transcultural adoption

One transracial/transcultural adoptee's search for culturally competent hairstylists...

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As many transracial/transcultural adoptees, and adoptive families to some degree, may have experienced at some point in their lives, finding a hair stylist who understands and appreciates your race and culture's unique hair needs can be challenging especially in smaller communities with limited diversity. For many individuals, regardless of color, finding a hair stylist you trust and understands you and your hair is important for a diverse number of reasons for individuals. And for many white individuals, especially in smaller communities or less diverse communities, the assumed and expected norm is that their hair stylist will also be white. For transracial/transcultural adoptees the assumed and expected norm for adolescent and adult adoptees is that their hair stylist will not necessarily be another person of color especially in smaller communities or less diverse communities. 

I remember growing up white hair stylists used to comment that they didn't know "how to work with my type of hair." Or my sister, who is also a Korean adoptee, would have perms growing up because it made her hair "easier" to work with. When I wanted to start experimenting with hair color, I more often than not came out with the "Asian orange hued" color that is a familiar site on many Asian and Asian Americans and was told by a number of stylists that they just don't know how to dye such thick, coarse, black hair. As adolescents, we are already self-conscious about our appearance, image, style, and our hair is initially one of the most noticeable things about a person. 

It wasn't until I graduated college, and moved to Los Angeles, that I worked with my first Asian hair stylist. She was Japanese and worked in an all Japanese salon. I had never felt so understood, both personally and on a strictly hair level, before that it was hard to realize that this was something that was the norm for some people. I worked with her for about 8 years. She was actually one of the people I miss the most from my time in LA. She was the first to understand what "Asian orange" meant when trying to explain what I didn't want my hair color to look like. She showed me that "coarse, thick, black hair" can be colored in so many different ways to create colors and looks that were unimaginable for most of my life because up until that point I was given the message that my black hair was not "normal" from the white stylists I had experienced prior. 

When I relocated back to Minnesota, one of the first things on my to-do list was to find an Asian or Asian American hair stylist that I could work with again. The search was not easy, even in the Twin Cities area. I searched online, looked at salon bios, trying to find the elusive expert. And after several months, I finally found this go-to person and expert. And ironically it turns out she is also an adoptee. 

I think it is important for transracial/transcultural adoptees and adoptive families to have culturally competent resources in their community to meet their needs whether it be post-adoption services, therapy, or hair and beauty.  I encourage transracial/transcultural adoptees/adoptive families in the Twin Cities area who are looking or have been looking for a culturally competent hair expert to check out:

LC Hair Artistry in Edina, MN.  



Book Review: The Dance of Identities: Korean Adoptees and their journey toward empowerment by John D. Palmer

This book explores the multiple identities inherent of the transracial and transcultural adoptee experience. While the author focuses attention on the Korean adoptee experienced, and is transparent about identifying as a Korean adoptee, the topics around race, culture and identity formation can be applicable in other transracial/transcultural adoptee experiences other than the Korean adoptee experience.

Identity as individuals is multifaceted and complex. Identities have the power to build and divide communities, nations, and families. We identify ourselves by race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, country of origin, region of where we were raised, school identity, familial identity roles, socioeconomic status, political orientation, religious/spiritual identities, etc. And as adoptees, our identities within our families and our communities inform and impact all of our other identities. This is particularly relevant when we are adoptees who were adopted by families of other races and other cultures other than our family of origins.

How identity is approached, explored, and discussed within adoptive families can be an uncomfortable, and yet a powerfully healing experience for adoptees and adoptive families. An important way adoptive families can support and empower adoptees is by initiating these conversations about identity and making it part of the regular conversations as a family versus the approach “ we won’t talk about issues related to identity” until the adoptee “brings up the topic. Talking about the “dance of identities” adoptees face daily throughout their lives also requires adoptive families to examine their own privilege, views, and experiences related to race, racism, and culture.  Being able to discuss identity issues adoptees experience requires adoptive families to do their own work and education to be able to have meaningful discussions that are validating and empowering.

Mr. Palmer’s book validates many experiences transracial/transcultural adoptees experience related to identity, provides a well-informed narrative that may help adoptive families understand the Korean adoptee experience, and is place to help families have a place to start to have these difficult conversations.