You know, it’s funny (well – not so funny) moving to Korea and blending in for the first time in my entire life. It’s also funny (well – not so funny) going to native (foreign) teacher orientation and suddenly not blending in again.
No matter how much you try to have your race and ethnicity NOT be a topic of conversation, it always comes up. You’d think a person would get used to this, but a person never does really. And, it’s especially irksome because we who have this done to us all the time make a point never to do this to anyone else. For example, I don’t go up to a Caucasian and ask them what country they are/were from. I don’t go up to a new immigrant and ask them that either – it’s just rude. Instead, you talk about where you grew up and, if the conversation flows, where they grew up will reveal itself. But westerners are just artless, efficient, demanding, and pragmatic with their conversation. And I am a westerner, so I must eat my personal offense, accept it, and respond accordingly.
For those of us who are adopted, these conversations can turn into mine field. Do you want to deal with people’s (often misinformed) opinions about what you’ve lived personally? Do you want to turn a social moment into an education session? Do you want to be a kill joy and depress the vibe? Do you want to turn the evening into a debate? No, no, no, no, and no. But the race and ethnicity thing nails me every time. I am forced to give some explanation of what I am and why.
Some people are easier to deal with than others, of course. Some are just wide-eyed and curious. Some impose their straight-forward ethic upon you and shoot point blank. Others are more polite and try to weave it into the conversation. Others will gingerly ask if it’s okay to ask. All of which are okay, but instantly when you tell them you are adopted, the conversation takes on a new gravity. You might as well talk about abortion…
Anyway, this is my life / my whole life, and I’m pretty much used to revealing, “No, I am Korean. No, I can’t speak Korean. Why? Sigh. Because I’m adopted. And then the avalanche begins. Breathe. And then I just patiently answer. But at this orientation I had to do it more than I’m used to. Because on top of that, I (miss circumstantial minority amongst the ethnic minorities) would be standing in the middle of Hyundai Learning Center, in the English Village, surrounded by Native English Speakers (read: majority white) who are surrounded by / engulfed by people who look like me. And, being the fixer type that I am, I wearily welcome the opportunity to educate others about what it’s like to be an alien wherever I go, no matter what I do. (because of international transracial adoption) I gladly step up to the plate for these interviews and talk, talk, talk, hoping that my contribution will somehow, one person at a time, turn back the tidal wave of wreckless adopting taking place in the west.
Last day of orientation, I join a table of Canadian teachers in the middle of a discussion. The discussion turns to adoption (independent of me) when one of the girls talks about her volunteer work at an orphanage. The rest of the group wants to know about the orphanage, and I hear the girl tell them all those things I already know about orphanages – that none of the children were there because their parents had died – that some of them even had their parents come visit them – that the children were either abandoned or effectively abandoned due to lack of social services, economics, or family and cultural violations.
I sit there and listen, as there was nothing I could add. Then this other really lovely girl comments how she just can’t imagine how horrible it must be to be one of those children, children who were not even real orphans, children who were given up because they weren’t wanted. I could jump in and say, “Yes. Yes that is a horrible feeling.” But I don’t. I just sit there, unable to speak. The one girl there who knows I am adopted mouths to me, “Are you okay?” I nod yes, but really don’t know. I really don’t know how to process empathy like this. I’m glad it is not empathy for me personally from these strangers, because then I would cry. I suddenly don’t have the strength to open my mouth and tell them that at least at the orphanage, the children have each other, their culture and some identity intact. Instead of being dragged across the ocean against our will, without a choice. But I have free will now. It’s my choice to return here. To go through this painful adjustment.
I leave the orientation feeling slightly kicked in the stomach, thinking about abandonment again. When I return to school the next day, I am faced with an email from G.O.A.L. who are trying to coordinate a taping of me for YTN t.v., as another appeal to my missing probably fucked-up family.
So I revisited some adoption activist things I was eating daily before I left Korea, and I came across a post from Sunny Jo, the Korean adoptee who was abducted as a child and sent for adoption to Sweden, and who returned to Korea and found her birth family. Her last post referenced transracial abduction, which some find to be a belligerant way to refer to cross ethnic adoption. And I agreee, it IS belligerant. But maybe that’s what we need. More in your face and less being patient, polite, and grateful for this life we’ve been handed that was forced on us.
Read this refreshingly non-apologetic and startlingly unveiled truth by one of my feminist asian adoptee heroines, Kim So Yung. Her website, transracial abductees (google it) really changed the way I think about adoption. In a good way, in an empowering way.
(once there, click on the Preview PDF and not the title link)