As a Korean – American living in Britain raising mixed race multicultural kids, I sometimes get asked “Where are you from?” I give the short answer which is: ‘I’m from the States’. This is usually met with either a polite smile with a look of confusion in their eyes, or another question or a series of questions.
For some, this question only requires a one word/one phrase answer. For me and for others like me, that simple question could spark a discussion on any number of topics such as nationality, race, culture, adoption and many more.
The simple answer is that I am from the States. I grew up in Texas and Tennessee then spent four years at college in Virginia before moving abroad. That is the simplified answer without mentioning that I’ve also lived in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Maine and Florida. Unless I’m asked outright about my background, I rarely give people the long answer because it tends to generate sympathetic looks with comments (such as “Oh I’m so sorry”) or an awkward moment. For me, because of my own story, I find others who have similar backgrounds fascinating, especially if there are children in the picture. It becomes a whole sociological discussion pertaining to the way we are raising our children.
So what’s the long answer? I was born in Seoul Korea and abandoned at birth by my birth mother. After being moved to an orphanage, I was fostered by more than one family until I was adopted at the age of 9 months by a Canadian mother and an American father and flew on a plane with 100 other Korean orphans to the United States of America.
As a child, I was obsessed with looking at the photos in my baby book of myself the day my new family collected me and even now, I struggle with equating the baby I see in the photos to me as I am now or was then as a child. Of course, I became an American and grew up as an American girl within an all-American family with sisters and brothers, dogs and cats. So here I am now, an American who doesn’t particularly look American raising three British born, mixed race multicultural children in Britain.
I came to Britain in 1998 with my British boyfriend after having lived in Prague for two years and Tokyo for nearly three years intending to stay for a year. Fast forward to 2016, I never left England but instead married the said boyfriend, had three children and created a career for myself as a designer.
Raising mixed race multicultural kids means different things at different times during the stages of their lives and also our lives as parents. Parenting in a multicultural relationship is not always straight forward. Parenting itself is full of emotional and practical complexities; anxieties, challenges, elation, love and many more. Raising multicultural children has an additional layer of complexities; cultural differences, geographical upbringing, language, different expectations, religion, extended family and traditions.
My husband and I sometimes have differing ideas about how we should deal with parenting issues and what the priorities are and how we see the future for our children. One example of this is that I had always expected our children to go to University. I come from a culture and way of life that promotes and creates a far more collegiate atmosphere and environment at an earlier stage in children’s education and where going to University is more accessible and expected. That, in part is due to the vastly different high school and college systems. In Britain, going to college is considered to be much like going to University. Having a college or University degree is not the be all and end all for applying for jobs. Here, you can go from college straight into a professional job but in the States, you rarely go straight from high school (which would be the equivalent age but not necessarily the same in terms of academics – there are no A levels in the States) into a professional position. You would normally go to University and earn a BA, and only then would your CV be accepted. Perhaps I need to re-adjust my expectations for my mixed race multicultural children because of the country and culture they are growing up in…
I’ve given a serious example here but it’s equally relevant to the every day; my children sound like my husband instead of like me, their expectations are being formed by their surroundings and their peers, and their natural reactions are being influenced by what they’re learning from us and sometimes they take on board mine and sometimes, my husband’s views. We also often (still) have communication clashes which impacts our children. All of this stems from an inherent desire to raise our children in the same vein and tradition of our respective cultures. Being in a multicultural relationship and family, we’re often forced to look at situations from a different point of view. Perhaps because I’m the ‘odd one out’, I find myself adjusting and changing so as to fit in, to gel and to create a British life for my children. My husband, on the other hand, has to accept that I’m not British nor did I experience some of the same things he did as a child. I bring different ideas and solutions to the table which is usually a positive addition to my husband’s thought processes and helps to augment our children’s lives for the better.
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Even though the longer I live here and the more British I become in my thinking, my behavior, my language and my outlook and the easier it is to be happy and to stop grieving for a lifestyle, a home and a country I knew and loved so much, I’m still an American at heart. I’m also Korean which means my children are half Korean by race so that’s also part of their identities. When I consider my own racial identity, I didn’t feel Korean when I was a child; I have more memories of my mother foisting Korean culture upon me as opposed to her own Canadian culture. She wanted me to feel proud to be Korean and not marginalized at all because of it. In her mind, she had adopted me from a country with a rich culture, was bringing me up in America and wanted me to have an affinity with Korea, which was my original ethnic background. But it wasn’t her culture to pass down to me and it made no sense at all and I rejected it. With my own children, I am keen for them to feel and be American but I don’t necessarily mind if they feel Korean. However, my husband argues it may be important to talk about this with them so that as they grow up, there is no question about their racial ethnicity. It’s a real challenge for me because it took me a long time to feel proud to be Korean racially. For our children and their own cultural and racial identities, this is an important aspect of their multicultural upbringing. For me, living, parenting, and being married to a British man has been a positive experience and one which has enriched all our lives, especially our children’s. I know this is not always the case and sometimes cultural differences prove too great a challenge for the relationship.
So, will my half British-half American and Korean children have a short answer to give when people ask where they are from? Or, will they have the ‘optional’ long answer? I suppose all this depends on where they end up! I am confident that we’re giving them a great start in life, one rich in British and American culture with a dash of Korean in the mix too.
I also want to share a book with you called Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America which is about a study done concerning Korean adoptees in America. I found it to be a fascinating insight into my own story and learned about the history behind why there were so many Korean babies being adopted by Americans during the 1960s and 70s.by
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