It took an identity crisis for Joy Hoffman to fully realize she’s Korean.
Hoffman, a graduate student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, was adopted by white, conservative, Lutheran parents as a baby and grew up in Orange County, immersed in white culture. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she came to terms with her Korean identity.
Now Hoffman has taken that identity crisis and turned it into research studying how Asians like her, adopted by white parents, form their ethnic identity.
“I can be open about my adoptee identity, but not always about my Asian, even within my own family,” said Hoffman, 41, who also works as director of the Cultural Center at Whittier College. “It’s been kind of fun to do the research but also hard.”
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Based on those interviews [with 3 Asian adoptees (is that possibly a typo? she only interviewed 3?)], she found that adopted Asians fare better if their white parents encourage them to explore their ethnicity, rather than ignore it in an effort to be colorblind. She also found that adopted children identify themselves as adoptees before any ethnic identity.
“There’s this sense of loss. You have to understand someone gave you up,” she said. “I was left in a police station. I probably will never find my birth parents. My daughter and my son are my first biological connection.”
Because so many people figure out who they are in college, Hoffman’s research also offers recommendations on how colleges can help Asian students adopted by white parents.
Her recommendations include encouraging adoptees to join Asian student organizations and study abroad in Asia. She also suggests counselors be trained to understand the unique circumstances of Asian adoptees. In addition, schools should connect students with Asian faculty and staff members who can serve as mentors, she said.
Shane Carlin, a Korean-American who was adopted by white parents and raised in Kentucky, agrees those measures could help students. But he also warns that Asian-American organizations need to be sensitive to newcomers, embracing them and not being judgmental. If they suggest that people are truly Korean only if they speak the language or know the culture, they can unwittingly alienate adoptees who grew up in white households, he said. That’s because Asian adoptees live in two worlds, he said.
Read the whole thing -- Hoffman discusses her personal struggle in forming a racial identity.