Growing up white…kinda…

Let’s start at the beginning.  I was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1984 and came to the United States when I was only 9-months-old.  My family consisted of my mom and dad as well as two older brothers, age 6 and 4, also adopted from South Korea.  Approximately two years later, we met our sister at Logan airport who was 18-months-old when she arrived, also from South Korea, making a grand total of four children in our family unit.

Our mother’s family is French-Canadian and our father’s family is Italian.  We grew up in a small, very rural, New England town.  In a lot of ways my childhood was above average compared to my peers.  My siblings and I always had the latest and greatest toys and gadgets, we vacationed often, lived in a big house outside of town with lots of land and we even had a swimming pool on our property which if you remember being a kid, was one of the coolest things ever! So, all in all, pretty sweet.

The population in our area was pretty much all white.  My siblings and I were the only “non-white” kids in our school with the exception of the occasional foreign exchange student…that was always awkward, especially if they happened to be Asian of any kind…Or, I suppose there were also “fresh-air kids,” city kids, usually black, who got to experience living in the country for a summer with host families in the area.  Both of those scenarios were awkward for us, as people would always assume “minorities” go together, regardless if they were the same race, culture, etc.  I guess what people were really implying was all those who looked different (aka non-white) should be grouped together.  This mentality was especially difficult for us as adoptees because culturally we were exactly the same as our peers.  Unlike children of 1st or even 2nd generation immigrants who may speak a different language at home, eat different foods that are part of their culture or have different traditions, we were, for all intents and purposes, white.

Even though I grew up with three siblings who were in the exact same boat as me, I can’t remember ever talking about being Korean, or looking different from our friends, or even different from our parents and relatives.  This realization, now reflecting back, might seem like we had an unhealthy family dynamic or weak sense of self; however, I don’t think those were the reasons at all.  It’s not like we didn’t know we were adopted (we knew very early on for obvious reasons) and it’s not like we didn’t know we were different…we experienced racism and discrimination all the time.  I suppose we didn’t feel the need to acknowledge those who tried to tell us we were different or put us down because we knew we were just as American as the next kid and if people couldn’t see that then that was their problem.  We were “bananas” or “twinkies,” yellow on the outside and white on the inside 🙂

Now, with all that said, it doesn’t mean that my siblings and I weren’t sensitive to the fact that we “looked” Asian.  I can’t speak for them but I know that I was always very insecure about my appearance.  I attended university in NYC at the age of 18 where for the first time ever I was not the only minority in the classroom.

In my adult life, I feel I have made great strides in the identity department.  I am still the only “non-white” person in most rooms but am not nearly as self-conscious about my appearance.  Maybe this is a result of living in a more diversified area of the country or me just caring less about how others perceive me.  Either way, I’m proud of my New England roots as well as my Korean roots, and through the power of the internet I have enjoyed reading other Korean adoptees’ journeys so much so that I was inspired to start My New England Seoul.