Saturday, August 29, 2015

#MyAsianAmericanStory and Why Adoptive Parents Should Care

Started by Redondo Beach, CA high school student Jason Fong on August 24, 2015, #MyAsianAmericanStory grew into a phenomenon igniting the Asian American twitterverse. Fong originally launched the hashtag to combat the perpetual foreigner stereotype that continues to render persons of Asian descent as not American. He was specifically addressing comments made by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (former governor of Florida, 1999 – 2007) concerning “anchor babies” and Asian mothers. Clarifying that he was not discussing Latinos with his remarks, Bush said: “What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there's organized efforts -- and frankly, it's more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children -- taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.” The #MyAsianAmericanStory hashtag also highlights the heterogeneity of the Asian American community and reinserts Asian Americans into United States history.

I initially was not planning on writing my inaugural Lost Daughters post on anti-Asian sentiment and politics. However, in light of recent reports of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump mocking Asians with broken English at an Iowa campaign rally, I decided I could not stay silent. In many ways this recent rhetoric and attempt to invoke the Asian menace (political, economic, and social threat) reminded me of Pete Hoekstra’s racist 2012 Super Bowl advertisement and countless other examples of anti-Asian sentiment (see Yellow Peril!: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear) in politics and popular culture from the nineteenth century to present day.

Yet former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is not the sole individual to invoke birthright citizenship and concerns about anchor babies. Republican presidential contender Donald Trump championed the cause and initiated a wider discussion of birthright citizenship with the launch of his immigration reform plan. Historian Erika Lee offered an in depth analysis of birthright citizenship and the specific Supreme Court case (Wong Kim Ark v. the United States, 1898) that affirmed the right of birthright citizenship for children of immigrants. Discussing how American citizenship is rooted in jus soli, Dr. Lee writes: “Wong Kim Ark vs. United States affirmed that regardless of race or the immigration status of one’s parents, all persons born in the United States were entitled to all of the rights that citizenship offered.” She further notes:

Many immigration experts counter that ending birthright citizenship would create two tiers of unequal citizenship in the country and would be disastrous for the estimated 4.5 million people who have been born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents. Many likely have one parent who is either a citizen or an immigrant living here legally. Such a change would further destroy families and disaffect another generation of immigrants and their U.S. citizen children.

In fact, citizenship does not offer protection to undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children. For more information, please see Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation released their report Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System. Addressing former Florida Governor Bush’s claims regarding Asian “anchor babies,” Karthick Ramakrishnan contextualized Asian birth tourism against wider statistics on tourists from Asian. Reappropriate, Unhyphenate, and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang at NBC News discuss the race-baiting nature of the former Florida governor’s remarks. Cultural critic Jeff Yang contends that an emphasis on immigration – Latinos and Asians, in particular – is rooted in nativist fears over a minority majority in the upcoming decades. Addressing racism in the presidential election, the Asian American Pacific Islander political action committee CAPA21 suggest “8 Ways Asian Americans Can Stand Up to Racist Presidential Candidates.” Yesterday NPR published a round-up of “Some of the Best Thoughts on Jeb Bush’s Asian ‘Anchor Babies’ Remark.”

Yet, you may be wondering how all of this relates to adoption. For one, Asian adoptees are not immune to racist sentiments. Documenting the impact of these incidents, Mila from Lost Daughters writes: “When I got called a ‘chink’ or ‘flat face’ or ‘slant eye,’ when I experienced bullying at school or had kids throwing rocks and ice at me for being Asian, I had no one at home who could understand what I was experiencing.” Grace Newton at Red Thread Broken also highlights how the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick sought to combat stereotypes concerning racial microaggressions impacting Asian Americans.

Personally, I have been asked where I’m really from and experienced years of being told that, “I speak good English” (in all of it’s grammatically incorrect glory). During adolescence, when I was not with my white adoptive parents, I was viewed as an Asian Other. The white privilege bequeathed to adoptees vis-à-vis their white adoptive parents is absent when the adoptee is alone. This is particularly magnified in adulthood when adoptees and their adoptive parents are routinely misread by mainstream society – as friends, girlfriends, wives.

My experiences in the United States as an Asian American, Korean American, Korean adoptee, etc. are linked to:

  • Histories of U.S. involvement in the Korean War and the legacies of militarism and imperialism on the Korean peninsula
  • Legacies of Japanese American internment, the murder of Vincent Chin, and violence against South Asian Americans in the wake of 9/11
  • Legal barriers to entry into the U.S. and access to naturalization      
  • The role of the model minority myth in shaping perceptions of my math and science capabilities and alleged submissive, compliant nature

The list could go on. The point is, Asian adoptees cannot be seen outside the heterogeneous population of Asian Americans. Our experiences weave a new strand into how we understand what it means to be Asian American.

Adoptive parents need to remember that their children are rendered just another person of color by society-at-large. The colorblind love espoused by adoptive parents throughout the last half of the twentieth century does not protect adoptees from racism. This is particularly salient in the experiences of black, transracial adoptees. Parents of Asian adoptees cannot overlook how histories of Asian Americans in the U.S. impact the lived realities of their children. To do so is inherently problematic. 

I implore adoptive parents to recognize the role of race and racism in the lives of their transracially adopted children. Ching-chong jokes should not be brushed off to the side and not taken seriously. Honest conversations about politicians and other public figures using broken English to enact racist depictions of Asian and Asian Americans should not be overlooked. Openly discuss what it means to have shows like ABC’s Fresh off the Boat on television and how it relates to adoptees regarding why diverse casts matter in Hollywood. Check out what ISAtv (International Secret Agents television) is producing on YouTube. Dan Matthews (DANakaDAN) is featured in their new series, Asian-ish*.

So what is #MyAsianAmericanStory? If I boil it down to 144 Twitter characters:

@mckeekee tweets re: #MyAsianAmericanStory

But we all know that’s only a part of my story. So join me as I continue to write for Lost Daughters and explore what it means to be an adopted, Korean American living in the U.S. and in reunion with my Korean family.