I recently met a man who has brazenly taken on an interesting quest. He is an American born Korean who is trying to document the immigration story of Korean Americans – www.koreanamericanstory.org. In trying to pitch the importance of inserting the stories of Korean adopted people into his consciousness, I was schooled instead. I learned that the census completed in the 1950s and 1960s did not count the number of children adopted from Korea (or any other country) as the head of household completed the forms. If the head of household was Caucasian, the Korean children were basically wrongfully documented as Caucasian, not Asian. Can this be true? The times when our immigration to this country was near its peak, we were not counted?
It puts into perspective what happened at the 1999 First Gathering of Korean Adoptees in Washington, DC (http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/proed/korfindings.html). First off, in writing the history of Korean adoptions, it took months to find the most accurate number of Korean adoptees worldwide. No wonder! Second, it makes sense that many of the oldest participants, in their late 40s and 50s at the time, did not consider themselves to be Korean. I met a Korean-African American man who never identified as being Korean until the end of that amazing weekend. They came because their children and grandchildren were asking questions about being Korean and they had no answer. What a discovery!
Fast forward to Census 2000, an event I wholeheartedly participated in. I even helped to organize and march in a parade in Flushing, NY (a largely Asian community) to raise awareness of the importance of being counted. Through that event, I realized how essential it was that people saw the number of Asian Americans struggling to make ends meet, get food stamps, get educated, etc. These were not the Ivy Leaguers we heard so much about who made it no longer possible for many Asians to qualify for scholarships and financial aid. In that parade, I was not a Korean adoptee, I was Korean American.
Talking about racial identity always felt like a privilege in my 20s and 30s. I now believe it is a necessity as I raise two children of color. Yes, I believe being Asian in America constitutes a person of color. We are still a minority, marginalized, treated with prejudice, foreigners from a foreign land. Our history in this country speaks to not being considered a whole human being too.
By now, there should be close to 200,000 Korean adopted people in the USA alone. We still are 10% of the Korean American population. I wonder if all 200,000 of us feel that way? Spread that number globally and there are a whole lot more. I wonder how many European Korean adoptees consider themselves to be Korean? Replace ‘Korean’ with another ethnicity and our numbers increase exponentially. And yet, where are we? Does it even matter?