30 May 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.

29 May 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.

11 May 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.

07 May 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!”