Asian American Actress Caroline Donica Talks Reconciling the Worlds of Her Adoptive and Birth Parents

Donica says she felt she was "not Asian enough to be Asian and not white enough to be white."

During her childhood, Caroline Donica felt isolated from both her South Korean roots and the American culture she was raised in. "Growing up as a Korean kid with white parents in the South was challenging—especially at the time when we were adopted," she tells Health in the video above. Donica's video is part of Dotdash Meredith's See/Her "Multiplicity" series, which follows various women at different stages in life and explores who they feel they must be in order to fit into mainstream culture.

While she and her siblings always understood they were adopted, the realities of the culture they were born into and the one they were being raised in were difficult to reconcile.

"I don't think my parents ever really out-and-out stated the cultural difference between being white and being Korean," Donica, an Atlanta-based teacher, actress, writer and director, explains. "We had books on South Korea and Korean culture and some Korean fairytales. But we never talked about the difference between being white and Korean in a predominantly white area, in white America. And we never talked about how we would be treated differently."

This made navigating her childhood confusing for Donica, who faced intrusive and harmful questions about her identity at school. "I would get that question all the time: 'What are you?' And it just drove me nuts," she remembers. "Because I was like, 'Why does it matter? What does it have to do with you? I never ask you that.'"

The implication of the question was also hurtful. "When you say a question like 'What are you?' you're objectifying the person. Even the question itself [is like saying] you're not even human anymore," Donica explains, adding that she learned to code-switch to fit in: "Code-switching just became an inherent part of my nature."

All of the confusion Donica felt about her heritage and identity eventually came to a head. "When I was in my early twenties, I felt really uncomfortable and out of place, and I was like, I don't know who I am. I'm not Asian enough to be Asian, and I'm not white enough to be white," Donica says. "It's like you don't fit into either world...surely you can't have a foot in both worlds. You have to know who you are." This led to believe she had to "pick" between being white and Asian.

But this turning point eventually helped Donica come to grips with an important realization. "I'm not treated the same as my [white] parents; I'm not seen the same as my parents," she says. This discovery led Donica to embrace her Korean roots in ways she previously hadn't explored.

"I did try to get more in touch with some Korean aspects," Donica recalls, explaining that she started shopping at a Korean market and frequenting Korean restaurants. "Food became kind of my in to Korean culture because I love to cook and I love to experiment in cooking." At times, she felt awkward entering these venues because she doesn't speak Korean. However, she has since grown comfortable learning more about her heritage—and she believes this is an important lesson for knowing who she is.

"I think everyone, in their own way, is constantly on a journey to finding their authentic self and finding their purpose in life," Donica says. "I think for me, a lot of the journey has been learning how to know who I am without really fully knowing who I am."

Her struggle and journey have taught Donica the importance of being content with her true self. "We are truly at our happiest and most fulfilled if we're able to just let go of expectations," she says. "Learning how to let go of those things has really given me a lot more serenity and peace at being who I am right now and learning to accept the journey of finding who I am."

To get more inspiring stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles