23 July 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.

19 July 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.

18 July 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.

13 July 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.

11 July 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.

10 July 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.

04 July 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