced-up in a certain manner, means you’re a skinhead, or have attended a boot party where you stomp on and kick someone). They ended up chasing us out of Denny’s to our car. As I was getting into the driver’s seat, one grabbed me around my neck through the door. I slammed the door on his arm a few times until he let go and backed into one of them that was behind the car (he rolled over the roof/hood). I don’t know what happened to the third one. We just bolted and never went to Denny’s again.
I finally got out of Bumblefuck, PA and went to university. They at least had more black and brown folks around, so it was a nice change. Funnily enough, I tried joining the Asian American Student Coalition/Association and was basically denied for not being “Asian enough”. I couldn’t win anywhere.
I got into what I thought was a nice relationship with this Italian woman when I was a freshman. We dated for a few months, then she ghosted me. I was finally able to get in touch with her and she said, “I was just using your slanty ass to get back at my boyfriend”.
That being said, I didn’t deal with much racism at all while I was there.
I was going to Philly and my car got a flat tire. It was in the evening (it was dark) and I was on the side of the Schuylkill highway. If you know the area, there’s like, zero shoulder. Anyway, I was in the process of rummaging around my trunk getting the jack out when a car pulled up behind me. That was nice because their headlights gave me more light. I heard one person ask, “Do you need any help?” I turned around and said, “No” and the two guys who were approaching me, their expressions immediately changed. They were wearing typical neo-nazi gear: combat boots, military pants and jackets. Out came the racist remarks, telling me to go back to my own country, etc. One pulled a chain and started whipping it around, the other pulled a knife. They started approaching me and I went into attack mode. I had started actually attending a karate school my freshman year of college and I was a brown belt by this time. I had three years of 5-day-a-week training and numerous tournaments under my belt. Chain boy: I bent his leg backwards at the knee. Knife boy: I was able to grapple his knife arm, leg swept him, and heel-stomped his solar plexus. I finished changing my tire and left them on the side of the road.
Fast forward a few years to the company I’ve now been with for 20 years. There were three incidents there during my first five or six years. First one, a delivery driver was walking by me in the warehouse and asked me where the karate school was, followed it with a fake karate chop and “hi-yaaaaaa”. It was actually so long since I’d heard anything racist directed toward me, my first thought was, “Wait, we have a karate school here now?”
A co-worker whom I had dealt with on the phone for months, who I finally met in person at a conference told me, “Your English is so good, I wasn’t expecting someone like you to be able to speak it so well”. I was eating Chinese food with three other co-workers in our little fourbicle and an older co-worker was walking by, popped his head in, looked at one of them and said, “Hey Billy! Y’all eatin’ that gook food now, huh?!” and left. I lost my shit. He came back later to apologise, and the conversation went like this: JOE: Hey Josh, I didn’t mean to offend you with what I said earlier. It’s just that, you know, I fought in the Korean War and they messed up my one hips really bad. But I can understand your English, so you’re OK in my book.(Keep in mind that WE WORK FOR AN ASIAN-OWNED COMPANY!!!) ME: Hey Joe, if you ever open your mouth to me one more time, I’m going to break your other fucking hip and dance on your grave. After I reported him to HR, his employment was terminated.
I’ve noticed that, “You speak good English” is something that gets said more to me as an adult (it wasn’t something I had heard a lot in elementary/middle/high school).
A few years ago, I was at the regular watering hole with a few friends — most not white . Some random white woman from out of town (I think from Texas) told us she was making a movie about the Tuskegee airmen and told us she was calling it, “The Flying N*ggers”. Needless to say, we attempted to not talk to her for the remainder of the evening. Later, we were outside having a smoke and she was trying to get our attention. She called my good friend “Maleek” (that’s not his name) and was calling me “Pol Pot”. “Maleek” finally turned around and was like, “WHAT?!” and she made little flapping motions with her hands and goes, “FLYING N*GGERS!” My friend angrily went back inside because he probably didn’t want to provoke the situation, but I turned to her and said, “Come here”. When she got close enough to me, I whispered in her ear, “If you open your mouth one more time, I’m going to place your teeth on these steps and slowly step on the back of your head until you end up swallowing your tongue”, stepped back and smiled. She gathered her things and left.
When I was living in Ohio, I went to a Subway to get a sandwich and the woman working there started chatting me up like she knew me. She even asked me how my brother Vinh was. I then said I had no idea who she was talking about and she asked me if I was so-and-so. I said no, I do not work at that nail salon. She said, “Oh my mistake. All of you Japs look alike to me.”
Also living in Ohio, I was looking after my girlfriend’s kid (they’re both black). She was hungry, I was lazy, so we walked across the street to Denny’s, of all places. We were seated in the back section. Two other tables were seated, brought menus, water and served before anyone came by to give us menus. I ended up taking her elsewhere for a sandwich and on the way out, asked the manager if it was normal for Denny’s to be openly racist toward its non-white customers. I explained what happened, she apologised and offered a free meal. FOH.
Getting asked, “Where are you from?” answering with “Pennsylvania” because that’s where I identified from being from, and then asked, “No, where are you REALLY from? Like, what are you?”
I fantasised about all the ways I could kill myself for pretty much elementary school through my junior year of high school. There was one failed attempt that took me a bit to recover from. All of this happened pre-Trump. And the shittiest thing about this is, I usually assume people are racist until they prove otherwise.
by Mila Konomos, adopted from South Korea to the USA. Poet, artist, activist.
I have been processing the Aloneness of #MotherLoss a lot lately.
Intellectually, I know what self-talk to cultivate. I know I am not alone. I know that I have people in my life who care for me and value me.
But this aloneness is deeper than that.
This aloneness is the the aloneness of Mother Loss.
I feel so alone so often because I do not have a Mother.
I lost my First Mother at 5 days old.
I lost my Foster Mother at 6 months old.
I grew up with a Mother who could not see my trauma. Hence, she did not know how to love or comfort me through the loss, pain, and grief of my Adoptedness.
I feel alone because I was always alone in my pain and grief.
I feel alone because I have spent most of my life crying alone.
I feel alone because I have rarely known what it is to not be alone, not only physically but emotionally.
I feel so alone so often, because Mother Loss is a loss that remains for a lifetime.
There is no way to replace a Lost Mother.
No one else on earth can compensate for a Lost Mother.
Only One Mother bore me in her own body. Only One Mother’s heartbeat, breathing, and voice were what I heard for 9 months. Her scent, her face were as though my own.
I watched a documentary recently during which the narrator said, “Babies think they are a part of whomever they are within.”
This is profound in the context of Adoptees severed from our mothers as infants. We must have experienced separation from our mothers almost as though being ripped in two, torn away from ourselves. Split violently apart.
I have to allow myself to grieve this Mother Loss. It is eternal. Even 12 years post-reunion, Mother Loss remains. I can never get back the Mother I lost. I cannot retrieve the over three decades of my life that I was lost, compounded by the loss of language, culture, and geography.
There is a pain and loneliness that is hard to describe when you find what you had been looking for all of your life and yet it still slips through your fingers.
This pain of being so close yet still so far.
As though looking through a window but never actually getting to go in.
For more from Mila, follow her at her website, The Empress Han. Her newest poetry album Shrine is being released in May 2021.