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Anti-Asian violence creates a void for non-Asian parents of Asian adoptees

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some adoption agencies are helping families have a hard conversation about anti-Asian violence. Many Americans were adopted from China, Korea and elsewhere in Asia. Many were welcomed into white families. And earlier this year, Bethany Newman of Chicago told us how news of the violence affected her.

BETHANY 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.

INSKEEP: Which is part of the reason that some agencies want to help. Here's Ashley Westerman.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Kristen Knepp says the violence against Asian Americans has been hard to stomach as a human and a parent.

KRISTEN KNEPP: And it's something that I take to heart even more so, I think, because I have an Asian child.

WESTERMAN: She and her husband Michael, who are white, adopted their son William from South Korea just last year. Knepp says after a gunman killed six females of Asian descent outside of Atlanta in March, she became very worried about how to prepare to talk to her son, who's now only 3, about anti-Asian violence.

KNEPP: What do you say? How do you talk about this with a child? And I can only imagine as he grows older, especially, and he becomes more self-aware, it's going to be something that we will have ongoing conversations about.

WESTERMAN: So she started Googling. In the beginning, Knepp, who lives in Ohio, says she didn't find a lot of resources or answers. But eventually she started seeing trainings and webinars pop up offering advice on how to talk to your child about anti-Asian racism.

KNEPP: I signed up for them immediately.

WESTERMAN: One webinar she attended was hosted in tandem by two of the largest adoption and foster care agencies in the U.S., Holt International and Bethany Christian Services.

CHERI WILLIAMS: We really were hearing from families...

WESTERMAN: OK, so yes (ph).

WILLIAMS: ...That they simply did not feel fully equipped to have these conversations about race with their children.

WESTERMAN: Cheri Williams works for Bethany Christian Services. They're just two of the many groups that answered the desperate questions from adoptees and parents.

WILLIAMS: How do I talk to my child about their race? How do I talk to my child about these events that are happening in our nation? Is it my role as the parent to bring that up, or do I play off the child's cues?

WESTERMAN: And while these groups work to prepare families for conversations about race as part of the adoption process, Williams says with the police killing of George Floyd and the anti-Asian racism, this time was different. It seemed more urgent.

Tara Vanderwood is an adoptee from South Korea who works as an adoption educator and consultant. She helped moderate the Holt-Bethany webinar and says she was surprised that so many white parents seem unable to see their children as another race, making talking about race really difficult.

TARA VANDERWOOD: Because I think either they think it's all better because these kids were adopted and, look, it could have been so much worse or they take it personally, like, I did not do enough; this is my fault.

WESTERMAN: Not talking about race can leave adoptees feeling stuck between their actual racial identity and their white parents. Vanderwood says she tells parents it's important to initiate talking about race regularly at a young age.

VANDERWOOD: So that kids feel that permission to also speak up and so that kids say, hey, you know, my parents got my back; they see what I see.

WESTERMAN: She says while adoption groups may have responded to the harrowing events over the last year, it shouldn't take a crisis for more resources to go into helping families have these conversations. Conversations, Vanderwood says, are necessary and should be ongoing.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman.

(SOUNDBITE OF VESKY AND LIAM THOMAS' "AURA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.