Adoption and Racial Identity

Parents can help adopted children establish a sense of identity by exposing them to their racial heritage.
Parents can help adopted children establish a sense of identity by exposing them to their racial heritage.

Every child needs a sense of background and identity.

Many of us have painful memories of our first day of school. We recall the tears we shed watching Mommy wave good-bye or hearing the taunts of classmates ridiculing us about a pair of thick glasses or a funny haircut. But, for me, the first day of kindergarten was the day I realized I was not white.

When I was a few days old, my Asian birth mother abandoned me on the steps of a government building in Seoul, South Korea. Like thousands of other Korean children, I was adopted by an American family and brought to the United States before I was 6 months old. I spent most of my childhood in California, then moved, at age 11, to a small town in Indiana.

My Assimilated Identity

My parents felt the best way to help me and my adopted brother, who is also Korean, assimilate into American culture was for them to not dwell on our foreignness.

They weren't trying to pretend we weren't adopted; they just never discussed our identities as Asians. To them, I was their daughter - the child of an Italian engineer and his German-American wife. Korea was simply the place where I was born, and my parents naively believed that being an Asian in America wasn't any different than coming from another faraway place like Oslo or Vienna.

Even though prejudice didn't exist in our home, it was unfair of my parents not to prepare me for the small-mindedness of others. In retrospect, I think they owed me some information about my Korean heritage so that when I was faced with racism, I would have a firm, positive feeling about being Asian. On the other hand, it is also easy to understand why they felt uncomfortable about supplying me with a Korean identity. First-generation Americans of various races have immersed their biological children in American culture at the expense of their own ethnicities - but these parents had the luxury of sharing the same eyes, hair, and genes as their children.