By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Shelley Baer of Ephrata, Wash. found out that she could not have children, she and her husband decided to find an alternative solution: The couple, who are both white, decided to adopt. Immediately, they decided on an Asian child.
“He’s enamored with the culture, and I grew up in the culture,” Baer, who had spent five years of her childhood in Okinawa, Japan, said. “I was very comfortable when he said it.”
The process took 32 weeks through the Washington Association of Concerned Adopted Parents (WACAP, now known as the Washington Association of Caring Adopted Parents), Baer brought home two twin girls from Korea.
Baer’s daughters, Jada and Jasmyn Pock, traveled to the United States on a plane with church group volunteers. The sisters did not recognize anyone, including each other.
“In the Korean culture, twins are considered bad luck,” Baer said. She explained that they are usually separated at birth.
Arriving in the United States was a shock for Baer’s daughters.
“If you were raised in one culture and you only hear certain noises, certain sounds, and certain music — that would be what you are accustomed to,” Baer said. “When they were in our arms, the noises are different, the smells are different. Then there’s the fact that the two of them have never bonded together.”
Jada and Jasmyn Pock are just two of 1.6 million adopted children, according to the 2000 census. Many are adopted into families of other races.
Some families, such as Baer’s and Heather Bowser’s, a Korean adopted by white parents, choose specifically to adopt an Asian child. For other families, such as Jennifer Chan’s, a Chinese adopted by a white and Chinese couple, adopting an Asian child was purely coincidental.
Growing up in one culture while looking like another often required some explanation for the families.
Neither Bowser, Chan, nor Jada Pock recall being told they were adopted.
“I don’t even remember the first time I was told,” Chan said. “I’ve just always known.”
Baer raised her daughters in a small town with little diversity. “Some people would ask the silliest questions,” she said.
“They asked, ‘Because they’re Asian, do they cry differently? When they grow up old enough to talk, will they speak English?’ We wanted to educate those people and let them understand as much about the children so that there would be acceptance.”
Baer was concerned about enrolling her daughters in school and whether they would make friends.
“It was me who worried about someone doing racially unkind things to them,” she said. “I don’t think anyone said anything unkind.”
“They kind of made fun of us sometimes,” Jada Pock said. “They don’t know how to treat someone who’s different.”
“When I was young it was always annoying because people would never believe me when I introduced my family to them,” Bowser said.
Chan, who grew up in Seattle, experienced different difficulties.
“I think the only disadvantage is dealing with narrow-minded people who don’t understand what it is like to come from two or more cultures,” she said. “For instance, I’ve encountered a lot of non-Asians who expect me to adhere to the stereotypes. I’ve had strangers come up to me wanting to know what language I speak and think I’m being difficult when I tell them I speak [only] English.”
“On the other hand, it’s just as bad, if not worse, from the Asian community,” Chan said. “Some of them have told me in the past that I am a bad person for not speaking Chinese and not embracing Chinese culture as much as they think I should. Both sides think I belong more to the other side than theirs, and thus, I do not think I truly belong to either one.”
Bowser and Pock were both impacted by the lack of Korean culture growing up.
“To be honest, I really do not consider myself to be bi-cultural,” Bowser said. “I have the physical appearance of a Korean and some other things like that, but in every other sense, I am Caucasian.”
“Growing up, I always knew I was different and that I didn’t look like my parents,” Pock said. “When I lived in Ephrata, I always wished that I did. I always wished I was white because I didn’t like being Asian when everyone else was white.”
Pock said this changed when she moved to Seattle at 18.
“Because I have so many Asian friends [in Seattle], I can learn the culture, and being in Seattle, there’s more Asian culture.”
Pock said she no longer wishes she were a different race. However, she also points out she does not value either culture over the other.
“I value it pretty much the same,” she said.
Chan said her upbringing has shaped the way she thinks.
“It’s definitely advantageous in the sense that it opens your mind,” she said. “I feel like people who are raised in multicultural environments are better suited to understand various points of view because you are born doing it. In turn, it helps me understand other people from other cultures as well.”
Baer said she has continually tried to educate her daughters and community on their differences, but also to celebrate what they share.
“One of the conversations that we did have was about the time that they had to put their family tree together for school,” she said.
“‘If we made a family tree of your biological mom and dad, you will see they all have dark hair,’” Baer told her daughters. “‘Those are science things. Those are things that are in your genes. … There’s no difference on the inside. Your blood is red. Your heart is the same as my heart.’” (end)
Ninette Cheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.