On Being a Korean American Adoptee

Adoption: a touchy subject. But don’t worry, it’s not sensitive for me; I openly talk about it (if you haven’t figured that out already). It’s just a big part of who I am. Why should I hide it.

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My Real Family

I get all kinds of reactions when I first tell someone that I’m adopted. Sometimes, it’s a sad “oh” followed by silence and the lowering of the head. Other times, it’s a flood of questions. I don’t mind them; it is a chance to educate others and give a perspective for those who never met an adopted person before. Even if they did interact with adoptees in the past, every person has different experiences and perspectives.

I’ve spent a lot of time with Korean adoptees from around the world – Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Italy, Canada, France, Norway, and the Netherlands, to name a few. Meeting so many international adoptees initiated daydreams of how my life path was randomly selected to be American. Would I still have a love affair with vegetables if I was Danish? Would I have been a French gymnast? Would I still do my routine back-cracking and quirky microwave dances in Australia? Would I still have a thirst for travel? The limits of the parallel universes are endless.

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InKAS Summer Camp 2012

Through interacting with this diverse group of Korean adoptees, I came to learn how different we all are, not unlike any group of people. At first, I intuitively thought that we adoptees would get along so well and be buddies in friendship island forever because we finally have other people who “understand”. We don’t quite ‘fit in’ our adoptive countries and certainly will never be fully integrated in Korean society. So, we can finally fit in with each other.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The following is MY perspective on being adopted. I can attest that my account is very different from most adoptees that I know, but there are some friends who fortunately share the same positive attitude. I hope that other adoptees can be as fortunate as me. Even if their birth search and/or reunion isn’t as successful, they can still benefit from a positive mindset.


 

Often, people pity me for being adopted. “Don’t you feel bad that you’re unwanted?”

It wasn’t that my birth parents didn’t want me; it was certainly the opposite. They loved me so much that they did what they thought was best for me at that time. In the late 80s, my family was extremely poor and already struggling to raise three girls, so resources were scarce. They couldn’t give me what they wanted to give, so they let me go to have more opportunities in a safe environment. Even if my birth parents didn’t want me, at least my mother would have been kind enough to go through pregnancy and childbirth to give me life rather than get an abortion. They say “If you love somebody, let them go. If they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”

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My Birth Parents in their 20s

Yes, it is a little sad that I did not know who my mother was, but it was not something I thought about often. Actually, I rarely thought about it. I think other people were more concerned about my birth parents than I ever was.

As far as I’m concerned, my adoptive parents are my “real” parents. Family never had to do with blood relations. I never had in interest in finding them until hearing other adoptees’ stories when I first visited Korea when I was 22.

I opened my search and had no hopes. I would be elated if they were found, but neutral if not. I didn’t feel like I was “missing” something and that finding my birth family would fill that void.

Well, the search process was rather simple. The adoption agency was able to put me in contact with my birth family because they have been inquiring to try to find me. So, it went from there. Just as a note, this search process is NOT simple for most people. Records back then were atrocious and some were even falsified. This is another topic for discussion though.

My case is also rare in that I connected with my birth family and they still love me and include me in their family. In fact, we recently took professional family photos together. They try very hard to incorporate me as evidenced by the fact that they put on English songs and shoved a mic in my face at the noraebang (karaoke room). Most adoptees cannot even locate their families. And if they do, it is even rarer that a relationship is fostered after that. It could be awkward. I have so much gratitude that my situation turned out the way it did. Korea might be a dark place for me if it took another turn.

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Already joking around within hours of first meeting each other. I inherited their goofiness.

So, don’t pity me because I’m an adoptee. I have not one, but TWO sets of parents and families that love me so much. No, I am NOT an orphan nor was I ever was an orphan. Some children really do not have parents. Some children only have a mother or father present. Even if both parents are present, a nasty relationship may exist. Now that, my readers, is an unfortunate situation. Not mine. I know I’m lucky. So, so very lucky. And I’m forever grateful for the people in my life that I love.

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Yumi, me, and Appa. “무서워!’

What else am I grateful for? I didn’t grow up in Korea. When imaging what my life would have been like had I grown up in Korea, I didn’t enjoy the mental images. High school from 7am to 10pm, pressure to be smart/beautiful/rich/popular/obedient, probably marrying a Korean man who might work late hours and go out drinking during weeknights, leaving me alone. Would I have gotten the double eyelid surgery as seemingly every Korean girl has? Would I hide under umbrellas every beautiful sunny day? Would I go through great lengths to have a “small face”, “high nose” and stick thin legs?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Korea, but I love it as a foreigner. I would probably not be the happiest as a Korean citizen. But who can really tell? As an American, I value the ability to openly express my opinions without fear of getting rejected from a group. I value how I can go without makeup and nobody will tell me that I look “tired”. I value that I can be friends with people of all ages and not having the pressure to talk in a super polite manner to people two years older than me. Koreans just have different values. Neither set of values are superior to the other. They’re just different.

Of course, growing up as an adoptee wasn’t always peachy. I had issues with identity growing up, but who didn’t? Maybe I felt annoyed by the looks people gave my multicultural family when we’re out. I may or may not have hated everything about Korea and being Asian for most of my life.

But I’m past that now. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. It’s a nice feeling. You can feel this way, too.

I didn’t have these positive thoughts my whole life – I guess this is more of a recent thing, but I can’t even remember what it’s like being negative anymore. Changing your perspective changes your world. But no one can force this way of thinking upon others. Some adoptees rightfully get angry when told that they ought to be grateful. There are unfortunate cases that cause adoptees to have horrible upbringings, and those shouldn’t be ignored either.

My case is unique, as is everyone else’s. So I do not speak for all adoptees.

I’ll close this with one of the best perks of being adopted: Over the years, I spent much less time filling out family medical history questionnaires at the doctor. That’s probably enough time to take a walk in the park and enjoy a picnic.

Funny video about what it’s like to be adopted.

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5 responses to “On Being a Korean American Adoptee

  1. oh
    my
    god

    lianne, i loved this post. i really did. i’m so glad you shared this piece with us on your blog, especially this:

    “If you love somebody, let them go. If they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”

  2. Pingback: My Parents Meet My Parents | I Can Speak English·

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