I love blue eyes. I love hazel eyes. I even love brown eyes. But mine are so dark, you can’t even see the pupil. I became aware of this during 8th grade science class when we had to watch how light effects our pupils, my partner couldn’t see anything. No change was visible. Yet another reason I didn’t love my eyes. We always want what we don’t have.
If you asked me who I wanted to marry when I was a senior in high school, he was tall, blonde and blue eyed. I wanted that sort of American look and a slim percentage of a chance my child will have light eyes and wavy hair. Never in a million years could you have convinced me that I would ever fall in love, let alone marry, a Korean man. Ok, for those who know him, his hair is uncannily curly! But alas, my boys have straight dark hair and the darkest of eyes. I adore that about them now…but back then, they were but a glimmer in the darkest recesses of my mind’s eye.
Fast forward to my life as a post-adoption social worker organizing workshops for adoptive parents. I was growing weary of the panels of adoptees coming to share their stories. I loved the stories and so did the audience. It seems a room full of adopted parents are ravenous for our stories and even more ravenous for our accolades afterwards that they are doing just the right thing because they can check off their list all the things our parents didn’t do for us way back when. In wanting some focus, I thought of themes adoptees could come, speak and share about. Dating and relationships was just such a topic and I knew it was by far the most personal of personal. I wanted to do this for many reason, notwithstanding the many times I have had to field such ridiculous comments like – We are Jewish, it is important she find a nice Jewish boy, but she keeps bringing home those other Latino boys from across the tracks. Yes. you read correctly. Finding adoptees willing to share such a personal experiences as how and whom they found to love was a huge ask. But find I did and I think I was more changed than anyone.
I know I am showing my age with what I write here. I hope I am. There was a panelist, an Asian adoptee, who shared her experiences of dating Asian men. She was married to a Caucasian man. I rightfully guessed that the bone of contention in those past relationships was her being adopted. It usually was and it usually was the demise of the relationship as no good Asian boy would date, let alone think about marrying, an adoptee. One guy’s mother accused her of trying to gain legitimacy as an Asian person through her son. That statement struck me dumb for a minute.
By the time this panel came into my life, I had already gone through the heartache of dating a few Korean boys whose mothers refused to let me in their homes because of my being adopted. And, I was already married to that wavy haired, dark eyed Korean man. Our very long courtship was over and the main sticking point of my adoption status was water under the bridge. After all, I was self sufficient, went to a good college, had a couple of degrees after my name and was taller than my father-in-law. I kid. I seemed to have found one of the few guys who really had no worry that his parents would come around to accepting me.
Honestly, it was never lost on me that my relationship was a mixed raced relationship of sorts. Everything I learned about being Korean was either from a book or my year in Korea. Even now, I work diligently to maintain my Korean and bring things into my home that is Korean. The consequences of my shortsightedness as far as being a Korean daughter-in-law took quite a few more years of misunderstandings, confusion, tears and wrinkled foreheads of wonder. Tales of Korean Mothers-In-Law are infamous. Just look at the blog – Kimchi Mamas – there is a whole section just on Mothers-In-Law! While I was frustrated that I wasn’t cut a little more slack for not having been raised in a Korean home, it never dawned on me that my Korean identity was legitimized by having a Korean husband. I was not more Korean because of whom I married. If that was the case, I missed that “How-To” book.
I always knew I was Korean. The whole world knew it too. It is that very part of me that caused such derision growing up. Instead, being married to a Korean man has forced me to be far more vigilant in how I identify myself so I don’t lose the hyphenated aspect of my identity. The American and Adopted part of me are equally essential to determine what box to put me in.
What my truth really was back then was this… As an adolescent girl wanting so desperately to fit in, I believed an All American blonde haired, blue eyed boy would legitimize ME as an American. He would make my Korean face disappear. No one would look at me strangely and wonder if I spoke English, if I was American enough. He would be my proof that I belonged here. How youthfully superficial is that? I see that now. I can also now see my very Korean looking sister and her tall, fair complected, light haired husband and only see love. I love hearing my nephew declare that he looks more Korean than his sister. And I can now see that I found love in the form of a person who looks just like me, legitimately.