An Asian American adoptee sorts out the racial, the cultural and the personal in the way American society treats Asians.

by Gus Brandt


© 1996-2013 Asian Media Group Inc
No part of the contents of this site may be reproduced without prior written permission.


Confessions of an Asian Male Adoptee

n one of our family albums is a black and white photo of me with my willie on full display. It isn't as gauche as it sounds because I am only a hundred days old. I am told it's some kind of a Corean tradition to record baby boys with their pecker front and center. I don't believe the same practice is followed for females.

     That single photo is my only proof that my earliest days were spent as a Corean. My next appearance in the album is in full living color. I am lovingly cradled in the arms of my mother, a happy woman with pink skin, brilliant blue eyes and permed strawberry hair. She isn't my birth mother, of course, but she is the only one I've known. Other pictures show my father, a reserved Viking with blond eyebrows, and my older sister. She has the coloring of a birthday cake -- pink and yellow and blue. And of course me, with my unruly brown-black hair, tanned skin and dark eyes. I am the polar opposite of the other members of my family. Yet as I look through the album I find nothing odd about my place in a Swedish American family. Over the past quarter century my eyes have fully adapted to my environment.

     I may have been the last kid in school to know that I was adopted. Somehow the issue didn't disturb my self-image until I was starting the second grade. I think everyone just assumed that I knew I was adopted and saw no reason to bring it up. If the question ever crossed my mind, I never considered asking my parents. I looked to the darker uncles, aunts and cousins in our extended family and subscribed to the notion that I was the product of recessive genes.

     Cute notions like that don't stand up to the society of seven-year-old boys. The charge of being adopted was leveled at me during a ballgame argument. "Sure it's a strike if you're a godamned adopted chink." A fistfight resolved the issue to everyone's satisfaction but my own. After a second similar incident my parents offered up the truth. "This doesn't change anything," my father insisted. "You are one of us." My heart agreed with him, but my mind had started down the road from smug all-American boy to conflicted seeker.

     I recognize the advantages of having been raised a middle class white boy. I didn't lose those advantages the instant I decided to recognize that I was different from my peers. In most social interactions, if you act the same, you are treated the same, even if everyone knows you're different. This is especially true in interactions among boys who have seen you fight to defend your asserted identity. All my childhood friends were so used to seeing me as one of them that they probably wouldn't have known how to treat me like anything else. The thing that usually isolates some kids is an annoying habit or personality trait. I didn't have any, so I was more popular than most.


     I am well positioned to see that the treatment we Asian Americans are accorded is a function of three distinct components: the racial, the cultural and the personal. Racially I am obviously Asian despite having been raised as a white boy by a white family. Culturally I am completely white middle-American. As for my personality, it evolved as my life moved beyond the confines of my home town where everyone had grown up with me.

     As a teenager growing up in a midwestern suburb, I encountered no racial prejudice to speak of. Maybe I should say, I have no recollection of any such racial prejudice. I was never rejected by a girl on the basis of race. How do I know? I was never rejected at all. I guess I was considered cute enough, smart enough, athletic enough and just generally normal enough to be considered a "catch". But who knows? Maybe my race was considered but outweighed by other factors deemed more important. On the whole, in the minds of the kids I grew up among, the cultural and personal seem to have overidden the racial.

     That changed when I left for college. My life as a white boy came to an abrupt end. How abrupt? As I was moving into my dorm room, my assigned roommate rushed down to the office to request a room change. I felt like I'd just entered the twilight zone. I was being rejected by some jug-eared pencilneck, the kind of geeky kid who wouldn't have dared step on my shadow back in high school. That night at the dorm dance I was turned down by the first girl I asked. She didn't even look at me, just turned her face away and acted like she didn't hear me. When I tried to talk to her, she just shook her head as though to say, "I don't understand your language."

     Those encounters were a brutal assault on my self image. I had always seen myself as someone who belonged. A few days of life among strangers made me start seeing the possibility of rejection in every encounter. I scrutinized the people I met for signs of bigotry. What did it mean if the eyes were averted? What about a weak handshake? What did she mean by "you all"? PAGE 2

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

"I was being rejected by some jug-eared pencilneck, the kind of geeky kid who wouldn't have dared step on my shadow back in high school."