25 February 2014

They want to know what race we are.

This morning in the rush of getting ready for school, my girl mentions something as she packs her lunch.

“There have been a few racist jokes at school,” she says.

“About what race?” I ask.


Before I can respond, my beautifully mature little girl says, “I don’t think they mean to be mean.”

She continued, “I did tell him that it wasn’t nice to Asians, and he said he would stop.”

For me, that isn’t the point, but I don’t want to hurt her as she tries to ease my pain. That my ten-year-old must address these microaggressions in her early stages of identity development is disheartening at first, but also enlightening. She has the unique position of being perceived as white. As I have written, this fact frustrates her.

And so, the topic of race continued at dinner …

“Dad, am I white?” she asks.

“Yes, but you are also Korean and Hispanic,” my husband explains.

“Wait,” interrupts my son, “So, I should be checking the box that says I am ‘Hispanic’?”

“Yes,” says my husband.

“You have Papito and our Puerto Rican family’s influence in your life,” I say.

“Well, that’s a culture, not a race thing for me,” says my son, “That’s confusing.”

“Ain’t it though … ” I concluded in my thickest Southern accent.

My children and I are still working out our identities, and sometimes, they are far ahead of me!

Recently, I applied to a job. As always, the race factor came into play in the application. But this one left me with no option to check. Sometimes, I just don’t have an answer.

20 February 2014

Adoption — A Convenient Excuse and A Contradiction

This post was first published on the Lost Daughters website.

Three. A golden age, when toddlers talk and question. They also test … parents, friends, themselves. When my boy was three, he had a fear of the tub. Oh, the fit he would pitch when taken into the bathroom for that cleaning ritual! But look, could this little one really pitch such a fit?

I was frustrated and pregnant at the time. Sometimes, I felt the need to put myself in a timeout and reflect on the joy of the boy. I took long, deep breaths and escaped to the deck to scream at the top of my lungs.

He grew out of it and would later tell us the reasoning for his fits … he didn’t like feeling wet and cold. “Wow,” I thought, “That was all?”

So, I am trying to wrap my mind around the death of 3-year-old Hyun-su, a Korean adoptee. Since hearing this case, I have felt achy. The trauma of this death picks my nerves. It is as though it has happened to my own child. Could it be I feel a connection to this boy as a Korean … as an adoptee … as the mother of a toddler who feared the bath.

My connection with adoptees is visceral. Our bodies know the loss, the feelings of insecurity, the fear of rejection. What affects one adoptee can have an effect on another. The Lost Daughters felt this in the news of Baby Veronica; we felt physically ill. We also have felt the pain in Dylan Farrow’s accusation of abuse at the hand of her adoptive parent.

Why do we feel so much? We spend our lives trying to fit into our families, our communities and the society at large. But there are reminders that we don’t. When Woody Allen married Soon-Yi Previn, we were told that first he was not her adoptive parent, and second, if he was, it’s just adoption, not blood.

But Ronan Farrow, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen’s biological son, described the truth of his family this way:
“I cannot see him. I cannot have a relationship with my father and be morally consistent. I lived with all these adopted children, so they are my family. To say Soon-Yi was not my sister is an insult to all adopted children.”
How can we not be family because of blood, but be family when it suits the argument?

Today, when discussing the death of Hyun-su, I heard several comments. One was, “I wonder how often this happens in biological families versus adoptive families?” To that I asked, “Why does that matter? Why would child abuse be different in an adoptive family from a biological one?”

But on further discussion, the commenter expressed an interest in research in the differences to bring about a change in the process of adoption.

My irrational reaction prompted a realization that the question upset me because as an adoptee, those questions of biological versus adoptive connection bring back my fears that an adoptive child is less somehow, less a part of the family, less deserving of love, more deserving of tough love.

Hyun-su’s adoptive father, Patrick O’Callaghan, mentioned to investigators that he had not bonded with his son since the October 2013 adoption. If he had not bonded than Hyun-su may have sensed his father’s discomfort with him and may have been fearful of his father’s presence, since his mother was out of the house.

It was also difficult to hear the dismissive comment, “Child abuse happens in biological families too,” as if the loss of this little boy is like that of any other child. However, if we think about it, Hyun-su’s death might have been prevented. What if post adoption services had helped in the bonding? What if adoptive parents had been more carefully screened? What if Hyun-su’s family in Korea had been supported? Despite all these questions, the hardest fact for me is that Hyun-su had no choice. His first family, the adoption agency, the adoption industry, social services all made decisions for him, and they failed him.

Perhaps his only decision was to pitch a fit about a shower when he feared being wet and cold.

We may never know the full story, but for now, a 3-year-old is dead after a traumatic bath time and only four months in the US.

While his pain is over, adoptees are left to feel the lingering pain of his loss.

13 February 2014

Two Little Words

Yes, I let the anniversary of my mother’s death (February 2) pass without blogging.

The loss of my adoptive mother, the only one I call “mother” in this blog, was expected. She had had a stroke, been rehabilitated, but not offered the by-pass surgery she needed to survive the heart disease her family claimed as its own. But while we knew my mother’s days were numbered, the shock of her death came as a surprise, and I still suffer from it.

Since the beginning of my adoption, I had always been told the story my parents were told by the adoption agency. My parents never hid any letters or papers they had received; they were up front and honest. I knew that I had been found on May 24, 1968, that an investigation had uncovered nothing, and that I had been given a name and a birthdate.

This narrative is branded into my brain.

I have never owned a birth certificate. My proof of being is my US naturalization papers at age five and my Korean adoption papers at age 13 months. On them, my fake birthday and my fake Korean name are repeated numerous times.

So in the same vein as the moment I received the call about my mother’s death, I experienced a similar shock as I read through my US adoption file which arrived on January 29.

To add to my fake birthday and my fake Korean name were these two little words:

“No Record”

Reading them in black and white, shot pains throughout my body. It was as if every cell was devastated.

These words, “No Record,” repeated, over and over, on what is the equivalent of a birth certificate in Korea, the Ho Juk Deung Bon or Family Registration. It continued to say that my “family” of one (just me) was established on August 8, 1968, and that my name had been given to me on July 19. Interestingly enough, I wondered, “So, what did they call me between May 24 and July 19? Just #5596?

Some really poignant words in my progress reports:

“When she came at first, she had a little hardship adjusting herself, but now she is a different girl. … She is loved a lot by her foster family …and [has] a good relationship between her and her foster mother. … Is attached to her foster mother, [sic] and not shy of strangers.”

I am reminded of that frightened little one in this first photograph.

The “hardship”?!?! The pain I felt reading all these words. My body, my being, my soul were aching for my biological family. The sliver of hope for another family vaporized and vanished.

I am still looking, but in the meantime, a movie trailer has haunted me. (Trust me, I really hate putting this trailer here. If you have seen it, don’t grant it another view, please.)

"The Drop Box" - Documentary Trailer from Arbella Studios on Vimeo.

My daughter watched it with me. Her response? “The mom doesn’t identify herself because people would judge her.” This, from a ten-year-old. The simplest idea was seen by my daughter despite all the feel-good fluff in the movie.

In the trailer, a man says, “These children are helpless … voiceless. Who will speak for them?”

And I am screaming, “Me!! Let me!!”

Please arm yourself with the facts. I have researched them, and you can find them at the Lost Daughters website in the post, “I was the baby in the box.” If you would like to help adult adoptees in their search, consider donating to KoRoot on their site.