Connecting with People of Colour is Not Automatic for Transracial Adoptees

by Mark Hagland, adopted from Korea to the USA, Co-Founder of Transracial Adoption Perspectives (a FB group for prospective and adoptive parents). Mark originally wrote this for his Transracial Adoption Perspectives group.

I had an absolutely wonderful, hour-long phone conversation today with a fellow person of color (POC) with whom I connected some months ago via Facebook. We had originally connected in a very “Facebook” way–through friends of friends of friends–you know, that Facebook way of connecting.

In order to protect her privacy, I’ll just call her “X.” X is a Black-biracial woman who’s close to my age (I’m 60); we’ve connected very strongly around racial justice and political issues. She’s an absolute delight. We’d love to meet in person someday soon (we live quite far away from each other), and we talked about a wide range of subjects, including racial justice and politics, but also about our lived experiences as people of color; and I shared with her about some of what I do in the transracial adoption world. She was extremely supportive and encouraging. And that prompted her to share some deeply personal experiences around racism, colorism, and challenges as a biracial person specifically.

I’m sharing this here because I want to share about the fact that, growing up in near-total whiteness, I was essentially disabled intellectually and culturally when I first entered young adulthood, in terms of connecting with fellow people of color of all non-white races. I absolutely knew that I needed to connect with fellow POC, but it was difficult at first, because I had been raised in near-total whiteness and absolutely inside white culture–even though white people had never allowed me to “be” white. In other words, I only knew how to connect to my fellow POC in a very “white” way, and it showed.

So it took me years to “break into” POC society. Over time, I was introduced to more and more people, and I acquired cultural fluency with individuals from the various non-white racial groups. Of course, every single person on earth is an individual; that goes without saying. But the ability for a transracial adoptee raised in whiteness to break out of learned whiteness is far from an automatic thing. Indeed, a young-adult transracial adoptee raised in whiteness can inadvertently send signals to individuals of color that can make them hesitant to engage, if one presents oneself as not understanding fellow POC; but it’s like anything else in life–until one has certain kinds of experiences, one lacks the fluency needed to pursue those experiences.

My conversation today brought something to mind for me. For several years, I privately and confidentially advised a particular white transracially adoptive mom. I’ll call her “Y.” She and her husband had raised two Black children, one male, one female; I’ll call her daughter “Z.” Y and her husband raised their children in near-total whiteness in a smallish Midwestern city (around 100,000), and when Z moved to a large city to try to integrate with fellow young Black adults, she was devastated by the rejection she experienced. She was so culturally white that people mocked her and dismissed her out of hand. She had several years of painful experiences before she was able to reach a level at which she was socially and culturally accepted. She’s OK now, but she had a rocky several years (which is why her mom had reached out to me for advice).

One of the biggest stumbles I see happening over and over again in transracially adoptive parenting is what happened with “Y” and “Z.” The parents in that family were loving and supportive of their children, but their daughter hit a wall when she tried to penetrate birth culture as a young adult, and was emotionally devastated by the initial non-acceptance and dismissal that she experienced. But it doesn’t have to be that way. White transracially adoptive parents need to prepare their children to try to integrate with their birth culture and also to become adept at interacting with people of color of all races. It took me a while, but I’ve been so happy to be able to interact with people of color of all non-white races, and to be accepted by them as a fellow POC. And no, that’s not automatic at all. I can tell you that I’ve had countless experiences with Black, Black/biracial, Latinx, Native, and Asian (East, South, Southeast) individuals, in which they saw and affirmed my POC-ness. And I want to make it absolutely clear that my referencing that fact is in no way a boast; instead, is simply my reporting that it is absolutely possible for transracial adoptees to be able to navigate society in ways in which other people of color perceive them as POC and interact accordingly.

Some of this is a bit nuanced and difficult to explain, but I can assure you that there are subtextual communications going on all the time, and there’s a world of difference between interacting with fellow POC as a POC and interacting with fellow POC when they’re putting you at arm’s length. I’ve experienced both, and know the difference.

In any case, if your child of color is not seeing daily mirrors of her/himself in adults and children of their specific race as well as adults and children of all non-white races, and if your child is not actually interacting with POC on a daily basis, it will be far harder for them to begin to integrate with people from their birth race and with people of all non-white races, as they approach adulthood. Please absolutely make sure that early adulthood doesn’t come as a terrible shock, as it did to “Z.” They’ll definitely blame you for leaving them in the lurch in this crucial area. Don’t make them have to figure all of this out by themselves; begin building the needed bridges when they’re young children, so that the connections happen fluidly and organically, and so that their competence evolves forward fluidly and organically as well. It’s a huge element in their lifelong journey, and cannot be ignored. Surrounding your child with media and culture that reflect them is essential, but so is helping your child to be able to interact easily and naturally with members of their race and all non-white races. Both are incredibly important.

In any case, thank you for reading and considering this.

For other articles which Mark has shared:
Coming Out of the Adoptee Fog
Can We Ignore and Deny That Racism Exists for Adoptees of Colour?

For Mark’s new book:
Extraordinary Journey: The Lifelong Path of the Transracial Adoptee

I’m like a Deer Caught in the Headlights

by Krem0076, an Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA.

Krem0076 as a toddler

I am an adoptee from a closed international adoption. I have paperwork but for many of us, our paperwork is often fraught with mistakes, lies and discrepancies. That is a challenge – is my information accurate? My birth name? My birthdate? My origin story if I even have one? Are any of the names in my paperwork real or accurate?

I have names for both my b-mom and b-dad and I decided in 2017 to try searching for my b-mom on Facebook. Here’s another challenge – because I am adopted from Korea and wasn’t raised reading or speaking my language, I had to figure out how to translate the English version of my b-mom’s name into Hangul and hope it was accurate. Thankfully I have a fellow Korean adoptee friend who could do that for me. I searched and found a woman who has physical features that are so similar to mine, it was like looking into a future mirror at myself around 50 years old.

The next challenge was – do I message her? And if I do, what the heck do I say? “Hi, you don’t really know me, but I may be your daughter whom you relinquished back in 1987. Did you relinquish a baby girl then? I promise I’m not crazy or going to cause trouble.” Yeah, I don’t see that going over well. Do I friend request her? How do I approach her without spooking her? What if she’s married and has other children? What if I’m a secret? What if she denies me?

This was back in 2017 when I first found my potential b-mom, and after weeks of agonising and being petrified but simultaneously excited, I sent her a message and a friend request. I waited days which turned into weeks, that turned into months and eventually, years. Nothing. I went from being excited and hopeful to being nervous and unsure. Eventually it turned into bitterness, frustration, rejection and loss all over again. In the end, I numbed myself to it and pushed it into the back of my brain and tried to forget.

Fast forward to March of 2021. I had recently fully come out of the adoption fog, started reconnecting with my Korean culture, language, foods and traditions and making more Korean adoptee friends. I decided to look her up again and see if there was anything new. From what I’ve gleamed as an outside observer, she looks to be married and has 2 adult daughters. It also looks like she runs a berry farm. I decided to message her again, this time in Hangul hoping she’d respond to that better. I’ve also updated my profile name to include my birth name in Hangul, hoping she’d see it. She never read the message and I don’t have the option to friend request her again.

I know I can go through other channels to find and contact my b-mom, but I am a mess. What if they can’t find her? What if they do and she rejects me? What if this woman is her and she rejects me? What if she’s passed away? That’s another challenge – the debilitating and paralysing onslaught of emotions that stop me from moving either way. I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.

For adoptive parents reading this, I encourage you to foster open adoptions if you can – not for your needs and wants, but for the future needs and wants of you adopted children. They will grow up knowing their origins, their medical history, their b-mom or parents. They will have a better sense of their identity. They will be able to ask questions and have them answered. There will still be trauma. There will still be tough days and emotions. But they will have a stronger foundation than I will never have. I’m 34 and drowning somedays. I struggle with being adopted and right now, quite frankly, I hate it.

An Accounting from One Adoptee

by Mary Cardaras, adopted from Greece to the USA; Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at California State University East Bay.

This has been an incredible couple of years but, especially, in the very year of a global pandemic. It was in this year that I found my voice as an adoptee. Seemed like the stars aligned. Meant to be at this time, in this space. I have found people, or maybe it is they who found me, who have brought me out to my community of fellow adoptees, birth mothers, activists and supporters.

It all began after the death of my adoptive mother in 2018. (My father had died 18 years prior.) Her death was one of the saddest times of my life. Left again, I felt. She and I had grown so close over the years and spent much time together, but her leaving also provided the space I needed to consider life before her. And there was a life before her, however brief it may have been. Even my tiny self had a past. It was buried, though. Obscured. In many ways, erased.

What did it matter? How could it matter?

My adoption, which I had put to the side, had been front and center my entire growing up as a child and as a teenager. I didn’t put it there. Everyone else put it there. A label. A tag. My identity was imposed. Sometimes it stigmatized me. And it definitely made me an outsider looking in to a life that I lived, but one that I couldn’t really lay claim to. As mine. From where I actually came.

What brought me to this day and what is the reason that I can now write about it?

In 2018, I wanted to come closer to my roots as a Greek-born adoptee. I signed up for Greek language lessons at a church in Oakland, California. I went to class on my way home to Sonoma every Monday evening coming from the university where I taught. Those lessons re-connected me with my culture. It was an absolute joy to hear the language, learn to speak it, and revel in its complexity with my fellow students all, at least, partially Greek, but fully Greek in their love for it.

It was during this class that I was asked, από που είσαι? From where are you? Είμαι Ελληνίδα, I could proudly say with certainty. I am a Greek. Γεννήθηκα στην Αθήνα. I was born in Athens. Υιοθετήθηκα. I was adopted. I am adopted. Like the recitation of a mantra. Those two things identify me and they are the only two things I know for certain, as I have noted in my writing before.

My classmate, Kathy, mentioned, “I have a cousin who was adopted, Mary, who was also from Greece, too.” I was immediately intrigued. There was someone else who was from where I was and who was branded the same as me?!

Adopted.

“She has an incredible story, Mary,” Kathy said. “You need to meet her and, in fact, you will. She is coming to visit and I will bring her to class.” Kathy told me the story that day and with every sentence she uttered my eyes got wider and I kept repeating the words: No. Are you kidding? Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. What? That is incredible!

Within a week or two of Kathy telling me her implausible story, Dena Poulias came to class. A pretty, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, shy and quiet, she came with her cousin to hear our lesson. Did she want to participate, the teacher asked her? No, she demurred. She was only there to listen and to meet us.  

After class I introduced myself more fully and told her I had heard her story. I am a writer, I told Dena. I would be honored to write your story. She told me she had been wanting to write her own story for years, but she hadn’t gotten around to it. She wasn’t a writer, she said. I gave her my number and my email address. I think I reached out once, but she wasn’t ready. Hers was a heavy, painful story. It just couldn’t have happened I tried to convince myself.

Weeks later, Dena wrote and said she was ready to talk. She decided she wanted me to tell her story and so over the course of about a year, in intervals of two days here, one week there, the next month we would talk. Well, she would talk and there was so much she couldn’t remember exactly. But her husband was her memory. So was her cousin, Kathy. And her sister. And her mother and father. The story, unlike anything else I had ever written, flowed out of me. I am a journalist and so wrote news and documentaries. This was different. Literary nonfiction. I was recreating scenes and dialogues told to me by first person sources. It was visual in scope. Many who read previews said it was cinematic. Whatever it was, it was all true. Dena, finally, was telling her own story to someone and I was inspired by her finally getting it out there.

In the course of writing, I needed some important information. I was about to implicate a respected Greek organization in some scandalous adoption practices during the 1950’s. Even poking around on my own on social media and asking questions brought some pretty hateful online comments. When I contacted the organization itself, it predictably denied any wrong doing. The president literally said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Come look through our files in Washington, D.C., he said. “We have nothing of the kind and no such history.”

Enter one Gonda Van Steen, one of the world’s preeminent scholars in modern Greek studies. In my research, I had come across her new book entitled Adoption, Memory and Cold War Greece: Kid Pro Quo? I wrote to her out of the blue, introduced myself, told her I was a reporter, and asked about this particular organization. Did she know it? Was it involved in the trade and, in some cases, in the “selling” of babies?

The organization was indeed involved in these unethical adoption practices. It was certainly part of Dena’s story. Gonda had said, in the course of our conversations, that the story I was writing sounded awfully familiar. In fact, Dena Poulias appears on pages 202 and 203 of her book and was one of the cases she had followed and chronicled. She said it had been one of the more “moving” stories that she had encountered. Gonda began to fill my head with history and put my own adoption in context.

I kept writing.

In early 2021, about the time I finished Dena’s story, I read another incredible book about adoption called American Baby, written by the brilliant, best-selling author, Gabrielle Glaser. I could not put it down and was transfixed by yet another incredible, unbelievable adoption story that was similar to Dena’s. This book is focused on domestic adoptions, which were just as horrific as what was happening on the international scene. Glaser’s writing both broke my heart and shook it awake somehow.

I decided, after consultation with Gonda, to collect stories from Greek born adoptees and put them into an anthology. This group of adoptees, “the lost children of Greece,” had never been heard from before! During conversations about approaching authors, Gonda suggested, you know, Mary, you should reach out to Gabrielle Glaser and ask her if she would write the Forward. On one hand, I thought that was a crazy idea. I mean, right. Gabrielle Glaser?! Really? Then I thought, well, why not? I wrote to her as I had written to Gonda. Cold. But she was there. She answered. She was lovely. And today we are friends. Her book also made me re-evaluate adoption itself. Including my own.

As I explained in a recent online forum about adoption, I felt like the Lion who found his courage, the Scarecrow, who found his brain, and the Tin Man who found his heart all at once. Dena gave me courage. Gonda made me think about what happened to me and thousands like me. And Gabrielle helped me to feel the beating of my own heart.

Through them I found my way to Greg Luce and Lynelle Long and Shawna Hodgson and so, so many others far too many to name. I stand now with them and our allies, talking and writing and advocating for adoptee rights.

That is how I came to this point. But why do I write here and now?

The sharing of my own adoption story has roused feelings and thoughts in others about me. They wonder. Why and how do I feel the way I do? Why didn’t I share before? My feelings make them sad. They thought I was happy. They simply don’t understand. And you know what? They may never. Understand. And that’s ok. I can’t and I won’t defend my feelings, which are real, however foreign and unreasonable they may seem to others.

I don’t have thoughts about whether or not I should have been adopted. I don’t have thoughts about whether my life in Greece would have been better. I don’t blame anyone for what happened to me and how it happened. I can’t go back and have a do-over with the people who were doing whatever they were doing. I do know they were making decisions that they thought, at the time, were in my best interests.

They didn’t realize that my birth mother was suffering. That she had a family, who had abandoned HER because she was a teenage, unwed mother. She was cast aside and she was relegated unimportant in the story of my life. How can that be? She and I were once one. She was promised by a proxy, that no one would “bother” her ever again. Has she ever recovered from the shame imposed on her? And from our separation? She needed support and love in order to make a sober decision about her baby, her own flesh and blood. I don’t care if she was 14 or 24. She needed help.  

Queen Frederika of Greece started a foundling home in Athens 1955

I have recently learned the number I was assigned when I was placed in the Athens Foundling Home on January 11, 1955. It is 44488. This means thousands of children came before me, all relegated to numbers. The number, cold as it is, can unlock some information I want and need. I checked some old letters back and forth from the social service agency that handled my case. One letter says there are two people listed on the papers when I entered that orphanage. A mother and a father. I have her name. I want his. Who am I? From where did I come? And what happened? Fundamental to every person’s wholeness is knowledge about their past.

Think of this. If you were not adopted, as you grew up you heard your own story, perhaps over and over again. It was sweet and sentimental as you listened to the story of your own birth and early days. You were conceived under a certain set of circumstances. You were born under a certain set of circumstances. Your parents remember that day. They tell you about that day, what you did, what they did, how you looked, what you weighed, what it was like when they brought you home, what kind of a baby you were. In sum, you had a story that people shared with you. My story started the minute I came into the arms of another family that was not my own. There was something, however brief, before, and I do not know it. That is the point.           

I was placed with wonderful adoptive parents and into a large, loving Greek-American family. I did not lose my language or my culture. My parents were incredibly loving and I cannot describe the depth of my love for them and for my grandparents. I appreciate the life they gave me. I appreciate my family and my friends. I was a happy kid and an even happier adult. Those who know me would likely describe my love of life and laughter and my level of commitment to the things and people I care about.

BUT this has nothing, nothing whatsoever to do with what came before. These are two separate things. The adoptees I know strive to become complete human beings. That means they had a past and need to know fully about it. They deserve open adoption records, original birth certificates and citizenship of origin, if they want it. Adoptees are entitled to these and we are also entitled to our feelings and thoughts about our own lives. As one adoptee recently explained, meeting a birth parent enables you to cut the emotional umbilical cord. We invite others to ask questions because they care about understanding us, but please don’t put us on the defensive. We don’t have to explain. We are tired of explaining. We are just thinking through our own, personal experiences, which are all different.  

I crave connection. Deep, unmistakable connection to others. You know it when you feel it with another human being. Maybe you feel it so completely that you feel like you have known them all your life or in another life. You know what I am talking about. For me, that connection is almost something divine. I run toward the light and hold that little flame like a precious, fragile flower. I take care of it. Nurture it. I love to feel like I belong and sometimes that feeling, so beautiful, is elusive in the mind and heart of an adoptee.

This adoptee is also gay. So, there are two points of difference that I have had to navigate.

I have been with the same woman for nearly 30 years. Fifteen years or so ago I adopted her sons from a previous marriage. There is no easy way to say this, but their father abandoned them when they were small. I was every bit a parent with her from the time the boys were 2 and 3 years old. They could not have been more “my children.” Our friends recognized my place in their lives, of course, but there were others who never could and never did.

My partner was the “real” parent. Those were “her” boys, not mine, never mine in the eyes of some. I was not a part of their family, but merely an outsider. This was incredibly painful. In fact, just recently the boys (now men) were introduced as her sons while I was standing right there.

What meaning does adoption hold? No, I am serious. Hell, I don’t even know and I was adopted and have adopted!

I was able to re-establish my Greek citizenship years ago and I am happy for it, grateful for it.

Being able to attain it has been the exception to the rule, I have learned. It was, in many ways, a humiliating experience trying to prove over and over again who I was, where I was born and to whom. There was the problem of an altered birth certificate, which never should have happened and it certainly didn’t help, but that’s another story.

My partner is fully Greek (American). The children are fully Greek (American). My partner got her Greek citizenship through her parents (who were born in Greece) and we wanted the boys, too, to also have their Greek citizenship in case, in the future, they someday wanted to work in Greece or within the EU. It was going to be an uphill battle to prove the Greek connection through their maternal grandparents and then also through their own Greek father and his parents, with whom they are no longer in contact. But wait! I was their legal parent and also born Greek. A citizen! They could get citizenship through me, a legal parent. Couldn’t they? Easy, no? But just hold on!

This was not to be. Because I was not a birth parent, lacking that biological connection, it was not allowed. People are getting Greek citizenship through parents and grandparents. Others are being granted Greek citizenship because they are famous scholars or actors or authors, having no biological connection to the people of the country. But me, a Greek-born adoptee, who happened to adopt two Greek-American boys, could not establish citizenship for my sons. Are they less my sons because we are not biologically related? Are they not my sons at all?

Adoption.

You see why we feel the way we do. It is complicated and it often means little in the eyes of some. There remains a stigma. There is discrimination. Still.

Blood is thicker than water. You enjoy the company of some families almost as an honored guest, but often not as a bona fide member. You’re out there of someone else, but not fully theirs.

I don’t blame anyone. I’m not angry. But this is my reality. I own it all and I’m ok with it. I have to be. But to all friends and family of adoptees, please understand that not only are we entitled to all our records. We are also entitled to our experiences and our feelings. They do not reflect on you. They’re not about you. Let us have them. Let us own our cause. And please try to listen first. 

About Mary

Mary holds a Ph.D. in Public and International Affairs and is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication where she teaches Political Communication, Journalism and Documentary Film at California State University, East Bay. Mary is currently compiling an anthology of Greek adoptee stories and has 13 contributors for the collection with the working title “Voices of the Lost Children of Greece”, to be published by Anthem Press in 2022. If you would like to participate, please contact Mary.

For more of Mary’s articles, read Bring them Back and Demanding What Belongs to Us: Our Greek Identity.

The Unaware Adoptee

by Krishna Rao adopted from India to the USA.

The day I learned I was adopted, both my families died. The ones that raised me, turned out to be a sham. The ones that did not, turned out to be an enigma.

In June of 2019 at 34 years of age, I learned I was adopted after taking a DNA test for fun. There were definitely a lot of emotions I went through when I made this discovery. From having my identity shattered, to questioning everything about my past.

For 34 years, I believed I was the biological kin of the parents who raised me, because that’s what they told me. And yes, I always felt something was odd, I just didn’t have the conscious knowledge to know what it was.

In the early days of discovering my adoption, I came across April Dinwoodie’s Podcast. In one of her podcasts she interviews Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, who as it turns out, is also a late discovery adoptee and learned of his adoption at 35. Darryl said something that really stuck with me. “I can use my story not only to make my life better, but I can help so many other people who are in the same situation as me to understand their lives better.”

What he said inspired me to start sharing my story. I then started to blog about my experience. I created an Instagram page and I share my thoughts on Twitter. It has allowed me to process what it means to be adopted. For my entire life up until that point, I was raised as an adoptee, without ever consciously knowing I was adopted.

Documenting my thoughts, emotions and experience is a way for me to work through them and heal.

Since that time, I have learned a lot. But in no way, shape or form does that make me an expert in adoption. I still have a lot to learn, and more importantly a lot of healing.

We live in a world where sharing is so easy to do now. My thoughts have reached out to people from all over the globe. And so have many others. In that regard, it’s interesting to read all the different views adoptees have on adoption. Some are for it, some against it. Some in between, and there are those that just don’t have an opinion at all.

When I think about where I stand, I feel like there’s no definite answer. I am not for adoption. I am not against adoption. As of today, it feels more like I am anti-bullshit about the whole thing.

I do not believe that adoption is going away in my lifetime. I don’t see how. It’s more than just giving a child a home. In many cases it’s about giving a person the opportunity to have a life. It doesn’t guarantee a better life, just a different one.

I’d love to see more movement in family preservation but as an intercountry adoptee, I understand that the idea of family preservation is going to take a lot more work. How do we change entire societies mindsets? In many places adoption is still deeply stigmatised. I was adopted from India to the USA and even though people do adopt in India domestically, I get the sense that it is still a taboo topic. My paperwork from India states that I was abandoned because my mother was unmarried. It’s as if the only option for a pregnant unmarried woman is to abandon her child.

Everyone affected by adoption has their own opinions and as a person that has entered this space less than two years ago, I’m tired of seeing division. We’re all entitled to an opinion. We are all allowed to speak our minds. By the same token, others are allowed to disagree.

I know not everything I say or share is agreeable to some people and that’s fine with me. But how do we take this issue and change it to an agreeable approach?

I personally think the definition of adoption needs to change. It’s not just about taking a child and placing them in a new family where they lose everything they once had. I see it all the time where people talk about what is best for the children, all the while forgetting that these children are going to grow up, form opinions of their own along the way, and become adults. I certainly did.

These adults are not adopted children anymore. They are not children period. And these adults already have families. They already have roots.

I was somebody before adoption changed me. It is not all sunshine and rainbows, but it is still there. As someone who doesn’t know his origin story, I want mine. Even if it’s doom and gloom.

When we talk about adoption, I believe words matter. The English language is not complex enough to help us define the relationships in adoption.

The way I see it, my parents are the people that raised me. They are not my mother and father. My adopters are mother and father figures, not replacements. My mother and father, the ones I already have, are not my parents because they did not raise me. However it is viewed, or defined, I can still accept both sets of people as my family.

I get to make that decision even though it feels like society wants me to separate the two and say I belong to the ones that spent time and resources on me. Spending time and resources doesn’t matter if the relationship is conditional, and in my case, when it’s full of deception. Anybody could have fed and sheltered me but it takes more than that to give somebody a life.

That being said, I choose who I belong to. And right now, it’s none of them. Why? Because I can’t appreciate the fact that other people made choices for me. Choices that led to my relinquishment and then my adoption.

Both sets have been brainwashed in some shape or form. The adopters were probably told and felt that the adopted children would be theirs. They took that a step too far, and as such they never told me I was adopted. And I can only speculate what my birth mother went through. Being told that children of unwed mothers are not worthy to be kept. Reading up on India’s history of adoption and how unwed women are treated when it comes to being pregnant has not been very positive.

My past is beyond my control and I have to accept it. Now I am the one who has to spend time and resources to process all this for myself.

I do know there are decent adoptive parents out there, raising other people’s kids and actually supporting them as adoptees. I know some of them. I know and have read about couples that take their adoptees back to their birth countries. They actually want to help them find their families. It is shockingly eye-opening and heart-breaking to me because I know that was an option I never have gotten to experience. Instead, this has now become a process and a journey I do alone.

I don’t know where I was going with this. It just is. I’ve known about my adoption for 20 months now. I’ve been full steam ahead trying to learn and absorb all that I can and everyday my perspective changes. I try to learn from all sides before I form an opinion. And there are many sides to this.

Adoption is a complicated and traumatic experience.

This is why I say I’m anti-bullshit. I’m tired of the crap that doesn’t matter. There has got to be some way to make this better.

Better for adoptees because it’s our lives and well-being that is at stake here!

Surrender

by Marijane Buck Huang, adopted from Taiwan to the USA.

Mateo and Marijane

A Trauma-Focused Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy Experience

Yesterday, I met with Linda for another equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) session. I had not planned on requesting a session, but Alice, who has been “helping” me learn and practice with Mateo, is out of town this week, and I felt the need to process my last practice session with Mateo, which Alice video recorded for my Natural Lifemanship (NL) Intensive training video assignment. Mateo is a 20-year-old Mustang who was rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and for the first 10 years of his life, had a variety of training experiences. He was then adopted but didn’t get much human interaction. As a result, he returned to a somewhat feral state and became very untrusting of humans. He was then adopted by another individual who provided guidance, patience, and lots of positive reinforcement, and he is enjoying life more in relationship with his herd of horses and humans. Alice is a trained equine specialist, and Linda is an equine-facilitated psychotherapist. Linda is also trained in NL. Equine-assisted therapists and equine specialists, or equine professionals as they are called in NL, partner to facilitate therapy, and both have unique skill sets. One brings a clinical perspective and the other, a horse perspective to the therapy process. The Intensive training I’m currently in is Level Two of NL certification. It’s quite different from the Level One Fundamentals training I just completed, which I greatly enjoyed and learned so much from. 

It’s so good to come into this morning’s therapy session with Linda knowing that there is no expectation, except for the one to just let go and have absolutely no agenda with the horse. I don’t need to do anything but just be. It is a warm day, but not as hot as my previous practice session with Mateo and Alice when it was 91 degrees out, unseasonably warm for southern California and even warmer in the direct sun. My phone overheated for Pete’s sake as we were recording. Before my therapy session begins, I tune into the birds singing, the pitch of their song fluctuates ever so slightly. I try my best to attune to my body and my surroundings. I feel grounded and present in this moment. I feel warmth in my gut and chest, and this warmth extends to my extremities. As suggested by one of my NL trainers, I purposely expand my visual circumference as a way to stay connected to my body…to be present and to engage my whole brain. I take in the trees around me, all of the different horses as I walk past their stalls, their color and markings, the sound of soft nickers and neighs, the sweet smell of hay mixed with horsey smells, which I can almost taste. I enjoy the calm, gentle breeze that caresses my face and arms. I bring to mind that I am the client today, not the therapist in this moment. What transpires in therapy is important for me to capture and recall not only in my mind, but body.

It’s good to see Linda. Our last session was about a month ago. We have built a great therapeutic rapport, and today, I feel more comfortable and at ease in her presence. I think fleetingly of my own trauma history, how I lived primarily in the lower regions of my brain, the survival part, for some time, hyper-vigilant, fearful. The neural pathways here have been “muscled up” over the years, causing disconnect between the upper and lower regions of my brain. The result: fear, alarm, insecurity, shame, difficulty regulating my body at times. I have become increasingly aware of this during my NL training. I recognize that I can be easily triggered at the hint of stress or anxiety, no matter the situation, as the brain and body remember, but in particular during situations of interpersonal conflict. 

I share with Linda the deep disappointment I felt after video recording my assignment with Mateo. I recall to her how I had come into the session feeling anxious, worried, and pressured about shooting the video, as I only had an hour to “get what I needed” for my assignment. Truly, that wasn’t enough time. The heat was suffocating that afternoon, and Mateo was spooked by a very large, silver trailer parked to the right of the round pen, an unfamiliar object that caused his arousal system to amp up. This caused my arousal system to go up, too. I have not particularly liked working in the larger pen. I prefer the smaller round pen, which offers a bit of privacy and feels more intimate, but it was under construction. In a nutshell, internally, I was all over the place, and Mateo, who is quite sensitive to pressure and expectation, picked up on it immediately. Horses, because they are prey animals, are extremely attuned to their environment, hyper-vigilant. They’re wired this way for safety. They rely upon their herd mates for safety and connection. They’re social animals and can build deep, connected relationships with their herd mates, much like human relationships. They’re extremely sensitive to what comes up in humans internally, one of the reasons why they are such wonderful therapy partners.

Alice continued to instruct me as she recorded my video. “Turn around this way and see if he follows you…,” etc. I felt stiff and awkward. When someone is dysregulated, there is a disconnect between their brain and body occurring. Giving verbal instructions or cues may cause the individual to attempt to stay in their neocortex (thinking/upper part of brain); however, it only causes further disconnect and dysregulation. The brain has trouble processing all of the stimuli. We need to communicate with the part of the brain that will help that person calm down. I needed bottom-up regulation, or movement and sensory input that would address the lower regions of my brain (primitive brain). No matter what I tried, I couldn’t regulate myself, and though she was only trying to help, Alice unknowingly increased the disconnect between my brain and body with her verbal cues. When I reviewed my video later, I was amazed at how arhythmic my movements appeared as I worked with Mateo. I was having a hard time taking in instruction while trying to regulate my body and connect with Mateo.

I explain to Linda that Mateo spent most of the practice session resisting my requests for connection. He was not to blame him. I would not have wanted to be around me either. Alice informs me later than when a horse picks up on all that messy internal stuff, humans can actually appear fuzzy to them, which to a horse is unsafe and unpredictable. Some horses avoid us when this occurs. This is vital information for a therapist to be aware of during a therapy session, as the horse is picking up on what’s happening in the client’s body. Sometimes, the client is so disconnected from their body that body sensations are outside of their conscious awareness, particularly when in a dissociative state. Each horse responds differently based on their own history, personality, window of tolerance, etc. Looking back, shooting that first video assignment was such a rich learning experience, as the feelings of frustration, helplessness, dysregulation, and anxiety I felt will certainly be experienced by clients I work with in the future. It’s part of the therapist’s role to help the client process how the horse responds to her and to begin to attune to her body sensations. I’m so glad that Mateo had the opportunity to resist…he had a choice. In this approach, we do not want to force a horse to do something he does not want to. Rather, we work on building trust and connection through attachment and detachment work. We want consent from the horse, not compliance or submission. Although it was quite frustrating in the moment, I’m grateful that I learned more about myself and Mateo and recognize how much anxiety I carry internally.

At the end of the session as I was talking to Alice, Mateo walked right over to me and touched my shoulder with his nose until I acknowledged him. I rubbed under his lower lip for several minutes, that soft, velvety area I love, which he typically doesn’t really like. Those moments were so tender, but rather than zoning in on that, I was so preoccupied with my own sense of “failure.” Alice said, He sees your “authentic self” now, not the one with expectation. I love that about horses. Yet, this was a lot to process.

Today, my therapy session begins in Mateo’s stall. I check in with myself prior to going in, placing a hand over my heart. “Breathe in, breathe out. Listen to the birds singing. Observe other horses in stalls next door in my peripheral vision.” I walk into Mateo’s stall and check in with him. I stand there for a few minutes just watching him eat hay from his hay bag. I’m wondering how much repair I may have to do with him because of the stress he experienced in our last practice session. Linda then walks over. She is standing just outside his stall. I move closer into Mateo and begin gently stroking his neck, attuning to my body sensations. “Stay calm, Mj. Breathe in, breathe out.” I observe Mateo chew, rhythmically. He loves his food. It feels good to stroke Mateo’s neck. I move to halter him, showing him the halter first, then gently drape the lead rope over his very tall neck. He puts his nose down to allow for the halter. Oh good! I was worried he would try to avoid me. After haltering Mateo and walking outside his stall, he almost trips over his feet. Linda and I notice that he has a limp, and as I walk him out and then around the stalls, it becomes more noticeable. Poor guy!!! I lead him back to his stall, as we don’t want to worsen whatever is going on. I hope it’s nothing serious. Linda asks me if I’d like to work with another horse, and I choose Journey. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to work with Journey! Linda asks what differences I notice between Mateo and Journey as I introduce myself in his stall, stroking his nose and face. I notice immediately that Journey has a more mellow, maybe even more tolerant, temperament. We spend a few minutes together as I continue to stroke his neck and muzzle. He allows me to halter him, lowering his head as I bring the halter toward his nose. As we walk down the middle of the stalls to the round pen, he doesn’t try to eat the hay laying on the ground as Mateo always does. He stops at the large round pen, the one I don’t like working in, because this is where he’s usually turned out. But then, when I ask him to come with me, he eventually follows. The clip-clop of his hooves on the pavement is soothing. We enter the newly renovated round pen The pen feels smaller than before, and the dirt on the ground is different, more sandy. I feel slightly bothered by this, but try to be more curious.

We give Journey several minutes to settle in. He finally takes a roll, his front legs folding as he lowers himself to the ground. For horses to do this, they have to feel safe, so that’s a good sign! I love the sound horses make when they roll and how they shake themselves off afterwards. Linda and I commence with some EMDR at the beginning of the session. I feel vibration in my hands as I hold the buzzers. The buzzing alternates from one hand to the other. I honestly can’t remember fully what the focus was initially…I think it was on the anxiety I was feeling with Mateo and then what I was feeling in the present with Journey, but it usually shifts based on what comes up. Journey is standing at a slight distance from us as I’m processing, but my gaze is softly on him. At times, I look away, to take pressure off him – this is a thing for me, not wanting to put excessive pressure on the horse. Linda asks me several times what is coming up for me in my body. Mostly, I feel calm, perhaps slightly in and out of some anxiety related to how Journey feels about being with me. There it is…overthinking… Journey is a veteran at being with clients while they are doing EMDR, Linda tells me. What I notice the most is that I feel calmer and safer with Journey. He just seems more friendly and open than Mateo, and I am drawn to this. He feels like a friend and my co-regulator. I note this to Linda. It’s like, “I’m here for you.” In comparison, Mateo avoids me when I am experiencing increased anxiety. 

As the session is nearing the end, Linda asks if there is anything more I’d like from Journey, like to move closer to him. I’m hesitant because I’m concerned how he might respond. I take some deep breaths and inch my way closer. Then I slowly reach out my hand, and he touches it with his nose. I begin stroking the side of Journey’s head and inch even closer until I’m so close that I could give him a hug. Unlike Mateo, Journey seems okay with touch and doesn’t jerk his head away. 

Then I get brave and ask if I can work on attachment with connection with Journey. Linda moves outside of the pen. As I begin, I experience “butterflies,” as I remember how difficult it was with Mateo in my last practice session. I take some more deep breaths. I move my body around to put pressure on his back hip, focusing my body energy there, and start making clicking sounds. Journey doesn’t cooperate right away. He’s standing, looking away, or grazing the ground. I increase the pressure because he’s ignoring me by snapping my fingers, calling Journey’s name, clapping my hands, moving my arms up and down, making more clicking sounds while maintaining the pressure on his back hip. “I think I’m feeling gun shy in asking Journey for connection,” I say. After a couple more minutes, Linda aks, “What do you think might be preventing you from really making the request?” It suddenly dawns on me that I’m not committed to the request. I’m curious, why is that? I don’t believe I can ask! I muster more intention, and then Journey cooperates! He turns into me, and as I move, he follows, and we walk together, side by side, around the pen, calmly, rhythmically. When Journey sighs, I sigh. When he lets out a little raspberry sound, I do too. He gets a little distracted, so I ask to re-connect, and he again turns into me to follow. Our session soon ends. In processing with Linda, I realize that it’s very difficult for me to ask for what I need from others. I am afraid of being rejected. I do things myself to avoid asking. We discuss how it takes vulnerability to ask for our needs to be met. I can easily help others, submit to others or comply, but rarely do I ask for what I need.

Linda tells me that she saw the exact moment when something in me shifted as I asked for connection from Journey, and that’s when he turned and noticed me, then cooperated. A subtle, yet intentional shift in my body energy – I committed to the ask, internally. I asked for what I needed. I needed connection. Linda also noticed that when Journey got distracted and I asked for re-connection, Journey cooperated much quicker. So, something I’m observing in my work with both Mateo and Journey is that both horses get distracted and disconnect. I’m curious if it’s something in me that’s causing this…am I disconnecting, perhaps shifting into my neocortex and disconnecting from my body? Overthinking? Very likely. I think I get worried that the horse will disconnect instead of trusting that my horse will stay with me. Disconnection from the horse is akin to rejection (for me). I’m worried the horse will reject me, just like in human relationships. And rejection hurts…abandonment hurts. Something to explore as I continue my own personal work and practice.

That moment of connection with Journey was so sweet and memorable, as it was with Mateo. Because I have experienced that connection with Mateo previously, it was tough when he avoided me during my last practice session. And that my video assignment appeared so erratic to others when I know I have it in me to connect with a horse was hard. I must remind myself that it’s about the process, not perfection. I just began working with horses for the first time in March during the Fundamentals training, which was 10-weeks long. I literally had no horse experience prior. I will learn from these moments.

I truly long to own or lease my own horse so that I have access to practice more freely and without cost. I pay Alice weekly for her time with any one of the horses. I’ve had to get creative in finding ways to make this happen. It’s quite expensive to own and care for a horse properly, and things could happen at any moment regarding their health. Large vet bills are a concern. Despite these obstacles, my hope and dream is to have a private practice facilitating trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy (TF-EAP) and to work specifically with adoptees. How this could bring such healing, connection, and growth. My personal work in equine-facilitated therapy has been healing in a much different way than traditional therapy. It has provided increased self-awareness and insight into my own body sensations, increased connection to self, an understanding of how working with equines helps build better human relationships, and it’s brought profound joy, feelings of safety, and connection with horses. I’m learning ways to better self-regulate, and this work is helping to building new neural pathways in my brain. It all takes time. My healing journey continues.

Although gaining access to work and practice with a horse is challenging, I keep on. It isn’t easy. When I begin to doubt myself, my former clinical supervisor, who is also trained in NL and practices TF-EAP, encourages me to not give up. She reminds me that I was drawn to this work for a reason. Perhaps it is a calling. This is not the end of the story.

*Names of humans have been changed to protect privacy.

ICAV (c) 2021. This article cannot be copied or shared without direct permission from Marijane.

The Bearable Pain of Being Adopted

by Kara Bos, born in South Korea and adopted to the USA. Kara became the first Korean intercountry adoptee to fight legally and win paternity rights to her Korean father.

Almost one year ago it was confirmed that 오익규 was my father. It’s the first time I’ve publicly shared my father’s name.

As I walk under these beautiful Cherry Blossoms and appreciate their beauty my heart continues to attempt to mend after being shattered into a million pieces over the course of one year. The confirmation in DNA in knowing who my father was, brought a sense of victory when I was constantly faced with uncertainty and being told I was wrong. The continued lack of communication, inhumane treatment and not allowing me to meet my father by his family pushed me to fight back, and reclaim my identity.

June 12th, 2020 marked the date that I was recognised by Korean law that 오익교 was my father, and I was added into his family registry as 오카라, which should have been done back in 1981 when I was born. This again was a victory of reclaiming what was lost, justice rectified. I was no longer an orphan, with parents unknown, and no identity. However, my one and only meeting will forever be etched into my memory and heart as a horror movie. One filled with regret and what if’s….as I found out later, from August he was taken to the hospital and stayed there until his death on December 3rd, 2020 (86 yrs).

If I hadn’t filed the lawsuit in November 2019, I wouldn’t have known in April 2020 that he was my father, I would never have met him and I wouldn’t know now that he has passed.

Even if this heart break has been immense, at least I know … that’s what it means to be adopted.

#adoptee #koreanadoptee #reclaimedidentity #origin

Read Kara’s other post: The Brutal Agony of the Calm after the Storm.

Defining Home

by Jess Schnitzer, adopted from China to the USA.

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!

Defining Home by Jess Schnitzer

From Thailand without an Identity

by Lisa Kininger, adopted from Thailand to the USA.

Lisa’s earliest photo

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.

Lisa can be contacted at lkininger@live.com

Racism as an Asian Adoptee

by Josh Woerthwein adopted from Vietnam to the USA.

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.

My adoptive mum and I, April 1975

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.

#StopWhiteTerrorism