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.

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