How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Adopted parents, adopted children: How two mothers reconnected with their Korean roots

Photo by Chiceaux Lynch/Flickr (Creative Commons)

New American Media featured a moving story this weekend from Hyphen magazine, which covers the Asian American diaspora. It told the stories of two Korean adoptees who, when deciding to adopt children themselves, turned to the country of their birth.

One woman, Rebecca Eun Hee Viot, and her biological brother grew up in Minnesota with their adoptive white family, disconnected from their ethnic roots. When circumstances prompted Viot and her husband to adopt, they chose Ruby, a 9-month-old from South Korea. From the piece:

Since then, Ruby has brought peace to Viot's life and tightened Viot's bonds to her birth country. “I never took a pride in being Korean," Viot said, though she wasn't necessarily ashamed. “I was often confused and sad because I knew I didn't fit in. I just didn't know who I was.”

Motivated by her daughter, Viot has begun to explore Korean food (she can now cook kaktugi, bulgogi, japchae and kimchi jigae) and the Korean language (she has learned to read Hangul and aspires to speak it with her biological family). She is also interested in learning Korean drumming and dance through the Korean Heritage House, which recently opened in the Twin Cities; Ruby will be enrolled when she turns 4.

“We're learning together,” said Viot, who has founded an Internet forum for parents undergoing the adoption process. I have to stop myself from thinking that just because [Ruby and I] look alike that is enough. I'm still learning about the traditions. I have to do my homework, just like my [friends who are] Caucasian adoptive parents.

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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.’”

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