‘I’m not allowed to feel those things’: How adoptees experience anti-Asian hate

Mila C.C. Konomos, 45, lives in Atlanta, seven miles from two of the spas where workers were killed, with her husband and two children, ages 7 and 10.

When she heard the news, “I wasn’t surprised per se, but I was terrified.”

Adopted from South Korea as an infant into a white military family, she said she’s dealt with anti-Asian racism — intentional, or based in ignorance — her entire life. Being adopted into a white culture complicates the Asian-hate issue for her.

“I got to experience all the racism of being Asian but none of the connection to food and language and family,” she said. “My only connection to my Asian heritage is stereotypes.”

She’s been called Twinkie and banana. “Your English is so good,” she’s told, though English is her native language. “It’s been with me since kindergarten, people pulling up their eyes, going ‘ching-chong.’”

Growing up, home offered no respite. “My whole family made fun of my looks,” she said. “I do love my family, but it’s very complicated.” When she was bullied for being Asian, by her three white brothers or others, her parents said she was too sensitive. “It can really be hurtful because the people that are supposed to be your family and love you the most have no idea what your daily life is like.”

Adoptive parents, she said, shouldn’t beat themselves up for errors of the past. “It’s OK, it’s part of the journey,” she said. They should remember, though, that making amends is “not going to ease the pain and trauma.”

A few years ago, she searched for her birth parents in Korea. She’s in touch with her father. She doesn’t speak much Korean, and he doesn’t speak much English.

“We use a lot of emojis,” she said.

Julie Macartney visits Seoul.

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