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What has a year of increased violence against Asian Americans meant for Asian adoptees? They report experiencing racism just like other people of color, and yet many feel they are left out of conversations about what's happening. NPR's Ashley Westerman explored why.
ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Bethany Long Newman says she saw herself in the Korean women killed on March 16 when a gunman went on a rampage at three spas outside of Atlanta.
BETHANY LONG NEWMAN: When I first heard about it, I was immediately scared. You kind of put yourself in their shoes a bit. And you think this could happen to me or my daughter.
WESTERMAN: But Newman, who lives in Chicago, didn't really have anyone who looks like her to talk with about it. You see, she's adopted, born in South Korea but raised by a white family in a predominantly white rural community in Kentucky. Even now, her husband is white and most of her Asian friends are adopted, too.
NEWMAN: I feel heartbroken and scared and I don't know how to express it because I don't know that most people around me, if they necessarily think of me as Asian.
WESTERMAN: Newman says her mom did reach out, but...
NEWMAN: My mom asked if I felt safe, and she asked if there had been any violence against Asians in Chicago. And I said, not that I know of, and that's kind of where we left it.
WESTERMAN: Hing Potter has mulled over similar thoughts when it comes to his white parents. He's adopted from Cambodia and says it's even hard to talk with other Asian Americans about it.
HING POTTER: Am I Asian enough to have this conversation with other Asian people, other Asian Americans in the community?
WESTERMAN: It's estimated there are more than 200,000 Asian adoptees in the U.S. and many, like Newman and Potter, report having trouble knowing how to feel and talk about the uptick in anti-Asian violence, even to parents who have been generally supportive in the past. Kimberly McKee, an Asian American studies professor at Grand Valley State University, says that disconnect may stem from how they were raised.
KIMBERLY MCKEE: If your parents applied a colorblind philosophy and said that they only see you as you, they don't see you as Asian, you may just lack the language to have certain kinds of conversations.
WESTERMAN: She says Asian adoptees experience racism just like other people of color, and many are grappling with anti-Asian violence like the rest of the Asian American community. It's just hard to articulate when you've never felt like you truly belong in either world.
MCKEE: So for adoptees of color, they're obviously not white. And then if your family is living in an all-white suburb, you may just not interact with a lot of people of color in general.
WESTERMAN: These frustrations have spilled over in the last year. I know because I'm an Asian adoptee, too, and I've seen more people openly talk about this in online groups dedicated to adoptees. And while having such outlets are helpful, family members, even if they're not Asian, can do more. Nicole Chung is also an adoptee and author of the memoir "All You Can Ever Know." She has some tips.
NICOLE CHUNG: I think just listening, being open and available, being present and just here for whatever they have to share, it's not nothing. You know, I think that's important.
WESTERMAN: She also suggests reaffirming and validating someone's racial reality and acknowledging the long history of anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S. Ultimately, Chung says there's no time like the present to be having these conversations.
CHUNG: And better late than never.
WESTERMAN: Ashley Westerman, NPR News.
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