When I first came in contact with the adoptee community, I had just returned from my year in Korea and I was red hot mad. I found that fire in my gut that began to question just how great was this whole being adopted thing? The small but cumulative injustices I witnessed overseas forced me to figure out how much of me was Korean and how much of me was not. Was I anti-American? Was I anti-Korean? My saving grace was meeting another Korean adoptee who was just starting a small organization called Also-Known-As. Hollee said so eloquently, “you know, I am Hollee McGinnis also-known-as Yi Hwa-Young.” That simple sentence was the beginning of my new quest – to find out who I was also-known-as. I began the speaking circuit. I spoke to anyone who would listen – adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, adoption agencies, Korean Americans. In speaking and putting words to all my thoughts, I began to sit with more assurance and dared to aspire to change people’s perceptions about the realities, challenges and triumphs of being adopted. I decided to go back to school to get some meat behind my burgeoning identity as a professional adoptee.
I went to graduate school at one of the oldest schools of social work. It’s reputation for vast internships and long history and the ivy league name attracts alot of do-gooders. Most of the internships were in the area of families and children, foster care and adoption. “Concurrent Planning” was the buzz word of that time. I thought I would get AN EDUCATION and be able to find a community of like-minded others and learn how to critically think about the real issues. I did get the chance to think and learned that every person comes from a system called family. Still, I felt a little jipped. I found myself offended a lot of the time, in a position of teaching, challenging and became more frustrated. From the paternalistic sense that with this degree I would be better able to make decisions for a mother and her child to the notion that it was sufficient that we merely acknowledge that race matters, I found myself constantly incredulous that I was in the right room. I think the pinnacle for me was when an African American professor telling me that I could not use the word “transracial” in defining my adoption; that term was exclusively applied to a black child adopted into a white family. I did not do well in that class.
I will concede though, graduating from that school opened doors and to the Korean people, it’s a big enough deal for me to be welcomed into their fray. What I was frustrated about was that I was left hugely in debt and with the realization that adoption is not really understood by anyone, least of all my fellow social workers. That got reaffirmed for me working in the field of adoption on a policy level, agency level and in post-adoption. I have written about the crazy stuff that I have heard in this community already, so no need to go there again.
What has me more settled is that there are more and more adopted people choosing this profession as their own. I don’t subscribe to the notion that one has to walk the walk in order to do good work. You don’t need to have been a drug addict to be a good addictions counselor. But I would like to see more adoptees who are living breathing examples of peace in the making to come forward. I think if there were more than one adoptee on the board of directors of an adoption agency or organization perhaps the services we so desparately need will actually get funding. Perhaps the mentality that “adoption is for children” will change to “adoption is about us.” Perhaps the investment in adoption won’t always be about promoting and propagating adoption but creating networks and supports for every leg of the journey.
I no longer feel like the professional adoptee but the professional who is an adoptee. The placement of these words makes all the difference. The hard work has begun to pay off whereby the A-word is lower on my credentials and among my peers, it is a given not the exception. And with my “list buddies” it is the compass that sets things right.