Saturday, July 16, 2016

Life Is Complicated

You may or, may not remember my previous post about genealogy and social heritage. My own discovery that my dad's father was a foster child was eye opening too me. But I never told you that is very likely that the person who decided to take him on as foster child was in fact his real father. There is no real physical proofs of that --- nothing more than hersay and a rumor.


But imagine to live as an adoptee or foster child being raised by a real blood relative who has decided to care for you for some reason. Yet since the foster father is married his wife dislikes you and influences your own father to mistreat you and neglect you. That was just what life was like for my dad's paternal grandfather.

People say it takes a special kind of man to willingly agree to settle down with a divorcée with kids or a single mother. Because raising someone else's child, whose biologcally not yours is something most men shy away from.

Isn't that just what adoption is though- taking someone else's child and raising it as if it was your very own?

Regarding my AP mom is it possible for someone to develop more narcissistic traits over time? At times I do not know how to handle her, she is constantly making sure she's in the spot light or benefits from her two children's private lives or issues. She even tries to still controll me and she made me self aware and self concious as a teen about my weight. She denied me to eat because she said it was a shame my tummy wasn't flat even though I was so young. She's gone behind my back twice, and she compares me with another adopted child and praises them instead of being neutral or praising her own children. She made me feel unworthy and not good enough, made me second guess myself a lot. I think I can say that the reason I developed an eating disorder, or at least a strange relationship to food is all because of mom.


I don't think she was as narcissistic a few years ago, now she can't handle criticism or a constructive discussion any longer. I love my mom, but I don't love this side of her that I doubt anyone but I have seen.

If I ever do have children, I garantuee I won't treat them as my mom has treated me.

As an adult adoptee and young (Asian) woman, there has been many times when my APs have acted strangely towards me. My APs always spoke about my birth family and adoption when I was growing up.

Although, my adoptive father is very self concious and self aware of the fact that people in socety thinks I must be his much younger Asian girlfriend whenever just the two of us are out together. It has gotten to the point were he will refuse to be seen with me in public unless I dress appropriately.

I still remember when she made the comment about my lack of a flat tummy as teenager. Perhaps mom was trying to help me, but looking back now she managed to achieve the exact opposite. A good mother knows not to make comments about their daughters weight or appearances but I guess mom never  realized that. She takes after her own mother, it is apparently sshe that believes that thirty is middleaged and eed to dress age appropriate and  unprovoking not to entice men. That said my grandma is over 90 and mom she's over 60.

Of course my dad has mentioned how much it troubles him to my mom. Mom has always been very critical towards me, but now she is starting to insult me based on what I wear. Apparently there are not many items of clothes that she approves of that doesn't make me look like a prostitute and that is age appropriate. Because apparently, society does not approve of women in their thirties that dresses too provokingly.

If that really is what my insecure mom thinks of me then I guess I can't even step out of the house before someone assumes I'm a prostitute. This is absurd if you ask me-so all Asian women that choses to dress in high heels and short hemlines must therefore be prostitutes!? At least if you ask my mom, I refuse to let my etnicity dictate how I should be dressing.

Honestly I can't help but feel like my mom's opinions about the way I choose to dress is borderlining on racist. But then again maybe it's just me, and of course since mom already is self critical and insecure of course she would project all her inscecurities and fears on me.

Ever since that comment I've begun to pay attention how women my age dresses and since I noticed many actually do dress in short hemlines and high heels I suspect that it may be a racial stereotype that society has taught most of us. Because I do not honestly think my mom is a racist, but then again she could be just like my dear dad.

The thing is I never asked to be born by Asian parents, let alone to be adopted overseas to a European country in the Western world and raised by a Cacuasian couple.

As an Asian woman, society objectifies women like me, just like they ridicule and understimates Asian men. These views are slowly changing, but not fast enough if you ask me.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dark Skin, Light Masks: Colorism as an Adoptee in Korea

We are in the midst of summer. The temperatures are high (for the most part), the sun is shining, and the water is tempting. Summer also has routinely been synonymous with tanning and tan lines. (This is not to overlook or disregard the importance of sunscreen). At the same time, my impending visit to Korea means I must grapple with skin color politics. In Korea, the valorization of light, pale skin makes my tan, dark skin automatically foreign—exacerbating differences already produced by my adoptee status.

I hear the internalized logic of pale skin amongst Korean adoptees who joke about “being good Korean girls” with pale, light skin, covered up in the summer to avoid the sun’s beaming rays. What does it mean when “being a good Korean girl” is tied to light skin? How do we grapple with the ways in which colorism is alive and well?

Colorism is not solely Black or White. We know this. Or at least we should know this. Colorism is evident in Asian countries where advertisements promote skin lightening or whitening regimens or creams.

For the uninitiated, in the US we most often hear colorism associated within the Black community. Colorism valorizes whiteness and perpetuates skin tone stratification. J.N. Salters writes, “this system of discrimination that privileges light skin, Anglo features, and good hair,” is a remnant of slavery, embedded in America’s consciousness since the antebellum period.” To this end, Trina Jones notes, “Given the critical role of skin color in racial classification, it is not surprising that the color hierarchy in the United States generally tracks the racial hierarchy. The lighter one is the more desirable one is deemed to be. Conversely, the darker one’s skin tone, the more negative are the stereotypes and biases projected onto one’s person.”

Addressing the broader, worldwide implications of the lightness obsession, Evelyn Nakano Glenn states,

The production and marketing of [skin lightening] products that offer the prospect of lighter, brighter, whiter skin has become a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Skin lightening has been incorporated into transnational flows of capital, goods, people, and culture.

In her article, Nakano Glenn explores the histories of colorism within various global communities. She finds that the origins often are rooted in racist histories of colonialism and imperialism as well as in countries or regions’ investments in the relationship between pale skin and socioeconomic standing—the assumption being that if one is a laborer, one is darker.

I begin with an overview of colorism because we tend to overlook how conversations about color and skin tone shape Asian adoptees’ understandings of self. And, when your parents are white, they’re often underprepared for the politics of skin color when white folks—mainly women—historically and, arguably, continually strive to get a “healthy glow” through tanning year after year. As a result, when you’re a Korean adoptee growing up in white American culture, you never think getting “too dark” is a possibility; rather, it’s a question of, “How does my tan look?”

Ever since I can remember, I always tanned easily. (This is not to say that I don’t use sunscreen, I do.) My mom always retells the story of how walking home from elementary school with a hole in my jeans resulted in me getting a tiny little circular tan on my leg. The walk was maybe fifteen minutes long. This ability to get tan also garnered supportive nods from my friends growing up, because who wasn’t trying to get tan in the ‘90s and early ‘00s? Remember, we were coming of age in the era of MTV Spring Break—for better or for worse—and the term fake and bake was just entering popular culture parlance. We need to remember there was a time when baby oil ruled the summer.

In college, a Korean American, non-adoptee friend of mine made it clear that perhaps being tan wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I remember her excitedly discussing her pale, Snow White skin, how her skin was almost translucent. I distinctly remember sitting in her dorm room our sophomore year as she showed off her milky white complexion. My understanding of the value of lightness began to take shape after this encounter.

Photos of the author in Korea
L to R (clockwise): The author in Korea
in 2007, 2010, 2013, 2011
By the time I first set foot in Seoul in summer 2007, I had learned more about the value of pale, light skin in South Korea. That visit and a subsequent trip in 2010 rendered me Other—unintelligible as a Korean or even gyopo. In fact, 2010 saw me argue with an ahjussi about being Korean—I clearly lost the argument—and me be asked by an ahjumma if I was from “Africa.” It was not until I returned to live in Jeonju (summer 2011) that I was finally read as Korean. I honestly attribute this to two factors: 1) I wasn’t in Seoul; 2) I finally was learning some basic Korean (and rocked an awesome success perm). That summer made me become more comfortable claiming my space as an adopted Korean and as someone who finally was read as Korean. To become legible in a place where my Koreanness was somehow less because I was tan highlights how my body and I existed in the middle of skin color politics.

When I passed as Korean—in Angel-in-Us Coffee near the Chonbuk National University campus—I was ecstatic inside. Between this moment and when I communicated with my taxi driver with relative ease in Seoul that summer, I could not have been happier. I became a legible Korean subject—one that could pass, even if my language skills and Korean cultural competency remain lacking. For me, the simple fact that my physiognomy allowed me to be read as Korean was enough—and I’ve made my peace with being functionally illiterate in Korean and on a continual learning curve about the nuances of Korean culture.

Yet when all is said and done, and while these previous experiences solidified my feeling of home in Korea, this doesn’t erase or elide nervousness about showing up to see my family with my summer tan.

I first met my birth family in December 2013. It was winter. I was a lighter. A year later, I see them in September 2014. I was slightly darker that time, but still light enough where my color didn’t cause too much of a conversation. In fact, I remember a piecing together a conversation between my Korean dad and sister about the fact that my makeup was so natural that he didn’t think I had any on—I’m took this as a compliment. Why read more into something, when it seems so nice lost in translation? Last year, I saw them in August. With a cooler summer spent mainly indoors, at conferences, or traveling, I was still light.

This visit is rolling around the corner. I fly out at the end of July. I’m spending time with my Korean mother and father’s families. I am about ten times darker than anytime they’ve seen me. At least, I feel that way. Honestly, I’m probably just as dark as I was in 2007 and 2010.

I don’t fear rejection. What I fear are the comments. The “you are so dark” comments. The “why aren’t you wearing ahjumma arm sleeves and visor” comments.  (Okay, they probably won’t make the latter of the two comments.)

I knew at the outset of this summer that this was not going to be the summer that I finally stayed out of the sun or the summer where I would wear long sleeves and long pants and a sun hat. Sun screen, yes. But, extra precautions to appease—or potentially appease (after all we don’t know what, if anything, they will say)—my Korean family would not be taken. I was not going to become less of me. And yet, I’m writing and reflecting on this becoming a potential issue. I’m self conscious for something that may be a non-issue. For something that I can’t prepare for. For something that could all be an internal conversation I’m having here and in my head. And yet, I still write. Even if they say nothing, I am fully aware that my concerns about being marked Other are not unfounded. Colorism in Korean culture cannot be erased just like we cannot erase colorism from American culture.

What sparked this piece is an off-hand remark a female, Korean adoptee made jokingly about being a good Korean girl in her sunhat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved garments. Inside I cringed. On the outside, I smiled back with a small laugh—“Oh, those Koreans and their notions about paleness” the laugh signaled with jest. Nevertheless, on the inside I was still struck. Struck by how we as an adoptee community remain complicit in white supremacist, imperialist, and colonialist standards of beauty. How we perpetuate violent cycles of what is acceptable beauty. Where we denigrate darkness. When adoptees and adoptive parents repeat comments that underscore the valorization of white, light, and pale skin, we become complicit. Don’t let anyone tell you or make you believe you are somehow less Korean because you don’t adhere to racist standards of beauty.

I’m not sure if I shared anything new or offered new insights on the issue. My intention is to disentangle colorism from a Black/White binary and to expose how internalized standards of beauty and assumptions concerning skin color impact adoptees. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reunion: A Year Later

It’s been almost a year since I boarded an airplane after being interviewed by a reporter about my trip to Haiti.“How are you feeling?” he asked me. I took a deep breath, trying to put together a coherent sentence. I did my best to not look directly at the camera, and I tried to speak clearly and slowly, filtering my words before they reached my lips. As I spoke, travelers passed us, craning their necks to see the spectacle in the middle of the airport terminal.

I remember telling the reporter that I was nervous. I told him that that day would be one of the most important days of my life outside of my wedding day and my children being born. And it was. When I met my mother and my siblings after being separated for almost 30 years, it opened up a part of myself that I had long closed off. I had stopped believing that I could ever find my family. I had stopped believing that my parents were alive.

With my mom after almost 30 years apart 

I spent that week in Haiti visiting my mother’s house, celebrating her 70th birthday with cake and candles, and taking pictures and videos to show my own kids when I went home. At the end of the week, I told the reporter that I felt an overwhelming peace. I finally felt that I had found the rich, dark soil that I could bury my roots in.

And then I went home. I went back to my “normal” life with my husband and kids, and the first few days were the hardest. I came back on a Friday afternoon, and spent most of the weekend in bed. Partly because I was so tired. I had barely slept while I was in Haiti - the heat and my thoughts had kept me up every single night. But I stayed in bed mostly because I wanted to hold on to the experience for a little bit longer. That week in Haiti still felt like a dream, and I felt like if I had to resume everything right away, none of it would be real.

In Haiti, I was my mother’s daughter, the sister who had returned after almost three decades. I spent the week trying to fit into a role I had never known. Back at home, I went back to being a wife and mother, but I constantly thought about my family, especially my mom. But it wasn’t the same feeling of loss that I had known before. Now that I had met my mom, saw her face, knew the sound of her laugh, I saw myself in her. I missed a piece of myself that I had to leave back in Haiti.

As the weeks and months went on, I accepted a new normal. Even though I was a short plane ride away from my family, we were still separated. But we found ways to be in each other’s lives. Throughout the year, I maintained communication with most of my siblings through texting. We sent each other messages, pictures, and updates on our families.

This past year has been challenging at times. Truthfully, there have been days when I have questioned my decision to search and share my story. My life wouldn’t be as messy, as public as I have made it. But then I think of the old ache that I used to carry around, the desire to know who I was, and I no longer feel that ache. There is a freedom in knowing my history, knowing the names of my grandparents on both sides, adding my own children to the branches of our family tree. And I hope that in sharing my story, someone will one day be able to have that same experience.

Ultimately, my reunion means that I am no longer dependent on others for information about my adoption and my family in Haiti. Reuniting with my family has allowed me to communicate with them on my own and at my own pace. My reunion has not solved all of my problems. It hasn't magically made my life perfect. But I am thankful. When I step back and look at the events of the past two years, it still feels like a miracle that we found each other.

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she writes essays, short stories, and poems that usually focus on adoption.