Friday, November 19, 2010


at our pre-adoption class, the social workers spent a great deal of time talking about parenting after adopting transracially or transculturally. we were kindly reminded that though we are of korean decent and are adopting from korea, we are still adopting transculturally.

and it's true.

my dad has been in the states for 41 years and my mom for 37. they met while they were students in college in philadelphia; obtained US citizenship; got married; had babies and raised me and my sister in a hodge podge of american and korean culture.

we spoke mostly english at home with my dad (who is often told he "sounds white" on the phone -- isn't that weird?) and in konglish with my mom. we had our turkey thanksgivings (my dad is an A-MAZING cook -- he and my uncle are in charge of all holiday dinners. i'm drooling right now thinking about them...); ate a mix of korean food and american food at home; went trick-or-treating on halloween; decorated our christmas tree the first week of december; and the only time my sister and i wore our hanboks (when we had ones that fit us from hand-me-downs or from relatives visiting from korea) was on new year's day to sae-beh. this was the one part of korean culture we LOVED because new year's day = pay day! (after bowing to elders, children are given words of blessing and wisdom, which is then followed by an envelope full of cash. nice.) we didn't celebrate any other korean holidays, and in fact, i didn't even know of any korean holidays until i went to korean school (aka, saturday torture) in elementary school. during the olympics and other international sporting competitions, the hubs and i root for USA, even if it comes down to a head to head between USA and s. korea. (my mom still roots for korea, so things can get a bit ugly during short track speed skating events!)

i've been to korea once in 1990 when i was nine. and my memories consist largely of lotte world and shopping. you know, the stuff that matters when you're nine.

sadly, i know little about korean history outside of the major points of the japanese occupation and the korean war. and i know the very basics about king sejong, who invented the korean alphabet (around korean school, rumor had it that he did this while staring at the shoji screen in front of him as he was, um...pooping. why are kids so crass?).

i recently asked my mom why we never celebrated korean holidays, like chusok, and she responded that to better assimilate, when her family moved to america, they just started celebrating american holidays. that and the fact that many korean holidays involve some sort of ancestral honoring (stemming from confucianism), which is not something that jived with our christian beliefs.

on one hand, i totally got what my mom was saying. i've always been really proud to be an american. and the fact that my family was "so american" and that my parents were not as "embarrassingly korean" as were some of my friends' parents was so rad and something to brag about.

but on the other hand, i'm a little sad that i don't know more about the country and the cultural background from which our family came.

i've been thinking a lot about this as we prepare to bring home choi boy, who was born in korea and up until we bring him home, raised solely in korean culture. we want to preserve that culture and honor it, helping *him* be proud of the country of his birth.

but that means a bit of stretching on our end, too. something that we're more than happy to do, but something that will also force us to face the culture that we've often left behind.

don't get me wrong, we are proud to be korean american. it's just that growing up as a minority in america often forces you to "prove" your american-ness in order to get by. does that make sense?

growing up, i wanted people to see past my black hair and korean eyes and not make assumptions about my english language skills or my background. one question i *hated* getting asked (and still do) is: "where are you from?" and when i would answer, "new jersey," the questioner would probe further because that answer was not good enough -- "no, where are you REALLY from? what is your nationality?" my answer? "i was born in america, my nationality is american." and at this point, i'd be totally facetious because i'd *know* what they were asking, but it was so annoying to always be presumed foreign. even more annoying? when people would say, "wow, your english is SO good! i can't hear an accent at all!" um, that's because ENGLISH is my first language, jerk.

i disliked having to "represent" koreans and asian americans (because i was often the "token" asian in different situations). so much so, that i just chose not to address it and would not bring it up unless forced to. in my mind, i was (and am) american and it was being american that largely shaped who i was (and am) in my thinking and in my understanding. sure, some of my thinking and understanding came from my korean heritage, but that thinking and understanding was used mainly in situations where i was in a group of other korean-americans.

when choi boy comes home, this will change...because we are so very thankful to korea for blessing us with our son. and we are proud that korea is the country of his birth and so grateful that we are privileged with the opportunity to raise choi boy, starting with a trip to korea to pick him up.

does this mean things will drastically change in our family? i don't know...we certainly want to honor more korean culture, but we don't what to lose who we are and where we've come from either.

it'll be an interesting balancing act as we continue to vacillate between american culture and korean culture. and interesting because i feel like the hubs and i have found our place within the two and are content with our in-between-y-ness...but bringing home choi boy will set things in motion and we'll have to juggle to find the right place for *our family* in between these two cultures.

i hope this all made some sort of sense...these thoughts have been running through my mind for many months and i tried to get them down somewhat coherently. seeing as how our lives are about to be turned upside down, this very well may be the first of many semi-coherent posts. :)

(one important side note: i've really loved sharing the bits of korean culture i *do* know with my fellow adoptive mommas. in a lot of ways, it's helped me gain a new sense of appreciation for my korean heritage and has helped me reconnect with forgotten parts of my korean culture. and i'm looking forward to more of this!)


  1. Great post, Grace. It totally makes sense to me. I too wish that I knew more about my Greek heritage but it was the same thing for my grandparents...assimilate and the leave the old country behind. It's different for me, cuz when people meet me they don't ask me if I'm Greek, but I can relate to wishing I knew more about my heritage.
    One interesting thing for you, is when you are out and about, most people will not know/think CB is adopted.

  2. this is very interesting, Grace. I enjoyed learning more about your background. As for people telling your dad he sounds "white"--that is wack!!!
    As an aside, I want to say THANK YOU for your comment on my blog, telling me what the FM was saying in the background on the video. That was a sweet blessing--it made me smile. She had told us that while we were there and Matthew still benefits from lots of praise!

  3. Excellent post. Korean culture first got introduced into my family 5 and a half years ago when my older son arrived as a 6-month-old baby. In that time I have learned a truckload about Korean culture, and I still have a long way to go. That culture usually manifests itself in our household as FOOD. :) It is harder to incorporate the holidays, in my opinion. Because I think that making Korean customs part of our own family tradition needs to feel real and authentic, and it's hard to FEEL that when it's a holiday you have never celebrated and know very little about (like Chusok).

    I wonder if due to your family background you'll be able to pick up those customs and celebrations more easily than someone like me. I sometimes feel like I'm faking it, but maybe it will come more naturally to you. As proud as you were of your American-ness growing up, you don't have to reach that far back to access your Korean-ness. Choi Boy will really benefit from that!!! Sometimes I look at my boys and then I look at myself in the mirror and wish I weren't so daggone white.

  4. totally makes sense. :O) you guys are going to be amazing parents and what a blessing for choi boy to grow up in a family where he will be learning about his korean heritage, no matter the in-between-y-ness (love that, btw).

  5. Grace....I totally echo your post since I'm a 2nd gen Korean American also. Actually until we started the process to adopt from Korea we were not really into having much Korean culture in our home and didn't think about passing much of it down to our other 2 kids (besides visit from the grandparents), but after adopting, the desire to keep the Korean culture, language and connection has increased so much (even though our kids will be 3rd gen Korean Americans) bc I feel like with me and my other 2 kids it was a choice that our parents/grandparents made to come to America and raise their family here but with Joel, it was not necessarily his choice to be uprooted from the culture to which he was born and therefore we have a responiability to make sure he has a understanding and connection with it. In that way I am really thankful for adopting because due to that as compared to many of my 2nd gen KA friends, we do feel more compelled to implement Korean culture in our lives.

  6. This makes total sense to me, Grace, especially the way you've explained it. I know you guys will have the perfect combination of Korean-ness and American-ness in your household for Choi Boy! I've wondered if it's strange for Korean Americans like yourself (and Grace P.) who as second generation KA's may not incorporate too much Korean culture into their lives and then they see these non-Korean APs totally getting into all the Korean-ness. Hee hee - I'm sure it's kind of funny, if nothing else. I, for one, really appreciate it when you chime in and translate something or tell us a little Korean tidbit so keep it up!

    PS - My good friend Courtney is Japanese-American and was born/grew up in LA. Her grandparents came to the States. Her parents were born in US. Anyway, when she went to college in Boston she was shocked by how many people would ask her where she was from (like you). She'd say "LA" and they'd give her that knowing look and then say, "But where are you FROM from?" She of course (like you) knew what they were getting at but was so pissed off wouldn't take the bait. That's got to be super annoying. She did say that this never happened to her on the West Coast, only the East Coast which I found interesting. Also - her best friend from college was this woman named Sandy who is Korean American and Sandy's grandmother HATED the fact that Sandy's best friend was "Japanese". Having just finished a novel that focused on Korean history during the Japanese occupation, I guess I can kind of understand why the older generation might feel this way! Eeek.

  7. Your post is a very thoughtful consideration of family and culture. I think you will be able to find great ways to keep your American culture and your Korean American culture and the celebration of Korean culture in your home. To date, I have yet to see a child who wants fewer holidays. ;) Seriously, I think it's amazing that you will be able to share the unique, wonderful family that you have with Choi boy.

  8. Thank you so much for this post - it's very interesting to hear such a different perspective on Korean adoption than our own, and to know the culture conundrum you're in. My guess is that you'll find the balance in a very natural way and that Choi boy will also guide many of your decisions on how Korean or how American to raise him. Does that make sense?
    You're clearly *already* an extremely thoughtful, caring mama, and I know that will make you an amazing mother through the years.

  9. great post girl. i connect with many things you said. i can imagine the things you must be concerned about!
    i think at the end of the day, as you and your hubby bring choiboy up also rooted in the security of Christ, reflective of your own faith, that will be his ultimate security and i love how that how goes beyond all cultural boundaries.
    not trying to sound too idealistic of course and i'm sure it'll be tricky. but i look forward to seeing you bring choiboy home and forming a new sorta choi-culture that will be a fab blend of the both backgrounds.

  10. Great post! We appreciate all that you share. This is so interesting to read. Praying for you!

  11. Thanks for posting about this. It is interesting that you are coming full circle back to thinking about Korean culture and what it means to be Korean American. Losing that culture is a huge loss, and it is different for Choi Boy because it wasn't really anyone's choice...But I think it is awesome that he will have someone to help him navigate the in-between-ness as you call it. I think I read somewhere that transracial adoptees want to know about their culture, but also how to be an Asian/African-American (depending on where they were born) since that is how they are usually perceived/treated by most. And that often, white APs are more interested in going to drumming circles and wearing hanboks than connecting with other Asian-Americans. Anyway, good to be thinking about. It is fascinating to me how fluid culture is, how it evolves...I wonder what Korea will be like when Choi Boy is old enough to go back and contemplate everything, and what his ultimate thoughts on the subject will be?

  12. Grace,

    I so apprecaite your openness and honesty with this post. I feel so fortunate to hear first-hand what your experiences as a Korean American were and are like. I think the fact that you are so aware of the struggles and positives of your cultures will only work to your benefit, as you and your hubby try find the right balance for your family. Now, get that Choi boy home already!

    Hang in there!

  13. i have so much i want to say about this post but mostly, that i concur. i so get what you are saying! i intentionally never speak an ounce of korean (even though i am fluent) when i am in the presence of a korean crowd. i only start to do so when my relationship and identity as an individual korean-american is established with them (other koreans). for me, more than wanting to prove myself and my american-ness to other americans, i feel the need to distinguish myself to other koreans who tend to just assume and group me as "one of them". i am very proud of my korean background and heritage (as my korean-amer father has drilled korean history in us throughout our lives). what i am not proud to be identified with however, is more of the korean-ness that this generation has made of it in the past 15 years or so. and i also have to agree with you grace, on matters of feeling a sense of patriotism towards this great land of liberty. i LOVE America and all that it stands for. and i love that i am a korean-american, able to freely stand and represent what America is truly all about. don't you just love that we are our own people?

  14. Wow, great post. I always thought that it was so wonderful that Choi Boy would grow up in a family in which all members are Korean-American. I never thought about that he might be more connected to Korea than you are. I think about this culture thing a lot. I am sad that I took my boy away from the culture he was born into, and I am sad that I have no way of letting him experience what true Korean culture is like. I also have no way to let him experience what it is to grow up in a Korean-American family. I am truly so grateful for everything you share with us about being Korean-American. Because I am not, but my son is.
    In my opinion it is impossible to convey a country's true culture outside of that country. As much as I'd like to give Ben an idea of my German culture, I won't be able to go much farther than language, food, and some holidays. While that is all part of a culture, it really goes so much deeper. Now that was a lot of rambling.
    I am sure you will find a way to keep the balance between the worlds!

  15. Great post Grace!

    While my husband & I always planned to incorporate our children's birth cultures into our home, we had trouble figuring out exactly how that would work prior to actually having our kids home. Once we got to know our children, it was pretty easy for us to figure out the best ways to do it...and its something we continue to change as their comprehension and interests change.

    I do think that one benefit of your experience as a Korean American is that you will be able to understand the issues Choi Boy will face as a minority. That's something I wish I would be able to do for our sons - while I can be supportive and offer solutions, I can't offer any first-hand knowledge or insight.

  16. I love this post and can very much relate. My mom is a third generation Polish-American and my dad a first generation Lebanese American. I never got the where are you from question (perhaps it was obvious someone mixed like me had to be American). Instead, I would get asked ALL the time, "What are you?". Not what's your nationality or heritage, but, what are you. Nice, huh? Anyway, I really regret that I didn't push my parents to share more about their respective heritages, but my parents, like yours, raised us as Americans, and as a kid, that seemed right. Our cultural teachings were really limited to food. I'm looking forward to learning more about Korean culture to share with our son.

  17. OK, first... I was freaking out through most of this post feeling really guilty about asking you about the black-hat-thingy. I really hope that wasn't in any way offensive to you. :-(

    Next. Oh boy... this makes *so* much sense. I loved how you explained it. I'm a third generation German-American. On my dad's side a lot of the heritage and culture was "dusted under the rug." In fact, my grandfather and my father changed their names to assimilate better when my dad was 8. The story as we know it was it was not good for someone in my grandfather's position to have such a German name after WWII. (And ironically, he went on to do amazingly well in his career after his name change, winning awards and honors in other countries even.) I'm getting off-track here ... but, what I'm going for is that once they left the name behind... it was easy to drop other things as well. Language, food, etc. On my mom's side... very much the opposite. Which means that all of the "German" identity my sister and I have is gleamed from that side. Which was really hard to understand as a kid... are we German, or not? American? American-German? American by way of Germany? So while we never had the race/color issue, I can appreciate some of the other roadblocks/issues you've encountered. (Not to the same scale though) Which brings me to third...
    I wish I had a better understanding of where I come from. As does my dad. He was quick to leave everything behind, but now I see times when I think he had a stronger sense of self in that area. That makes me even more committed to adopting the culture along with my son. I want to do everything in my power to have it more accessible to him than my background was to me. This was really long... and I'm not even sure I made sense. Sigh.

    [I actually have a post along these lines that I haven't published since I feel it would create a debate larger than what I want at this moment, and clearly I am not as thought-cohesive as you are!]

  18. Great post! My daughter is from Asian descent (Vietnam) but born in the US. She's now 14 months old and I wonder how everything will be once she's older. People asking where she's from, noticing she has no accent, assuming she knows everything about China - because people are so narrow-minded that they think every Asian person is from China ... Grace, thank you for your insight. Excellent post. You'll make wonderful parents.


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