Every once in a while, there comes a point in this Korean adoptee’s life that I just can’t take being around Koreans. It is the point in which I revert to my resentful ungrateful but rather safe shell of looking at them through the Western lens of my childhood. It happens when the subject of God comes up.
Comments that crawl under my skin are as follows: It was God’s will that you were adopted, The presence of God is reaffirmed in your reunion with your birthmother, what a blessing of God’s work that I have grown up so well (only after telling them what school I went to), Thank God for your adoptive parents.
These are usually quickly followed up with “you should come to my church.” Just the other day, I got that from the dry cleaner. She was so earnest, she even gave me a CD for my kids to learn Korean. I’ve been bribed that way, you see. Food, Korean language classes, friendship, more food.
In college, it almost worked. In my quest to discover my Koreanness, I started hanging out with the KSA (Korean Student Association) at a nearby school that had hundreds of Koreans to the five at my school. Not a frat girl or drinker, I found easy solace with the dry dance parties. I was introduced to new wave and techno music that changed my life. I will forever be a fan of Depeche Mode and Erasure. Most importantly, I was introduced to Asian boys who could seriously dance. I quickly acquired the black dress code and loved that the flirting was more subtle and the focus wasn’t about “hooking up.” I was enticed and in such admiration that I went to church with them sitting for hours not understanding a single word that was said. Being in church without understanding a word felt like meditation. I got to stare intensely at the back and side of all the black Korean heads around me comparing and contrasting and trying to figure out if someone was handsome or beautiful. It was peaceful.
And then. I got “invited” to church on Wednesday nights, Friday night bible study, Saturday youth group and Sunday service all with the promise that I will eventually be able to learn Korean and I could eat all the kimchee and rice I wanted. The sell was subtle in the beginning and got harder and harder. On the way to a picnic I would get asked if I wanted to be saved by Jesus Christ and did I have faith in Him? Was I a true Christian and if yes, then I should get baptized AGAIN and show my faith by joining their church. It was not enough that I was a regular church goer to a Catholic Church. I had to join THEIR church. At that point, I had enough. I stopped answering their calls for church events, refused to call the boys “Oppa” and the girls “Unnie” as a show of respect and then swiftly was told that I would go to hell.
I didn’t realize that in order to be accepted by these Korean people, I had to accept Jesus in to my heart their way. Just like the Hallyu wave in K-pop is exponentially growing, the God wave is huge in Korea and in Korean-American communities here. I don’t know all the historical references as to why Christianity is so big among Koreans, but for me, it feels like another wall dividing me and my sense of being fully Korean.
To not be a part of a Korean church community, I feel like a double outsider sometimes – adoptee and non-believer. The underlying thought for me is that as a transracial, international adopted person, everything is for show. Our adoption is visible. It is like a magnetic force for all these labels – orphaned, deprived, abandoned, mother/fatherless, saved, found. Our relationships with family and ourselves can feel like we are in a stage production or participating in a spectator sport at times. It seems to me that there should be one thing that is private and sacred – our relationship with our God, Buddha, Allah, whatever/whoever. Putting it all out there feels like more conditions for me to accept me.
I truly admire, respect and am actually in awe of my friends who are deeply devout, who believe unequivocally. The rock star Sting had an interesting response to this question of faith and God – “I don’t have a problem with God, I have a problem with religion. I’ve chosen to live my life without the certainties of religious faith.” Is there a middle ground here? Still searching.