Saturday, September 6, 2014

How words like “lucky” and “grateful” hurt me.

My last night in Korea, I was on a high with my new Korean adoptee friends (KADs). The pain of the last week fell away as we laughed and sang at a karaoke bar.

Yet, this morning, the reality of returning home hit me hard.

First, I absent-mindedly left handmade paper I had bought from a famous Korean calligrapher behind at a counter. While it seems silly to most, I cried when I realized I would not get it back (as it was left outside security). I also shared my distress with my fellow KADs. A few who were leaving after me used their precious preflight time to retrace my steps and found it. I was already on the plane, but they said they would mail it to me.

They touched me and healed that silly sore.

The second blow of my flight back was a family that sat within eyeshot. Their daughter was just over one year, and they were traveling with the grandparents. The mother looked as mothers do … tired yet strong.

The beauty of watching this Korean family interact just brought up the longing. The longing to have that connection with my foster mother … the longing to be embraced by my Korean family … the longing for roots.

As the grandmother strapped the little one on her back with an airplane blanket, I flashed back to a time when I may have spent my time strapped to someone’s back.

I tried to distract myself with the magazine … then this.

“A meeting resulting in pain.” I know too well the false expectations of fortunes and horoscopes, but then, I had this encounter.

This encounter came after a time when I thought I had come to terms with my loss. But I haven’t.

I am raw and aching. I know I should feel fortunate, lucky and grateful that I had this experience in Korea. But those words just boil me down to generalities and adoption stereotypes. It is time to change the language and stop using words that make me feel diminutive and my search trivial.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Please … just don’t ask.

The last leg of my Korean journey is coming to a close. The emotions are more than I could ever express in words, but I’ll give it a try …

frustration …

excitement …

confusion …

anticipation …

disappointment …

anger …

regret …

loss …

sorrow …

grief …

resignation …


These are my initial feelings in the moment, but I anticipate more feelings once my feet touch US soil. I am processing. I ask friends and family to be tender with me.

Please do not ask me about the search. If you want to know about my trip, ask me about the food, the toilets, the people, my run-in with a young woman who believed Baby Boxes were a good thing and G.O.A.’L.

The one feeling I am very happy to express is my extreme gratitude to Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A.’L.). After years of being told I should be grateful, I do not freely extend that feeling of gratitude to anyone or any organization. But in this instance, G.O.A.’L. has more than supported me through all these emotions.

Thank you, G.O.A.’L.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Stranger Among the Same

Stepping on the Korean Air plane in O’Hare resembled a purgatory. My experience wasn’t poor, just different.

The plane was filled with mostly Koreans and a few Americans (both black and white). As soon as I boarded, all announcements were in Korean first, English second. At first, I enjoyed hearing the novel sounds, but as time progressed, I became slightly irritated.

What a great lesson! Here I am viewing life through others’ senses! My privilege was showing. It felt strange to be the “last to know.” This strangeness shouldn’t be new to me. I have traveled to French, German, Polish and Spanish-speaking countries, but it was always evident that I was the foreigner.

On this flight, that was not the case. Passengers looked at me and smiled. I wondered what they were thinking. It was obvious to me that I was foreign to them. My dress, my complexion, my gait were all counter to the thin, pale crew.

I found it interesting that the members of the crew and passengers would first speak to me in Korean, but when I said, “Sorry … ” the knowing smile and then English.

From my economy seat, I didn’t at all feel the classism I have sensed on domestic and European flights. The crewmembers were kind and polite. I often felt I was being a bit too “American,” and was reminded of my Rwandan days when I would defend my country from the insults of a white South African.

In those days, when he described the wealthy, American tourists he encountered and how their entitled attitudes sickened him, I broke down in tears, and explained how my family members were not those kind of Americans.

The South African mocked me and ridiculed my tears with “How can you be so passionate about such a wealthy, selfish, racist country!”

America is the only home I have known. I cling to the things that validate my place in my country. But now, I shift to another loyalty, one that has waited far too long.

“A DNA test is only as good as the database.”

I am riding on the bus … to O’hare for my trip to Korea. I am filled with so many emotions, I cannot fully explain them in words.

Having said that, the reality of the search hit me hardest when the itinerary for my trip arrived. In the next day or so, I will be swabbed for a DNA test. Many of my Lost Daughters’ sisters have already had such a test. They have found so many things about themselves via 23andMe and

I have always toyed with the idea of the DNA test in my mind, but this summer at KAAN, as I listened to the words of Bonnie LeRoy, I felt ambiguous relief as she said, “A DNA test is only as good as the database.”

For the domestic adoptees of the Lost Daughters, the test has in some cases been successful. Hearing Dr. Lee’s words, I realized that such a test may not be plausible for me, a Korean born adoptee. In order for my DNA to match someone in Korea’s, that person would need to test and access DNA records in the United States to find me.

As you know, the reasons for my search began with my children’s curiosity but have ended with my hope to never rob my birth mother. I feel as though I take one step forward, then pull myself two steps back. While I want to do this for others, I am not sure I want this for myself.

The prospect of this DNA test in Korea has made it all the more real. When I sit on my sofa in Wisconsin, there are many “what ifs” I can ponder, but to set foot in Korea and add my DNA to other Koreans’ …

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Regression of the Search

The teen years. Everyone has memories of that awkward time. I am reliving it …

Here you have her, the 80s punk girl. The teen years are about identity, experimentation, discovery and disappointment. I spent my time writing, sulking and listening to Depeche Mode. If you asked me then what I would be doing now I would have said, “Living in New York, writing for the Rolling Stone and driving a BMW.”

I wanted out.

Escaping Appalachia meant freedom … from honky tonk bars, from racists, from religious zealots, from closed thinking. I vowed no person (especially men) would “hold me down.” I vowed to hurt others rather than love them, to use and not be used; I vowed I would never marry. Anger and confusion consumed me. I blamed these feelings on my own adoptive parents’ failed marriage. While I loved being loved, I feared it too. I trusted no man.

My fear of love and my lack of trust were broken by my husband. With each burst of anger, he held tighter and embraced me. He withstood my irrational accusations and accepted my bizarre need for order.

He loves me despite feeling confused and rejected at times, and I am thankful for that. I need him. I need a person to whom I don’t irrationally think I need to repay.

Let me be clear. My adoptive parents never insinuated or implied that I would ever need to repay them. All those feelings of indebtedness were my own fabrication, possibly from adoption propaganda imposed by the public or possibly from the religious zealots who reminded me how lucky I should feel to be clothed and fed.

My identity has changed many times over the years from preppy college student to hippy to alternative to goth to wife to mother and now …

Now, I am unsure again. I am unsure of my past … that is, the past I do not remember. I find myself sinking to the regression of my teen years. My adult mind is wrapping itself around these suppressed feelings.

The ones who keep me grounded are my children. It is difficult for them; I know that. I turn to my fellow adoptees for emotional support.

For my family’s sake, I have hid my fears of what may come … fears of finding no one in Korea, fears of finding parents but being rejected again, fears of finding parents and not being able to communicate, fears of finding siblings but no parents living. A piece of me wishes I could just go back to the “bliss” of not knowing … not knowing why I was angry, not knowing why I felt distrust, not knowing why love was so hard an emotion to accept.

My precocious daughter said it best, “Mom, you are scaring me! I mean you act like a teenager with your loud music, wanting a tattoo and joking. Please be an adult!”

I so desperately want that, but yes, in some ways she is correct. While I may play my music loud in the car because my hearing is going, I am back in that teenage discovery mode. I am exploring my identity through art, thinking of a tattoo to accentuate this new identity and enjoying the immaturity of my youth with my teenaged son. That brings me joy for now …

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

“Mom, please don’t leave us.”

As you may have read, I will be flying in August to Korea, my first trip back since my adoption at 13 months. Obviously, this topic has graced our dinner table talk, and now it looms heavily in the air.

I am both excited and anxious. But I try to hide this from my children. Apparently, I suck at hiding these feelings from them. They get me. They are biologically connected to me. They are me.

I will miss their first day of school this year as I explore this biological side of myself. In some ways, I feel selfish in pursuing this, but in others,  I feel a sense of urgency for me and my children. This search isn’t just about me or them.

My husband and I watched Philomena together this week. That film gave me the realization that adoption isn’t just about the adoptee; the original family is affected too. Philomena Lee has said she thought of her son every day, and his birthdays were incredibly hard. As a mother, I know how important those days are. I still remember the day I lost my second child, just two days after my 35th birthday. I think on it and will never forget it.

Knowing all this, I cannot imagine any mother forgetting the birth of her child. She might quietly and privately mourn, and no one may notice. She may not share this secret that torments her. And yet,  somewhere, there is a child that wonders if she wonders.

My daughter wonders but stops herself. Today, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she asked me when I would stop focussing on adoption. I told her the truth … that adoption is the very fabric of my being. It is the loose thread that I have repeatedly clipped when it began to show. I am tired of clipping it and throwing it away only to have it pop back out. (Medical history or family tree, anyone?) I am acknowledging it and exploring it.

I asked my daughter what she felt. Her answer? She is afraid of losing me. She fears that I will return to Korea and decide I don’t want to return to her, to her brother or to my husband. “Mom, please don’t leave us,” she pleaded.

“I would never leave you. I love you, your brother, your father, and your Papito,” I replied. “You all are my everything.”

I sense her feelings of loss. I know them. I experienced them long ago, and then again when my adoptive mother died. The sorrow stays, but it is eased with the grasp of my children’s hands.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Ceramicist in Me … could it be the ceramicist in her?

A new Korean adoptee friend sent me this fantastic video:

Watching the masters carve, I felt as I do when I carve … a release. It’s cathartic, and my tears flowed. They were tears of joy and sorrow flowing together … the epitome of my life experience thus far. I wonder whether someone else in my biological family ever felt this same feeling … the release. Does my natural mother weep and think of me when she carves, as I do for her?

I had a flower carved and ruined it with glaze, but I now am recreating it with the knowledge of what I learned from the mistake.

Here’s the beauty of it before the glazing. My family tree is a fully enclosed flower.

The family tree haunts me in a way I cannot describe. I feel rootless and lost. But the flower … it reproduces, it symbolizes the beauty of connection with others. It can live a little without the roots when it is severed.

The petals are the only part I retain from my natural family, and the new flower shows them as the background to the petals from my adoptive family. Stay tuned for more photographs as this new flower blooms.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Children are not commodities … unless they are adoptees.

Today, this meme presented its horribly designed self:

Anyone who has known me well-enough will know that on first-glance, I was sickened by the usage of type, lack of spacing, color and of course … Papyrus and Comic Sans. I like my life to be clean and concise. But I digress. [control]

The type wasn’t the reason someone posted this. The business of adoption is why people posted this. Look how the word “bought” could easily be substituted for the word “adopted.” The dialogue about this garnered everything from anger and disgust to explanations of how the agencies swindle people. Once again, my feelings on adoption as a business, international adoption and rehoming swelled, and my reaction was physical.

Since returning from KAAN, I cannot sit still without thinking about the experience, the speakers and the impact it had on me and my family. (Read this wonderful description of KAAN topics at Red Thread Broken.) One very important keynote, presented by Dr. Elizabeth Raleigh and titled “Is Asian Adoption Less of a Transracial Adoption? Racial Hierarchies in a Post-Racial World,” outlined her research based on interviews with adoption players, agency workers and social workers.

Some of her research quantifies the racial breakdowns of adoptions. What Dr. Raleigh saw in the data and confirmed by interviews with social workers is that there is a secretly spoken racial hierarchy which moves from an infant who is white (because the parents are white) to a multiracial (part white) child, to an Asian, a Hispanic and finally a black child.

Here are some of the shocking statements made by social workers to Dr. Raleigh:

“As I am sure you know, there are lots of stereotypes around Asians. Asians are preferable to African American or Latino. They are sort of lower down. There is a pecking order.”
“I would say maybe it goes white, Hispanic, maybe a variety of Asian cultures. And maybe kind of a big jump to maybe a more browner skin and Middle Eastern and Indian, and maybe another big jump and you get to black. I am not saying that’s ok but it is a pretty reasonably understood spectrum.”

I sat disgusted at the thought that adoptees were “chosen” like you would pick a sofa color. “Well, I want gray because it goes with my rug.”

To distance myself from these destructive feelings, I tried to step outside of my box. I understand full well a person’s need to see herself in another being. My own children have my physical features, some of my mannerisms and ultimately my genes; I find that very validating as a person who has lived isolated from those who resemble me.

So, in that sense, I see why a parent would request a child of the same race. Also, there are obviously challenges in adopting and guiding a child of another race, or my blog and others would not exist.

And yet … the cost of white babies exceeds the cost of black ones. Does no one see the ethical issues of assigning a market value to a human being? There is an obvious “supply and demand model” at work in adoption. Can happiness be bought? If it can, should it and how genuine is that happiness? And for whom is the happiness?

Our government regulates our food, our water, our education and our civil rights in order to keep us safe and healthy … but what about adoption? Aren’t the health and safety of children important?

Yes, everyone agrees that children deserve to feel loved and safe, and yet, we can talk about child adoptees in a way that whittles them down to dolls.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fear of Being Korean

Every time I look into my children’s eyes, I see pieces of me that I feel I do not know. In August, I journey to Korea with the help of G.O.A.’L, a Korean organization of adoptees who advocate for other adoptees.

I love finally having a physical connection through my children, but I struggle. I don’t want to make it about me. They are their own people. They are entitled to their own identities.

That said, as they have gotten older, they do question, and the tie to me is more evident. They suffer the ambiguity that I feel; they question this unknown family because frankly, it comes up almost every time we enter a clinic or hospital.

We are working through all this at a faster rate than I expected. The trip to Korea is in 43 days. My children are reluctant about my trip. They fear something … losing me … losing Papito (my father) … losing themselves in a family they want to know but are afraid to know.

I feel the same. I have had questions for so long, they live in my mind like all the other nerves that function as a part of my being alive. I have grown accustomed to them and kept them quiet for fear of hurting my parents. However, what I know now as an adult is that my father has always wanted this for me.

He wanted me to know the culture and history of Korea. He wanted me to know the food, the language and the customs. Yet, rural Tennessee was not the place for such knowing. Tennessee is a place of survival … a place to cherish kin and the Bible.

Once more, I see more clearly my father’s Puerto Rican culture was suppressed there. He jokes that when patients at the hospital where he works say, “You got an accent,” he retorts, “I didn’t have one until I got here.”

I see him feeling the ambivalence of being Puerto Rican, yet not … being Tennessean, but not. He knows too well my fears, and I take comfort that whatever happens in August will never break the tie I have to my family at home.

But I fear being Korean. I fear being Korean yet a stranger in my homeland. I fear being Korean but unable to converse with my Korean family. I fear being Korean because that might mean I am less Puerto Rican. I fear being Korean, but not recognizing the part of me that has tormented me my entire life … the part that kept me separate from others … the part that made me different … the part that elicited prejudice.

When I said I was “Korean, not Chinese” as a child, I had no idea how complicated that was.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Control. That word was repeated numerous times at KAAN a few weeks ago. I guess I always knew it deep down … that I had a freakish need for control. In the past, I phrased it as “anal retentiveness.”

I control many things in my adult life, and I enjoy the stability I feel with that control. If I control my life, there are no surprises … right?

Wrong. Everything about my adoption was not controlled by me. It was controlled by the Korean culture, the Korean government and Holt International.

As I grew up, I learned again that my life was out of my control. I couldn’t control the remarks or the ridicule from others. I couldn’t control my appearance, though I tried.

I tried to be more white; I tried to fashion an eyelid crease. I suppressed my Korean side and emphasized my place in a lower, middle class, Tennessee family. If I was going to be oppressed, I wanted it to be for an affliction that could be remedied. I wanted to regain control.

We all have those instances where we feel oppressed for many different things: our accent, our clothing, our socioeconomic status, our religious affiliation …

Please understand, I am not downplaying these things, but they are things that can be changed or hidden. I cannot hide my face, my eyes or my ochre skin.

Just like the woman on this train in Australia, I would not have been able to control the words of this racist woman.

In the racist’s defense on the local news, she talks about criticism she has received in the past. She diverts attention from her remarks by using her hardships … work problems, money problems. Here I have started to understand that often when we are oppressed we are blind to the oppression of others, and we lash out.

Watching this footage was triggering. Her words and gestures brought back all those times where I had no control over what was said to me. My reaction was always to take the words, say nothing and then, silently slink off to a private place to cry. I have done that for years. Lately, my coping mechanism has changed. I learned this at the KAAN conference. When I feel out of control, I lash out at my family … possibly because I know they will still love me.

My daughter has asked when adoption will stop being the focus of my thoughts … when my frustration and misfired anger will stop. While I can never disassociate myself from my adoption, I recognized this in myself at KAAN and have returned determined.

I am resolute in channeling my outrage into change for their sake.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


It’s Thursday. The feed floods with remembrances of babies, youngsters, bad hair days, 70s disco dress and 80s rebel wear. Proof we lived through the 80s.

Here’s one:

Seriously … bad.

I love seeing the photographs of others’ siblings and parents. The similarities in their anatomical features: the similar smiles, the same stance, mirrored features.

Last week, someone posted a photograph of her brother as a child. It was amazing to see her biological children’s faces in this image taken many years before they were born. I found myself typing about the similarities, but then, I stopped myself. She has one son who is adopted. Quickly, I hit the delete key.

Knowing her son might see my comment, I wanted to spare him the sadness of never sharing the sameness. I know that sadness; however, it was often tempered with my family forgetting my foreignness.

The birth of my children solidified my biological place in my own little family. I realize for many adoptive parents who, like my own, never thought they would see their eyes gaze up at them, that fact is so very difficult to bear. I empathize. I understand the joy an adoptee can bring to a childless couple … how we ease the pain. Yet, here I implore adoptive parents to recognize and address the added pain their adopted child experiences when she has no physical frame of reference.

Selfishly, I finally delight in the comments, “Oh, your son and daughter look just like you!” Bear with me. This time of seeing myself in another human being has brought me joy amidst the childhood pain of never experiencing this reflection of self in someone else.

Friday, July 4, 2014

My Allegiance

Expats become close; expat friendships add a sense of belonging amidst the trauma of post-war living. In the summer of 1995, my husband and I invited a South African expat to stay with us in our home in Kigali, Rwanda. One evening in the darkness of our usual blackouts, we began a discussion about America.

At that time, I was white and wholly American. As the South African began talking about America and its “fat, rich tourists,” I became flushed, angry and hurt. I explained that I came from a lower, middle class family, that my grandparents grew their food and that my parents worked extra jobs just so I could participate in school activities. I hated his generalizations and his stereotypical views of Americans. His view was based solely on the American tourists he had met in his travels.

Our visitor was shocked and amused by my visceral reaction to his criticisms. “How can you have such emotion about a country that doesn’t really care about its people. There is much racism there.” Being American was all I knew, and if you know my personality, I would defend to the end my association with this country.

But on this Independence Day, I am less enthused by my association. My head is a soup of identities and loyalties. This summer I received one of the few slots with G.O.A.’L’s First Home Trips. In August, I will make my first journey back to Korea since I left at age one. I am nervous but curious. While appearing Korean, I know little about my native country and fear that my whiteness will betray me. I fear being isolated and shunned … and simply being less Korean.

My view of the world and my place in it has changed since that evening in 1995. In 2002, The Indigo Girls’ song, “She’s Saving Me,” resonated with me, but I didn’t quite understand why.

Recently, at one of their concerts, as I coped with my identity, its meaning became clearer, and I put the lyrics into a ceramic piece.

“I’m a very lost soul. I was born with a hole in my heart, the size of my land locked travels.”
— Emily Saliers

Saturday, June 28, 2014

I never feel enough.

Our family drove to Minneapolis this weekend on a quest to find out more about my adoption. The mood was jolly as we road tripped. I was excited for our first adoptee conference outing as a family.

We settled in with our Doubletree cookies and name tags for the KAAN 2014 conference. “Nice,” I thought.

For dinner, we split off: me to the adoptees-only dinner; the rest to the community dinner. I had been anxiously awaiting the dinner. As you know, I enjoyed the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative Conference in November. I found my family in the women of the Lost Daughters. My visions of my family and I finding our niche were on the verge of validation. 

Fitting, assimilating, blending … my entire life, I have wanted that acceptance. But my own notions scare me. I briefly said hello to a few adoptees and then sank into solitude as the young adoptees around me talked and reconnected. I was finally the majority race on this shuttle to dinner.

What should have been gratifying and fulfilling soon became oppressive. I suddenly began to feel less comfortable surrounded by so many Asians. I felt the panic I felt as a child when I was paired with the only other Asian boy.

I didn’t feel a part of this group of adoptees. I frantically texted and posted to my husband and my Lost Daughters’ sisters. I was aching. Many on the bus were Minneapolis adoptees who knew one another. Others were well-known in the KAAN circles; they had their connections. They all seemed so happy and well-adjusted. Laughter and conversation filled the bus. 

Something inside of me felt cancerous. I was consuming myself in panic; my eyes were welling with tears. I felt less Korean … less Korean adopted. 

Luckily, I found two friendly faces from the Adoption Policy and Reform conference at the restaurant and began to relax. 

Sometimes, I feel my background of Southerner, Puerto Rican, Asian and white conflate and confuse me. It is as though I cannot decide what identity to wear or where I fit. I never feel enough of anything. 

This morning, I met up with my Lost Daughter sister, Kripa. She became my anchor and helped me realize that sometimes, the best thing is to be who you are in that space and moment. I’m trying!


Friday, June 6, 2014

A Dictionary on Adoption

In researching the Korean language for my next ceramic piece, I have learned that all words are not quite equal.

Time has altered the ideas of words. There are the words written by Koreans, the words in an old Japanese publishing of a Korean dictionary, and the words of an American published Korean dictionary.

Pause and consider these interpretations of the language.

This dictionary was given to me today by my daughter’s friend’s Korean mother.

This one was given to me early in my life by my father. He bought it during the Korean War in the 1950s, before the flood of Korean adoptees in America.

Lastly, pages of the two together. Notice that the 1950s version only mentions an adopted son. Curious about that one …

I wonder if adoption in the 1950s was an honor only granted to sons. Would no respectable Korean family adopt a daughter?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Rhetorical Roots

I am leaving on a jet plane to the District of Columbia.

In my carry-on, I have some of the most precious pieces of my life.

Art feeds me. It regenerates. It invigorates. It educates.

If you have followed me, you know I am a photographer. I capture the lives of those I love and the issues that impact our world as women, people of color and adoptees.

Lately, as I struggled with the lack of history, I began to work more intensely on my ceramics. I began throwing what my hubby likes to call “door stoppers” in the fall of 2009. It was new, and I saw that form as a way of making dinnerware.

As I began to throw more creatively, I still struggled with my need for perfection. All pieces must be symmetrical. I joke that I hate mugs with handles for this reason, but secretly, I just dislike pulling handles.

My work progressed to flowers this fall. They had more meaning to me. Growth and reproduction.

But this winter, the news of no records and the potential of not knowing my original family began to take a toll. So, I locked myself away in music and clay. What emerged were these expressions of emotion tied to my adoption experience.

With each cut to the roots, I felt progress. While it wasn’t the progress I wanted, it satisfied my needs.   Each cut became deeper, but I never seemed to cut through … I wanted to cut through and create a break to the other side. As I worked, I realized that perfection just wasn’t in the cards. My last work was a deconstruction. Even though I was going for imperfection, it still was balanced and symmetrical. Some things just cannot be cut out of a person.

Some of these pieces are accompanying me to Washington, DC, and the Living Loud event at Busboys and Poets at 1025 5th St. NW, this Sunday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. I will be meeting up with many of my Lost Daughters sisters.

Please come and listen to the voices of adoptees as we explore our rhetorical roots.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Lengths of Loyalty

At this moment, my father is intubated and riding in an ambulance to Knoxville, Tennessee. This is the man who I highlighted in this tweet.

This tweet came about after my last conversation with my father about my adoption search. As always, he reassured me and punctuated my right to know about my original country and family.

Loyalty is a legacy. While I had discussed my search with my father many times, my husband wanted me to discuss my open search with my father one more time. My husband feared that such actions would hurt my father.

I knew this to be untrue. Too many times, my father and I had discussed the possibility of my search. Books on Korea, his Korean dictionary, his affinity for Korean food were shared with me. I have never felt that I was not his or he mine. But loyalty works its way into my entire family.

Earlier this year, as my daughter was lamenting how far we are from family, she sighed and said, “Mom, I wish I had cousins.” I, of course, began rattling off the names of my sister’s daughter and my sister-in-law’s children. My daughter said, “No, I meant genetic cousins, like in Korea.”

And yet, after our visit to Puerto Rico, my daughter’s loyalty began to show.

“I want to know the heritage (Korean), but I don’t want to know my genetic family. I have cousins already. You can’t neglect the family you have. I don’t need to be blood-related to have family,” she told me.

I asked her how she felt in Puerto Rico.

“I felt out of place at first … as a different race. But then, I realized they (the Puerto Rican family) are enough. What if they (my original family) don’t want to find you? What if they don’t like you or are bad? I don’t want to see you hurt,” She continued.

Obviously, the media, adoption agencies and some adoptive parents reinforce this idea of “being loyal.” Adoptees are asked why we can’t be “grateful.” We are told that our adoptions are “gifts.” Perhaps it is a level of guilt that all families have. Guilt, loyalty and love are all wound up in the fabric of family.

Take for example, the movie, August: Osage County.  I saw the pervasiveness of guilt and loyalty spill out in these quotes:
“Mama was a mean nasty lady. That’s where I get it from.”
“Smug little ingrate … ”
“Your father was homeless for six years!”
“Stick that knife of judgement in me. You don’t choose your family!”
I am realizing that we all have this level of loyalty. My father’s loyalty to me is that he wants to shield me from hurt too. Just before my mother and my grandmother died, both my mother and my father withheld their medical conditions from me. They wanted me to enjoy my life and not stress about things they felt were out of our control. But in the end, the white lies hurt more. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t tell me. 

Now, I realize so much more. I have that loyalty. The loyalty to lie. The loyalty to protect. The loyalty to love.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Motherless Daughters & Childless Mothers

Two days sting me … the day of my mother’s death (February 2) and Mother’s Day (May).

Another Mother’s Day. Adoptees struggle with this day. Some feel only loosely connected to their adoptive mothers; some feel the opposite and shun the idea of a first mother. Those who are connected with their first families must dance that delicate loyalty dance. Two mothers … two cards.

First mothers must struggle too. Like Philomena, they may grieve for their lost child. They are the childless mothers, the ones who gave birth but have no child to call or cuddle on that day. It’s just a day, but notice the cards, the brunches, the flowers, the jewelry commercials.

The years since my mother’s death have caused anxiety and grief on a day I would prefer to celebrate with my own children. The grief from her death has consumed me, but this year is different.

If you have followed my path this year, you must understand. My grief is doubled. Finally, I grieve the loss of another mother, and I question myself.

“Why did it take me 46 years to acknowledge the loss?”

“Why did I never want to return to Korea?”

“Why did I push my first mother back into the recesses of my mind?”

“Why did I not grieve for my first mother and the loss I must have felt here?”

“Why do I cling to the grief over the loss of my adoptive mother?”

Perhaps the latter can be answered. My adoptive mother was tangible. She was known, and she loved me. When we lose, we grasp tightly to what is left. Yet now, she is gone too.

So, I am left with sparse papers that tell me how little is “known.”

I am left with the words “no record.”

I am left with a photograph of a one-year-old in her element.

That said, I am also left with two beautiful children who share my DNA and a deep connection. We are still connected by an invisible umbilical cord that I suspect is also connected somewhere with another family in Korea. Perhaps that family has a childless mother who silently sits and wonders about the little girl she lost 46 years ago on a day in May.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Box

Our family ditched the dull, dreary weather of Wisconsin for the sunny smiles and pleasant primos of Puerto Rico. A much needed break and connection with my family was long overdue. We had visited briefly with my cousins and their children last summer, but that was a fleeting day at Dollywood.

This was a full week of relaxing and reconnecting. Our broken Spanish and their broken English meshed well. Outside, I could overhear my children and their cousins trying on the language of the other. It reminded me of my days with my cousins and learning those words that children need … “mira, oye, cuidado … ”

My children came back to Wisconsin with a new-found confidence in speaking Spanish. The time with this side of my family always rejuvenates me. Their love is more than I could ever express in typewritten words. Simply, I am a “Gonzo girl.” My children are engulfed by the infectious love of the Gonzos.

This joy stays with us, but when we return, the reality of our identity sinks in.

This week, the boy and I had our annual physicals. They correspond because since his birth, my physical has been timed with his birthday.

There are numerous forms, but I was very excited about this box.

Yesterday, my son wore this shirt from the Uniqlo’s Pharrell Williams line “I am other.”

We also talked about my check up report. It states that I am white and Hispanic. It reminded me of the time in college when an admissions researcher had changed my designation from Asian to Hispanic. My son was appalled! He knows I would never check the box that says “white.” “You should get that fixed, Mom,” he said.

We had a nice visit with my son’s Chinese pediatrician, and he printed his check up report …

Our response? “¡Ay, Dios miyo!”

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Only two pieces of paper

Forty-five years ago in Japan, my parents began and finished their adoption experience while living in Tokyo.

Today, I finally received word back from Holt. A couple of months ago,  I received a few pages from my American Holt file. Since that time, I have waited to hear from Korea. The email today said this:

“Attached is a copy of all the information about you from your file in Korea.  A copy will remain in our files for future reference.  Let me know if you have any questions about these documents.  
Unfortunately, the staff of Holt Children’s Services of Korea was unable to locate enough information regarding your background to begin a search for your birth family.  We regret that Holt Children’s Services Korea and Holt International Children’s Services cannot assist you in a search but will be happy to help you plan an independent search.  We received the following email: 
According the child report from you, and also the release paper in the file, the adoptee was placed in CBH from the Chong Yang ri police station on May 24, 1968.  She was later referred to Holt adoption program by CBH on the same day which was in cases of abandonment.  
I am afraid that there is no addition information to learn more about the background. Cheongyang ni is the correct spelling now, and it is a neighborhood located in Dongdae mun gu, Seoul city. 
Once admitted to Holt, 숙현 was placed in the care of a foster home, but there is no information about the foster mother in the record. 
The attached is a copy of the adoption file (only 2 pages). The adoptee’s current contact information will be updated in our file, and she may feel free to leave photos in the file for the future reference. 
I’m so sorry that we aren’t able to assist you with your search.  Because we want to support you any way we can, please feel free to contact us to talk about this assessment with one of our post adoption counselors.  Having a good support system, through friends and family, as well as Holt, is very important.  There may be many terms or references that are unfamiliar to you within the assessment, so please don't hesitate to contact us with questions or if you’d like additional information regarding the history, culture, or record keeping practices of the time.”
While Holt may have some sympathy for how I am feeling, I am baffled by an adoption that occurred primarily overseas but leaves only two small sheets of paper. See for yourself.

How can an agency place a baby with a foster family and have no record of said foster family? I like to think Holt vetted its foster families, and if so, that they had a record of what babies lived with which foster families. They had an address and names, because the couple who kept me those months before my adoption, took photographs of me, fed me and loved me. They cared enough to take photographs of my first birthday and portraits of me in my hanbok. They sent these photographs via the adoption agency to my parents … and yet, there is no record.

I am saddened by Holt’s response (and that I paid $25 for so little information), but I am determined now to seek more answers without Holt’s assistance.