Last summer I was helping out at my brother’s moving-and-downsizing-in-a-serious-way garage sale. He was at work and my mother and I, along with my four kids and his four kids, were manning the sale. The little kids were happily playing on the big wheels that were for sale on the driveway in front of the four or five car (plus workshop) garage. The thing was so big I’m really not sure how many cars it held, but, needless to say, there was lots of blacktop in front of it for the big wheel races (which eventually ended when we sold a big wheel right out from under a kid — but our cruel and insensitive garage sale tactics are not the point of this post).
So the kids are playing and people are sporadically shopping the sale and my mother, when she is not talking on a phone or two (seriously) chit chats with me a bit. Not a too unpleasant way to spend the day, though the slight drizzle and the hour and a half drive with four kids to get there weren’t exactly mood boosting.
As we were sitting there during a particularly slow period, both customer-wise and telephone-wise, a minivan pulls in and a woman gets out and then extracts her two children. One of her children, a boy, looks to be maybe a few months younger than Tank Boy and he, like Tank Boy, is Asian. Not Pakistani or Indian or Afghani. You know, Asian, as opposed to also Asian but not Asian Asian. So what is the politically correct way to make that distinction? Eastern Asian? I’ve got to think it’s pretty insensitive to the Western Asians for us to assume that the term Asian only refers to the Eastern Asians. Hmm . . . that reminds me of another story best saved for another post.
Moving on. As I was saying, a very Caucasian woman gets out of her van with her two children: one a very Caucasian daughter and one a very Asian son.
“What do you think?” my mother leans in close and asks quietly. “Is he from Korea?”
“Probably,” I reply. “Not many boys are adopted out of China. Some, but not many. So chances are good he’s from South Korea.”
“You should go talk to her and find out,” my mother says.
“Noooooooo waaaaayyyyy,” I reply.
At this point my mother looks at me like I’ve taken a blow to the head and, consequently, lost my mind. Or maybe she was looking at me like aliens were inhabiting my body and she was wondering where her real daughter was. Either way . . .
“Why not?!?!?” she asked.
So then I had to, quietly, explain to her that you can’t ask an adoptive parent who is a stranger to you where his/her child is from because you will very likely offend the parent.
Yes, I explained, it’s true. I know this from reading many online rantings. Also, one day I was shopping at a local Korean market, preparing for a gathering of families who had also adopted from Korea, when a Korean-American man asked me if my son (who was with me, obviously) had been adopted from Korea. I said yes and he said he had two sons who were adopted from Korea. We had a very friendly chat and it turned out he is/was the husband/father of one of the families that was coming to my house the next day for our gathering. His wife e-mailed me later that day when she heard about our encounter to apologize for her husband’s behavior, and explained that he didn’t spend as much time online reading about adoption issues so he didn’t realize it was rude to ask such a question. Well, huzzah for him! Seriously.
How am I supposed to teach my son that his Korean heritage is nothing to be ashamed of if I get offended every time someone asks me if he’s from Korea?
They’re a nice family, by the way. We just saw them again today as a matter of fact — a group of us get together regularly and, though we may have differing views of what is/isn’t appropriate/offensive, I really like our group.
Ok, back to my mother and the lady at the garage sale. The little boy is eyeing us and we’re waving and smiling and my mother is shooting concerned glances my way that seem to say, “Paranoia doesn’t run in our family . . .” In the meantime, the other woman occasionally glances my direction with an expression that either says, “Don’t you dare ask me where my son is from just because you have an Asian son, too,” or “I really want to ask you if your son is from Korea also, but I’m afraid you’ll bite my head off.” I couldn’t exactly tell which, but I think it was the former. My mother, in the meantime, keeps saying, “Oh, go on, ask her. I can’t believe anyone would really be upset just because you ask about their child!”
“Well, then you ask her,” I say. She doesn’t.
So there we are, two mothers with two boys most likely from the same country and, if that is the case, undoubtedly adopted through the same agency. This would mean we are likely on the same Internet LISTSERV and may have chatted a bit online at one point, but we never find out because we never talk at all (except for normal garage sale talk: “Would you take a quarter for this?” “Sure!”). Our sons could have been born in the same city. They may have had the same foster mother (we know two other boys who Tank Boy lived with in Korea, so it really is possible). We may know some of the same people. We may have adoption stories and resources we can share with each other. She might be interested in joining us for some of our Korean adoption group’s get-togethers. We never ask. Finally she leaves and that is that — it was a masterfully awkward job of ignoring the elephant in the room. How moronic. But at least nobody was offended.
Doesn’t that sound like a good topic for a paper: The Isolationism of Political Correctness.
And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the Newt says hello.