Unpacking the experience of Korean-American adoptees

'Invisible Asians' by Kim Park Nelson
'Invisible Asians' by Kim Park Nelson
Courtesy of Rutgers University Press

In the years after the Korean War, more than 160,000 Korean children were adopted by families in Western countries.

The practice started small and expanded for decades: More than 65,000 Korean children were adopted between 1980 and 1989, according to NPR.

In Minnesota today, there are more Korean-American adoptees per capita than any other state.

While researchers have studied the experiences of Korean-American adoptees, many of those studies have relied heavily on questions for the adoptive parents, according to Kim Park Nelson. It's time to ask the adoptees themselves, she said.

Her new book, "Invisible Asians," draws on the experiences of more than 60 adult adoptees. Park Nelson joined MPR News host Tom Weber to discuss the book, and the unique identity issues that Korean-Ameirican adoptees face.

"When we've started to ask adoptees themselves about their experiences, what they report is actually quite different from what their parents report," said Park Nelson, who was adopted from Korea herself.

Almost every adoptee she spoke with brought up the issue of race and racism, even though that wasn't an issue adoptive parents often raised.

"What happens to adoptees in our lives is we are constantly discouraged from identifying racially, and rewarded for assimilation into our families and our white communities," Park Nelson said.

The book's title, "Invisible Asians," refers to the fact that the racial experience of Asian-Americans is often glossed over or dismissed.

There's a stereotype, Park-Nelson said, that "Asian-Americans don't really experience racism. We are successful in all our endeavors, we're naturally smart, we all play the violin. That kind of stereotype renders Asians and Asian-Americans invisible when it comes to American ideologies of race."

"The concept is: 'Well, you get treated really well as an Asian-American, so there's no possible way that you can have a racial experience or experience racism.' And, of course, that's not true."

For the full interview with Kim Park Nelson on "Invisible Asians," use the audio player above.

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