Many parents tell us they adopt internationally or transracially because “they don’t see race.” Our response as adoptees when we hear this is “does that mean you don’t see me? Am I invisible to you?” We need you to see us. There is something wonderfully beautiful about a post-racial society, however we do not live in one. I need you to see me as your Korean, African-American daughter, because this is the way I navigate the world and this is the way people see and treat me. I need you to see all of me, so that I can trust you with all of my hurt. When kids on the playground call me names and make racist gestures like pulling the corner of their eyelids to make them “slanty,” hurts. I need you to empathize with the way I am feeling.
When I was in third grade there was a little girl in my class named April Parker. She had blonde hair and blue eyes and was beautiful. I wanted to be just like her. Then a little boy, in his third grade mind was rude enough to inform me that I would never look like her because of my “flat-nose” and “slanty-eyes.” I was devastated. So I put my head down and cried. My teacher came up to me and asked me “Alisha what is wrong” and I told her “I don’t want to see another white face!” So she promptly responded, “ok, I’m going to call your mother.” Awesome response Mrs. Roth. She was a phenomenal teacher. So my mother came down to school and found me in the same position as Mrs. Roth found me, and she said “Alisha, what’s wrong?” and I responded “I don’t want to see another white face!” My mother did the most amazing thing; she said “ok, you don’t have to look at me.” My mom covered her face with one hand and with the other said “take my hand, let’s go home.” The car ride home was one of the defining moments in my life. It was the first time we talked about what my standard of beauty is and should be. We talked about how I felt being brown. Being Korean and Black is racially ambiguous, I never felt like I fit in anywhere, I had never met another child that looked like me. In third grade I thought maybe I was the only one. While it felt special, it also felt alienating. The car ride home, my mom told me I was beautiful the way I am and was going to grow up and be beautiful. I didn’t need to look like April Parker to have a purposeful life. I realized that I was the only Black Korean Hammett and I needed to figure out what that meant in my family. I had my own identity but that my adoption journey was a family one- I wasn’t a lone voyager.
Most adopted teens we talk to hold the feeling that “mom and dad should just know how I’m feeling because they chose me. They should know that it’s different for me because I’m Asian, Black, Latino, Indian and so forth.” They are always surprised when we inform them that parents really don’t know, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to know. They just don’t think to ask, because no one has every made “slanty-eyes” at them before.