Growing up in a nontraditional family, I was exposed to two different cultures, which gave me a deeper understanding of people. Each culture has its own stereotypes and wives tales. There are stereotypes about every culture group. Being transplanted into a totally different culture group made me see from an inside perspective how some of these biases were based in half truths and others were so far removed from any hint of actual truth that they were outright ridiculous.
My adoptive grandfather was a typical white working class American with his own belief system. He wasn’t a well-traveled man. When he found out that my adoptive mom was adopting a Korean baby, he was initially hesitant because of his experiences with the Korean War. And honestly, he had some biases about non-whites. But when my adoptive mom brought me to meet him for the first time, she said from then on he had no reservations. And it was love and forever family ever since. She couldn’t visit their house without bringing me because he scolded her for daring to come over without me! He loved me so much, as all my adoptive family did. I am so blessed and so forever grateful for their love and acceptance that truly transcended race and appearances on a deep level. I was different, but I never felt like I didn’t belong. This was my family, and that was all there was to it. I hated people asking, “Well do you ever want to meet your real family?” It was usually an innocent question without malicious intent. But those words stung like salt in an open wound because my adoptive family was my family. There was no distinction between real/unreal or whatever. This family was my family, and I was a better person for it.
Last year I reconnected with my bio family. Interestingly enough, they lived on the west side of my hometown, and I grew up on the east side. So funny how we were all in the same city, but never met one another. I was raised in a very white Polish-Catholic part of Baltimore. And my Korean bio family was living in a portion of west Baltimore with a collection of the majority of the city’s Koreans. Growing up I always heard from my adoptive family that the west side was the “rough” and “dangerous” side of Baltimore. Upon reuniting with my birth family, I discovered that my bio family felt the same way about east Baltimore, where I was actually raised. Makes me laugh in disbelief when I think about how different and how similar these two families are to hold such different opinions with such parallel view points. Their opinions were only shaped by the culture they lived in and the parts of town they were from. So funny that if I was solely raised in my bio family, I would’ve grown up hearing only that west Baltimore was better than east Baltimore. It’s kind of crazy though, because I was actually raised in east Baltimore and loved it! It definitely speaks to me deeply about the human experience. Anyone in any part of the world can relate to hearing these different view points from their families, friends, and neighborhoods. I’m seeing that it’s up to each individual to find her own way. To develop her own belief system no matter what the culture around her is dictating.
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in east Baltimore, I experienced some degree of racism growing up. It was never easy to be different or to feel different growing up. I definitely think these differences made me who I am today. Surviving these differences made me stronger and more resilient. I still remember white kids in my neighborhood terrorizing me by speaking jibberish to me, pulling their eyes back and calling me, “Chinese.” Even though their words hurt, I thought they must be the dumbest people on the face of the planet because for starters… I wasn’t Chinese. In making this distinction, I saw the errors in the other things they were saying. I wasn’t Chinese, nor was I any less of a person for being Asian. They were wrong about so much. I want to send this message out into the universe today. That the cruel things that people say to put down other people just for what race they are aren’t really indicative of who the people they are speaking about really are. Those racist people in the world are ignorant on so many levels, and their words and actions don’t have to dictate the value we place on ourselves– no matter what. Because, they are in fact, dead wrong. Every cultural group has unique characteristics that add to the beauty of the human experience and to the world at large. If differences didn’t exist, the world would be a really dull place.