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Archive for January, 2007

I don’t even know what to say. I saw a news report on this last night. They showed people dressed up in “gangster clothing” with malt liquor bottles taped to their hands. The fact that this goes on in universities disturbs me even more.

By SUSANNE M. SCHAFER, Associated Press Writer
5:09 PM PST, January 30, 2007

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson University President James Barker on Tuesday decried a party where white students mocked black stereotypes by drinking malt liquor and at least one student dressed in black face.

Barker said in a letter to students and faculty the university was investigating. The NAACP also confirmed it was looking into the Clemson party and at least three other similar events held at universities throughout the country.

“I was appalled, angered and disappointed when I learned that a group of Clemson students participated in activities at an off-campus party that appeared to mock and disparage African Americans,” Barker said. “Many people have been offended and deeply hurt.”

Later in the day, about 50 students and local residents gathered about 20 miles from campus at a library where students said they would plan a demonstration at the school and suggested apologies were needed from the party’s planners and university officials.

“Yes, it may have been free speech but it was disrespectful and that’s why we’re mad,” said Ranniese McDonald, 20, a junior engineering student. “We need to come together to say, ‘Racism is alive and this will not be tolerated.'”

School officials said they became aware of the party over the weekend and have met with some of the offended students. The party, which students said had a “gangsta” theme, was held the day before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

continued…

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We are finally all moved in and unpacked but for three boxes still sitting in my car. These last couple of weeks have been chaotic as moves often are but we seem to be doing okay. As I look around me, I can’t believe only me, my daughter and a few neighbors from my old neighborhood managed to get everything up two flights of stairs without the benefit of lifts and pulleys.

I did throw out several pieces of furniture and boxes full of random items. I’m determined to control my pack-rat tendencies and thought this would be a good opportunity to begin. There were things that I just couldn’t part with though including old letters, journals and keepsakes from my childhood. I couldn’t resist re-reading some of my old journals trying to recapture the feelings I’d experienced while writing them.

Throughout are references to my lacking a sense of belonging, loneliness and isolation. I was surprised at how much I was taken by surprise. Generally, my childhood seemed like a fairly happy one. Was I just in a bad mood on those days? There’s an entry from 1983 about not being able to talk to my mother and how she only saw me as rebellious and angry without wanting to understand my reasons. I was 13 at the time so typical teenage stuff, right? I would tend to think so except those feelings never really went away. My vocabulary has merely grown and changed. I’m probably repeating myself but….

Jae Ran at Harlow’s Monkey has mentioned her own thoughts on “developing a vocabulary” in order to express the complex emotions and experiences that come with being an adoptee. When I read that a bell went off, and I realized just how frustrated I’d become over the years at not being able to develop my own vocabulary. Words like “lonely” and “isolated” just weren’t specific enough. Ahh, then I discovered “disconnectedness” through the writings of others. Yes! That’s it!

I’d been indirectly and directly denied the opportunity to develop this kind of vocabulary. Left speechless and frustrated, perhaps that is one of the reasons I’d relied on my anger. It was the way I’d learned to express my perpetual mourning and sense of loss, my feelings of helplessness and lack of choice. Truly I was angry but beneath the anger was a mess of other emotions that I’d forced myself to suppress.

“Racism” was a word I’d learned about in school but couldn’t associate with my own experiences till much later. Why? Everything was so obvious in the way other children called me names and made fun of me. Why did it take me so long to understand it wasn’t about me being inferior but about that awful thing called racism?

I’d heard family members talk about “colored people” in negative ways. It was common to hear the word “nigger” and “wet-back” from some members of my family. Not all were so obvious and many disapproved of the use of racial slurs, but there were always those subtle clues. Dating a boy who wasn’t white would have been unacceptable. It never even occured to me to invite my friends of color for sleep-overs. Everywhere I looked, there was an invisible line between myself and other non-white people. Sure, I could play with my African American and Mexican American friends at school, but I wonder what would have happened had I brought one home for dinner or for a sleepover. Throughout my childhood, I can’t remember ever having a person of color in our house.

I seemed to have thought that racism was something that happened to other people. I think I was so detached that I couldn’t really sympathize much less empathize with people who experienced racism on a daily basis. As bad as it got for me, I was afforded some protection by my parents’ white privilege. It was a small town so everyone knew me and my family. It wasn’t until I ventured away from that protective umbrella that I really understood what racism was and how it affected me and those around me.

If I had not gained some understanding, I might still be walking around with a total lack of self-worth. That is another reason I emphasize pride in heritage, race and birth country. It doesn’t need to be said that some adoptees may move forward in their lives without much thought of their birth heritage. Likewise, it doesn’t need to be said that some will. I can only speak from experience and was never given anything with which to fight back against the prejudice, racism and bigotry I faced outside the protective umbrella of my family.

To not deal with those things early on can result in creating children who are ill-equipped to deal with a world who may not view them in the same way their parents do. I believe that one of the most important things a parent can help to instill in a child is self-worth. How can one accomplish this if one doesn’t consider the whole child including the part that existed before the signing of their adoption papers?

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Nhà Magazine

I’ll be in the upcoming issue of Nhà Magazine which should be out soon. It was a special surprise when their editor Stacey Tinianov, contacted me for a possible contribution. I’ve loved Nhà since it was first brought to my attention. Having a Vietnamese American magazine to read holds special meaning for me as an adoptee. It helps to keep me in touch with the Vietnamese American community along with blogs and other websites. Reading Nhà takes me beyond the realm of history and folklore into a the world of Vietnamese Americans today. What I would have done to have something like this as a teen and young adult.

Anyway, hope everyone grabs a copy and not just because I’m in it. ;)

*******

This will be my last post for a while as I’m relocating to a new home soon. I’m not sure how long I’ll be offline. Hopefully, it won’t be too long. So until next time, take care everyone!

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“crossing seasons” by sume
For www.flickr.com/groups/topic/31239/, original photo by rhidundantx2


Bridges have become a universal symbol representing everything from the joining of two sides allowing passage to simply spreading of awareness of two opposing sides. Symbolic use of bridges can be seen in books, movies, music, paintings, sculptures and in everyday conversations. I have always loved bridges. At the core of much of the symbolism, I see a means of “motion” or movement from one point to another with neither direction necessarily meaning forwards or backwards. A bridge by itself merely implies possibility.

As a person who feels perpetually stuck in limbo and constantly struggling with gaps in my identity, the concept is very appealing. I need bridges to close the distance between my parents and myself, between my birth country and the one where I grew into adulthood and to merge the two lives I feel I sometimes lead. It’s always difficult to describe that double life where in one, I am the daughter my parents raised while in another, I’m still the lost child trying to find her way home.

There was a time when thinking of myself as a cultural bridge seemed appealing. It gave me a sense of purpose and added meaning to all the sad events that led to my becoming one of the thousands of transracial adoptees in the US. Embracing my role as a bridge was a nice way to keep the sorrow at bay.

Now I can’t help but laugh whenever I see people referring to transracial/national adoptees as “bridges”. It’s not that I scoff at the ideal of cultural exchange. I still believe that the world can benefit from awareness of and respect for other cultures. However, I feel that to describe me as a bridge both dehumanizes and relegates me to a passive role in society. Since finding my voice, I have become anything but passive. Besides that, I don’t fancy picturing myself lying down while people walk over my back. That’s just not good for my self-esteem.

Perhaps I nit-pick too much over terminology or take things to literally but what words imply, especially when dealing with adoption, has become more important to me. Bridges must be well built and supported with each side of the bridge being firmly attached or planted in the ground. If I am to be a bridge, then I am a poorly constructed one that cannot reach the other side. My birth country and culture is less familiar to me than an American tourist traveling to Vietnam on vacation. To describe me in that manner wrongly imposes a role upon me that I can’t play.

I think a lot of people overlook the fact that the role of bridge actually belongs to adoptive parents. They are the ones who hold all the cards so to speak and are the ones who must close the gap between a child’s birth culture and their own. To assume that I would have done this on my own as a child ignores the fact that I was just a child like any other. My parents probably thought that if I had been interested, I would have just asked but it was more complex than that. It didn’t cross my mind to ask. By the time it did occur to me to ask, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to discuss my adoption with them for reasons I’ve described in previous posts.

How they might have closed the gaps still escapes me. I think the steps that adoptive parents and adoptees have been taking recently are definitely a step in the right direction. There is still a long way to go but at least there is “movement” which is a far cry from the days of my childhood. I still have a long way to go as well but am also moving in a direction that I have chosen for myself.

Slowly, I am closing the space between the two halves of myself and merging them into one solid soul. It’s become a necessity since a boat with two people rowing in opposite directions goes no where. In the same way, I’m working to replace some of the missing pieces of my identity. A bridge that stops in the middle only leads to an edge from which to turn back or leap. Of course, one can find problems with any symbol if one digs deeply enough or takes things too literally but this one really rubs me in all the wrong ways. Surely we can come up with something better.

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