A Korean Adoptee’s Experience

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Since 1948, roughly fifty percent of the children adopted to the United States have been children from Asia, they represent the largest fraction of the eleven thousand to twelve thousand children who have migrated annually over the last decade to join their American families (Tuan 4, 2011). Such a large portion of children who are adopted by American families are Asian-American children, and twenty-five percent of those children who are adopted from Asia came from South Korea (4).

In 2011 there were over one-hundred and sixty thousand Korean adopted children residing in The United States (4). Even though so many of the children who are coming from abroad come from Asia, mainly focusing on South Korea, often times their stories and experiences while in the United States are never heard by the public. The struggles they go through within their families and in society because of looking different than their parents, or the struggle of them finding their identity whether it be American, Korean or both. Their experience is a very important part of not just Korean-American history, but Asian-American history overall because their experience highlights many that Asian-Americans face here in the United States; like racism, racial profiling, assimilation, loss of culture, and many more. Racism is the act of discrimination or prejudice against another person of a different race. Racial Profiling is making certain accusation or judgment of someone based on the person’s race. Assimilation is conforming to a dominant culture in order to fit in with the dominant culture. I will also be talking about the Korean adoptees coming into transracial families, which are families where the parents and the children are of a different race. Most Korean Adoptees during the time came to the United States after the Korean war, which was why Korean had the largest amount of adoptees than other countries. The interviewee whom I will be talking about throughout this paper is Kim-Boone-Nakase. Kim-Boone-Nakase is a South-Korean adoptee, who came to the United States when she was 2 years old, so in 1957 (Interview, Kim-Boone-Nakase, 05/06/2009). She came to the United States and has lived here since the late 1950s.

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She was adopted into an all white American family, and later she got a sister and two brothers who were also both Korean. Her journey in the United States as a Korean adoptee, although very unique in some ways, does not completely diverge away from other Korean Adoptees experiences and the Asian-Americans in general. Thus, throughout this paper, I will be discussing the comparison between Kim-Boone-Nakase experience and other Korean Adoptees in the United States to show how their stories and experiences as Korean Adoptees connect together and form apart of Asian-American History. Mainly through the themes of race and self-discovery because many of the children who come from Korea to the United States are adopted into transracial families, whom may not really be of much help when the children are trying to discover what they identify as; along with them having to deal with the struggle of finding where they can fit in as Asian-Americans in the United States.

Kim-Boone-Nakase came to the United States when she was two years old, to a completely new place and to a family. She was a adopted by a couple named Charles Daniel Boone and Mary Boone whom were originally from Texas but now lived in Southern California, whom were also both white Americans. The racial difference between her and her parents was not a big deal to her and her family, but for the world around her it was something that was usually never left unnoticed. She brings up once while she was visiting her parents family in Texas and one of her uncles said, “Why’d you get one with eyes like that?”. This was something the Kim-Boone didn’t really remember, but was a story her mother’s friend told her, but it’s something that many Korean-Adoptees and children in interracial households experience many times.

This not only affects the way in which the children see themselves, but also continuously makes it so that the children don’t always feel apart of the family and makes it so that some may not feel proud of their Korean racial background. A study done on 715 adoptive families found “that Asian adoptees, the majority of whom were Korean, were the least likely of various transracial adoptees to say that they felt “really proud” of their racial background” (Tuan 8-9). Her younger sister, who was also a an adoptee, experienced something like when her and and her father stopped a gas station during a road trip, and someone mention something about the way her skin looked. During this time both Kim-Boone and her sister were very young, and may not have understood what the people ment, but once they got older these types of things affect the ways in which they may decide to identify themselves, along with causing some Asian-Americans to not love the way they look because of these types of comments.

Leading to ““aesthetic assimilation,” which occurs when individuals of color internalize the belief that whiteness equates beauty” (McKee 86, 2019). The way that a young adult may view themselves is just as important as the racial identity they decide to identify with because negative comments from others affect the decision they make on whether they decide to identify with their Asian roots. This issue is not just something that happens to Korean-Adoptees, but mainly adoptees who were raised by a family with racial differences between them. Identity is something that many Asian-Americans may struggle with, especially those who came to the United States as adoptees into transracial families. A common struggle among children in transracial families, especially among adoptees, is not being able to fit in as a Korean or an American, never being enough to fit into either category. Brenda chung is a Korean-American who struggled a lot with fitting in with people who were also Korean, she felt that she could only really interact with people who were white because they would treat her great, but she always felt like she was very different from them (Min, Chung 80-81, 2016). She would try to interact with other Koreans, but she always felt that she was never “enough of a Korean” to be able to continue the relationships because many of the Koreans she met were from families that were high achieving and new a lot about Korean culture, while she new very little about Korean culture (81-82). The struggle of never really fitting into Korean Culture is a common struggle among Korean-Americans in the United states because the are just not “Korean enough” to be accepted into Korean Culture, but then when they try to fit into American culture they are once again never really truly accepted because they may not look a certain way or because they may not have certain beliefs. The struggle of figuring out your racial identity as an Asian-American in general is very difficult because often times, when one is trying to fit in to one culture or another they are pushed away because of one thing or another.

For Korean adoptees especifically, when they try to go back to Korea whether it is to live there or just learn more about their culture they struggle with with feeling of not belonging or struggling with fitting the standard of knowing everything about Korean culture. In 2019, “the number of adoptees who do return is negligible when considering the total number of adoptees—an estimated 200,000—sent abroad to the West.

Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 adoptees return for short-term visits, long-term visits, or to permanently reside each year”(McKee 91). Even though many adoptees go back to Korea because they want to learn more about their culture and be “more Korean”, often times they are still seen as foreigners in their homeland. Many Korean adoptees lacked the access to a family that could teach them about their Korean culture and language, since most were adopted into white families, so they seek to learn more about their culture in their homeland and from other Koreans around them. They try to figure out more about their identity as Koreans, but for them returning to Korea, “evokes feelings of cultural authenticity and questions of belonging” because although they fit the phenotypic part of being Korean, they never really satisfy the Korean societies definition of being “true Koreans” (91). Jane Owen, who is a also a South Korean adoptee reflects on her visit to Korea saying, “They want us to be “Korean” by learning the language, eating and enjoying the food, and learning about the customs, and yet they would not keep us as their own and take us into their families to love, nurture, and raise as their own children” (91-92). Jane brings up a big issue many Korean adoptees and really Asian-Americans in general face, which is lacking the sense of belonging in their own Asian homeland because even though they may know everything about the language, culture and food because of the fact that they are also American and did not really reside in their homeland they are never really regarded as an a “True Asian” back in their home country.

This very much affects the journey of finding their self-Identity for Asian-Americans because of lack of belonging in their different cultures. Not just for Korean-Adoptees, but Asian-Americans in general struggle with being proud of their identity as Asian-Americans in the United States. Thomas Chung is a first-generation Korean-American born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1976 (Min, Chung 101). Thomas brings up how growing up he did encounter many comments from people who were not Asian-American, specifically white and black kids, about the way he looked: like, kids calling him “ching-chong” or kids making their eyes small and slanted to try to imitate the way he looked (104).

Although he does say these types of comments did affect him he states, “We [his sister and him] were relentlessly picked on and harassed by other Korean-American children. […] I was appalled to endure such treatment from people who were suppose to be just like me. This seemed much worse” (104). Many times being discriminating treatment from people from your own ethnic community affects you much more than those from people of other ethnic communities. The comments and constant bullying and teasing from people of your own ethnic community can cause you to begin rejecting your own culture, like it did for Thomas, “I believed that my experiences with the Korean Church were some of the most significant factors that led to my subsequent (albeit subconscious) rejection of my Korean identity” (104). The words of those closer to you hurt and burn a much bigger scar in your mind and affect the way you see yourself far more than those who are less close to you. Unlike thomas, there are Asian-Americans out there who were not able to get passed the constant rejection from their own community, which makes it so that they never really get a chance to discover many parts of their Asian culture, language, or food.

Often times many Asian-Americans have a difficulty figuring out where they belong and how to explain to people that not all East Asian are the same. For Kim-Boone it was the struggle of having to continuously explain that she was Korean and not Chinese or Japanese or anything else. Once she explained how “They’d ask me if I was Japanese or Chinese, and I’d say–if I said I was Korean, they would say, “What’s that?” [….] so there were times I would just say one of the other ones. [laughter] I’d say I was Japanese or I was Chinese, because it was just easier.”

Many people of Color, in this case Asian-Americans, sometimes just accept the fact that people can sometimes be ignorant and not understand that there are more countries in Asia than they might think. This shouldn’t be something that anyone has to do because they are who they are, and no one else. They shouldn’t have to accept what other think they are, but rather not have to correct people for misidentifying their ethnicity. A very well known example of when people were misidentified as a different ethnicity was during WW2 when the United States was sending people of Japanese descent to internment camps, but there were also some people non-Japanese descent, so Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, etc.., that were also discriminated against because the United States couldn’t distinguish between the different Asian countries there was (Lee 222-225, 2014). The only way that they could prove they were not Japanse was through Identification cards that showed that they were not Japanese (Lee 222). This is an example of a more extreme case of miss identifying someone as another ethnicity, but having to have gone through something like dealing with discrimination from other because they think you are Japanese when you are not, even though we shouldn’t discriminate any ethnicity, is not right. Even if it may be awkward to ask someone where they are from, I am sure they would rather be asked that question than continuously having to correct others and explain that they are not this or that. Rodriguez 8 Both the racial and ethnic identity of a person are an important part of who the person is, so they should never have to accept being named something else if that is not who they identify as.

Caleb who is also a Korean Adoptee from South Korea as well, grew up in a very happy family, but outside the wall of his house he faced many people who bullied and teased him for being Korean (Tuan 1-3). His parents would try to help him and tell him that he has to accept that he is different, and to not take it so seriously, but they didn’t understand what he was going through because they were not going through what he was going through (2). Caleb took a different route and got into gangs, substance abuse, and got in trouble with the law many times. Although Caleb’s experience is somewhat more extreme than other adoptees experience, his experience does capture many unique parts of the Korean adoptees experience: having a great loving family whom are not really prepared to help their adopted children when they encounter racial discrimination and prejudice; Confusion during the time they are trying to figure out what it means to be Korean; confusion when being someone who is Korean being adopted into a family with white parents. A lot like Caleb, Kim-Boone had many experiences where she couldn’t really ask her parents for help when she wanted to discover more about her Korean background. She mentioned how she didn’t really have much exposure to Korean cuisine because there were not Korean restaurants where she lived at the time. Her mother was white, she didn’t have any idea how to cook any Korean food, was not really a fan of many Korean food and didn’t really know any place her daughter could find Korean cuisines; therefore, she didn’t really have someone to expose her to the types of food Koreans ate.

Kim-Boone also only ever met one person who was Korean when she was in growing up. She met him in high school, and it wasn’t till she met this boy that she was able to taste Korean cuisine for the first time in her entire childhood. Although food is just one part of Korean culture, it is an important part of Korean culture. Often times Asian-Americans struggle with learning about their culture, language, and history because of lack of exposure to people who look like them or identify as the same ethnicity as they do. Although some Korean adoptees, like Kim-Boone, had their parents to encourage them to find out more about their culture and be ok with who they are, they still didn’t really have someone to explain to them certain things about their culture or expose them to different foods and cultural habits they had back in their country. Throughout writing this paper and listening to Kim-Boone interview I learned many new elements that are apart of the Korean adoptee experience.

I never really knew much about the types of experiences that people who come from completely different countries have, specially Korean adoptees since I didn’t really know much about Korean history until taking this Asian-American studies course. I learned a lot about how many Asian Americans, specially Korean Adoptees in transracial families, often struggle with figuring out what they identify as because often times neither parts of their identity (American and Asian) does really accept them as apart of their community because they may not be “Asian Enough”. This really resonated with me because I like Asian-American many people from the LatinX community also struggle with their identity and belonging to a certain community since they may be “too american” to be apart of their certain ethnic community or “too latino” to be apart of the American community. These types of struggles don’t just arise in both the communities (LatinX/Asian-American) because of people outside their community, but also from people from within their community.

Often times a lot of the discrimination when people from these communities try to learn more about their communities culture and language and then try connecting with people in their community they are still pushed away because they are still not really “American/Asian/LatinX” in the eyes of others. Finding who you are is a big part of Asian-American history because without the struggle of discovering what your identity is and who you decide to identify as you would not have learned so much about the different cultures which you come from. Not only does figuring out your identity help you in your search for belonging, but it helps you know about the communities in which your ancestors came from, more about the history of the struggle of coming to the United States and the struggles within your own country. From learning more about the Japanese Internment camps and how people were criminalized because of their ethnicity, to the exclusion of Chinese peoples from the United states for an entire decade, to the wars dividing the nation of Korea into two new countries. Knowing all these different parts of Asian-American history help create one’s identity as an Asian-American in the United States. Kim-Boone Nakase’s experience as a Korean adoptee in the United States, along with all the other experience of the Korean-Americans in this essay are all just one piece within the larger picture of Asian-American struggle to become apart of the American history, so that one they are not just viewed as Asian in America but rather become apart of American history.


  1. Boone-Nakase, Kim. Interview. ?Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library?. May 2009
  2. Lee, Shelley Sang-Hee. ?A New History of Asian America?. Routledge, 2014.
  3. McKee, Kimberly D. ?Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoption in the United States?. University of Illinois Press, 2019.
  4. Min, Pyong Gap, and Thomas Chung. ?Younger-Generation Korean Experiences in the United States: Personal Narratives on Ethnic and Racial Identities?. Lexington Books, 2016.
  5. Nakase, Kim-Boone. Personal Interview. May 2009.
  6. Tuan, Mia, and Jiannbin Lee Shiao. ?Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America?. Russell Sage Foundation, 2011.
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A Korean Adoptee’s Experience. (2021, May 17). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/a-korean-adoptees-experience/