Interesting piece on Korean adoptees in the NY Times yesterday:
The report, which focuses on the first generation of children adopted from South Korea, found that 78 percent of those who responded had considered themselves to be white or had wanted to be white when they were children. Sixty percent indicated their racial identity had become important by the time they were in middle school, and, as adults, nearly 61 percent said they had traveled to Korea both to learn more about the culture and to find their birth parents.
The piece goes on to talk about some of them going back to Korea, and not belonging there either, and getting berated for not knowing Korean. I've definitely experience the Korean thing before, getting criticized in Cleveland, Chicago, and LA for my poor Korean skills, which I imagine is similar to how some of my Mexican friends get berated for not knowing Spanish . . .
I tend to like knowing parts of my ethnicity (as tweeted), and am glad I grew up in a Korean household, mainly on Korean food. Granted, it wasn't like growing up in LA or Chicago, where you can have all Korean friends and speak almost no English, but there was a small Korean community, and my high school had 3 other Korean families that I can remember (falling on various parts of the Korean-American spectrum).
I do wonder what about junior high or the teen years triggers the ethnic identity. I mean, in the simplest form, I thought of myself culturally as an American, who just had Korean food at home. I didn't really start becoming aware of the cultural difference till junior high or high school, when it became apparent that not every parent expected their kid to go to med school or become a lawyer. And it wasn't until even later, when I realized my dad didn't fit the typical Korean role either, having gone through a divorce, and probably stuck between two worlds as well.
Obviously though, the study shows that your appearance, and knowing that you're different, is enough to make you wonder about those differences, to be curious and to explore. What a scary though, trying to approach Korean culture that late in your life. As the article points out, there's a fair amount of ethno-centricity among Koreans, and even though you may be genetically Korean, it's still a challenge. Even when I visit Korea Town in LA with my relatives, it's a struggle, and I know I don't quite fit in. Hell, I feel more comfortable at the dive bar near my parents place, than I do in K-Town (though this may just be because I'm always looking for a bit of alone time after hanging out with the family over the holidays).
The other question that comes to mind is how do other minority groups feel about their cultural identity? For arguments sake, it helps to ignore the "mutts", that are an amalgam of a half-dozen cultures or so, but do Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans, etc start wondering about their culture as strongly as the Koreans who were studied?