Good News, With Thanks, Still Skeptical

Last week the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare came out with a press release as they move toward ratification of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  The small but mighty group of Korean adoptees working in Korea and the many who support them Stateside declared this to be a document worth many thanks.  Here in New York, I am skeptically saying thanks.

In reading the translation of this press release, I am left with tons of questions and lots of curiosity.  Just how does Korea think she will honestly, transparently and fruitfully fulfill on her words.  All these services outlined, who will do this work?  What will their biases be? There aren’t enough social workers in Korea to meet all these demands.  My own experience in social work school and talking to my fellow Korean international students, not a one was going back to Korea to provide clinical services, nor had much interest in child welfare issues.  None were curious about adoption, family work, family preservation or institutionalization.  Those who expressed interest were not going back to Korea, they were staying here to get more training and do clinical work here in English.

I am left wondering if we really think we will get all that is promised in this document?  Are we setting ourselves up?  The Hague Convention does little to address the growing need for full post-adoption services.  We can’t even hold our own country accountable for the patchwork quilt we call PAS.  Dare I join in the celebration when all I could do was sigh a sad sigh?  The group of adoptees in Korea pales in comparison to the tens of thousands overseas.  For most it remains an impossibility to go to Korea, look at their records and gain cultural competence.  For most, the journey of understanding their adoption must be done in the context of living overseas.  Organizations like the Overseas Koreans Foundation has dismantled the ability for Korean Adoptee organizations to seek funding for their work.  If such a foundation doesn’t recognize Korean adoptees as overseas Koreans, then this new statement is useless to me and countless others who cannot or will not live in Korea and consider themselves Korean Americans.

If search and reunion and access to full files by US agencies remain inconsistent, how do I expect to trust a country to be their word when they consistently fail to respond to an adoptee sitting across the table from them in tears asking for more information?  Taking these records away from the agencies in Korea means that bureaucrats will be the gatekeepers of this invaluable information?

All of this boils down to money.  Is there enough money for PAS, family preservation and subsidies to increase aid to unwed women who want to parent their children?  Will PR really work to raise the numbers of domestic adoptions?  Ratifying the Hague will not change the antiquated system of educating and supporting children adopted domestically.

There is one glaring omission in this translation.  What will happen to the children still in care, in orphanages, in foster homes, in crisis from being separated from their families.  I would like to believe this statement by the Ministry of Health and Welfare is more than just making amends for the past, but also looking at a way to fundamentally change the way Korea views international adoption, domestic adoption and child care now and in the future.  There will always be vulnerable children.  There will always be a need for adoption and a system that responds to the need to care for children not in their families of origin.  Anecdotally, I am seeing older children adopted from Korea and the amount of services and assistance families need to care for them is mounting.  These are not children that Korean families are willing to adopt.

I acknowledge the Ministry for a beautiful document with words of promise and an attempt to meet the demands of adult adoptees seeking change.  Included is the step forward toward ratification of the Hague Convention, something that I think South Korea is long overdue in pursuing.  But like the Hague, we have come to see that no one document will change the perception of how adoptions should be conducted or how the records of the children soon to be adults, whose lives fundamentally change from adoption, should be preserved or honored.  Now many years later, we in the US have come to realize that that there remain many more concerns and still children in questionable adoptive homes with more in-care waiting for a change in their future.  But if the simple acknowledgement was what we needed, then I suppose this press release is a great first.

I realize all of this sounds like I have a case of “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  I am not in Korea challenging, toiling and advocating.  I fully realize the sacrifice it takes to do that and I selfishly covet my life here as a mother (then a social worker) just living life.  But I am not idly wanting either, waiting for others to do the work for me.  I hope these words will penetrate in some small fashion as my peers move forward in seeing these promises come to action.

I am taking this goodwill seriously though. For the likes of Jane Jeong Trenka to believe this is great, then I am willing to stay engaged but not feeling so generous with my thanks.  My soju is still in the fridge.

Boxes

Boxes.  I have been thinking alot about boxes these past few weeks.  Boxes to transport my food so I won’t lose it with a loss of power.  Boxes for toys, diapers and sheets to give to others.  Boxes to store my boys’ treasures.  Boxes (rather circles) to pick the next President.  Been a busy few weeks.

The box that has been staying with me though, has been Pandora’s.  Her box has been quite troublesome lately.  It is so bittersweet to realize that without the pain, there can be little in the way of true joy and I struggle to make sense of the idea that oftentimes in adoption, this paradox exists time and time again. Opening the adoption box opens up a mine of ills, loss, grief, black holes, unexplainables and endless questions.  It can open up the inner workings of our mind that remained dormant for decades, open our eyes to an alternate reality that we cannot ever make sense of and disease our heart with pining.  I would love to think that having my birthmother in my life has quelled the pinings, but most of the time, I am reminded of all I missed, quelling little of all of the above.

More personally, my big boy had a school project that involved putting his short history on this earth into a box to show his classmates from whence he came.  In the creating of this history box, we went through a bunch of pictures and artifacts for his choosing.  I had his birth certificate and was acutely aware that mine was missing in the collective.  There are thousands of his baby photos and of mine, there are none.  He had a tangible face to view going back three generations that I could not contribute to.  And yet, I am grateful for what I was able to give him.  I loved doing this project with him.  He was making his history box, I was making history for myself along with him.

You see, the history of a child used to be based on a tree concept.  A linear concept with roots that an adopted child could not fill and branches that remained nameless.  Very frustrating, humiliating and extremely lacking.  I am thrilled my son’s school is progressive enough to think out of the box instead.  P did a poetic job of choosing photos of his brother, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all to be pasted on the outside of his box.  Inside, he saved it for himself – sonogram photo, newborn hat, baby pictures among other things.  He surrounded himself with love from family and nestled himself inside.  Lovely.  I cried. Among the photos were my Umma, my brother, my referral photo and me in Korea way back when.  There was one photo he chose to include that stopped me a bit short.  It was of me with my orphanage siblings outside of the orphanage in 1976.  I don’t know why he chose to include it, but it was amazing to see it there.  My history was included, embedded into his.

While Pandora’s box created ills for generations to come, my legacy of loss ends with me but not my history.  P honored my past in such a beautiful subtle way, as one of many things that make him HIM.  The joy of creating my family has given me immeasurable happiness, something I treasure and never take for granted given the empty box I have been holding onto all these years.  P will have his own loss and will grief aplenty in his soon to be full life.  I am glad it doesn’t involve loss that undercuts his sense of self too.  P’s Korean name means “broad foundation.”  In looking at his box, I am grateful I could be a part of giving him that foundation.

Tuesday

A typical morning dropping off the kids.  Ping!  My phone goes off.  Friend forwards me an article…

“My parents have moved on, but I am living in the past.”

Pause. Do I want to read this right now?  Will I just get pissy?  It is a special day, my sister is coming for a visit.  It’s a celebratory day.  A day that has become only for us to share as the date pushes further behind me.  A made up day to acknowledge I was born just like everyone else.

READ.  I hope you do too.  It is a good, truthful, raw read and I want to reach out this adoptee.  I am not often compelled to do that.  Sometimes, the media does it just right.  My friend and I each got something different out of it.  The feeling that one is without a home either in Korea or in America, the missing of the past, the inability to graft in the future.

“I look at how my father interacts with my half-siblings and it’s a relationship I will never understand. And to fully comprehend the fact that I will never have a relationship like they do is just devastating. I can’t do it anymore.”

I am reminded of my Umma and brother.  They have a relationship.  While I am not deluded into thinking they have an ordinary relationship, it is something I will never have with Umma.  I am her fantasy child, lost and found again.  She can’t come close to me and feel entitled to chastise, joke, tease or demand.  I am getting better at pulling her in.  I am hopeful she will follow my lead.

Picking

Sigh, summer is over.  School has officially begun in my town and while the heat is hardly abating, there is no denying the end of summer.  The only saving grace is that the mosquitoes will follow suit.  My boys got lots of bites this year.  It was the first year they were very aware of the bites and picked at them and scratched to their woeful content.  Not trying to be gross, but I think it is one of the rites of passage as a kid enjoying a great summer, picking at mosquito bites hardly waiting for them to scab over.  My legs are still scarred from a few that were so hard to resist.

Where am I going with this?  I have a picking issue that has not earned its grown up wings and flown away.  I can’t resist picking at the media and their constant promotion of celebrities and their becoming adoptive parents.  I accept our obsession with celebrities and their babies.  The entire world has been ‘baby-bump’ watching Prince William and Kate Middleton the second they gave their second kiss on the balcony on their wedding day.  Celebs and their babies are big business.  I get it, I get the fascination.  I will admit to snatching a peek at People magazines piled up in my waiting room.  I know their existence is one reason a few of my clients come early to sit and take it all in.

I just wish when a celebrity adopted a child, it was done a bit differently…a bit less heroic.  Let’s face it, they are creating family just like everyone else.  It is a selfish narcissistic desire, itch if you will, to become a parent.  But I keep getting that nitpicky sensation whenever I see another White celebrity holding a child of color in their arms.  I especially have a hard time with it when I know they are not adopting their child in the same way other adoptive parents are adopting their babies.  They aren’t doing group sessions with other prospective adoptive parents.  They aren’t trudging all over town laboring over the paperwork.  They are the ones getting the expedited, private, totally non-transparent process.  That bothers me.  What bothers me more is when a couple flagrantly bypasses regulations I know to be deal breakers for the typical adopting parent.  Say, for example, the three year marriage rule for Korea.  I have worked in the Korean adoption program, I have colleagues and friends who have worked in this program too and this rule of being married three years is hard and fast.  I know I am picking at something pointless.  And I know People magazine is hardly THE source for accurate information.  But if a wedding is flashed all over their pages and the next year, they are adopting a child from Korea.  I start picking and nitpicking.

When that same couple now is being honored for an Angel in Adoption from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, I am being super picky!  I remember when the CCAI was CCA and the whole Angels in Adoption was created.  The lists of honoraries have been eye-roll worthy and I never coveted an Angel myself.  I am hardly the type to be invited to something next to people like Bruce Willis and Muhammed Ali.  But that’s ok, I am not sure why they are honored either.  There is no real write up on the website about why these people are getting honored but only for their raising “awareness of children without homes” or making “contributions in the field of adoption and foster care.”  How are they doing this when they are being so mute about their charitable giving?  Again, I am picking.  Now, I know that famous people are wonderfully effective for shining a light on issues of dire importance.  But when the only thing we hear about is that they adopted a child, I hardly find that worthy of such accolades.  Donating to the agency that gave them their baby doesn’t count.  Not even if that money gives a single mother in Korea a chance to parent her children or a mixed raced child a fighting chance to go to school.

I also think that showering such honor to people who adopt a child is an insult to the those others who are working in the field of adoption, family preservation, research and advocacy.  There is nothing on the Angels in Adoption website homepage on those organizations.  Not as glamourous, but I believe it far more noteworthy.

So, here’s to the MN Center for Advanced Studies on Child Welfare and others like them getting Angels this year but not mentioned aloud.  It is an honor for the likes of Katherine Heigl, Ne-Yo and People to be in YOUR presence.  Drink lots, look pretty, mingle with the fancy people and bask in the light that will shine on all your hard work for one evening!

Legitimacy

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.

Translation

Several months ago, it was suggested to me that I get my blog translated into Korean.  The main reason being that perhaps my words might help Koreans in Korea normalize and understand the complications of international adoption from a personal perspective from someone who is “older”.  No offense taken, it was a compliment to me that this adoptee felt I could be of any help to others beyond the English speaking/reading community.

Finding a good translator was the challenge.  The art of taking someone’s words and putting them into decipherable terms in another language is hard.  Taking those same words and making sure that the sender’s meaning, intent, emotion is understood as well…well, that’s a gift.  Even for those who are truly bilingual, there is always a default language – the one they count money with, tell time with and curse!

I have written about Kay in other posts.  Kay and I traveled to Korea together on a motherland trip with a group of adoptive families.  She was also training another translator/tour guide too, so I got to see her wearing multiple hats.  But it was one quiet “free afternoon” when the families went out to Itaewon to shop that I got to really see her mastery.  She agreed to meet with my Umma and me.  I had not used a translator for our reunion.  I had been living in Korea for 9 months already and my Korean was babyish but workable.  Actually, other than the basic of information, there was no need for a translator.  We just wanted to be in each other’s company.  She just wanted to hold my hand and sit very very close to me.

This motherland trip was the first of several I have been on, but the first since I met my birthmother.  Kay agreed to translate for me so that I could be more free to ask questions and have a real conversation.  At this point, I had learned alot about Kay and her family circumstances.  She emotionally connected to Umma as a fellow mother who lost her children through divorce and was separated from them for a long stretch of time.  She is Catholic as is my Umma.  The two women connected.  Kay gave us the freedom to be honest and weepy.  She was more than a translator, she was a friend who had only the purest of intentions – to get our words right.  She never told me that I could not, should not say something.  She didn’t sugarcoat or leave anything out for misunderstanding.  What more, her translating was so fluid it was as if we were all speaking the same language.  I have always been grateful for that day.  It allowed me to see my Umma as a person and as a mother.  I attribute that afternoon as one reason I chose to stay connected to Umma.  She became a real entity in my life, not just a reunion, not just an event.

I have been asked time and again who is writing the Korean by the native Korean speakers in my life.  All have been impressed and in awe of what they are reading.  I wanted to write this post in English first so that no one would mistaken me for the writing.  And I wanted to explain what an adoptee has to go through to get her words just right.  When it came time to find said  blog translator, Kay was the first person I thought of, but she doesn’t live close to me.  After going around my local area to seek friends who might be willing, I realized Kay was really the only one.  Thank goodness for technology.  Kay happily said yes.  And thus, all the Korean on this blog is the genius of Kay and the computer.

I have been in the room for several meetings where adoptees are either meeting birthfamily members for the first time or reviewing their adoption files.  Bearing witness to such events is mindblowing and heartwrenching.  Watching bad translations happening is infuriating!  I never perport to speaking Korean well, but I know a good snowjob.  In any language it is demoralizing.  I understand why adoptees are so furious with agency social workers.  Adoptee after adoptee has shared the moment they sit there waiting on every word that is said and frantically looking at the face of the social worker to find all the words that are not said.  Those moments are never the right moments to put forth manners, decorum, culture as barriers to the selective translating process.  I have seen adoptees confused at what they hear because certain aspects of the story were not translated.  Is my birthmother dead, alive, mentally ill, committed suicide, doesn’t want to see me, forgot about me, denying I exist?  Is my birthdate accurate, estimated, made up, based on the Lunar Calendar?  For many of us, we are simultaneously grappling with the discovery of misinformation, inaccurate information AND birth family all at the same time.  There is no other comparable situation in my world that comes close to this level of overwhelm.  In one sitting, I was told my birthmother was not dead, alive, just got out of the hospital, may be dying and searching for me for 21 years, AND my name was changed as was my birthdate.  Just say that sentence outloud, it is just too much.

We seek transparency, perhaps we might start with translating transparency first.

Fast forward to present day.  I have a dear friend who is in reunion with her birthmother and family.  Her birthmother was supposed to come for a visit, but it is not happening.  The circumstances around this change in plans is not the issue so much as the dark abyss my friend has had to navigate trying to get any morsel of information about her birthmother.  The translations caused panic and worry and more questions.  My friend was even willing to go to local markets to find a Korean person.  Imagine having to go to a total stranger and asking them to help you during such an intimate exchange?  I don’t offer up my translating abilities to anyone, but in this situation, I tried.  After one phone call to her birthsister, panic dissipated enough for rational thought to enter and plans have now been made.  Being a part of this process for my friend was the greatest gift to both of us.  I never felt so wonderful as to be able to relay with accuracy my friends concern and then in turn call my friend to let her know how things were really going on over there.  The Korean was not beautiful, not at all what Kay would have done, but it was enough to be more accurate than all the other translations.

One thing that international adoptees lament over is the loss of language and the ability to speak their birth language.  For some, it is near impossible to learn so heavy the emotional barriers to accessing that part of their linguistic brain.  While being able to speak Korean is not always the blessing I hoped it would be, I try my damndest to keep up with it.  Even so, I have limits and I am grateful to have someone like Kay in my life who I trust to make my English words make sense.

Anniversaries

I love a well wrapped gift – the perfect amount of paper, tape well hidden and matching double sided satin ribbon to accessorize.  I have a tendency to want things wrapped up nicely literally and figuratively.  This one year anniversary of writing this blog seems to come with a desire to keep writing and doesn’t have that nice ending I usually seek.  This one year of writing thoughts of adoption and being adopted has been simultaeneously cathartic and agonizing.  It has allowed me to empty my head of the thousands of words I had stored up there only to find that the space got quickly replenished.  It allowed me to meet more adoptees, learn more stories and confirm for me that we are such an eclectic diaspora of experiences.

Anniversaries remind me that time keeps moving forward.  Yet, with time, I still feel unfinished about my feelings about adoption, my identity as an Asian American woman, my job as a mother and as a social worker.  Being part of the blog-world has opened up old wounds, questioned my loyalties and challenged my belief in civil discourse among adoptees.  I am astounded at the lengths in which we will take in defending a point of view about adoption and the amount of venom adoptees working in the field of adoption still recieve.  It has brought out the old defenses I thought I had put to rest once I left placement and my work at an adoption agency.  It has affirmed my dedication to continuing in post-adoption and working with the kids (and their parents) as they become another generation of adopted people.  It has given me wanderlust in being in Korea to do more of what I do there.  It has made me a seeker again.

At the same time, time being the prevailing teacher, I have met people this year I would probably never have had the courage to speak with about my thoughts on adoption.  On the surface it seemed we were on polar opposite sides and yet our adoption status has been the unique and most powerful connector.  I am humbly grateful.  It seems there is a newish revolution coming again of activism in the adoptee community.  I look forward to the opportunities blogging has given me to stay connected to those who want to change the way we talk about adoption and be included in parts of that change.

Anniversaries also remind me of what I have missed.  This year is marked by a second year without my beloved grandmother, which reminds me that love does not come in a human form but in the memories created with that human.  I miss her and her spontaneous way of calling me, “Honey child.”  It also marks more time that has passed between my adoptive parents and me.  While I continually negotiate in my head as to how I truly feel about that decision, I feel empowered each time I choose the love I seek to create rather than settling for a falsehood in the name of being a good adoptee.

This summer marks over 35 years that I have been in America.  And while I feel so very American, my orphanage, my Umma, my brother, my static life in Korea runs constant commentary in my head.  On paper, I was adopted long ago.  In my heart, I am still adopted now and it is this identity that clearly colors my thoughts, influences the way I hear things and continues to be the frame of reference from which I base much of my decisions about people, friendships, love and trust in others.

Perhaps adoption is not so far in the backseat of my life.  I think I am ok with that for now. Not everything can be packaged so neatly in the chasms of our heart.

Root causes…

Root causes for adoptions…

Could it be that we really don’t want to know the root causes?  Do we know the root causes a person is rendered unacceptable in a society?  You can’t have an “in” group without an “out” group – can you?  Are we all on the same page that family preservation is THE top priority?  Actually, can we believe it is about family at all?  Which family are we preserving and is there truly a right heirarchy of the kinds of families that matter?  Is that even OUR real top priority?

Whenever I hear adoptees speak, it’s not so much that they didn’t want a family.  In fact, all they seem to want to talk about is their family: the relationships within, the want for their family to be different, the want for acknowledgement by a family, to redefine the concept of family, to claim a family for themselves.  What trumps one family over another?  Who is to say that preserving my birth family would make me any more happy, secure, less angry, less anxious.  If I stayed with my birthmother, I am not so sure I would have looked at my life in terms of, “well, I may be poor, uneducated, but at least I wasn’t adopted!”  That feels awkward.  I can’t even say it outloud.

So here is a sacrilegious thought that keeps pervading my head. If the bond that binds between mother and child is so great, then why is being in reunion near impossible for some?  At what point can we actually stop and say that our birthparents were at fault in all of this too?  Not victims, but actual participants in perpetuating a faulty, non-child centered system?  There is the tale of the fourth, fifth, sixth child of a family being chosen to be given up.  And also the tale of extended family members posing as the birth parents to place their niece/nephew for adoption.  These are not the one rare exception, but time and time again, the same story.  Not in the adoption papers, but from the adoptees who have searched and reunited with their birth family.  How do we make sense of that situation in the broader context of whether adoptions should continue or not?

There was a time when I was obsessed with reading about the plight of the Korean comfort women.  Upwards of 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during 1930s-1945.  True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women edited by Keith Howard effected me deeply.  This book published the actual translations of the testimonies of the women who were forced into this slavery.  Adoption was in there as many of these women returned to Korea shunned by society and cast away from their families.  They became mothers through adoption and comforters of a different kind to children who were also cast away.  They found family and redefined it.  What a powerful message it was for me to know that the urge to mother was so great.

In reading these testimonies, I was struck by the way Koreans treated other Koreans.  It was after all the common thread that put many of these girls into such torturous situations.  It was a Korean face that enticed them into a bus or truck with promises of work and money.  It was Korean faces that cajoled them into believing that they made the right choice to go.  Everything about these testimonies is anger worthy, but the idea that these innocent children (yes, these women were children) were used by their fellow brethren makes me angry the most.  And for a minute, I think about that in adoption too.  There is plenty of fingerpointing to go around…but one could also be directed to our immediate flesh and blood.  In my mind, they were supposed to stand firm in their belief that family is all that matters.  Not always true.

Here in lies the quagmire for me.  I can neither undo my past, nor predict my future.  And yet, I live and form ideas based on my past in order to change my future.  I can not ever know if I was not supposed to be adopted and yet here I am.

Korea has arrived home!

I live in an area with an ever growing community of Koreans and Korean Americans.  It must be signficant enough for the arrival of H-Mart, a Korean franchise grocery market http://hmart.com/.  This weekend was the grand opening and it was packed.  The buzz around here was palpable since the news hit that such a store was going to be created.  Korean mothers, myself included, were counting the days.  My informal Korean language class even tried to make the opening day together as a field trip for our burgeoning language skills.  While we didn’t get to go all together, I went with my family, twice!

Crammed into an already busy Friday afternoon, we were greeted with music supplied by a DJ, balloons, cotton candy, greeters in hanboks and free gifts for anyone who had a receipt.  Imagine my surprise when one of the freebies was a calendar featuring our own Korean adoptee, Marja, and her Kimchi Chronicles http://www.kimchichronicles.tv/.

This new store creates the little bit of Korea I was craving and I am excited about inputting the store into my weekly shopping rounds.  I don’t have to travel very far now to satiate my appetite for Korea, Korean food and Korean people.  What astounded me was just how many Asian faces I saw.  Where did they all come from?  It was a bit of a mindtrip to see non-Koreans standing in line and walking around.  Some looked quite lost much like when I am in Korea.  All the signs are in both Korean and English.  And while the store will go through its growing pains of creating an atmosphere that welcomes the majority non-Korean speaking public, I was pleasantly surprised as to how comfortable I felt.  We made a beeline to the snack aisle, that is the REAL reason my kids love accompanying me.  It was amazing to see how comfortable they were as they perused the aisle looking for their favorites knowing full well that this is not our typical experience.  My big boy’s first question was, “where’s all the Korean stuff?”  Music to my ears!

In my head, there is always a divide between my Korean self and my American self.  I am finding Korean is occupying a larger portion there what with all the Korean dramas I watch every night.  I find myself using more Koreans words in my daily speak, wondering how something is said in Korean and if I could say it louder than a whisper.  I get so excited when I can figure out a Korean text from someone and respond in kind.

The transitions are so long in coming that I forget I am not 25 years old anymore.  I have to catch myself in my thrills as it is perplexing for my boys to see me this way.  To them, I am Korean.  They see me hanging out with the other Korean mothers, call my friends and family members in Korea and watching Korean TV.  This is their normal and rather uninteresting.

I have to also remember that in their privilege of always knowing themselves to be Asian, they are comfortable poking fun at Asian people.  I never felt comfortable with that, it sounded wrong and at times self-mutilating.  But they are not me, and they are so assured in their sense of who they are that I stop myself from giving them the “that’s racist!” lecture.  Aside from blank looks coming from them, I realize they see their Koreanness in the mirror every time, in their parents, grandparents and some friends.  Around here, they are not the minority.  I am just grateful they indulge me in the novelty I get from walking around in H-Mart today having people speak to me and to them in Korean and not think otherwise.

 

In my own words….

A friend of mine suggested I get parts of my blog translated into Korean.  The idea was daunting and scary.  It occurred to me that my birthmother and brother may read my words…I am not sure about that.  Should I tell them?  Haven’t decided yet. Suddenly, my words weighed heavy.  What will it mean for Korean people to actually read what I wrote?  I am taking a leap of faith and testing the waters.

Finding the right person to translate was the second challenge.  The key to translation is to be exact with meaning and feeling.  Could that be accomplished?  Will my heart be heard?  We adoptees all know the feeling of sitting in a room with a “translator” who tells the bare minimum and knowing there was a whole lot we missed.  After a couple of tries, I found the perfect match for me.  K was on a tour with me as a translator many years ago and she was instrumental in my learning more of my story.  My Umma trusted her and she was amazing in relaying not only our words but put tuem into cultural context for me to understand completely.  K is a woman of grace and I am fortunate to still have her in my life.

For anyone who reads Korean…let me know what you think?