Tough, Resilient and A Survivor!

Guest post by Mike, adopted from Hong Kong to New Zealand.

I remember growing up in an orphanage until the age of 6. Some of my memories include playing in the little park which had a pond and loving nature, the little frogs and birds. When we were naughty, the older kids would hide rubber spiders in our beds saying they only came ’cause we naughty, till one night I got angry, sad at it and cut it in half – laughing and crying at same time, chucking it at other kids. I was always being the big brother figure.

I remember getting pushed off a stage and hurting my head. That’s where my fear of falling and being scared of heights comes from. It was heaps of fun growing up in orphanage. There I learnt what family was, my culture, my heritage, my language, I had a sense of belonging and identity. I was the smart but naughty kid!

I remember the last day before getting taken to New Zealand for adoption. My birth mother came to see me to say goodbye but I didn’t recognise her. She could only spend a couple of minutes with me because she didn’t do the paperwork. So for a while, that was always on my mind about so many “what ifs” and if it was my fault that I got taken away because I didn’t recognise her.

When I got adopted at age 6 and taken away to New Zealand by a white European couple, I had to re-learn and adapt so fast. It was all about fitting in and surviving!

My adoptive parents were not ready for the challenges that came with an older adoptee with a sense of identity. There was a lot of physical and emotional abusive. It was a crap family environment where they were abusive to each other, physically as well. They also had 2 foster kids who were spoilt! I was the black sheep of the family. I got bullied at school then would come home to be abused and beaten up there too. It made me grow up real fast and made me tougher.

They often used their abusive ways to try and mend me into the child they wanted. This of course, pushed me further and further to the point of running away at an early age, depression, attempted suicide, self harm, etc. At age 10, I ran away from home and ended up with a bunch of street kids for a week until they turned on me and beat me up, leaving me bloodied for the police to come pick me up and take me back to my adoptive parents. They tried so hard to mend and fix me with various psychologists, counsellors, etc., but to no avail.

My adoptive parents eventually got divorced when I was aged 15 and I ended up with my adoptive mother. Things went more downhill after that, which eventually lead me to a life of crime. I loved life as a youth criminal, the excitement of shoplifting, stealing, breaking into cars, etc., being part of a youth street gang. But this eventually led me to prison at age 19. I put 2 white boys in hospital from a group fight. The reason for the fight was because of my own racist views against the white people because at that time, I didn’t know all the issues and the mental state of mind I was in.

I got out of prison at age 21 and went back to my adoptive dad. It didn’t last very long because he was still stuck in that mentality that he could bully me and mould me into that model citizen that every dad can dream of. Much to his disappointment, I was in a deep state of depression, denial and hatred because I was so institutionalised – prison was kinda like the orphanage. I ended up joining the Triads and becoming a leader.

I have no regrets with the adoption, my past and everything that has happened as I have achieved so much through sport. I represented my country/homeland in sports, travelled the world, married the girl of my dreams, etc., but as I get older (37 in July), I am afraid of what future I have. My wife wants kids but I don’t have a job or stable income. I don’t want my kid(s) to go through what I did. In a gang, the lifestyle that I live, it’s hard when you have a criminal history, PTSD and a sense of fear of rejection.

A few years ago, my birth mother found me on Facebook. I went to Hong Kong to meet up with her a couple of times. It was disappointing. Maybe I expected the movie dramatic emotional meet up – but it was nothing like that! I was just like, “Oh yep! You’re my mum”. But we couldn’t communicate much due to the language barrier, so it was a bit disappointing. I have half sister who speaks English who lives with my mum. I found out my mother was only 18 years old when she had me and at the time. She was living in a women’s home. Her mother (my grandmother) was divorced at age 15 and had no ability to give her 2 girls stability – so she sent them to a girls home to survive.

Despite all I’ve lived, I guess what I want to say to adoptive parents is, you have a responsibility to the child you adopt – be a positive mother/father figure to the child that you’re bringing into your world. Try to have a better understanding of the challenges that your inter-racial child may have.

Mike welcomes your messages in response to his story.

Monarchs and Viceroys: Interracial Couple Issues

IRM 1

I remember learning about Monarch butterflies in college as a Biology Major. Birds and other predators refused to eat Monarchs because they tasted bad from their consumption of milkweed plants. Because of the low predation rates, other butterflies took advantage of this and learned to mimic Monarch’s coloration and design. The most famous of these impersonators of a Monarch is the Viceroy butterfly. To the untrained eye they look identical but today, we know today they are a different species.

This type of mimicry where an edible animal is protected due to its resemblance to another species avoided by predators is called Batesian mimicry. Only in the human species do we find the reversal of Batesian mimicry where the species are the same but the culture, logic, thinking, and behavior is totally different. This is what occurs when an adoptee marries or partners long term with a person from the same birth country.

IRM 3

I am a Korean adoptee and I was raised on a dairy farm in the heart of a little Scandinavia town located in north-central Minnesota. I met my wife when I was stationed in South Korea as a young lieutenant in the US Army. I lived in South Korea for nearly 8 years and I remember having conversations with other servicemembers who had Korean brides and were involved in interracial marriages and I thought to myself, “Wow, I can really relate to the issues that they have.” The men whom I had shared conversations with assumed my marriage was easier because my wife and I are ethnically the same. Yet, I had many of the same issues and problems these men talked about.

These men assumed the relationship between my wife and I was easier than theirs because we looked similar, as does the Monarch and Viceroy. However, as we know, these two butterflies were different species, biologically diverse from one another. My wife and I also look the same racially, but our culture, logic, thinking, and behaviors are totally different. This is why I classify my marriage as an interracial marriage even though we are technically both from Korean descent.

IRM 5

Here is a sample of some of the issues we face as an interracial couple:

Children: My wife is that classic Tiger mom. She is fierce when it comes to my children’s studies. She hovers over them as they do their French, piano, and math lessons. She runs them to karate, boy scouts, girl scouts and numerous other extracurricular activities. I have to navigate our family trips around the school and planned school activities. I see my kids sitting at the table for hours on end and I have to step in as the voice of reason and allow them to have breaks and go to bed. It’s different to the way I was raised and we have to make compromises on how they are to be raised.

Holidays: It was March and my wife was happy with excitement and she asked me to come to the dinner table. I sat down and excitedly uncovered the lid to see what was inside and to my horror, there was a pot of hot slimy green and viscous sludge. She proceeds to tell me it’s Myong-gook, or traditional Korean seaweed soup, which was served after women gave birth and on special occasions. It just so happened to be my birthday and I was fed this special meal whereas, at the time, I much preferred to go out and eat KFC or Thai. There are duplicate holidays that we celebrate such as Choo-suk, also known as Korean Thanksgiving, and there are changes to the traditional menu. It’s not unusual for us to serve the smelly fermented, spicy cabbage called Kimchi along with the mashed potatoes and gravy.

Values: I feel my wife is obsessed with saving money. In the past, she has returned gifts that I bought for her on her birthday, Christmas and special occasions. She tells me not to buy flowers, chocolates, jewelry or anything else because she believes spending money on lavish items is a waste. She would rather see the money pile up in our retirement accounts and do with less. On the other hand, I believe life is about balance. Live a little and enjoy the fruits of our labor as we age. We often have these money talks and come to a compromise. I show her the statements of our retirement account before I ask her about planning a family trip.

IRM 2

Crossed wires: Often communication can end up in a conflict. I’ll be talking to my wife about something at work and she will cut me off to talk about something with the kids. To her, that is more important. She had no idea that she cut me off mid sentence.

Another example is when she asks me if I there is anything she can grab for me while she is at the grocery store, I may pause a few seconds to ponder and return to her with my list. I may respond a half a minute later and ask her to get me my favorite snack and she looks at me with a lost look in her eyes. I have to coax her back into the conversation that we had previously. In her mind, I wanted nothing and was already thinking about something else.

The communication patterns are different and I have learnt to repeat myself over and over again. She also misplaces words by mistake as she translates things inside her head.
“Hey, remember to take the cat to the veterinarian” when she really meant to say to say, “Hey, get some cat food when you’re out”. The crossed wires happens inside her head as she translates and the same happens in other normal conversations.

Name Change: I get a lot of questions and quizzical looks when I introduce myself as Mr Hansen. My name doesn’t match my looks and I’m expecting someone on the US Airlines to pull me off my flight one of these days for impersonating an American. My wife has a similar issue and many people assume she is married to a Caucasian because of the name she took after we were married. We thought about changing our name to my Korean family name but to change all my documents over to a new name seemed exhaustive and we have decided to keep the name for now.

Other Couples: I hate going to another Korean couple’s home when they have a hard time communicating in English. I run out of things to talk about after 5 minutes of conversation which also exhausts all 7 words I can speak in Korean. Many Koreans keep me at an arm’s length away because I’m not a “real” Korean. I feel as though I am the outsider looking in. This also holds true for my wife. She hates attending large groups and intellectually stimulating lectures. She feels as if the whole world is focused on her and when she accidentally slips with the wrong English word – people will make fun of her. I re-charge my batteries being around people and I love to dive into deep conversations.

IRM 4
Life can be extremely stressful, complex, and exhausting at times when married to someone from a different culture. What I found is, it is both rewarding and difficult, just like any other thing worth pursuing. In my education pursuits, for example, it was tough and there were times when I questioned why I was pursuing the degrees that I chose. However, the pursuits ended up well worth the pains and sacrifices I made. Some of the best moments I had were in the dorms of college and the life-long friendships made there, are as meaningful as ever.

The same holds true for a marriage or long term partnerships. I have encountered different issues being in an interracial marriage compared to what I might have experienced if I’d married someone of my adoptive culture and country. But I’ve learnt, not to make assumptions about my partner based on her culture. I also realise our relationship is one in which we are both forever teaching and learning from each other. Like all long term relationships, I will always have to compromise and learn to adapt to changes.

IRM 6

Additional Thoughts: What differences and issues have you seen in your own interracial marriage or partnership?  Do you think the I am correct to call my relationship “interracial” when we are ethnically the same?

Further Reading: Monarch vs Viceroy: https://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/Viceroy1.html

Birth Country Cultural Immersion for Intercountry Adoptees

By Sunny Reed, Korean intercountry adoptee.

what is culture.jpg

When I was adopted over thirty years ago, there were significantly fewer outlets for a transracial adoptive parent (TRAp) to expose their child to his or her birth culture. Books, culture camps (of which I never attended), agency-sponsored gatherings, and other passive events formed the bulk of options available.

Today, in our information-rich climate, simply reading articles, watching videos, and listening to music counts only as superficial immersion for a transracial adoptee (TRAd). Online forums and other media provide a sense of community, but even still, socialization relies solely on the parent’s concentrated efforts.

In this post, I’ll be discussing a 2010 article by M. Elizabeth Vonk, Jaegoo Lee, and Josie Crolley-Simic about TRAps’ current cultural socialization efforts and my perspective on their research.

Cultural Socialization Practices in Domestic and International Transracial Adoption
Vonk, Lee, and Crolley-Simic

Article Summary

The authors sought to uncover the impact (if any) cultural socialization had on a transracial adoptive parent’s (TRAp) relationship with their child. Additional research is needed to concretely answer that question, but data uncovered during their investigation contributed fascinating insights into how race influenced a parent’s decision to incorporate their child’s ethnicity into their lives.

Key Points

  • Appearance may dictate how much emphasis parents put on cultural socialization
  • TRAps rarely associated with adults of their child’s ethnicity and frequently lived in undiversified areas
  • Cultural socialization efforts diminished as the child aged

Discussion

What’s interesting about these findings is how parents – all of whom identified as white – gravitated toward superficial cultural activities. Cooking ethnic food, reading books, and celebrating unique holidays were most common and I surmise it has to do with novelty and ease. These activities are the least threatening for white parents and can be undertaken in the privacy of their own homes, without criticism from authentic sources. Combined with the findings that white parents rarely socialized with adults of their child’s race, this makes sense.

Particularly damning is the parents’ failure to relocate their families to culturally diverse neighborhoods. My own family settled in a homogenous white farming community in New Jersey and refused to acknowledge that the demographics had profoundly negative repercussions on my development. Even after repeated incidents of school-based racism (at all levels), they couldn’t or wouldn’t consider changing to a diverse school.

The authors also found – sadly – that parents of European children engaged in cultural activities less frequently than those of Asian and black children. I find this ironic, since the shared background should make it less foreign to the parents. But if socialization is largely based on appearance, then race is no doubt a catalyst for how involved a parent feels they should be.

The authors muse that cultural socialization highlights the obvious differences between parent and child, making caregivers feel “inadequate.” They also wonder if cultural activities make them “realize their responsibility to their children and are unsure how to proceed.” I would argue that yes, this is likely what is happening, since confronting the reality of their complex situation may destroy their original expectations for the adoption.

My parents’ own ideas of “getting [me] cultured” included, early on, hosting Korean egg hunts and going to Korean Christmas parties. Nothing was uniquely Korean about these events. They were just a bunch of white families getting their adopted Korean kids together and celebrating Christian holidays. Ironically, we never acknowledged Korean events and – like the research suggested – these activities dwindled down to nothing after we all began elementary school.

Although my experiences occurred over the past several decades, this relatively recent article shows that – despite additional resources available – little real progress has been made in the practical application of cultural socialization. We’ll keep talking about this in future posts, since the goal is to help TRAps assist their child in developing a secure racial identity.

Your turn!

Do your experiences align with this article’s findings? If not, what do you think you or your parents did differently?

Please feel free to discuss in the comments!