Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

Blog Posts

After months of campaigning by immigrant and LGBTQ rights groups, Nicoll Hernández-Polanco was freed from her detention by ICE. Her story, written by Kris Hayashi of the Transgender Law Center, is a story of a young woman who escaped the broken immigration system, and how she was criminalized and psychologically tortured simply for being young and transgender.  

Kris Hayashi | April 29, 2015 - 11:41am


Connect with us to pitch a story, apply for a staff position, or let us know how you'd like to be involved. All positions are volunteer, you'll receive payment in the satisfaction that you're contributing to an organization ensuring Asian American voices are heard, perspectives are told, and faces are seen.

Mia Nakano LGBTQ | June 29, 2014 - 4:16pm

Like many Korean adoptees, I grew up in a liberal, white family, in a predominantly white town, and came of age during the years of neoliberal multiculturalism in the 1980s to 1990s.

My father remembers that when I first arrived, he'd wake up to me calling out "abojee! abojee!" in the middle of the night, the Korean word for father. As a little girl, those nights in my new home in America were filled with angst that if I fell asleep at night, I might wake up utterly alone.  I fought against the tide of sleep until I was secure in the knowledge that one of my parents was still at my side. I remember my mother would often sing me to sleep with Christmas carols, after running out of lullabies. 
I was around two years old when I was adopted. I say 'around' because my date of birth and my name on my official adoption documents were most likely fabricated by social workers at the White Lily orphanage in Daegu, South Korea in 1979. On those papers, it says that I was "abandoned," without explanation nor names of my biological parents; for many Korean adoptees, this is the norm. Many of us will never know our real stories because those early erasures of our original families were not only commonplace but were created to make us into social orphans, a profitably industry. Many of us were the children of unwed mothers who faced the stigma of raising us alone and unsupported by the state. Caught in precarious social and economic circumstances, their only option was to relinquish their children to wealthy, white and European parents who could provide "a better life" with the promise of a home and education and cultural capital. 
I feel compelled to return to this giant chimera of adoption because it continues to haunt me. Equivalent to the giant elephant in the room, the chimera represents everything that is unspeakable and messy and ambivalent. Like many Korean adoptees, I grew up in a liberal, white family  in a predominantly white town and came of age during the years of neoliberal multiculturalism in the 1980s -1990s. I didn't realize it then, but my discomfort as a hypervisible minority in my family was the direct result of being raised in a climate of colorblind attitudes when international adoption was part of a continuing trend of the white American savior complex. I was taught to believe race wasn’t important, when the real reason was that nobody knew how to discuss racism and micro aggressions, especially the social workers at adoption agencies.
 “Tell people you’re American,” my well-meaning parents advised me, never anticipating the routine question that followed, “but where are you really from?” which pointed to my perpetual foreignness within my own family. Because they had never been seen as anything other than American, they assumed that no one would question me. In public, I didn’t pass as a fellow “American,” but always as a hyphenated other, most often mistaken for Chinese or Japanese. Unconsciously, I internalized my Koreanness as shameful and inferior even though I never vocalized my self-hatred. Similar to the little girl Peccola in Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, I too secretly desired big, blue eyes and blonde hair that were illusory markers of beauty and happiness: white was beautiful and desirable.
Before Christmas dinner, I was talking with an older male relative about dredlocks. As I was explaining to him that “even white people can turn their hair into dreadlocks," he gave me a look of utter shock, as if I’d personally affronted him and said, “White people?” My parents standing nearby stopped talking and my mother said, correctively, “You mean, ‘Caucasian’ people.’”
At any other moment in time, I would have had the wherewithal to defend my use of “white people." But my code-switching had gotten stuck shifting gears between my usual, casual language while among friends in L.A. and my more monitored, politically-correct language. To them, being lumped together as a non-discriminant group of “white” people is not just prejorative, but insulting. 
But, why is “white people” offensive to my family? Is it because their race is suddenly spoken as a marker of division by me, the only non-white person in the room? Suddenly, I am pointing out explicitly that their skin color is no longer invisible, but is a marker of privilege. They rarely have to confront their own skin color on a daily basis, or experience unconscious bias from others because they are considered good, moral people based on their inherited status of white privilege that they never had to earn, but was simply given. I do not blame them, nor feel resentment for this immutable fact of birth and biology, but because it has existed as a silent, looming elephant in the room, I wish that these conversations were not one-sided, with me scapegoated as the “angry adoptee” or person of color on a pulpit. I feel guilty even writing, and sharing this publicly. Dialogues of racial difference in transracial, interracial and mixed-race families, become so freighted with emotion, fear, ignorance and denial. Ultimately, what is the correct and empathetic way to enter into a dialogue that would elicit a deeper understanding that would not unravel into hurt feelings and misunderstanding?
When I returned to L.A. and talked nonchalantly with friends and acquaintances about this incident, most of them were surprised that “white people” could be considered a slur. In California, everyone is used to saying “white” the way “Asian” and “black” are used as references to ethnicity, not as derogatory labels. Since then, I have replayed the Christmas incident in my mind, imagining what would have occurred had I explained my use of “white people” as inoffensive. I know that our history of disagreements over race and colorblindness would have prevented a rational discussion from ensuing. I realized my mother’s correction of my language triggered a deeper insecurity and unspeakability about our racial difference and by extension, our biological estrangement, our otherness from each other that cannot be bridged. My brother’s causal comments about ethnic food in front of me is his own way of broaching race because my Asianness is uncomfortable and perhaps illegible to him. My father’s absolute silence about the subject is his way of remaining neutral, and thus safe. I wouldn’t call it outright denial, exactly, because I love my father in the loyal way that a daughter does, and I cannot judge him without blaming myself. 
I cannot speak for other adoptees, but I know that adoption has shaped everything about the way our family interacts, speaks, and doesn’t speak about things. It affects the way I view family as a paradoxical source of warmth and protection, but also as an anxious, freighted entity that could disappear at any moment. My feelings have changed with each experience that brings me closer to having a family of my own, to considering what kind of mother I will be one day—if that so happens. And if I choose not to have children of my own, I won’t feel a loss the way I would have felt in my twenties. As another year begins to unfold, I think about how notions of love and kinship ultimately force us to be more forgiving of ourselves, and forgiving of the ones who choose to love us back. My family and I have gone through the fire, so to speak, and come out as a stronger, hell-bent iron that has been stranger than fictiLike many Korean adoptees, I grew up in a liberal, white family, in a predominantly white town, and came of age during the years of neoliberal multiculturalism in the 1980s--1990s.

Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut | January 20, 2015 - 12:18pm

I thought it would be fun to watch the Golden Globes last night, my little girl at my side, to share some of what life could look like if one’s dreams came true. I didn’t expect to see an Asian American on stage.

Kao Kalia Yang | January 13, 2015 - 3:13pm

14 of our featured writers recommend their own favorite books and pieces by APIA writers.

Karissa Chen | December 29, 2014 - 7:58pm

"As an Asian American, I apologize profusely to all the Black folks in this country. I, like so many other Asian Americans, messed up."

Kai-Ming Ko | December 29, 2014 - 6:22pm

Step up and get yourself to a bone marrow donor drive!

Andrea Kim Taylor | December 29, 2014 - 3:49am

We're oh so close! Only three days left to help us raise the remaining $2,000 we need to make The Health Issue happen!

Abigail Licad | December 29, 2014 - 3:37am

Photos from Bay Area Solidarity

On December 15, Asian, white and Chicano allies answered the call from the organizers of Black Lives Matter for non-black allies to step up to challenge police violence and institutionalized racism against black people by shutting down the Oakland Police Department #ShutdownOPD.

Nadia Khastagir | December 18, 2014 - 1:17pm

Hungry for Love  is a film about two people who meet in New York City and fall in love over food.

Soojin Chung | December 15, 2014 - 11:07am
For December, we bring to you a translated poem from Hong Kong, addressing the ongoing "Umbrella Movement" protests in Hong Kong.
Lau Wai Shing | December 8, 2014 - 1:58pm

For December, we bring to you an essay from Hong Kong, addressing the ongoing "Umbrella Movement" protests in Hong Kong.

Hon Lai Chu | December 8, 2014 - 1:41pm
Syndicate content

Current Issue: 28

The R/Evolution Issue

We're talkin' 'bout a revolution! Our latest issue features key revolutionaries Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama, along with grassroots movements happening today.


Current Hyphen Magazine Issue

Hyphen Email Updates

Be Our Friend

Facebook Twitter YouTube Flickr

CAAM Fest San Jose 2015