4 Jun 2020

Growing up as an international adoptee

Growing up as an international adoptee
By Libby C ·  3 min read · From Open Drum

CASUAL RACISM: When words and "jokes" really do hurt.

I was adopted to Australia at the age of four months. 
My parents had always told me that I was of Korean background as, obviously, I would not grow up to look like my parents, with blonde hair and blue eyes.

People used to come up to them when they were walking with the pram, “But will she be able to speak English when she grows up?”
It takes time to realise that you are different. 
In prep, aged four, I was bullied by a group of boys in grade six. They would gather around in a circle yelling, “Asian!”  I was even called “chink”. They would laugh and taunt me. 
I had yelled back, “I’m not Asian. I am Korean!” That’s when I found out what Asian meant from my parents. 
I had a group of protectors at school made up of my friend’s siblings who would keep an eye out for me. 
I have recognised one of my bullies as an adult, on a couple of occasions, so it definitely left a lasting impression somewhere.
Other instances? 
Kids would yell, "Konichiwa!" at me and come right up to me with their eyes pulled taught. One time my teacher was explaining to the class that Asians had small eyes, which confused me, as I didn’t. Classmates pointed this out, but she just ignored them.
My first job at 14, a customer refused to be served by me. 
“Get someone else to serve me, Cinese (Chinese)." I've learnt Italian since, so later recognised that word.
In university, I met more Asians. I was called a banana - yellow outside and white inside - as though I was denying my heritage. They laughed that I couldn’t speak Korean. But my family is white, so that was frustrating.
I now work in hospitals.  Once a patient kept calling me Chinese. I told him that my background was Korean and was told that, “You Asians are all the same anyway.” 
There are Asian Australians born here going back generations. Even having four months in Korea at the beginning is nothing.  Who says that I have to be from anywhere?  I might as well have been born here. 
And forget about disrespecting Korea. I just did my job, as a professional, and wrote a quick sentence in the file that this patient could possibly say some things other staff might not be comfortable with, as many were also from ethnically-diverse backgrounds.
Once, I was walking down my local shopping strip when I was stopped by a man asking what the name of the Chinese takeaway across the road meant. I was taken aback and I answered: "Err... your guess is as good as mine. I don’t speak Chinese.”
I lived briefly in Korea, learning Korean. My English friend complained to me about the racism that he received, as he had never experienced it before. I said I understood but wouldn’t it be bizarre to receive similar treatment in his own country? 
For the first time in my life, I blended in. Something simple that most people take for granted. I loved having a break from comments based on my race on an almost daily basis. That said, I have never felt so Australian and I am considered a foreigner there. 
In Australia, I am considered Korean rather than Australian. 
But what can you do? 
You might correct people’s terminology to promote awareness. It is no-one’s business to delve into the trans-racial adoption subject with me, unless I choose. 
It’s still hard as an adult but you formulate strategies. Racism whether subtle or otherwise is something you can never become accustomed to.  Although you do, sadly, form a heightened awareness of your outside.
I do not let it rule my life and hope to be able to support others who are young and still growing up, as well as share my own experiences with people who may be unaware of this happening to their own friends.  Or who do this themselves.
Published 27 Jan 2015.  Melbourne VIC 3000 

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