Asian adoptees have a unique perspective on cultural heritage

These adopted kids are learning traditional Beijing opera dances at Colorado Chinese Heritage Camp.

The Asian American community is a diverse world, and not just along purely ethnic lines. There are mixed-race Asian Americans, generations that all have different views on culture and identity, and also a thriving Asian American adoptee community. But adopted kids aren’t always connected to their root heritage.

The New York Times last week ran a well-written story interviewing Korean adoptees about the challenges of finding their identity. The article was based on a report on trans-racial adoptions by the Evan E. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which concentrated on adult adoptees who were adopted as children from South Korea. Focusing on Korean adoptees makes sense because, as the report states, “South Koreans comprise the largest group of internationally adopted persons in the U.S., and adoption from South Korea into the U.S. has a longer history than from any other nation; indeed, 1 in 10 of all Korean American citizens came to this country through adoption.”

Angry Asian Man and Linda of 8Asians both posted thoughtful reactions informed by their Korean American perspective.

Most notably, the report found that a staggering 78% of respondents considered themselves white or wanted to be white when they were children, and also that:

Racial/ethnic identity was of central importance to the Korean respondents at all ages, and continued to increase in significance into young adulthood. Sixty percent of them indicated their racial/ethnic identity was important by middle school, and that number grew during high school (67%), college (76%) and young adulthood (81%). Based on their overall scores on the Multi-group Ethnic Identity Measure, Korean adoptees had a stronger sense of ethnic identity than did White respondents, but with caveats. While being equal to Whites in agreeing that they were happy about being a member of their ethnic group and feeling good about their ethnic background, they were less likely to have a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic group, despite identifying more strongly with it. They also were less likely than Whites to feel welcomed by others of their own race.

There are a lot of fascinating data points to mull over in the report, and whether you’re interested in adoption, Asian American identity or trans-racial issues, it might be worth downloading and reading the 111-page PDF file, “Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption.”

The “Culture Camp” reference caught my attention. Continue reading

Announcer describes NBA player Jianlian Yi as “the Chinaman”

Really? Unfortunately, yeah. Sure, maybe the guy was just describing Yi’s nationality, like calling a player “the Russian,” But you would never call the Russian player “the Russkie” (I’m pretty sure Russkie is still a pejorative in the post-Cold war era).

If he wanted to describe the nationality of Yi Jianlian of the New Jersey Nets, a veteran of the Chinese Basketball Association and the Chinese Olympic Team, was to say that he’s …. “Chinese.” Duh.

So I’ll chalk this one to ignorance, not racism. You’d think national sportscasters would be educated enough — and yes, sensitive enough — to know better than to use an outdated racist epithet to describe a player.

What was he thinking? He wasn’t.

(From Hyphen Blog and other AAPI bloggers)

UPDATE Nov. 4: called out the racist word, the Turner Sports Network, which ran the original broadcast and manages the website, yanked the video from the website and said the sportscaster, Rick Kamla, “was not aware of the connotations of the word, and meant nothing malicious or offensive by it.”

A no-apology apology. I translate it as, “If you took offense, that’s your problem because I didn’t mean any offense. But I’m sorry you were offended.”

The FanHouse story also points out past instances of “Chinaman” being used, and has a slideshow of other sportscaster flubs.

NYC traffic parking cop in confrontation with man in Chinatown

MyFoxNY newsman Ti-Hua Chang reports on a video that shows a New York City traffic agent — a parking enforcement officer, I think we’d call her in Denver — who can be seen intimidating, allegedly cursing and making racist statements and possibly striking a Chinese man, in Manhattan’s Chinatown district. I saw this first in an email, then on the new AAPI social news site, Rice St.

The agent gave a parking ticket to the man, who claimed to Ti-Hua Chang he tried to explain that there was still a minute left on the meter (ain’t that everyone’s nightmare of a parking ticket?) and that his wife was down the block paying for more time. Continue reading

Is the Wonton font a racial stereotype?

The logo for the Asia Food Fest in Austin, TX uses the Wonton font, which I think is a stereotype.Can a font express a racial stereotype?

I know I’m climbing on my soap box and risking being called over-sensitive and too p.c. But when I noticed a promo on Facebook this morning for the Asia Food Fest in Austin, Texas, and saw the logo for the event, my stomach clenched just a little bit. The words were spelled out in the “Wonton” font, the curvy, pointy — shall I say, “slanty” — lettering that I associate with a lifetime of Asian racial caricatures.

I hate it when non-Asians use it as a way of appearing “Asian,” and I’m disappointed when Asians use it thinking that non-Asians will identify with it. Austin’s Asia Food Fest, which I’m sure is a wonderful event, is organized by the Texas Asian Chamber of Commerce, Texas Culinary Academy, and SATAY Restaurant (one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, and one I visited every year for a decade when I attended the South By Southwest music festival), so it’s not a phony, faux-Asian affair. Here’s how the Fest was started, from its About page:

Dr. Foo Swasdee, owner of SATAY Restaurant, founded the ASIA Food Fest in 2006 to educate people about Asian ingredients, food, and cooking. As Austin Asian population grows (doubling every 10 years), the more choices Austin Asian Food Lovers have to choose from!

But the logo still bummed me out, so I tried to reason my reaction out internally.

When I see the font, I hear the words spoken in my head in the sing-songy “ching chong” sound that I grew up hearing in racist chants, like when white kids taunted me in school, and told me to “go home” or “go back to China” (they never said go back to Japan, which would actually have been correct, since I was born in Tokyo).

World War II-era racist sign about Japanese, using the Wonton font. I think of words in anti-Asian or anti-Japanese signs. I see Wonton and I see the words “Jap,” “Nip,” “Chink,” “gook,” “slope.” I can’t help it. In my experience, the font has been associated too often with racism aimed at me.

Which is not to say it’s always racist. Wonton’s used all over the place, and a lot of times I zone it out. Chinese takeout boxes often have something written in the font. Many Asian restaurants (with old signs and menus) still use it. But then some old-timer Asian groceries still say ‘Oriental” too. We allow for that, but as we move forward we expect those uses to fade.

Times change, right? Continue reading

Pronunciation of Asian food: I’m guilty, guilty guilty of mangling

The food at Thai Garden ranges from Thai to Chinese to Vietnamese.

Ouch. I stand humbled… and embarrassed. I’ve changed my views on my long-held need to have Japanese words (especially food) pronounced correctly. I was such a purist about it that in the past I’ve even offered a pronunciation guide for often-mangled Japanese words.

But tonight, I realized that despite Erin and my interest in and curiosity for all Asian cultures — especially when it comes to food — and our efforts to pronounce words correctly, I blew it when it comes to some of the most common Asian words we eat: Chinese food. Continue reading