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Asian American Kids With White Parents Grapple With Racism and Identity

September 16, 2021

Racism against Asian Americans has skyrocketed since the break of the Corona Virus. YiYi Pauls, 17, was asked about recent extreme racism and violence against Asians; in the US at a Stop Asian Hate Kansas City event. As passersby cheered in support, dozens of people surrounded her shouted and held signs.

YiYi was born in China and adopted by a US family when she turned 10. YiYi has been exposed to rallies against climate change and BLM events in the past year. This rally was different. She was not advocating for a wide goal or acting as an ally to other people; but she was speaking out about her own experiences.

YiYi suddenly jumped up with passion and ran down the street to join other rally participants. She raised her sign as high as her arms could carry it and joined in the chants. All the fear, anger, and exasperation.

The moment was captured by a local news photographer. Even though she had a mask on her face; it was obvious in her eyes that she wanted to share her message with everyone who could hear and see. What people saw was a young, confident woman with a sign that said “Proud to be Asian American.”

Nikki, her mother, recalls that it looked like she was leaping. She wasn’t jumping, but it seemed like she was; because she was so proud of herself and so excited to be there. She was able to see the enormity of her decision to leave her; family behind and walk up to the sidewalk.

Finding Identity During a Season of Hate

Violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities (AAPI) has risen dramatically since the onset the COVID-19 outbreak. Stop AAPI Hate released a national report that detailed 6,603 hate incidents from March 19, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

The AAPI community responded by banding together in solidarity and gaining advocates and allies along their way. The estimated 200,000 Americans adopted from Asian countries, and raised in predominantly white communities by their parents, is one subgroup. Each of these Americans’ experiences with their identities over the past year has varied depending on where they were born; their parents, and the community they grew up in.

The Lifelong Path for the Transracial Adoptee describes the journey of cultural realization that transracial adoptees go through. He explains that most international adoptions have involved white parents; who are detached from the culture of their birth and those of their ethnicity.

Mark Hagland’s book Extraordinary Journey;

He explains even with a white upbringing, we are not allowed to be so. “So we grew-up with strange cognitive dissonance, having had experiences as people of color; but not the same understandings that we would have had if our parents were of color.”

Mitchell Stone, now 23 was adopted as an infant from South Korea, in Denver. Stone was a quiet child and had very few interactions with Asian Americans. An exception was the annual Heritage Camp for Korean Adoptees, which offered; Stone opportunities for cultural engagement that he did not have at other times throughout the year. Stone attended Heritage Camp for most of his childhood years, including the summers he spent as a counselor.

He shares that camp was a great experience because it allowed him to meet people similar to himself; and others from similar backgrounds. “It was a very important part of my identity development, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I have seen many kids struggle with their identity during this time and I felt the same way.

Stone says that sometimes kids can; “sometimes push away that cultural part of who they are.”; “So the connection between the country and Asians is particularly important; now for re-identification because as a nation and just as much as all of that’s been happening; including hate crimes against Asians. I think a lot Asian adoptees and Asians overall are rethinking their identity and who and what they are now.”

From Model Minority to a Movement

This is a difficult process because hate crimes against Asians are on the rise and racism; against Asians has become more mainstream. Hagland states, “We were taught that we should see ourselves as extraordinary.” “Exceptional Asians, exceptional people of color. People are awakening to the fact that there is exploding racism against Asians in the wake of the pandemic. It is very alarming.”

Hagland admits that racism and prejudice against Asians have always existed in America. However, as we move away from the egregious acts of racism like the Japanese internment camps during World War II; and the Chinese Exclusion Acts in the late 1800s; we see that the hatred of these racist acts is less common. While Asian Americans in Hagland’s generation, and the generations that followed; were aware of prejudices, this new reality of violent racism is not.

He explains, “Now when the pandemic reached its pea;, we had an American president insistent on demonizing Asians, and blaming them for the global epidemic.” “So, we are targets. It’s a crisis for many people. They thought they wouldn’t be the scapegoats.

On a Monday in March, a group of Kansas City’s adoptive mothers was discussing another hate crime against Asian Americans. It’s unbelievable that we aren’t doing anything about this.

They had already decided to do something by the end of the day; to host a Stop Asian Hate Event the next weekend. They quickly realized, however; that although they were passionate about the cause, they needed to be supported by others in leadership positions.

Pauls said, “We wanted to be careful so that this didn’t just become; another white parent and their Asian children’ event.” “We knew that we wanted; to find a way to include the Asian community; more than the Asian adoptees’ community.” The rally progressed and members of the Asian community took over leadership; while the parents assumed support roles.

How to Raise a Kid from Another Culture

Adoptive parents face a difficult task in trying to advocate for their children; and empower them as they navigate their cultural, racial, and ethnic identities. Hagland has a lot of experience with this group. He has always involved himself in educational events, speaking engagements, and panels within the transracial adoption community.

He says that every white and transracial parent should read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo; and help their child to discover and build their identity; and culture as a person or group of people of color. If you don’t give your child the tools they need to understand what’s happening; and how to deal with it emotionally and intellectually, you are disabling them.”

Hagland encourages transracial adoptions to be exposed to their culture; as well as to explore other cultures through personal interaction and study. Although it may be hard to understand; Hagland sees transracially adopted children needing to work towards self-realization; in the larger struggle for justice for all people of color.

“They realise that the identity they believed they had is not going to work for themselves. Hagland states that it is very difficult to accept this. “I strongly believe that a wide, consciously conscious, and aware headspace is the best for mental health.”

Stone witnessed some of this solidarity within Heritage Camp’s adoptee community over the past year. “I’ve seen a significant difference in the way they treat their identities; and how they are proud of who they are. That has a lot in common with the current events. There is a lot more solidarity now than ever before.”

Finding a Voice Against Racism

YiYi thought it’s meaningful for Asian Adults to organize a Stop Asian Hate and Racism campaign. Even better with her mom’s involvement and effort. “This was a way for Asian people to show that they can speak up for themselves. It was so wonderful,” YiYi said. It was so wonderful to learn that my mother was also helping with this rally.

Pauls cherished the moments when she raised her voice and made it a point to attend the event. “I wanted to be a part of the action by standing on the street holding my sign. I wanted to show people you don’t need to be afraid of speaking up. It was great to stand alongside Asians. It was amazing to stand and fight together as an Asian.

Yiyi says, “It changed because I now know that I can speak up; and don’t have to be silent because; someone said mean things.” Maybe I was afraid to talk up; but I no longer have to. I know that if something like this happens; I can tell someone or speak out; and I know there are many other people experiencing the same feelings. It’s not me alone.