24 November 2017

What is a family?

The question of family comes up not only for National Adoption Month, but also at this time of year when turkeys are basted.

Before my adoptive parents passed away, the Thanksgiving Holiday was my favorite. It meant we would gather in the homes of my East Tennessee relatives. We would feast and gossip, sleep and eat again.

The womenfolk would gather in the kitchen, as the men gathered in front of the tube to watch the game. The house was warm and alive.

Today, my heart is filled with sorrow at the sweetness of those days. I am very thankful for those moments, but not because my Tennerican family “saved” me from a “life of poverty” as the adoption agencies and lawyers would have you believe during their month of November.

I own these memories of home and love, but that does not diminish the importance of my life before them. It only enriches my lived experience.

The connection with my home country has granted me a grace I never consciously knew until my feet landed there. I have reclaimed the Korean BBQ feast, the Korean Spa experience and Noreabang. Those beloved experiences were shared with my closest friends for my fiftieth this year. Those from my pre-Korea days were able to embrace the life I so long for now.

I cherish the quiet November table where my home is filled with the smells of roast parsnips and a chargrilled turkey. There is gratitude for the table set for four and the four cats that stalk the table. Our family tradition is what it is … our tiny family in the midwest. That’s perfect for now.

31 October 2017


This year has been marked by losses. As a community, we are reminded that we are fragile. In the month of May we lost Jane, Gabe and Phillip.

You see, adoptees die both figuratively and literally.

We die when we are separated from our original families. We die when we are taken from our home countries. We die when the smells of our cultures are snuffed out by hamburgers and fried potatoes.

We die when we realize that we are not truly a part of those we resemble. We are outliers. We never chose this for ourselves.

And yet, in the month of November, this institution that brought us to our new “homes” is celebrated and revered. In this celebration, our voices have died. In 2014, we tried to revive with the #FliptheScript on #NAM. We were successful to a certain degree.

However, since that time, we still see our fellow adoptees take their lives.

What if, we took this month to honor those we have lost as well as the parts of ourselves that we miss.

If you feel the urge to share on social media, tag it with #WeDie to remind us of our community of adoptees.

16 July 2017


A week ago, I collected lots of Puerto Rican music to remind me of my father.

His loss permeates my soul. He was my anchor in much of my life as a person of color. His love and caring sustained me in my darkest moments … because he understood my sorrows. He gently told me his stories of discrimination and then brushed them off. That is how he survived, and I learned to do the same.

Since his death, I feel so very lost. I need him now. His love surrounded me when I struggled with my role as a mother. He reminded me how very proud he was of me. As much as anyone else said it, I needed him or my mother to say it. As an adoptee, the love and approval from our elders is everything. In most cases, the only people who fill that space are our adoptive parents.

I have searched for the other parents … my original family and my foster family. They hold the key to many of my beginnings. They are unknowns in the crowded subway system in Seoul. In Seoul, I felt their presence in the biological resemblance that surrounded me.

In Wisconsin, I am left to create a space of safety and love. That is our home. So, a few days ago, as I listened to salsa music and did my cleaning, my daughter stopped me to take my picture in the old way … with a Polaroid camera.

There he was. My father was dancing with me as a light. I posted it, and some explained that it must have been a light somewhere or that the camera had something on the lens. But no other photograph she took that night had the same light.

Self-doubt is a terrible thing. But it sank in … the idea that there was a perfectly good explanation for the light.

Then, one of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie, released a letter about his own loss and his encounters with his late mother. Well, now, I know my father is with me still, and we salsa through the house at all hours!

24 June 2017

Dear Young Woman

Dear Young Woman,
Your golden locks blow in the breeze of the backseat. 
A night of merriment in this early spring.

Youth and bravado engulf you as you circle the Capitol …
The place you celebrated womanhood in your pink pussy hat. 

Ms Wisconsin Forward watches as you stop at the light. 
The laughter in your car filled with privilege permeates the night air. 

And there he sits. The younger one, waiting for the bus. 
He’s slim, wearing dress pants and a dress shirt, the remnants of a long night of work. 

As the driver accelerates, you lean out of the window, those yellow locks flying …
You yell, “Your mother should have swallowed you!”

His safety bubble has popped as yours whizzes by.
Your voice trails but it has hit its mark.

He winces. You have struck his core.
You have given his mother a role you would never give yourself, 
or any other woman in your life. 

Did you smile at your accomplishment? 
Will you remember your victim?

I doubt it.
We are but inconveniences in your life.

We are mere islands that disrupt your path.
We remind you that you are marginalized by the white man.
We remind you that there is a lower place to reside.

Better keep us in our place so that you will never feel that verbal punch.
Bitch, cunt, whore.

Wear that pussy hat proudly.

24 May 2017

Just holding on? Call 1-800-273-8255.

In the past few weeks, our community of adoptees lost two souls … one a 14-year-old Korean girl, the other a deported 40-something Korean man.

Each one suffered the loneliness associated with our lives as part of a diaspora we never chose.

Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. We have also learned to mask our true emotions; it is our way of survival.

So many aspects of our lives bring us to moments where we feel no self worth. The family tree, the comments about how relatives take one trait from another relative, the racists taunts that further separate us from our adoptive families … all these experiences build the wall between us and our adoptive communities.

And in some cases, we are rejected and sent from the only country we know (The United States) to our birth place … because our American guardians (our adoptive parents) have never bothered to legitimize us as citizens. Such was the case of Philip Clay.

His death has hit me so hard. Just a month ago, I returned from a three-week trip to my home country. The return ravaged me. Just stepping off the plane and back into the Midwest reminded me that I was a stranger here … and unwanted.

In Seoul, I felt joy and sorrow, but the sorrow was bearable. A community of adoptee friends and the tastes and smells of my infanthood comforted me. Korea allowed me to express my feelings and roam as just another Korean.

In the United States, I felt sorrow and hopelessness.

In the US, I feel owned by my agency. I am reminded that my wishes are not mine to hold. My desires to be a full person with a history go unnoticed. I am not considered the person with human rights that the United Nations Convention declared, but the transaction that must abide by the State of Oregon’s laws. I am not an individual, but the “child” of two deceased, adoptive parents. I am nobody.

As I sank deeper into myself, my small family could not understand. I was draining the life out of us all. So … I sat alone. I didn’t want to leave home. Work, a joy I once had, began to drain me further. And I snapped at those I loved. Like a wounded animal, I hid and hissed at those who came near.

Depression keeps us in shackles. It shuts us in seclusion as we smile and pretend. We laugh in public, yet cower in the quiet of our rooms. We make others happy and then sleep little as our mind races to find some sliver of self worth. Then you hear that another adoptee has died at her own hand. You wonder how that would feel to not hurt anymore. You wonder if your soul would truly live beyond the pain of this world.

Some wonder how you can disregard the good in your life and contemplate such selfish thoughts, but know that once you dig a hole, the light no longer streams in. You want the pain to stop. You want peace.

I finally got to a point where I could no longer hold my sorrow and wear a mask. One friend noticed and arranged time for us to just talk (or rather, he was gracious to just listen). I began to understand that the hole was mine but that I could scale it!

Our community is full of people who understand. I only wish we were better at connecting. Social media sites and conferences have helped, but there is still more work to be done. We need one another. But asking for that help is difficult.

Our struggles and our narratives as adoptees are valuable. The mental health profession needs more professionals with skills that meet the needs of adoptees and not just the needs of adoptive parents. There are many adoptees doing the work as therapists, but it should not be solely their responsibility. The profession as a whole can learn from them. We need them before we lose any more from our community.

If you feel despair, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Also, feel free to write me here. I promise to write back.

08 April 2017

That Overwhelming Sense

Korea is my comfort. My reset.

Touching down in Seoul removes the tension of life in the United States. Back in the days before my first trip back, I feared what my senses might do. Would I gag? Would the food repulse my American sensibilities?

During my pregnancy with my first child, my sense of smell enhanced, I would often know what a cashier had had the night before for dinner. I also craved turkey, chicken nuggets and french fries. To this day, my son’s favorite meal is poultry and french fries. In the first four months of my pregnancy with my daughter, I ate only spaghetti and red sauce for lunch and dinner. Her favorite food? Yep, spaghetti.

My first trip, I was surprised at how the smells seemed so normal. But as I reflected, I realized that my time in the womb and my short first year in Korea gave me that overwhelming sense … of comfort.

So when I return, the foods give me strength. The people give me power to appreciate who I am … that I am not some “freak” or “weirdo.”

Just as the smells of Korean food waft about me and embrace me in a welcoming hug, the menacing language and hate of the US await my return. For now, I savor …

29 March 2017

The Willow, The Water, The Wind

The water gurgles by me.
I   s—t—r—e—t—c—h …
But I am a young one,
A young one who knows not what lies ahead.
My buds are just beginning to emerge.

The water beckons, entices …
And often lulls me to sleep.
I love it.
I long for it.
Yet, it is unknown.

I do not know where the water might take me.
But I stretch ——
I want to be big!
I want to fly.
I wait.

A beautiful breeze kisses me,
Makes me float …
Float in the air.
I’m intoxicated
By its kisses.
It reaches through me and past me.

But just as I am falling in love …
It becomes violent.
A madness stirs in it.
It swings me around.

I hold tight to my mother.
It swings me around.
I am losing …
Losing my grip …
My GRIP on my family …

The wind wins.
And I f~l~o~a~t~~~
For a moment I am flying!
Flying high!

Yet as I begin to descend.
I see my love …
See that water lapping,
Inviting me.
I long to touch it.

So, I sway, sway, sway.
My small leaves catch the wind to direct myself.
And I fall into the gurgling gloriousness.
It’s delicious.

I float on its surface.
It carries me.
I am in love.
And then I’m stuck … hung.

Something …
Something grabs me …
Pulls me to the side.
The water rushes by as if to bid farewell.

I am hung.
Locked in.
I wait.
And I take root.

09 March 2017

This. Is. Us.

I have been reluctant to write about the new series on NBC, This Is Us.

Because … it slays a part of me every episode. All I could muster, were tweets through the season.

The last tweet was in reference to this tweet by Sterling Brown, the actor who plays Randall.

You see, throughout this show, Randall’s thread and mine tangle and separate and intertwine.

I wish for the moment when Randall holds William as he slips away.

My father died alone, collapsed outside the hospital where he had dedicated his entire life to not only the place, but all the people inside.

When the postman cried in the latest episode of This Is Us, I recalled those who shared their brief joyful moments with my father … they were strangers to me and these moments they had with my father were even stranger still.

As Randall and Beth discover things William has left behind, I realized I never really had those moments to quietly sift through my father’s memories. I did not get that kind of closure. The week after his death, I locked myself in his bathroom, touching his pajamas and smelling his cologne. I still visualize that last moment in his bathroom.

Now, I look forward to my trip to Seoul. I hope for the moment when I can embrace those who once cradled me in my first months. When Rebecca, Randall’s adoptive mother, points out that Randall has William’s tenderness, I ache longingly to know from where my traits come.

Ultimately, I know my day may never come. But from the legacy of my father’s love for others, I hope to bring the same joy to those around me … and spare them from the pain I feel every time I see someone resemble their family members.

I think I hide it well.

But damn! Can Randall bring it out in the privacy of my own home!

Jesse describes William as “Soft armrests for weary souls to lean on.”

And that is the best I can do.

06 March 2017


In a few weeks, I return to the Republic of Korea.

The trip is a gift from my husband. When he announced that he wanted to give me the time and space to explore Korea on my own, my soul just about leapt from my body!

Since our return to the United States last February (2016), I have floated about, not fully engaged in my surroundings. It was lovely to be back in my house, but I still felt completely unsettled.

As time has passed, I have noticed my sense of loss but not sorrow. I was numb. Yet, my physical body began showing signs … the breakdown of age and heartache.

Returning to Korea is my reset button. I need this country more than it knows.

And yet, with the timer ticking down … my anxiety has risen. My voice is short. I overreact.

Living with me must be hard. I come home from work and just gaze into my cat’s eyes. That calms me. It is true what they say about pets … and then, I remember the trauma of my final days in Seoul and the loss of another sweet kitten boy.



This is not how I want to feel about returning, but my mind gives me no choice. Trauma and comfort swirl with every step towards a return.

I know all my anxiety will dispel just like my current time zone in a few days in Seoul. Old friends will help me feel more like my Korean self. The scents will welcome me home, and the kimchi will nourish me.

But I also anticipate the desperation I feel when I sit across all those lookalikes on the subway. I dream, hope and wish that they were relatives searching for me and would approach me with … “How we have wondered what became of you and if you were well!!!”

Maybe this time, someone will find me.

24 January 2017

Twinkie Chronicles: I did not thank God for Friday.

Friday, I treated the day as any other. Kids to class and a haircut, a little pottery trimming, lunch with my daughter and grocery shopping filled the hours. I was looking for solace from the week. The clay was forgiving and conceded.

As I drove home from my last errand, courage welled in my chest … my index finger pressed the FM button. On the public radio station, the words, the words, the words. Just words, but more …

“We came back to OUR country where we no longer need to be politically correct!” said a former missionary who had been in Central America since Obama’s election.

I hung my head and cried in my car. Had you asked me many years ago, before I formed my identity as a Korean adoptee with Puerto Rican and Tennessee influences, I might have said the same, “my country.”

Back then, I was proudly “Oriental” and “exotic” as I tried to live the “melting pot” persona I needed to survive. One evening my prideful tears confronted a South African man in my Rwandan living room as he attacked the “Americans” he had met, white, safari goers with big voices and lots of cash.

I defended my background and the America I thought mine. Through tears, I told him he was generalizing. I told him of my family back in Tennessee. He laughed at my naΓ―vetΓ© and my silly passion for a country. “My country sucks, but if you criticized it, I would NOT be in tears,” he told me.

My mother always emphasized that we came from very modest beginnings. “Never forget we came from nothing.” Her words would drive me to work hard, get good grades and do all I could to counter her “I never went to college, nor did your grandmother; actually she never finished elementary school.”

This was the young girl who cried when her country was slighted. She reflected on the poor county in eastern Tennessee, in the Appalachian mountains. That was her country.

But I am no longer that girl. I am a woman who has grown to understand the pain of marginalization, not because of the America I once believed in but because INSIDE the United States of America, there are those who see me instantly as a threat to the status quo. As a single adult, I coped, but I as a mother, I can no longer just cope.

My week leading up to Friday was filled with discussions of others’ perceptions that we were “dog eaters because of the eyes.” If only those who throw words to hurt my children and me could really understand the privilege they hold where they can choose what they eat and look down on those who may have survived a war by eating what meat was available.

This country I called home has mistaken me and forsaken me.