Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Growing up as a Korean-born African American

KoreAm magazine beat me this week to an interview I'd been looking forward to, and they did a great job with it. The magazine featured a profile of Emile Mack, one of the top-ranking firefighters in the Los Angeles Fire Department. What is unusual about Mack's story, which I learned of recently, is that he is a Korean-born adoptee raised by African American parents.

When Mack was a toddler in a South Korean orphanage, Undine and Clarence Mack were shown his photo at their church and decided to adopt him. Mack grew up identifying with the culture of his parents and peers the Crenshaw district, defying outsiders' expectations and stereotypes. From the story:

“There were people who didn’t know me or my family, and they didn’t tease me because I had black parents, but they teased me because I looked Asian. So it was the typical thing, ‘Hey Chinese, hey this, hey that.’ And then my friends would respond, ‘He’s black!! His parents are black, leave him alone!!’” said Mack, his face lighting up at the memory.

“In fact, that still happens today. There are times when I walk into a room with black friends, and they’ll walk up to someone I don’t know, and say, ‘Hey man, he’s cool. He’s a brother.’ And they’ll immediately accept me just because my friend says, ‘Oh, he’s one of us.’”


I loved all the elements of Mack's story when I learned about him several days ago: Parents who adopted across a color line not often crossed in interracial adoptions, a son who embraced all that he was, and now, a young family that has led him back to his birth roots.

Like his parents, Mack and his wife adopted a baby last year, a little girl from South Korea.

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