Archive for the ‘Adoption Politics’ Category

Birth Luxury

25 May

There is a luxury for people who are born and raised by the same parents that I cannot share. Their parents can tell the story together about how they met and why they fell in love with each other. Then came to think about having children and want to give birth to them. Then pictures of their mother pregnant with not just any child, but with them, growing larger. Then perhaps a story about the worries about a C-section, labor, where they were, what they were doing, and how the that person was born. There is a picture–maybe many of their mother holding them in their arms. And then again, with them in their cribs in the hospital.

And then, again, more stories about what the first word they learned was. What their favorite toy was, how they came to walk. Who exactly taught them to brush their teeth. How much trouble they were when they were little. Who was at their first birthday party.

Stories within stories, told over and over again, supported by images, touch, tastes, sound and smells flashing in their minds. Voices outside of themselves confirming what they experienced, as a comforting echo.

By the end of three months, after my arrival to the United States I had none of that. I’d deliberately burnt all the memories with the word Korea in them. Half a memory gone because the word Korea was left in it. The edges of memories burnt selecting for the word or the memory. Perhaps they were burnt with pain, with sorrow, with joy, with grief. All burnt in my mind though I couldn’t remember afterwards why I’d burnt them.

As the bonfire erupted I told people what I did know of Korea as the flames licked higher. And when the ashes settled, I spent a lifetime trying to piece together things from those ashes.

What I wouldn’t give for one photo to survive. A picture of my extended family surrounding me for my first birthday cake. A picture of my Korean mother holding me in her arms. One solid echo in the distance that wasn’t my own voice coming back to me from another person. These things people who are born from their parents and raised by them take for granted and don’t think as important anymore. But the echo comforts that heart because they know it’s true without people questioning or doubting them.

So I pasted the leftover photographs and the echoes from my own mouth on a wall in my mind. The wall had doors that would not open no matter how hard I tried, so the only glimpses inside were my wrecked memories. Everything from the age of four and before were gone. Voice accounts left of what I said about Korea, but they do not echo in my own memory because I’d already burnt them. As if the word “Korea” was a cue to the editor to cut the film reel short. And because it’s memories from my own mouth, there was no echo back to tell me that it was true. How did I know I wasn’t lying at the time? And there are no photographs to support my claims. These memories could be false, but I held onto them tightly as if they too would burn.

My parents bought for us Momotaro, the Japanese folktale about a boy that comes from a peach pit. I said something about that book too that it was like Korea, but it blanks from my memory.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

My brother and I used to sing loudly in Korean various songs. Some of them were Christian and taught to us in the orphanage. We often liked singing together. I liked making up songs when I was five, often singing off pitch and recorded them. I remember recording songs, but it is my Mom that fills in the fact we liked singing in Korean together.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

My maternal grandparents came to stay at our house to get to know me and my brother. My parents were going to go out on a date together for a concert. I thought they were not going to come back, so I cried and cried, not sure what was happening. My parents did their best to explain what was happening. I thought they wouldn’t return at all. As I complained, I must have thought of Korea because soon after I forgot the story. My parents told me this story to me three times before I could remember that they told me.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

My paternal grandmother gave me a doll which had a knit cap and a fluffy pink dress and spiky hair. I loved the doll because it had blinking eyes. She lost the cap because the cap caught on my hangnails during the winter. She lost the dress, because I put other dresses on her or I simply didn’t feel like dressing her. I named it Tuta. For years I didn’t understand why I named the doll Tuta, but I remembered her name anyway. She was my absolute favorite white doll with brown spiky hair and chubby cheeks. If I lost her, I cried. If I didn’t have her to hold at night, I spent hours searching for her. If I lost her under my bed, I would go and fetch her before I fell asleep.

The first thing I did with Tuta, according to my grandmother was take her, take a large stretchy cloth and wrap her up in a bundle. I remember fussing with the knots to try to get her to be bundled up tight.

I took her and strapped her to my back. And though I no longer remember saying the words, I said this was a thing that I did in Korea for my brother. A picture commemorates the event. My memory blanks once my past self mentions Korea.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

We went to a Korean Church for an adoption cultural event. These events were held out in the suburbs which was a long drive. My paternal grandmother had come with us. In the basement of the church they sold Korean fans, Korean candy and Korean snacks. As part of the event they also sold substandard Korean food. To me, it never tasted right.

This lasted a good three months. A woman, who must have been in her 30′s came to greet us and said something to me in Korean. I cried so loud, though I don’t think she said anything mean. My grandmother commented that she had no idea what I was crying about. I don’t either. I can only guess. Maybe that was the point where I understood I had lost something important and I no longer understood anything about Korea. Perhaps that was the point that I realized Korea was filled with pain and I wanted to forget. Since I cannot remember the event, and because it had to do with Korea, I cannot remember.

These previous events became foreign to me. I forgot how to write my Korean name. I forgot my Korean father’s name. I forgot my brother’s Korean name though I used to call it constantly. I forgot the language. Anything associated with Korea got wiped out. As soon as I forgot, I wanted to remember more fiercely than I wanted to forget. But too, as I forgot and my mom realized we had forgotten, she constantly told us after that point that any memories we had were lies we fabricated.

What I knew became blank again as English and a new culture struggled to replace them in my mind. Images blurred and faded from my mind. I became deaf to the sounds in my memories. Feelings were the only thing left.

I kept secret the impression I had of my Korean father, Appa. And my Korean mother, Eomma. Both words I had to relearn and memorize as if remembering the words would bring back their images to my mind.

Appa was a man holding my hand, his face blurring as the days went by, his hair, though black, also fading from my mind. His expression remained. A sadness and a seriousness I did not understand. I wanted to help him so much, but I couldn’t.

The image of Eomma faded faster, and faster until the only way I could remember was to a time when I was trying to remember her, as if I were hanging onto an image out of focus. All I knew was that she was pretty and how much I desired to be pretty too, like her, but I no longer remember what that ideal was that I was trying so hard to remember.

These feelings of people I once knew struggled against my mom’s voice as she told me that feelings were not provable fact. I could not prove any of the things I felt, so they were not real unless I could see them.

Psychologists call these repressed memories. Elizabeth Loftus staked her career on telling people that any memories once you’ve forgotten them cannot be recovered. You cannot prove them and that they are mutable. My mom leveraged psychologists like her to say that after three months all memories and feelings from Korea were not real. But left behind in the place of these memories was an unexplained empty hole. I often did actions that I could not understand or explain because I had no memories to explain them.

The sounds, tastes, smells, and sights of the images faded in my mind, but the feelings were left behind, but even those feelings did not count. So any memories left over from the ashes I pieced together I kept secret from the voices that said that I could not prove them. I was afraid they, too, would fade in the torrent of denial.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Childhood


Invalidating Feelings

19 Feb

I admit I am unlike other adoptees in many ways, I interact with adoptive parents. It’s usually a come and go situation. Many adoptees dislike interacting with adoptive parents. It takes a lot of patience to do this. It’s not the adoptive parents one agrees with, it’s an adoptive parents who assume things about you because you are adopted that makes it hard. It’s the adoptive parent that is not educated to have seen the range of adoption and in some way end up purposefully or invalidating the adoptee.

The first thing I hate is when an adoptive parent assumes since I talked a few times that they know me. Is it because I’m adopted that they make these jump assumptions and thus have the right to preach at me? Why aren’t they asking for the in between parts? Why aren’t they asking why I feel this way?

The second is to not read through the information I’ve given them, hunt for only the negative parts of the things I say. It’s as if they have only read the sob stories that adoptees have, and the anger and then expect me to echo the same. I wish they wouldn’t skim over the good parts and think that all adoptees are a walking tragedy.

The third thing is when they talk for their children. It doesn’t matter. That child has a voice. If they want to object, then let them speak. Give them that computer, have them call me up, have them communicate with me without direction. I’m fine with that. If they aren’t old enough, then why is the parent talking for them? Using these children as examples of how the adoptive parent feels is doing the same thing they are trying to do towards me.

This ends up in the feeling, “You should be grateful.” You should be grateful that you are adopted. Almost like the words I said were a suicide note. I do not look kindly on this. I hate that aspect above all else. I hate that feeling like that person feels that know my situation better than I do so they can make judgments on my life, beliefs and situation that they can impose and preach these feelings at me. I actually had an adoptive parent tell me I should be grateful because I talked about the process of adoption. In another words, it was my fault.

These things and experiences are no different from an outsider of the triad. An outsider of the triad after hearing my story of how I was adopted immediately thinks they can tell me which set of parents I should love. I do not see a difference between this and the adoptive parent that assumes that if I say my story that they can say to me, “You should be grateful.”

Invalidating feelings is not pleasant for anyone–adopted or not. Arguing that one should not feel this way and that everything this person knows is invalid, without first asking why is grating. It makes it hard on me to interact when a person is so convinced they are right that my feelings and thoughts don’t matter, so they can tell me what to think and feel.

Perhaps I say unwanted truths that shake them that they want a scape goat to put out into the desert. It’s my point of view that’s wrong, thus the facts that I give are wrong. So not asking for sources, barging forward, and telling me who to be is more comfortable. Facing unpleasant truths, even if gems lie beneath is hard.

Don’t misunderstand me. I welcome disagreement as long as I don’t feel like I’m being put on a trial. Where everything I say and feel is wrong because the adoptive parent doesn’t want it to be true. Because somewhere along the line if they don’t face that truth, their child will probably find it. I hate the idea of this division. There are grim realities and joy, and sometimes the joy is hidden underneath the grim realities.

I don’t ever act emotionally towards these moments. I stay level-headed, because emotion always leads to more emotion and no information is passed through that. I’ve seen such interactions, and they never are pretty.

I will mention there are many adoptive parents who aren’t this way. What I like is when the adoptive parent is full of questions, when they ask more and more questions than before. They ask for sources, try to find out what I said was right, and look at my answers without a sifting only for the parts they disagree with. They don’t take my answers as “The Guide to Everything an Adoptee Feels and Thinks,” but a part of a larger whole. They talk of their pride in their children and how much they are proud of them. I like it when they don’t use their children as examples or how they wish to parent them as a way to talk about their own beliefs, but rather talk about their own feelings and don’t use their children as a cover. I like the idea of an open mind over the pride of being a parent.

There is so much out there to be had on adoption. Invalidating what I say and what I believe isn’t going to make those thoughts, beliefs and actions go away. That history of adoption will still be there and sit people in the face even if I disappeared. So why spend time, judging me and my life as I’ve lived it? As I see it my life, beliefs and experience is small potatoes.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Adoptism


Adoption Communication

19 Feb

I use the Internet a lot. It was my only source of sanity when I was in college–that and anime. It was the only way I could hang onto my identity as an Asian in a lot of ways.

I began to fall into Newsgroups. In some way I wanted to know what people thought of adoption. But the problem was that all I could see was Adoptees angry and Adoptive parents not in touch with adoptees at all.

This frustrated me. Adoptees just talked about their stories of how they were adopted, but not their every day experiences with being an adoptee. They wouldn’t face that they were teased or talkabout the million other issues that come with adoption. They said they were teased and talked in segments about how they were teased, but they didn’t get into how they felt. What they wrote was for other adoptees, not adoptive parents. They talked about the shock of going back to Korea and meeting their birth parents, but then the stories always told about how they broke it off with their adoptive parents or their birth parents without all of the emotion and roller coaster in between. This disconnect left me feeling like I really didn’t belong to this community. Inside of me, I had love for both set of parents. In different ways.

Adoptive parents in the same way didn’t sem to want to face the pain of adoption. I once talked to an adoptive mother about teasing and she acted like her son was ambivalent and it really didn’t matter that he got teased–that a thick skin would help.

The lawyers that posted in the group about how you could get children cheap even if you’re from a low income family resulted in me mailing him repeatedly. He agreed and then posted the same ad. This made me feel really disconnected here as well. I had gone to the trouble of telling him why it was offensive and he ignored me.

I lost faith for a long, long time that I even belonged to this thing called adoption. I had a need to express what I was feeling and the balance I was trying to strike so hard inside of myself. But there were all these holes in the community which didn’t give me hope.

The lack of communication between adoptive parents and adoptees I found scary. What was scarier was that there were no birth parents speaking out at all at the time. This is scary. How are we supposed to improve the adoptions that are happening now if there is no communication? Even if you hate adoption for everything it has done to you, I think we have a responsibility to talk to each other and prevent the hurt to the next generation at the same time as improving practices overall.

And this exact lack of responsibility in the adoption community made my heart ache.

So I began to take this responsibility over years. I began to do it to face my own adoption hurt and also to help adoptive parents understand their children. It took years of practice to get good at it and explain things from my point of view without losing the adoptive parent.

I also every few months search for the birth parent memoir I have always wanted to see. What it is like for a birth parent after the surrender. Not before. A memoir of the full thoughts and pain of the event. It’s not that I would relish in that pain, but I think knowing that there is a voice for birth parents too, helps out. It will help us as a community to unite our voice just that little bit more and accept more points of view.

I can’t say I moved the world, like Jane Jeong Trenka. I could only effect one person at a time, but somehow, I think that is enough. I am not here to change minds. I am here to put my voice out there and answer questions from one adoptees’ point of view.

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Posted in Adoption Philosophy, Adoption Politics


Dealing with Adoptism

19 Feb

After twenty plus years of answering questions about adoption, here are my ways to deal with questions–for those inside the triad dealing with those outside the Triad. The triad is made up of the parent that surrenders legal rights to their child, the child that was adopted and the parent(s) that adopts the child. Also all family involved in any of those three legs.

Firstly, I use birth parent because Google and a bunch of parents have labeled themselves as such. However, I know and do consider this unfair to use in many ways. It doesn’t honor the foster parent. It doesn’t honor the adoptive parents either. However, the English language is limited in this fashion where it thinks that parents are either “adopted” or by “blood” so it doesn’t really honor much. I default to birth parent, though I respect those who want me to use different terms when I am conversing with them.

Secondly, I should emphasize that there is no obligation for you to answer a person who is being rude and inconsiderate. There is also no obligation for you to answer these questions at all. I also think it shows strength to your children to not answer the questions occasionally–and also it shows strength to yourself if you are adoptee or adoptive parent. This is your life, not theirs. It is your decision to give them the power to ask questions about you and examine your life under a microscope, not theirs.

To those outside of the triad, one should realize when you ask such questions, you are asking questions that are more invasive than, “How much money do you make?” and “How much do you weigh?” as well as, “So what is your real age?” These things people don’t do in normal conversation. When people ask these questions, they are invading and questioning the ability of the parents. This plays with an adoptee’s self-esteem. This also plays with the adoptive parent’s ability to parent their own children. To an adoptive parent you are questioning their rights to raise this child.

Thirdly, for years I’ve been wondering what rude questions birth parents get too. As it stands there are no memoirs about the legal surrender of children by birth parents. The rest are in filters through various organizations (Usually orphanage organizations who later edit their messages.) This puts a really big wrench in the works. I wish I really could help with dealing with this part of the triad too, and the grief that’s felt, but I have a true lack of information. I will be sure to add information as I find it. I will try my best to address the questions that might be associated with legal surrender of children. But again, I am short on information. I truly apologize for not being able to direct this part towards birth parents properly. So please write me when I am stepping on toes and correct me.

Fourthly from my surveying and research, the adoptess always get more and more of the rude questions. Prepare accordingly–just because the adoptive parents don’t get these questions, don’t mean you shouldn’t teach other methods to your children.

1. Answer all questions with a question. This is also called the Socratic method.
ex. Who are your/their real parents?
a. sarcastic question– Are yours real too?
b. Make them think–”Which ones?” (said confused) or the more philosophical, “Are step parents real parents?”
c. Make them explain their answer so they can hear themselves– “What are you saying? I don’t understand.”
d. More passive and polite (engage their intellect)–”Do you think that children can have more than one set of parents?”
Pros: This has an off chance of actually making the person think about their questions to you in the future. Also f you phrase your question right, they make be distracted off topic if they aren’t that bright–and believe me, there are plenty of those kinds of individuals.
Cons: They don’t notice they made a social taboo.

2. Answer questions with a rant about the injustices of adoption. (Will not work for adoptive parents that well.)
ex. Do you want to go back to Korea?
a. Make them bored–Hell Yeah. I mean the Korean government won’t even give us Korean adoptees a dual citizenship! What’s up with that? I can’t understand why they woulnd’t give it to us. We were born there. Did we choose to leave the country? No… and so on.
b. Rant about the US if you don’t want to answer questions about Korea.
c. Go on a tangent and don’t answer their question. You can rant about the unfair media representation of adoption and Asians instead.

Pros: If they get bored, they will stop asking questions. And if you have some enjoyment out of making people suffer for asking invasive questions, you get to see them numb. Personally, I think this works best for those who pester you week after week.
Cons: If you see them again, you can’t work with them again. You also have to know your facts so they don’t spread whatever you say around to other people and get it wrong. It won’t work for adoptive parents. This is because it feels fake for you to be angry in the adoptee’s place and most adoption questions I’ve heard growing up directed at my Mom were actually for or about me.

3. Direct approach.
ex. Why did you adopt?
a. honest, but guarded approach–Because family is important.
b. Get lost approach–I don’t feel like answering that question.
c. super-direct–I don’t feel that is an appropriate question to ask. I feel it questions me as an adoptive parent.
d. If you like the person– Because I wanted to build a family. (cut off any questions after that point. This is all your children really need to know. If they ask about why… and if you did it to save your children from a worse fate, then be equally direct by saying that you find this line of questioning rude.
Pros: May work better for adoptive parents who have to see these people over and over again. It also teaches the person the right answer and what not to ask. If this person has to be around your kids often, such as a teacher, it’s best to use this approach.
Cons: This approach is my least favorite as an adoptee. It usually invites a barrage of questions and people start losing sight of the person in front of them.

4. Philosophical platitudes.
ex. Do you speak Korean? (after long questions about adoption–not before)
a. Slightly passive aggressive–It is interesting that people think that because one has a certain blood that they can automatically speak that language. However, we are all of the same species. I wonder what in society and our culture makes people think this way.
b. Softer answer–There are a lack of language programs in the United States. To date, it’s hard for immigrants to even work a job and learn the English language. I find it strange that people are so insistent that one should learn English coming to the Unite States but US tourist are equally insistent about speaking English in foreign countries. One of these major faults in the United States governmental system is that it doesn’t honor many countries outside of Europe in its language programs. I do wonder what brings this about in our society.
Pros: Makes the other person see you as a person and not an object (see below). It shows your competency with the subject asked. It also answers further questions that may lay underneath the original question.
Cons: You really have to be quick mentally to answer in this way. If you’re tired or upset, it doesn’t work. For Dinner parties it might work though. You also have to know a fair amount of information and politics to be this high brow.

5. Meet ignorance with ignorance.
ex. Who do you love more?
a. sarcasm–Myself.
b. alienation (for those annoying people who won’t leave you alone)–If I can help it no one. But don’t worry, you’re sinking fast on my list.
c. gentle approach (more socially acceptable)–I’m not sure what you mean. Please explain. (You have to be willing to compromise your position to do this though.)
Pros: Exasperation. There is a slim chance that by meeting ignorance with ignorance the person will understand their own.
Cons: They ask more questions when they truly don’t get it.

6. Redirection. That is utter avoidance of any questions before they start. So when they ask, you simply redirect their question into a new direction and into a new topic.
ex. I think you should love X more.
a. I think everyone has the right to love everyone in their own special ways. So, how are your children doing? (i.e. ask them a new question)
Pros: Gets them off of the subject.
Cons: They may try to ask you again or ask someone else in your family/friends the question. This can have a major con that they stay ignorant. I generally don’t use this too much unless I know the person they will most likely go to. Then I watch ignorance meet ignorance. It’s rather amusing, because somewhere along the way there is a small inkling in both people’s faces that maybe this is the wrong thing to do.

Generally, as an adoptee, I favor the question approach with a softer side to it. Because there is joy in having a person gage their words. And being able to correct them. I also don’t like dealing with stupidity at all. I have a very low tolerance of it. If the person isn’t getting it by the third question to me, and they aren’t feeling uncomfortable, I find a way to ditch them. Personally, I will never date anyone stupid enough to ask these questions and make these statements. It’s ground for break up if they start telling me who to love and not love. I don’t keep such friends either.

For adoptive parents, I think the direct approach works. Mix in refusal to answer questions with the people you don’t want to deal with because often your children are in earshot. It took me years to realize I had no obligation to answer these invasive questions. Also directly teach your children when it’s OK to answer these questions and when they are OK not to. My parents never gave me this, but I think there is a lot of personal power for the adoptive parent and the adoptees to know this. I also think one should be aware of the children while answering these questions. If the children are anywhere around, doesn’t matter where–if in the same household and they could run up to you, you should be careful of your answers. Also gage if your children at that very minute would be willing to deal with this. Talk to them after answering those questions if they seem upset. When you answer these questions, they are not just about you, they are about your child too.

I also encourage to give yourself time to consider the question and the best way to answer. Don’t answer from your gut. If you don’t think you can answer the question levelly because you’ve never gotten it before, give yourself time to think. Ignore the other person if they pester you. If you can’t answer the question, answer as such directly. This is better than answering the question and hurting yourself, the understanding of the other person and the children around you–adopted or not.

Side Note:
Often the questions are not about your parenting abilities for adoptive parents. And usually they aren’t really interested in you as a person for adoptees. You need to be able to take responsibility for your answers and make yourself more human to them.

I’ve found that the real question they have is if nature or nurture is the way to go. They are viewing you as an experiment of a long question of which came first, like the question of the Chicken or the egg. (BTW, for creationists, it’s clearly the Chicken. For the evolutionist it’s clearly the egg.) The true answer should be, it doesn’t matter. The children/you are you in the moment that you are living it now. So getting the person to realize this is your primary goal–you and your family are not part of a grand experiment.

I found this was the case, because after all of the questions were over, they would often slowly ask that question and try to compile the answer *for you*. This would amount to, “You should love X” more.

One minor thing to adoptive parents:
“Gotcha” day should be replaced with Family Anniversary Day. If you have more than one adoptee in your family, well, there are more days to celebrate the formation of your family. It’s the best language you can use. Because it doesn’t slight the adoptee to an object. If you have biological children, it allows them to be included into the mix. It allows you to celebrate both cultures of the child–not just their birth culture. It also doesn’t slight the birth family. In fact, you can use that day to honor them. I also think you could include them later on if you meet them face to face. This way you thank them. It gives power to you, to your family as a whole, all the parents and finally empowers you to deal with those outside of the triad. Use that day wisely.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Adoptism, Parenting


Addressing Specific Questions

19 Feb

This is for handling those outside of the Triad. Again, you have no obligation to answer these questions.

Who are (your/their) real parents?
I usually answer, “Both” or “Which ones?” But for adoptive parents this won’t work.
I like the answer in that case, “I am their parent. They have parents in Korea too.” Skip the real. A quick person will realize you didn’t use the word real, thus there is something wrong with the word.

Note: that in Korean the word “real” is used in addressing biology in day to day, not just adoption. (This is unlike English… where the issue doesn’t come up often.)
ex. Such as “This is my biological brother,” would be said in translation to Korean and retranslation to English as “This is my real brother”. Dictionaries are not good that way). You can redirect this also by asking the birth parents to use “miguk”_title_ (Eomma, appa, gajok) and “hanguk”_title_ (Eomma, appa, gajok) in Korean. So don’t be insulted by this. I also use “Appa” for my birth father and “Eomma” for my birth mother. This allows me to use “Dad” and “Mom” without having to deal with AAL (Appropriate Adoption Language) issues.

Do You Know Korean?
I usually answer this one honestly, because it’s not that harmful. And then go into the lack of language programs shortly.

For adoptive parents… I really encourage you to have your child to be able to answer yes at some point. Statistically according to a GOA’L survey, children don’t know Korean as children. And then when they become teenagers they reject all Korean culture and language–which doesn’t happen to the average Korean. So this must be a function of adoption where they haven’t learned pride in themselves and found the balance needed to function. Then in adulthood, they regret not having it at all, where more adoptees identify themselves as Korean American, but unable to connect to their birth culture. This is not to say to cram it down their throats, but I think being able to encourage it and give them that culture they are missing will help in the long run. I also think an adoptive parent should also be able to answer yes at some point as well. You don’t know what your child is going to ask. You get more access to more things when you know another language. Plus you adopted a country and culture with that child. As you feel an obligation to teach your child your culture, you should be able to do the same for theirs. That’s actively teach. Oh, and many younger children go through language rejection in their early years if they are older. This is because the language is often tied to negative memories. We often store many memories with words. But making the suggestion won’t hurt. Also try to surround them with real Korean once in a while. (or their birth language, whatever it is). The stuff in school isn’t the same. The best programs are directed towards Korean Americans rather than adoptees which tend to teach the “foreigner” Korean. (i.e. only differential Korean.)

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Adoptism


Learning Korean

19 Feb

Learning Korean proved to be difficult. This was because in addition to there being limited programs on learning Korean in the United States, I had mental blocks to overcome. There were times that I would speak Korean and what would come out was the my five year old inner child’s Korean. The one she spoke with Appa, which is a regional dialect of Korea.

There would be really tough times for me because sometimes I’d feel like I should *know* that word, or that I remembered it, but I couldn’t place why. There were times, too, when people would say,
“Your accent is really good.”
“You are slipping into Kyeongsamnamdomal, Eonni…. I couldn’t understand you.”
“You speak like child. No ‘Un.’ That is child [speak].”
and while I’d feel a sense of pride, I’d feel a sense of frustration too, because I couldn’t distinguish where the child’s language began and where the child’s language ended.

What often made it worse is that people expected me to know Korean. I had to be able to speak Korean even if they didn’t know it. The pressure to know Korean makes my brain cycle at times and sometimes, for months I’ll reject the language. Especially when people say, “You aren’t X” or “you are X”. My languages tend to flucuate heavily on identity.

It’s not the physical learning of the language that is hard. I’m still pretty good at agglutinating languages. (like Korean.) It’s the emotional baggage of learning Korean that makes it difficult. It’s the things I’m associating with the language that I’m not associating with Japanese, Mandarin or Cantonese. From the time of pain I felt from abandonment to the teacher’s delight that I’m a Korean Adoptee. There is excess crap that comes with the language of my mother versus the language of my fluency.

I do wonder what happens when those two are linked. Would that feel the same inside for me? Or would I end up in long silences of not wanting to speak at all? But I don’t think I’d ever know.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Adoptism, Korean Language



19 Feb

I tend to be an optimist when it comes to human nature, even sometimes to a sickening point. I had full faith that if I gave them to a head of an agency whose leader is Korean, that she would take my requests seriously. Because she has to deal with adoptees on a regular basis and adoptive parents. I was to be sorely disappointed, betrayed and angry at this. (I’m not disclosing the agency even though I have documentation and witnesses of it for privacy purposes.)

She volunteered to translate my letters. She refused to give them to anyone else but my adoptive parents.

I caught her mistranslating, deleting entire paragraphs, and inserting sentences that were not there. She did not honor my or my mom’s constant request for Appa’s address. In another words, she refused both my Mom’s and my own requests.

At first I tolerated her controlling the interaction. She was doing a favor. But when she started inserting “Jesus” when Appa was not Christian and was Buddhist, I got upset. She also mistranslated my letters and cut out questions about religion I asked to Appa. (I found this out later), but she would cut information I gave to him. After a while I asked my Korean friend to translate letters for me. (My brother refused to get involved in these interactions for his own emotional reasons.) The person at the agency got mad at me for doing this and told me through e-mail that she wanted to do it and that she basically should do it. I thought I was doing her a favor since she had an agency to run and I wanted to cut on response time. My mom also was getting tired of forwarding the letters to me and asked me to ask her to stop sending them to her. I was becoming aware that this wore out my Mom. Her tight voice told me so. So I requested that she stop routing them through my mom. She refused and ignored my e-mail and written request. She also refused my Mom’s repeated e-mail and letter requests to stop routing them through her.

After a while of treating me badly, I requested her to give Appa’s address. She outright refused. She said that she thought it was better if she handled all of the letters. I was pissed. So I asked my mom to help me. She still refused. My mom was getting confused at this point. A woman with such a good reputation for her agency and who was Korean was outright treating us as inferior to her. I tried to understand culturally. Perhaps she thought I didn’t understand cultural implications. I tried to explain to her that I understood culture and had been working at adoption for years. Another refusal. I talked to other adoptees and they said this was typical. I made more than 3 requests for the original papers in Korean and she refused to help saying my parents would have it. I said they didn’t. She continued to refuse to help ask the agency in Korea for the papers. I couldn’t understand how she could do this to me and asked for other adoptive parents’ experiences on this matter and they were equally confused.

Finally, I managed to slip in an e-mail address. 6 months later Appa e-mailed me. I didn’t recognize it because it was in hangeul, but after I did, I cut the person at the agency loose with a bitter taste in my mouth, leaving me in a position to not recommend my own agency that helped bring me to the United States. And my parents started to honestly talk about going to Korea.

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Posted in Adoption Politics


Outting an Adoptee

19 Feb

My paternal grandmother was sitting at my Great Aunt’s funeral holding a cane. And I looked over at her and thought, “Oh no, here it comes.” In the sea of white and black people I stood out like a sore thumb. My cousins on that side of the family are African American. I have Jewish cousins too. If you lined up all my cousins in a row, you would absolutely insist there is no relation between us. But I don’t see family in terms of color or ethnicity. I see a wide range of humans in front of me with different strengths and weaknesses.

My grandmother, however, is not so secure with this notion.

The conversation went, “Who is that person over there?”
“Oh! She is adopted. My son and his wife adopted her.”

My resentment flares up at being termed adopted without validating the fact that I’m just her granddaughter.

But it’s that way with my teacher too. I was in a Korean classroom and the teacher used my adoption as leverage to the people visiting his classroom to assess the class. I stubbornly refused to let him out me. He did anyways, totally oblivious to the fact that I was trying to send him hints that this was not OK.

The point of this is that adoptee is not WHO I am, it’s an aspect of some label that was given to me. I want to be known as human first. Ask not where I come from, ask not what I am, because my answer will be the same as yours. I come from Earth and I am human. Homo sapiens sapiens *Just* like you. Ask me how I define myself. What are your hobbies? What are your interests? How is it going with your job? And then through the course of conversation you’ll figure out that I’m adopted and where I come from. Engage the human inside of me first and once you find out my whats, please don’t out me as an adoptee, because that just shows that despite all my efforts you are still caught up in the labels that I can’t make or help being.

I have so many talents and interests that you should have picked up from reading so far, are you really going to say that I’m difficult to figure out and the only label you could ever give me was an adoptee? Let others judge me solely on that label and all of the stereotypes that come with it, or are you going to let me define my humanity for myself and others? Please say you’ll do the latter. Because I really think that adoptees no matter what country they are from have a wide range of interests and stories. And I am one among them.

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Posted in Adoption Politics


Language Rejection

19 Feb

I find myself at times, even though I know French, Japanese and have been learning a bit of Mandarin (Taiwanese version) that my brain will entirely reject all Korean.
I know Korean, and fairly well, but occasionally I can’t seem to speak it, think in it, and I get a backlash like I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s psychological, I think. I found myself doing this today too. I was forced to think in English grammar for most of the day, and when it came to remember Korean, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put myself in the mind set. Especially since others around me kept calling me “American” and rejecting part of the Korean that I established.

At the same time I find myself sometimes finding it really difficult to think in English. Sometimes I can’t transition between Korean and English–in fact this is the hardest transition in languages I have. I can transition between French and English and English and Japanese (though it is a bit of a stretch), but English and Korean I have troubles with.

I only can think this is a psychological rejection of the baggage of what comes with the language. The hardest times I have transitioning seem to be when I want to melt into one or the other.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, General Adoption


Prejudiced Lines From My Mom

19 Feb

“We adopted you from Korea because it was cheap and we knew other people who did it.”

She paused, “And because we liked the food.”
In Japan, she’s returned from a trip with my Dad and we are putting suitcases into the Kyoto Hotel van. She’s been acting paranoid. She said, “We took a trip yesterday to…” some tourist spot where they push you around to go in one direction. I really didn’t give a damn.

“And we got lost.”

She said this as if it were a big event.

“So we went into this hotel and a Japanese man was there.”

I stared at her. This is a revelation? I mean a Japanese man at a Japanese hotel in Japan?

“And he spoke Japanese.”

I stared at her as if she was serious.

“The Japanese man spoke Japanese,” she added in a hurt voice.

I blinked at her. She’d gone to MIT and this was a revelation. A Japanese man, at a Japanese hotel, in Japan, who spoke Japanese.

I turned to her and said, “Be something if he spoke French.”

My Dad snickered, but then covered the laugh.
“I can’t be Asian.”

She expected me to be Jewish.
“Mom, did you get to grow eggplants?” Because I gave her some eggplant seeds after she said she liked growing eggplants before I left the house.

“No, because we had that trip to Scotland.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, Your dad hasn’t been good at watering the plants, you know how he is.”

Note that he later wrote me on AIM how he was proud he got a bunch of Fuchsias in Buffalo to winter over so they didn’t need to buy new ones in the spring.

“We like to travel.”

She really means herself.

“And you, know, we really like plants that take care of themselves.”

I swallowed my anger. That was a summary of my childhood.

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Posted in Adoption Politics, Parenting, Parents

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