Tag Archives: Prejudice

“don’t ____, or you’ll look puerto rican!” say what?

RLucasIt is with great pleasure that I introduce my dear friend and writer, Ruth Lucas, a long-time native of Long Island, New York. Ruth has accomplished something of great worth – she has completed her first novel, Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican! More about the title of the book in a moment. My husband and I have known Ruth and her husband, Eric, for nearly ten years. We met in church and quickly became friends. Ruth recently received her Master’s Degree in Psychology and is now in private practice as a Professional Consultant and Life Coach specializing in Relationships and Parenting (www.lucasseminars.com). The Lucas’ have been married almost 26 years and have a 21-year old son, Kyle, who currently resides in New York City. The family moved to Arizona from NY in 2001 just a few years before we did. It is Roo who got me hooked on Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, two of my favorite series of books. I remember watching the first couple of Harry Potter movies, as well as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in her living room nearly nine years ago! Boy, had I been missing out. We blazed through the Harry Potter series together, and waited in line like two giddy teenagers to see the midnight showing of The Return of the King. Yes, Ruth and I both enjoy a good book and a good movie! With a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism/Communications and her expertise in family and relationships, it was only a matter of time before Ruth authored her first book.

puertoricancvr2Now back to that book title. You see, Ruth has an interesting background. She is biracial – African American and Puerto Rican. You might think, what’s the big deal, but Ruth was raised in such an environment that she grew up rejecting one-half of herself, that is, one-half of her race and ethnicity. In her own words, Ruth explains,

Many people are biracial. Not many people are biracial AND raised by one parent who is actually prejudiced against the race and ethnicity of the other parent with whom they (WILLINGLY) chose to have sex … so much so that they raise his/her own biracial child to believe that half of him/her is intrinsically BAD. This is the story of a girl raised in that paradox; essentially primed to be conflicted throughout the process of developing her self-concept without the necessary self-esteem to do so in a healthy way! 

Are you intrigued? I certainly am. Ruth’s book is a work of fiction; however, her story touches on some serious issues – race relations, diversity issues, identity, acceptance and self-determination.

In her work, it is Ruth’s hope to,

… enlist the reader on a journey with the protagonist (Elle) – to join the protagonist in her quest to become self-determined as she periodically delves into her and her mother’s past to better understand what obstacles she needs to overcome.  It is intentional that the reader feel as confused and frustrated at times as Elle, but that he/she also realize that the onus falls on Elle to not blame those who raised her or her past, but to rise above what she learned in her youth and re-parent herself so she can be a whole and healthy individual with mature and functional coping mechanisms.

Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican! is a story about a young woman coming to terms with who she is, who she was raised to be and who she longs to become and was written from the perspective of an eye-witness. Ruth sent me a portion of her book recently. In just the first 50 pages, I was hooked, and no, I’m not just saying that. As a personal friend, I know so much about Ruth, yet I had to separate that, somewhat, from who I know her to be and the storytelling. The beautiful simplicity of Ruth’s prose is engaging, yet beneath that simplicity is a rich interweaving of a much deeper theme – a coming of age, a struggle for self-acceptance. It is a story relatable to anyone who has, at some time or another, questioned his or her identity. The book also gives you a feel for what it was like in 1960’s New York against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the clashes that occurred (and still do) across clearly demarcated socioeconomic, cultural and racial lines, which is one of the things I love most about the book so far.

Ruth Lucas’ debut novel, Don’t _______, or You’ll Look Puerto Rican!, can be pre-ordered for a limited period through Inkwell Productions at this link. Copies that are pre-ordered will be signed by the author and are expected to be released this Fall. I hope that you will join me in ordering your copy and embarking on a great reading adventure. In the meantime, check out Ruth’s new book blog. Congrats, dear Ruth, on your wonderful achievement!

cross-cultural adoption

As I consider how things have progressed regarding my adoption search, I realize that for over half of my life I believed that I was of a certain race, but have come to discover that I am of another. I have felt all kinds of things as a result including surprise, confusion, frustration, and bewilderment all at once. Growing up as an Asian-American adoptee was often like stumbling through a maze blind-folded. I’m pretty sure that we all ask, “who am I?” at some point in our lives. For international and transracial adoptees, it is even more complicated as adoptees attempt to navigate two cultures and manage feeling “othered” by peers and sometimes family members. My parents told me at a young age, I don’t remember when, that I was part Vietnamese and part Japanese. I wish that I could recall when they told me; nevertheless, I had no reason to doubt them. With the discovery of my original adoption contract, however, which was buried in a box in my parent’s attic, I learned something entirely different. Prior to having my papers properly translated, a Taiwanese adoption social worker, who was guiding me through the process of my adoption search, led me to believe that my birthparents were Taiwanese. It made sense because I was born in Taiwan. Later, through the translation, I learned that both my birthparents were from Guangxi, China, an exact province notated in the document. It is difficult to argue with hard evidence, so naturally I now assume that I am Chinese. Imagine my surprise each time I learned some new fact about my culture of origin. Unfortunately, neither of my adoptive parents are alive to explain all of the discrepancies.

I say all of this because I have come to a conviction about transracial adoption. Those who plan to adopt a child or children from another country must be educated in how to help their child develop an appropriate sense of cultural and racial identity, which shapes an overall sense of self. It is not enough for a parent to just love their child or preach colorblindness. I am proof of that. My parents loved me without a doubt and provided for me physically and materially as any good and loving parent should. But, what they were not prepared for was coping with issues of color, race, ethnicity, racism, and discrimination. They were not prepared to address the social and emotional needs of a daughter who looked different, not only from them, but from everyone else around her. This was doubly compounded by the fact that we lived in the deep South where prejudice and racism continue to exist. I am sure that they also never confronted whatever prejudices, or beliefs they personally held themselves. When my parents adopted me, I was automatically acculturated into a white society, shut off from my birth culture. My parents did not know how that would impact me growing up. Because the adoption took place in Taiwan, they did not have the opportunity to be made aware of the importance of educating themselves properly to address such issues as the development of ethnic and racial identity, or racial discrimination. They did not talk about my birth heritage nor encourage me to investigate, but rather minimized my race and ethnicity due to this lack of awareness. The closest I came in contact with any Asian culture while growing up was eating out at the local Chinese food restaurant.

I think about how things could have been different had my parents been more prepared for issues of race and identity. Would I have been more willing to embrace my ethnicity? For many years, I downplayed it and tried to fit into the “whiteness” all around me never quite feeling like I was good enough or fit into the social norm. It deeply affected my sense of self and led me to do things that I might not have done had I possessed a stronger sense of self. Would there have been less tension and strife in my family, especially during my teen years?

I strongly believe that those who intend to adopt children from abroad must be made aware of the unique challenges that surround raising a child of another culture, especially if the adoption originates in the U.S. Adoptive parents must consider the challenges that will confront their child regarding ethnicity and race, and considerations should be made regarding how to impart coping skills and how to facilitate open discussions with their child to address issues such as racial discrimination, racial teasing, and microaggressions. It is the adoptive parents’ responsibility to also ensure that their child is given opportunities to learn about his/her birth culture beginning at an early age. Otherwise, an injustice is imposed on the children of transracial adoption whether they are aware of it or not. I don’t fault my parents for what they did not know. I do hope to share from my own experiences what I’ve learned about cross-cultural adoption with others and hope that it can make a difference.

who am I

I guess I felt the first inkling of being “different” around the age of pre-school when we lived in Westover, Massachusetts. Although I don’t remember very much about pre-school, I do remember at that early age feeling out-of-place, distant from the other kids. I was extremely shy and hid behind my peers. I was perfectly content to read a book alone in a quiet corner or spend time listening to music. When I look back at school pictures, my face stands out among all the others. Mine was typically the only Asian one. I was a minority once we moved to the states from Okinawa, but I never knew or understood that term until I became an adult.

The teasing began in kindergarten. By then we’d moved to Bossier City, Louisiana, where my father completed his military career. There was very little diversity in this small town, and we lived in a predominantly white neighborhood full of military families. Typically, I tried to downplay any teasing and brushed it off as though nothing had happened. Mostly, people did the same tired stereotypical thing, like pulling up the corners of their eyes with their fingers or trying to talk sing-songy. Occasionally I’d hear the word, “chink,” as I passed by. Once, on the school bus, someone I thought was my friend intentionally shoved me off the bus seat. At first, I thought she was joking around, but then realized she meant it. I didn’t understand why she would treat me in such a way. It was embarrassing, but I tried my best to act like nothing happened. It was a long ride to school that morning.

As I got older, feeling accepted by my peers became increasingly more difficult. I’m sure some of that grew from my own insecurities and social awkwardness. Around junior high, I wanted desperately to be part of a particular group of girls who were considered very “popular.” I began hanging out with them, yet felt I had to fight for their acceptance. One day, one of the girls said to me, “Why don’t you find another group to hang out with?” Ouch. I was shocked, speechless, embarrassed. I didn’t understand what I’d done to cause such rejection, but I got the message as confusing as it was. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps these events occurred because I looked different from them. I kept these incidents to myself and never talked to anyone about them, not even to my parents. Back then, I wasn’t sure what to think of it all, and it was very difficult for me to put my feelings into words. Mostly, as I mentioned before, I felt embarrassed and confused. I was ashamed that I looked different from everyone around me. My parents seemed oblivious. I don’t think they ever clued into the teasing. We never talked about how things were going in school or any difficulties I may have been experiencing, and we never talked about my birth heritage. Sometimes I wonder if they had been offered education or cultural training, would things have been different? They were of a generation where families did not talk about problems openly, but rather swept them under the rug. My parents were unaware of the pressures I felt to”fit in.” They did not know the sense of dread I felt going to school everyday during those elementary years and of the racial discrimination I experienced from both peers and teachers – mostly white male coaches.

As I got older I realized that being shy wasn’t cool. I longed to be liked and accepted by my peers just like any other pre-teen or teenager, and I went to extremes to try and fit in. I downplayed my Asian features and rejected any association with my birth culture. In 6th grade I wrote a biography report and lied about where I was born. In the report, I said that I was born in Hawaii and hid the fact that I was born in Taiwan. Many students questioned me afterwards, but I stuck to my ‘story.’ I wrote another paper about a girl who was teased by others and read it in class. I don’t think it caught the attention of any of my peers; however, my teacher, who was a black male, asked me,”does that happen to you?” or something like that. The conversation never went beyond that though.

In 8th grade, I became friends with some girls who I felt I could be myself around. Still, I struggled with insecurity. I was obsessed with wanting to look like everyone else. I used eye makeup to make my eyes appear rounder. I curled my straight hair every morning before school with hot rollers. By the end of the day, the southern humidity caused every last curl to go flat, which was incredibly annoying. In high school, I used Sun-In to lighten my hair. I pursued hanging out with the “popular” crowd. At home, I became increasingly disrespectful towards my parents. They were very strict and old-fashioned. One Christmas, my dad gave me a special present. I was horrified when it turned out to be a license plate for my car with the words “Oriental Express” inscribed across it. I refused to put it on my car and was very upset with my dad. I know that in his small way, my dad was trying the only way he knew how to reach out to me. I felt conflicted that I had hurt his feelings by rejecting his gift, but was simultaneously mortified and ashamed. He and Mom were both unaware of the conflict I was experiencing and lacked the skills to help me through those difficult teen years. They were simply uneducated. I’m sure that Dad thought the gift was something special and was completely boggled by my reaction. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust. I didn’t want to get rid of it because I didn’t want to hurt my dad’s feelings any more than I already had. I’m not sure what happened to it over the years.

After college, I moved out of Louisiana. It was extremely difficult for my mom. Dad didn’t say much, but I know it was hard for him too. Mom wanted me to stay close to home, but I I had other plans and ideas. I ended up in Florida for a couple of years and took acting classes. I partied with friends and enjoyed living independently out from under the control of my mother. I purposely did not go home to see my parents that first year, but stayed in Florida and worked. Eventually, I moved to California to pursue acting, which was really a big joke. That’s another story. Again, I struggled inwardly because I knew that staying away from home hurt my parents, yet I had to get out from under my mom’s control.

When I moved to California, the first thing that struck me was the large population of Asians. It was shocking. I’d never seen anything like it. Naturally, I avoided associating with anyone Asian. As time went on, I developed some close relationships with a group of friends and began to overcome my old insecurities, although, I still rejected my cultural heritage.

Last year, I began a master’s degree in social work at Arizona State University. I enrolled in a class called Diversity, Oppression and Change. This class forced me to re-examine the issues I struggled with related to culture, identity, and race-relations. I chose to write a research paper on ethnic and racial identity in Asian-American adoptees, a topic obviously close to my heart. To my surprise, I found much literature written on cross-cultural and transracial adoption. These research studies focused primarily on issues such as racial and ethnic conflict and confusion, the role of parenting and nurturing cultural identity, and the development of ethnic identity across stages of life. I also interviewed two other Asian-American adoptees, which was the best part. The whole process of researching and writing was inspiring. I became increasingly interested in learning more about other Asian-American adoptees and discussing our stories together. A desire to connect to my birth heritage took root and has been growing ever since.

For many years, I struggled with my identity and a sense of belonging. It never occurred to me that other internationally adopted persons might have or do experience similar feelings. I feel certain now that I’m not the only one.