I arrived from Korea at what is now the Reagan International Airport in Washington DC in October of 1984. I was 6 months old, and apparently, from what my parents tell me, the only baby screaming as I was carried off the airplane, and into the arms of my new family. Hi, Mom and Dad! Be afraid, be very afraid!
Life as a Korean Adoptee is something I want to explore further about on this blog, and something I have found myself thinking about more as a new mother. I want to share my experiences as an adoptee for those thinking about adopting – and for those who are just curious about what it’s like. So, I might as well start with a post about some of what I’ve observed so far…
- When people say, “Wow, you are SO lucky to have been adopted. Your life is so much better here than it would have been if you stayed in Korea,” I kind of cringe. Yes, being adopted by a loving family is wonderful, and choosing to adopt is a fantastic thing to do. I no-doubt had a idyllic childhood and was afforded all the opportunity in the world. That being said, especially coming from the perspective of a new mother, it is the parents who are the lucky ones, not the child. There is absolutely nothing so far in my life that can compare to the joy my daughter brings to my life. It is the purest love. I know my parents felt the same way for me, even though I was not biologically their own. That love is life changing – and the only thing that can bring that love to life is a child. The parents are the lucky ones.
- Looking different sucks/sucked. I think I got made fun of for being Asian for first time in kindergarten. A boy on the bus started pulling his eyes back tight and making fun of me for being “Chinese.” Growing up in a predominantly white community, that was the first time I realized I wasn’t like everyone else. The teasing continued through high-school with jokes here and there, and then rolled into the real world. Comments about my eyes, mostly. A person at a family function in Texas once said to me, “you’re really pretty except for your eyes.” So, yeah, looking different has been a battle for me, but seeing myself in my daughter has given me a new perspective. She has my eyes, and she is so perfectly beautiful to me. I want to show her that I love my Asian-ness as a map for her own self-love. Admittedly, this is a work in progress.
- Going to Asia as an Adoptee is weird. The great thing about living and traveling in Asia as an Asian is that you don’t stick out. For once in your life, you look pretty much like everyone else — and it is the tall, white Americans who stick out like sore thumbs. The beauty products are great and made for your skin, and everything is sized to your height. The weird thing about traveling and living there is that everyone assumes you are a local. When you can’t speak the language, people seem shocked, and since you look like you belong, no one offers support or help on the streets like they would to an obvious foreigner. In Korea, people kept telling me “…but you look so Korean,” after I told them I didn’t speak Korean. Their reaction to this American behind a Korean face was first a look of horror, followed quickly by a look of sadness. I would then tell them I was adopted, and they would say “oooh, yes, I thought so.” In my experience, being an adoptee in Asia was more alienating than being an obvious foreigner. It felt great to have everyone look like me for once, but not being able to communicate made everything difficult and strange. I could walk the walk, but couldn’t talk the talk!
- Yes, I’m interested in knowing who my birth mother is, but if I never find out, it won’t be a huge deal. When I went to Korea, I got to visit my orphanage and see my adoption file. I learned that my birth mother was 18 when she had me, and that she left the hospital immediately after giving birth to me. My birth father was out of the picture, and my mother lived in a small village south of Seoul. She didn’t have the resources to care for me, so I ended up at Eastern Social Welfare Society, which is located in Seoul. They have reached out to me to start a birth-mother search, but I haven’t yet reached back. Yes, I am curious to see what she looks like, and to know if I have brothers or sisters, but luckily, I already have a Mom – my adoptive Mother, the only Mother I’ve ever known. So, meeting my birth mother isn’t a huge deal to me at this point, although the curiosity is definitely there.
- As I’ve grown older, being I’ve become much more aware that my family doesn’t look like a family to much of the outside world. For example, a couple years ago, my husband (who is Mexican) and I went on a family vacation to New Zealand with my Mom and Step-Father. We went on a lot of tours, and it was a bit awkward explaining to tour guides and such that we were traveling together as a family. They looked at my two caucasian parents, and then at Frank and I, and were totally thrown off. Like, how are
you all related? People’s reactions with I am out alone with my Father or Step-Father are equally awkward. Like, I can see the wheels turning in their head as they try to figure out what, exactly, our relationship is – dating? Mail-order bride? Hmmm. It is equally strange when my Mom wants to hold my hand in public. It is all very vain of me to worry about what other people are thinking, but it is a reality to me. I never thought about it growing up – and I guess when two people have a small, foreign-looking child with them, you assume they are adopted because the adults are obviously caring for them. As you become an adult, the situation isn’t so obvious, I suppose.
I don’t know if I will ever come to terms with my issues of identity – I am, for all purposes, a good old midwestern girl in the body of someone who the world perceives to be something…else. I wonder sometimes if my daughter will have the same identity issues. We don’t speak Spanish or Korean, we don’t really identify with traditional Mexican or Korean culture — yet, the world will see our daughter as Asian or Mexican. I want to make an effort to make her cultural heritage a part of her life. Maybe it will help.
What do you think?
Are you an Adoptee? What have been some of your experiences? I would love to hear from you. I plan on doing a 23andMe DNA analysis — and am looking forward to seeing if I have any close relatives in their database! Stay tuned for more on that journey.