Adopting The Asian in ‘Caucasian’: Korean Adoptees and White Privilege

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-25 01:19Z by Steven

Adopting The Asian in ‘Caucasian’: Korean Adoptees and White Privilege

Hyphen: Asian America Unabridged

Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut

My father remembers that when I first arrived, he’d wake up to me calling out “Abojee! Abojee!” in the middle of the night, the Korean word for father. As a little girl, those nights in my new home in America were filled with angst that if I fell asleep at night, I might wake up utterly alone. I fought against the tide of sleep until I was secure in the knowledge that one of my parents was still at my side. I remember my mother would often sing me to sleep with Christmas carols, after running out of lullabies.

I was around two years old when I was adopted. I say ‘around’ because my date of birth and name on my official adoption documents were most likely fabricated by social workers at the White Lily orphanage in Daegu, South Korea in 1979. On those papers, it says that I was “abandoned,” without explanation nor names of my biological parents; for many Korean adoptees, this is the norm. Many of us will never know our real stories because those early erasures of our original families were not only commonplace but were created to make us into social orphans, a profitable industry. Many of us were the children of unwed mothers who faced the stigma of raising us alone and unsupported by the state. Caught in precarious social and economic circumstances, their only option was to relinquish their children to wealthy, white and European parents who could provide “a better life” with the promise of a home, education, and cultural capital.

I feel compelled to return to this giant chimera of adoption because it continues to haunt me. Equivalent to the giant elephant in the room, the chimera represents everything that is unspeakable and messy and ambivalent. Like many Korean adoptees, I grew up in a liberal, white family, in a predominantly white town, and came of age during the years of neoliberal multiculturalism in the 1980s to 1990s. I didn’t realize it then, but my discomfort as a hypervisible minority in my family was the direct result of being raised in a climate of colorblind attitudes when international adoption was part of a continuing trend of the white American savior complex. I was taught to believe race wasn’t important, when the real reason was that nobody knew how to discuss racism and micro aggressions, especially the social workers at adoption agencies…

Read the entire article here.

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Why Mixed with White isn’t White

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2014-07-22 23:15Z by Steven

Why Mixed with White isn’t White

Hyphen: Asian America Unabrided

Sharon H. Chang

When I wrote my first post for Hyphen, “Talking Mixed-Race Identity with Young Children,” I was deliberately blunt about race. I wrote about how I don’t tell my multiracial son, who presents as a racial minority, that he’s white — but I do tell him he’s Asian. While the essay resonated with many people, others made comments like this:

“Your child is as white as he is Asian… Why embrace one label and not the other?”

“Why is he Asian but not white? He has white ancestors as much as Asian ones. So if it’s OK to call him Asian, it’s OK to call him white. Or, if it’s not OK to call him white (because he’s not completely white) then it’s not OK to call him Asian, because he’s not completely Asian either.”

“Your child is neither white nor Asian. I once heard this description: When you have a glass of milk and add chocolate to it, you no longer have just a glass of milk and you no longer just have chocolate because you have created something completely different. A bi-racial or multi-racial child is not either/or.”

In the 1990s, psychologist and mixed-race scholar Maria P.P. Root wrote the famous “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage,” stirred by her examination of mixed-race identity, interviews with hundreds of multiracial folk across the U.S., and the struggles multiracial people face in forming and claiming a positive sense of self. “I have the right not to justify my existence to the world,” it reads. “To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify. To create a vocabulary about being multiracial or multiethnic.”

Almost two decades later, these proclamations still ring so true. Some people are completely unwilling to honor my family’s choice to identify as mixed-race and Asian because it doesn’t align with their own ideas about how we should identify. The right of a mixed-race person to self-construct and self-define, even today, endures continual policing from people with their own agendas…

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Discrimination Down to a Science

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2013-09-28 02:46Z by Steven

Discrimination Down to a Science

Hyphen Magazine
Issue 26, Spring 2013 (The South)

Dharushana Muthulingam, Health Editor and a resident physician at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland

How genetic data shapes science and medicine and what is being done to change it.

In the 1997 science fiction movie Gattaca, set in a future of genetically engineered humans, Vincent Freeman — the unfortunate product of “natural conception” — declared: “I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.” It is a touching picture of dystopia, where we have moved beyond our current social myopias, only to find new, more elaborate ones.

In 1997, the race to map the human genome — the entire hereditary information of humans — was in full force. It held the promise of better medicine, better technology and a better idea of where we come from. But a long history of discrimination by social status and skin color still had an unwitting effect in shaping science.

Genetics has only recently had concrete applications in medicine and everyday life. By the mid-2000s, the price of genetic testing decreased steeply enough to make it usable outside of research. Now, we can identify which specific breast cancer variant will respond to a certain treatment or predict if an HIV medication will cause a bad reaction.

The potential for Personalized Medicine was born on these few successes, with slick promises of customized treatment for what ails you. This has also improved the well-being of a handful of stockholders, with the nascent industry estimated to be worth $232 billion and growing 11 percent annually…

…To its credit, the National Institute of Health has repeatedly tried to tie funding to increasing diversity in research subjects since the 1970s, with mixed results. This long shadow of history and the general societal conversation of race still shape the culture of how scientists approach race and which people are willing to sign up as subjects.

This caution may have been the prudent thing, but it may have also slowed down investigations that are biologically valid and in fact, facilitate a more just and accessible science. The last 10 years have seen an astonishing rise in the health research of minority populations and disparities due to social class, and the genetic database is only just starting to catch up.

Another barrier is having a misleading taxonomy: the trouble with getting your racial categories right. While there is some relation between your geographical lineage and your collection of genes, the traditional American racial categories like “white” and “Hispanic” are historical artifacts that do not map rigorously to anything in the natural world, even as they shape our society.

This was suspected by famed evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in 1972 and confirmed in a 2004 analysis that found that there is more genetic variation within each of those categories than there are differences between any two categories. Of course, people mix across categories, which complicates genetic profiles…

…For all these important reasons for having a diverse genetic database — accuracy in research, finding unique mutations and, yes, a more marketable consumer genetic industry — there is also the sense that race is only one tiny lens among many to view the data. Since the Human Genome project was completed, they found that over 99.5 percent of genes are identical across human kind.

“Yet, almost as soon as researchers announced this result, several research projects began to focus on mapping the less than one percent of human genetic variation onto social categories of race,” Osagie Obasogie, a professor of law at UC Hastings, noted in GeneWatch Magazine in 2009.

Despite the fact that social categories of race do not match genetic categories, and despite the existence of far more similarity than difference among these social categories, a lot of effort has gone into trying to dig up what minuscule matching does exist.

Not only are the old categories of race too rough and misleading for modern biological work, there is a risk for what sociologist Troy Duster calls the “reification of race” — a circular process of using a popular understanding of race (shaped by hundreds of years of custom, biases and so on) to shape the scientific questions and research funding, which then gives an aura of legitimacy to that pile of unexamined biases…

Read the entire article here.

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Naked Bodies, Bodies of History

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-07-01 02:12Z by Steven

Naked Bodies, Bodies of History

Hyphen Magazine: Asian America Unabridged

Jenny Lee

“She mimics the speaking. That might resemble speech. (Anything at all.) Bared noise, groan, bits torn from words…From the back of her neck she releases her shoulders free.  She swallows once more.”

So begins the story of the halting diseuse, or female storyteller, of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s genre-defying text Dictée, first published just over three decades ago in 1982. Organized in nine parts named after the Greek Muses, Dictée has been described in mythic terms – a Korean Odyssey, a rewriting of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, a theatrical ritual, a shamanistic exorcism.  Above all, however, Cha’s work interrogates history, refracting the history of Korea in the twentieth century through the themes of exile, the displacement of colonized bodies, and the lost – and resurrected – bodies and voices of women…

…I must have had Dictée on the brain, because I thought of Cha’s work again a few weeks ago when I dropped by the DePaul Art Museum to see the exhibit War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art, curated by DePaul and San Francisco State University professors  Laura Kina and Wei Ming Dariotis. The exhibit is part of a larger project that features visual media produced by nineteen artists who hail from the rapidly expanding community of 2.6 million Americans (and counting) who identify as Asian American plus one or more ethno-racial groups. While the exhibit blurb explains that the show “examines the construction of mixed heritage Asian American identity in the United States,” this actually doesn’t do justice to its ambitious range, which not only investigates the historical origins of these identities (U.S. wars in Asia, colonialism, transnational adoption, the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia outlawing laws against interracial marriage) but breaks down insidious present-day theories about “post-racialness,” while also featuring work by a younger generation of artists who seem to stay out of the conversation completely.  

In an interview, Dariotis revealed that the title of the exhibit was inspired by her own experience fielding annoying questions about her background (which, incidentally, is Chinese, Greek, Swedish, English, Scottish, German, and Dutch). According to Dariotis, people would inquire whether her parents “met in the war.” “And I always ask myself, ha, I was born in 1969, we were not at war with China in 1969. Where did they get this image?” Dariotis’s story highlights persistent mainstream assumptions about mixed-race (if not mixed-ethnic) Asian Americans of a certain age as either/or – that is, either the product of military personnel and Asian women, or free-love hippies indulging in illegal interracial sex. If Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show offers a critique of the sexualizing of women’s bodies, War Baby/Love Child draws attention to the cultural sexualization of specifically Asian (and mostly female) bodies through the bodies of their mixed-race offspring…

Read the entire article here.

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