I was so anxious and excited to facilitate a high school workshop at Korean Heritage Camp this year. Our talk was more of a counseling session, where I really got a pulse of how our young people are feeling about being adopted. I felt incredibly privileged to be able to sit with four groups of incredible campers who were brutally honest, vulnerable and open about their life experiences.
“Was I loved before I was adopted?” was the main question that adoptees had during the high school workshop I facilitated at Korean Heritage Camp this year. The answer I told the campers was -“yes, someone loved you before you were adopted.” What was heartbreaking was that for many of them, it was their first time hearing it.
Overall, adoptees felt that their parents did a great job of talking about their adoption issues, and felt loved by their parents. Where the void in the adoptee’s heart is mostly from the questions they don’t have answered. Questions such as “What was the relationship between my biological parents?” “How much did I weigh when I was born?” “What time was I born?” “Do I have siblings?” “Why was I placed for adoption?”
Adoptees indicated that they wished their dad’s were more involved with adoption discussions, and showed interest in their culture.
One of my favorite discussions was about dating. I asked the campers who they were attracted to and who they dated. The guys stated that they tend to be attracted to Caucasian girls, but found that it was difficult getting them to be attracted back. Whereas the girls tended to look at “everyone on the menu”- one girl stated, “if he’s cute- I’ll date him!” When the boys found out that the girls thought some of them were cute, there was immediate embarrassment and blushing! I think it was interesting to note that Korean boys tend to have greater difficulty with being seen as attractive to the opposite sex, largely due to social stereotypes, and a misrepresentation/under-representation of their demographic in mainstream American media.
Boys tended to be more embarrassed or feel greater shame about being Korean. Mostly due to the teasing or the “endearing Asian references” their friends make. Although this was also true for girls, some being called “Asia” or “Korea” by their friends, and peers- the boys indicated that the comments tend to bother them more, and they lacked the communication skills to confront their friends about their discomfort with their “token Asian friend” comments.
Another fascinating answer came from the siblings of adoptees regarding the importance of going to a diverse school. The adoptees were largely split on the importance of whether attending a diverse school was important to them, however, their non-adopted siblings had strong feelings that attending a diverse school was important for their adopted sibling. One non-adopted sibling stated that they saw a huge behavior change in his younger sibling when their parents placed his adopted sibling in a more diverse school.
Campers were asked how they identify themselves, and the majority identified as 1) Korean 2) American 3) Adoptee. Many students agreed that adoptee was the least likely of the three to identify as, because they often do not open up about being adopted until they have developed a personal relationship with someone- and feel that it is a safe person to open up to. There was no difference between guys or girls on this question.
Most adoptees felt that learning Korean language was important to them. Partially because these students are in high school, they can see the long term benefits of knowing a second language, but more so because it gives them greater access to their culture. All of the campers who took Korean language classes when they were younger, admitted disliking the lessons however, felt it was important and wished their parents been a bit more persistent about it.
We closed the session by sharing in a circle what empowers each person as an adoptee. Every camper shared- and their answers were moving. Campers stated that they felt empowered as an adoptee because of the relationships they build; because they can relate to a lot of different people and other adoptees. They shared that they want to be counselors at Korean Heritage Camp someday and be able to mentor the younger adoptees. The adoptees felt they have something great to contribute to their families, community and the world.
*PS- I want to give a special thanks to all of the counselors this year at the heritage camps. You have all done an incredible job and have really been a positive influence in the lives of so many children and young people.
-Alisha Kwon Hammett
Chinese Heritage Camp II 2010 Teen Discussions:
This year was my biggest year with Colorado Heritage Camps. I simply could not say “no” to anyone who was asking for help. This resulted in me volunteering for Korean Heritage Camp, Chinese Heritage Camp, and Indian Heritage Camp as well as helping to locate assistance for Russian Heritage Camp. I was thrilled to do a counseling/discussion group with Chinese Heritage Camp since these high school workshops would be the first of their kind at Colorado Heritage Camps where an actual adult adoptee would facilitate vs. a parent volunteer. The campers seem to trust and be more open to a “peer” vs. a parent.
Chinese Heritage Camp II was a little different from what Alisha experienced at Korean Heritage Camp earlier this summer.
The dating question definitely sparked a lot of interest and positive feedback from the high school girls. They ranged from 14 – 17 years old and were very forthcoming with their responses on this particular topic. I asked the campers who they were attracted to when selecting a potential significant other. The response was that they did not discriminate against anyone in particular and would be open to all options, however, they did tend to favor minorities! They felt that minorities (i.e., Black, Latin, Asian) had better skin which they considered a material factor in their decision-making.
I had a several biological siblings in this group and it was very interesting to see their response to the following question: “Have you experienced racism?” The siblings seemed to be a little shocked. They, of course, believe that racism should not be an issue in today’s world and all had younger adopted siblings. They commented that they never noticed race being an issue with their adopted siblings, but when I informed them that racism could happen every day and in the classroom where they cannot observe every interaction between classmates and their adopted siblings…this caused a reaction. A few got a little emotional with the thought that their adopted siblings could have someone gesture with their fingers to mock their Asian eyes. Racism is something that is communicated verbally and non-verbally. What siblings (biological or not) can do at the end of the day, after school has let out, is be there for their family. I told them I think it is important to ask their adopted siblings how their day was and if there were any stories they would like to share with them. At times, a sibling can more easily get a response vs. a parent simply due to the fact that they are younger and not “mom and dad.”
Through Chinese Heritage Camp II, parents were also given the opportunity to submit questions to which I would bring into the discussion group. One question that was asked by a parent was “Do you think adoption is a good thing?” Several responses were that this was a silly question to ask since all of them felt it was obvious they would feel adoption was a great experience and could not imagine life any differently since they were all adopted as infants.
Another question submitted by a parent was “if you could ask your birth family a question, what would it be?” Several responses were along the lines of wondering why they were put up for adoption. One particular response was quite sharp: “How does it feel to give up your own child? How could you let go of your own child?” Adoptees are always going to be confused (unless given the opportunity to ask a birth-parent) on the exact reasons of their adoptive status. The perpetual question always is “why?” My response to them is that birth-parents have a lot of reasons why they had to make a difficult decision. Whether it was for financial reasons or otherwise, they all made a conscious decision to take you somewhere where someone could help find you a loving family. This seemed to help some of them to a degree, but I am sure they will still think about this for years to come; if not a lifetime.
A particular difference between Korean Heritage Camp discussions vs. Chinese Heritage Camp II was the response on whether the adoptees felt they could talk to their parents about adoption. I do not believe this was an ethnic-specific response, but rather was a response from one group of adoptees vs. another. My group felt that they could not talk as in depth about their adoption story as they would like to because they were “protecting” their parents. Adoptees often feel this way…that we are protectors of our parents who do not want to cause any anxiety or stress. Being a teenager is difficult enough without having a high-stress conversation. They felt that adoption talks were always “big talks” that they wanted to avoid because they did not want to upset their parents or have a discussion become something so drawn out and exhausting. As adoptive parents, I believe that you are constantly in pursuit of more knowledge to help your family become more healthy and stable. The passion for knowledge sometimes comes across as an intimidating factor that causes your children to feel hesitant to share their thoughts because they simply want a conversation that is free-flowing and possibly brief at times.
I am SO happy that Alisha and I had the opportunity to speak to so many young adults about adoption. Our monthly sessions we have with parents spark great conversations between parents and provide you with tools to go back and implement with your children as you see fit. This summer’s discussions with kids has created some bridges of communication between adoptees and their loving parents. If your children are not teenagers yet, please know it all goes by so fast and in the blink of an eye they are headed off as a freshment in high school. Although the discussions were with teenagers, it should be understood that the feelings and thoughts about these topics started years ago. These discussions at the camps have just given them possibly their first opportunity to voice what they have been thinking for quite some time. Discussions about adoption and surrounding topics between parents and their adoptive children can be brief or long, but what’s important is that they happen.