26 August 2014

A Stranger Among the Same

Stepping on the Korean Air plane in O’Hare resembled a purgatory. My experience wasn’t poor, just different.

The plane was filled with mostly Koreans and a few Americans (both black and white). As soon as I boarded, all announcements were in Korean first, English second. At first, I enjoyed hearing the novel sounds, but as time progressed, I became slightly irritated.

What a great lesson! Here I am viewing life through others’ senses! My privilege was showing. It felt strange to be the “last to know.” This strangeness shouldn’t be new to me. I have traveled to French, German, Polish and Spanish-speaking countries, but it was always evident that I was the foreigner.

On this flight, that was not the case. Passengers looked at me and smiled. I wondered what they were thinking. It was obvious to me that I was foreign to them. My dress, my complexion, my gait were all counter to the thin, pale crew.

I found it interesting that the members of the crew and passengers would first speak to me in Korean, but when I said, “Sorry … ” the knowing smile and then English.

From my economy seat, I didn’t at all feel the classism I have sensed on domestic and European flights. The crewmembers were kind and polite. I often felt I was being a bit too “American,” and was reminded of my Rwandan days when I would defend my country from the insults of a white South African.

In those days, when he described the wealthy, American tourists he encountered and how their entitled attitudes sickened him, I broke down in tears, and explained how my family members were not those kind of Americans.

The South African mocked me and ridiculed my tears with “How can you be so passionate about such a wealthy, selfish, racist country!”

America is the only home I have known. I cling to the things that validate my place in my country. But now, I shift to another loyalty, one that has waited far too long.

“A DNA test is only as good as the database.”

I am riding on the bus … to O’hare for my trip to Korea. I am filled with so many emotions, I cannot fully explain them in words.

Having said that, the reality of the search hit me hardest when the itinerary for my trip arrived. In the next day or so, I will be swabbed for a DNA test. Many of my Lost Daughters’ sisters have already had such a test. They have found so many things about themselves via 23andMe and Ancestry.com.

I have always toyed with the idea of the DNA test in my mind, but this summer at KAAN, as I listened to the words of Bonnie LeRoy, I felt ambiguous relief as she said, “A DNA test is only as good as the database.”

For the domestic adoptees of the Lost Daughters, the test has in some cases been successful. Hearing Dr. Lee’s words, I realized that such a test may not be plausible for me, a Korean born adoptee. In order for my DNA to match someone in Korea’s, that person would need to test and access DNA records in the United States to find me.

As you know, the reasons for my search began with my children’s curiosity but have ended with my hope to never rob my birth mother. I feel as though I take one step forward, then pull myself two steps back. While I want to do this for others, I am not sure I want this for myself.

The prospect of this DNA test in Korea has made it all the more real. When I sit on my sofa in Wisconsin, there are many “what ifs” I can ponder, but to set foot in Korea and add my DNA to other Koreans’ …

04 August 2014

The Regression of the Search

The teen years. Everyone has memories of that awkward time. I am reliving it …

Here you have her, the 80s punk girl. The teen years are about identity, experimentation, discovery and disappointment. I spent my time writing, sulking and listening to Depeche Mode. If you asked me then what I would be doing now I would have said, “Living in New York, writing for the Rolling Stone and driving a BMW.”

I wanted out.

Escaping Appalachia meant freedom … from honky tonk bars, from racists, from religious zealots, from closed thinking. I vowed no person (especially men) would “hold me down.” I vowed to hurt others rather than love them, to use and not be used; I vowed I would never marry. Anger and confusion consumed me. I blamed these feelings on my own adoptive parents’ failed marriage. While I loved being loved, I feared it too. I trusted no man.

My fear of love and my lack of trust were broken by my husband. With each burst of anger, he held tighter and embraced me. He withstood my irrational accusations and accepted my bizarre need for order.

He loves me despite feeling confused and rejected at times, and I am thankful for that. I need him. I need a person to whom I don’t irrationally think I need to repay.

Let me be clear. My adoptive parents never insinuated or implied that I would ever need to repay them. All those feelings of indebtedness were my own fabrication, possibly from adoption propaganda imposed by the public or possibly from the religious zealots who reminded me how lucky I should feel to be clothed and fed.

My identity has changed many times over the years from preppy college student to hippy to alternative to goth to wife to mother and now …

Now, I am unsure again. I am unsure of my past … that is, the past I do not remember. I find myself sinking to the regression of my teen years. My adult mind is wrapping itself around these suppressed feelings.

The ones who keep me grounded are my children. It is difficult for them; I know that. I turn to my fellow adoptees for emotional support.

For my family’s sake, I have hid my fears of what may come … fears of finding no one in Korea, fears of finding parents but being rejected again, fears of finding parents and not being able to communicate, fears of finding siblings but no parents living. A piece of me wishes I could just go back to the “bliss” of not knowing … not knowing why I was angry, not knowing why I felt distrust, not knowing why love was so hard an emotion to accept.

My precocious daughter said it best, “Mom, you are scaring me! I mean you act like a teenager with your loud music, wanting a tattoo and joking. Please be an adult!”

I so desperately want that, but yes, in some ways she is correct. While I may play my music loud in the car because my hearing is going, I am back in that teenage discovery mode. I am exploring my identity through art, thinking of a tattoo to accentuate this new identity and enjoying the immaturity of my youth with my teenaged son. That brings me joy for now …