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Confessions of an Asian Male Adoptee

     After a while I came to see that racial prejudice tended to lose its inportance whenever interactions went beyond an initial or casual meeting. With people I came to know over time, my culture and personality established my value as a social unit. Of course, the same went for everyone. By the end of the first week the jug-eared geek who had requested a room change was eating alone in Siberia while I ate amidst a crowd of new friends. The girl who had dissed me at the dance was written off as a cold bitch while I was getting signals from some cute girls.

     But my eyes had been opened. I no longer took my social status as a matter of birthright. Once you awaken to racial prejudice, you identify with everyone of your race, even if you know that you have little in common culturally. I began taking an interest in the Asians at the university. Even my untrained eyes could distinguish Asian newcomers from American-born Asians. But it didn't matter. I saw them all as comrades in a racist society.

     They reciprocated. No Asian guy tried to freeze me out of a conversation. No Asian girl refused me a dance. This automatic acceptance was what racial identification was about, and I came to value it. I began casting a wary eye on Whites with whom I wasn't already acquainted. I began avoiding people with whom I was obliged to prove myself to get ordinary respect. Race and bigotry had become one of the filters through which I saw my interactions.

     And it couldn't but become a filter through which my actions were seen, even by those closest to me.

     For Thanksgiving weekend I invited a foreign student from Corea to come home with me. My family gave Jungshik a warm welcome. They seemed genuinely happy that I had made friends with a Corean student. But I suspect they were also concerned that I was accepted by the white students. "So is he your closest friend at school?" my mother asked after we had left Jungshik to get settled into the guest bedroom. "He's one of them," I told her. "He's the only one who couldn't go home for Thanksgiving." That seemed to reassure her. She and my father became even warmer toward Jungshik. They seemed eager to show support for my effort at getting in touch with my roots.

     I was glad too that Jungshik could verify with his own eyes that I was a real son to this American couple and the younger brother of this spirited young American woman. At times I had felt that some of the newcomer Asian students at the university had seen me as the beneficiary of some international charitable outreach project rather than a real American who happened to be Asian.

     My only regret about that weekend was the reaction of my high school friends. They were friendly enough toward Jungshik, but they seemed to read into his presence a sign that I was moving away from my friendships with them. I had grown up with them, and they had accepted me as one of them. Now it was as though their acceptance hadn't been enough for me, and that I was throwing them over to seek frienship within my own race. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My true feelings and intentions fell victim to the significance people attached to race. I would soon discover that this was routine in the adult world.


     Once I completed my education and entered the professional world, I found myself moving even farther from the automatic acceptance I had enjoyed growing up. At the university there had been at least a polite pretense at acting as though race didn't matter. In the professional world that presumption was turned on its head. Race was seen as a presumptive guage of one's ability, character and social status. In my profession that translated into a presumption that I was less aggressive, more low-key and more scholarly. To my dismay I discovered that the presumption was all but irrebuttable. The fact that I was temperamentally the complete opposite of what I was assumed to be was not considered pertinent. The junior partner acting as my advisor encouraged me to work within the comfort zones of the partners responsible for my assignments. I was given projects calculated to keep me buried in the library, with minimal opportunities to make court appearances.

     But ultimately the biggest seismic disturbance wasn't produced by my grumblings about assignments but by my very un-lowkey personal style. I had been hired by a large conservative firm that was well suited to service the old-line corporate giants headquartered in the midwest. What had drawn me to the firm was its sterling reputation with my father who worked as a manager at one of our major corporate clients. Ironically, it was one of the very few times in my life that I had gone against my own instincts to give the old man a reason to be extra proud. I can still see the way he was beaming when I gave him the news. His head tilted and bounced like a bobblehead doll's, so delighted was he to think that his son was to become an associate at the venerable firm that had serviced his employer for over a century. "You have chosen well," he kept telling me. "You will go far in that wonderful old firm."

     All this is by way of explaining why I was willing to bite the bullet and hang in there despite my growing frustration with the type of work I was being assigned. When a young man feels oppressed, his sense of self is liable to assert itself in other ways. Without my even being aware of it, I was becoming an increasingly frequent topic of conversation among the old geezers who made up the firm's establishment. From what I gathered later from a fellow associate, it started with my "wild ties" and "gangster suits" and progressed quickly to my relations with secretaries, female opposing counsel and, ultimately, the wife of a certain young partner. PAGE 3

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"Ironically, it was one of the very few times in my life that I had gone against my own instincts to give the old man a reason to be extra proud."