On Transracial Adoption

Parenting Across Race

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Author's Korean Connections, On Other Resources for Educators, On Transracial Adoption | Comments Off on Parenting Across Race

A new essay I wrote,”Raising Yunhee” on transracial adoption and parenting across race, has just been published at Korean American Story.


“Adopting Yunhee was one journey; raising her was another. My own passion for Korea, which became my second homeland and the source of my second culture and second language, made me determined to give Yunhee a sense of her birth legacy. But how does a white American, even one who grew up in Korea, raise a Korean American – on an island in Maine?

Yunhee was the model for Brianna in Brianna, Jamaica and the Dance of Spring

The essay examines how we attempted to give our daughter not just a sense of where she came from, but also encouragement to voice her experience of growing up as an American of color, and the challenge that posed for us as white parents:

“Talking about race gave Yunhee permission and language to unpack her own observations and experiences, and a structure for understanding the nuances of racial identity in America. At various ages and stages, it helped her find her voice to express her grief, her rage, her confusion (at age six, “Why couldn’t somebody in Korea take care of me?”)… It was essential for me not just to convey that all her thoughts and feelings were welcome, but also to become aware enough of the filter of my own white and non-adopted privilege that I could respect Yunhee’s authority in naming realities as she perceived them. I had to work to not inadvertently discount her observations and difficulties just because I wished they weren’t true.”

Korean American Story is building a fine and useful archive of narratives across the spectrum of Korean American identity, a significant contribution to exploring what it means to be American.
Go take a look.

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Race Talk with Young Kids: How to Start

Posted by on Apr 27, 2011 in On Other Resources for Educators, On Race & Culture, On Transracial Adoption | 1 comment

When our Korean-born daughter was four or five, one of her favorite adults was Hyo-Jung, a young Korean-American friend.

At some point during each visit with our daughter, Hyo-Jung would lift a strand of her glossy, straight black hair, then a similar strand of Yunhee’s, and sing, “Same hair!” The game never failed to delight Yunhee and I’m sure helped forge a deep bond with this lovely woman who looked like her, as none of her immediate family members did.

Hyo-Jung was simply pointing out the obvious, in a relaxed, playful, affirming tone. For people who’ve been dealing with race every day of their lives, as many people of color do in the U.S., this might not be a difficult feat; it’s an everyday topic.

But research shows that, by some counts, “75% of white families never or almost never talk about race with their children.” Obviously, if statistics like that cover your experience, breaching the topic may not come out relaxed, playful, and affirming the first few times. But it’s a good standard to reach for.

Here are some first steps for talking about race with very young children:

Start with the assumption that our children DO notice race. Just because they don’t appear to based on what they say doesn’t mean they’re not categorizing. Many studies have documented that children – and even infants as young as four months – detect differences in skin color.

Where in the world did we get the idea that they don’t see it? Children are natural sorters. They see, and we teach them, the “green car, pink pig, yellow flower, red ball, brown shirt …” but all of a sudden when the color is on skin, it’s invisible?

Of course, one of the reasons that children don’t voice their observations is that the adults around them have given them implicit but clear messages that it’s not to be talked about.

Include colors of skin and shapes of features in sorting games, as naturally as referring to the grass, the cat or the ball. Color identification, comparing and contrasting, alike and different (“Same hair!”). That’s all that very young children are seeing. Those categorizations don’t yet come with the charged complexity or value judgments that older people bring to the topic.Tailor the conversation to children’s ages and developmental stages. As with so many other topics, adjust the amount and type of information as children mature, and as needed in response to their questions and comments.

And, picture books are a great way to introduce the topic.

Next up, six titles that can start the conversation.

Further reading:
Here’s a terrific short article, “5 Tips for Talking About Racism with Kids,” including a Q&A with Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College and author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on racial identity development and race conversations. (My only quibble is that to accurately reflect the content of the piece, the title should say “Race,” not “Racism.” Talking about racism, though it can overlap, is another topic for another post.)

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Voices of Adoption

Posted by on Nov 22, 2010 in On Transracial Adoption | 4 comments

Anyone connected to adoption from any angle should check out the first issue of a brand-new magazine, The Adoption Constellation. It will be a quarterly print publication from Adoption Mosaic, a website which seeks “to create a safe space where adoption community members can voice their experience, dialogue about issues, and learn from one another.”
I’m honored to have been invited to adapt my “White Mind” columns, directly addressing white adoptive parents of children of color. Many of the articles in the magazine touch on aspects of transracial adoption.

(Sketch of young dancers at a New Year’s celebration sponsored by the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine, 2010)
Becoming the parent of a child of color is often (and should be!) a radicalizing experience of seeing the significance of race and racism, and of becoming committed to racial justice and awareness. Such families are often on the front lines of the discussion about the importance of diversity in children’s books, seeking stories in which our children can see themselves reflected.
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Dreams 2

Posted by on Aug 10, 2010 in Author's Korean Connections, On Korean Books & Culture, On Transracial Adoption | 3 comments

Our daughter, the bride. photo by Angela Tran

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Dreams Coming True

Posted by on Aug 7, 2010 in Author's Korean Connections, On Korean Books & Culture, On Transracial Adoption | 4 comments

This week I’m transported with love, joy and wonder: Our daughter Yunhee married her beloved Josh (ours, too) on July 31. The night before we held a Korean ceremony complete with traditional wedding hanbok and ritual bows.

Tomorrow I arrive at Camp Sejong in northwestern New Jersey, where I’m the creative writing teacher for the Korean-born campers, ages 7-14, from both adoptive and Korean-American families. (For an account of my first year at Sejong in 2007, see “Hong Kil Dong Goes to Camp”.)
We’ll be creating vision maps, titled “A Bridge of Dreams,” imagining their lives in the future and how they’ll pull from the strengths of both their cultures. I’ll be using Yunhee’s wedding photos as an example of what that can look like.
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Transracial Adoption & Discussions About Race

Posted by on May 18, 2010 in Author's Korean Connections, On Race & Culture, On Transracial Adoption | Comments Off on Transracial Adoption & Discussions About Race

A few of our daughter Yunhee’s thoughts (comment #11) in response to the same clip (see previous post) on not discussing race with transracially adopted children:

I struggled with identity, and the idea of why I was put up for adoption. I went through phases of sadness, anger, and every other emotion along the way. The idea of my parents telling me not to worry about it, because no one cares about race anymore is unfathomable! That would have destroyed me.

My parents were understanding, supportive and ALWAYS willing to talk about what I was feeling. That is how I moved through each phase into something healthier and happier. Not by them ignoring my questions, emotions, and pain. They nurtured both cultures in my life, and let me explore both. I have since found a happy balance between my two cultures, and I claim both.
…Children are very observant. It is why we watch our language and behaviors around them, because they will pick it up. Children are curious, observant and very, very, blunt. A child will notice if they are not the same race as their family, and even if they don’t notice, some other person will, and then that becomes the mirror for the child. And the people in the world are not always the kindest.

At one point I was at a holiday party with my parents and a woman saw me, and then stated to her friend loudly, “Yes, you have to be white to be American.” Those mirrors are there, they are real, and they are painful.

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