My mother’s face would mangle and turn blood red, no matter who said it. “She’s my daughter, and she’s Korean, not Chinese.”
This was the dialogue when we would return to my mother’s hometown in the 1970s. She actually never wanted to return to that small town but wanted a life in a larger community. My parents had lived in Yokohama, Japan, for three years, and my mother longed to have those days back.
Yet, in 1976, my father, thinking it would be nice for his wife to have her mother nearby, pursued a job in my mother’s hometown. And thusly, my life progressed there, amidst the racism and ignorance of the small-town mentality. It pains me to even type this, as I still have relatives there who I love dearly and would do anything to protect. Their love for me is unconditional, and here, I leave it at that.
Much of that optimism fell as I returned pregnant in the late 1990s. My husband and I stayed with a friend that holiday season in Knoxville. During our dinner, my friend’s husband said something that froze me to the core … “You guys will make a beautiful baby. Hybrids are attractive and robust genetically.”
We were shocked. Our marriage and our family planning was never an experiment in procreation. If I had had the words then, WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Our planning did include communities with larger populations of people of color. We wanted our children to not feel the isolation I had as a child. But even the best intentions never prepare you for the reality of racism and race comparisons.
Now that my children are growing taller than me, I find myself gushing over all infants and toddlers. I long for those days. My daughter, the youngest, has a difficult time watching this crazy behavior where I smile at strangers’ children and hold and then sniff our friends’ infants.
Since coming to Korea, her disgust of babies has changed to fear. My daughter now senses my complete connection to the little ones here. Where I see little versions of what I could have been, my daughter sees versions of what she thinks I want.
Difficult to tease out with her, she and I only talk briefly. She talks mostly to her father about her fear that I will remain in Korea and marry a Korean man to have Korean children. She does not see the complexities. All I can do is reassure her.
The worst struggles come when other Korean adoptees gush over her and her brother. They compliment them on how beautiful and handsome they are. And one well-meaning person once said, “I guess I would have to marry a white man to get beautiful children like that.”
Though the person did not realize my daughter was listening (she and her brother tend to keep ear buds in and eyes on screen) her ears were burning. She wanted reassurance that my motives were pure. She wanted reassurance that I loved her father.
I assured her, but I also elaborated on why a Korean adoptee looks at her with such longing.
“Before you and your brother, I had no other person that shared my appearance, my mannerisms and my genetics. Korean adoptees who have yet to have children of their own are curious. They long to see themselves reflected in another human being. That does not excuse the comment or how it makes you feel. Your father and I love one another, and we love you and your brother. We are a family.”