Thursday, April 2, 2009

the One and Many


I still feel and live in so much conflict. I experience such an intense mix of emotion when I think of the practice and issue of adoption, more specifically trans-racial and inter-country adoption.

At this point, I feel as though I am neither in support of or in opposition of adoption, but remain somewhat neutral, if not more in conflict and unresolved on the issue.

I know that to many the idea of taking in someone who has no one is a very noble and loving thing to do. And in another way, it is neither noble nor loving, but rather what we should do, and at times, all that we can do.

And yet, how do I personally feel about inter-country and trans-racial adoption? Again, it seems like a very noble concept. From the days of the Israelites, taking in foreigners and “adopting” them as your own people was taught as the right and good thing to do. Overcoming cultural barriers and choosing to love a person regardless of differences whether superficial or deep within has been purported as a noble cause for ages.

And yet the hurt and tragedy, the loss that comes, that I personally am experiencing firsthand makes me question all of it.


Yet would I have rather been left without a family so that I could grow up in the land of my birth? Would I have rather been scorned and mistreated as an illegitimate child so that I could remain in the culture and language that first bore me? Honestly, I do not know how to answer such a question—because such an inquiry seems, well, ludicrous and irrelevant, at this point in my life.

Asking me such a question is basically akin to asking me whether I would have rather grown up with my Korean family over my American family? That’s comparable to asking a five-year child to choose between living with mommy or daddy in the case of a divorce. It’s ridiculous and absurd. The kid should never have to make such a choice. He or she does not want to live with mommy or daddy. The child wants to live with both.

Forcing a child to make such a choice means having to reduce and break apart each parent into pieces of pros and cons, rather than viewing each parent as the whole individuals that they are. Human beings are not made up of pros and cons. We are not pieces to be divided into keepers versus throwaways. We are whole beings—living, breathing, feeling beings.


Culture and language are hot topics these days. Preserving and cultivating one’s cultural heritage and origins are the popular things to do these days—almost trendy. Being ethnic, and even more so multi-ethnic is the hot thing, the cool thing. The more multi-ethnic a person is, the more unique and individualistic you are in the eyes of observers. You get the “super-cool, super-ethnic” label. All bow down.

It seems an arbitrary and odd thing to me. This overemphasis on culture and ethnicity. Not that we should not value culture and ethnicity. Not that we should not cultivate our origins. But there grows this increasing tension in our global community between the teachings of our common humanity and our uncommon individualism.

On one hand, we are taught to embrace our fellow man with blindness to color, ethnicity, language, etc. In other words, we are taught to overcome the cultural barriers that so often divide us from one another. And yet on the other hand, we are taught that we must acknowledge from where someone came—that we must not only accept and embrace their differences, but we must have a detailed understanding of these differences as they define who the person is. To lack such an understanding is often characterized as primitive and ethnocentric.

And yet, here we encounter, again, this tension between being taught to let go of ethnocentrism while simultaneously being taught to hold on to ethnocentrism.


Now, of course, a primary point I am trying to make is that it does not have to be either/or. But rather, it can be both. We can do both. We can equally appreciate a person’s ethnic and cultural origins while also embracing who they are regardless of or because of those origins and differences.

Where we disagree, this is where we must learn to tolerate and accept. Where we do not necessarily disagree but rather agree or at least meet with interest and appreciation, we can embrace and cultivate those origins and differences with harmony and gratitude.


With all this said, I still cannot come to a hard, solid conclusion regarding inter-country or trans-racial adoption. To proclaim that one way is indubitably right or utterly wrong does not bring me comfort or resolution, but rather troubles me even more so.

Indeed it grieves me deeply that I do not know the language that my birth parents speak, that their culture is one that I will have to learn and make efforts to understand. But is that enough for me to say that I wish I had not been adopted into the American family that I have known all my life as my only family?

In my mind, these are absurd questions to ask myself. Not that I cannot ask them, but more so that to proclaim that I scorn my adoption because the family into which I was adopted came from a different land and a different people than my original place of birth, to me personally, would be utter hypocrisy and reverse discrimination.

I have not always been accepted or treated well here in America due to my differences in appearance, and have experienced equal inner turmoil for similar reasons. But then to reject those same people for having treated me as such would only be to repeat that which has caused me pain and suffering over the years. Then I would have learned nothing and changed nothing through my experience, but rather would only project and perpetuate such suffering and hardship upon others.

It would seem to me that to reject those who have rejected me is nothing but revenge. And I cannot do revenge. Revenge is the progenitor of generations of hatred, bitterness, faction, war, and ignorance. It exacts nothing but hostility, animosity, and suffering. It breeds only destruction and death of heart and soul. It has nothing to do with peace. And peace is all that I seek. I grow weary of anger and rage, of warring and shaking my fists.


Mother Theresa’s words help me to endure and remember truly what it means to persevere in love, “I have found the paradox in life that when I love until it hurts, there is no hurt, only more love.”

Naturally, when we hurt, we want to make it feel better. And so often, we do so in ways that seem right and good with sincere intentions to help alleviate not only our own pain but also the pain of others. And yet, equally so, there is often a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death.

What works for some may not work for others. Relativism does not apply to all situations. For example, murder is murder. Rape is rape. But in the case of adoption, it is a much more complex issue. Indeed, there are those who commit much wrong in the realm of adoption. Abuses take place and people are exploited. But to lash out against all for the wrongdoing of others is when we can often end up "throwing the baby out with the bath water" or "pulling the good crops up with the weeds."

We cannot allow the dark and calloused hearts of some to overshadow the loving and sincere hearts of others. When we allow fear to reign, we stifle love. When we allow hurt to overtake us, we kill the only force that can save us—love. And I realize that even love can be distorted and perverted—that many have committed unspeakable atrocities in the name of love.

Even more compelling reason to beware and exercise caution and humility.


Not surprisingly, multiple and complex issues call for multiple and complex solutions. We must realize that our individual experiences influence powerfully the conclusions upon which we arrive.

But as stated, experience is a very individual thing. And we must be careful not to be presumptuous in thinking that our experience is truth for everyone. It may be for some, but we tread dangerous waters when we insist that it is truth for all. In the end, we may end up inadvertently yet tragically drowning those we think we are attempting to help.

We must seek out wisdom with humility and not only an open mind but also an open heart. It is a vast and wide ocean teeming with a rich and varied array of life—some designed for the deepest and darkest depths, others must remain close to the surface, and still some in between or near the shore. To force one creature to live where the other dwells could be its death, no matter how sincere or how lovely the intentions.


The problem is not culture or language. The problem is human.

It may be true that for some it would have seemed more ideal for them to remain in the country of their birth. I, myself, cannot deny the pang that shoots through my own heart whenever I encounter American-Caucasian families who have adopted a child of a different ethnic background. The pang emerges from a flood of emotional memories of all the hardship and difficulty I faced as a not only a trans-racial but also an inter-country adoptee.

When I see a young trans-racial adoptee, I see all my life’s pains flash before my eyes and heart—and I hurt for these children. And I only hope and pray that their parents have the humility and compassion to try to understand and draw the child out.

And for others, it would have seemed more ideal that they were adopted into a family and nation of a different people. And here, I also must admit that I cannot deny the deep sense of love and gratitude I possess for my family. Their blood somehow runs through my veins, even though we are not of the same genetic makings. And I cannot imagine my life without them. Even the thought of not knowing them provokes the deepest panic and sense of despair and dread.

One could say that I feel this simply because I fear abandonment, simply because I am clinging to all that I have ever known. Even if this is so, it still does not nullify the truth for me that I cannot live without them. They are my family, my blood.


So I am both. I am many. We are both. We are many.

And the inner turmoil and conflict that I feel over adoption is one that will never find absolute resolution. I will always grieve the loss of my first culture and language. But that grief does not cause me to forsake the family that has become my culture and my language. I must embrace one without letting go of the other.

And really, the problem is not losing and maintaining one’s origin. The problem is much deeper, and hence not easily solved.

It is not simply on a global scale that discrimination and rejection take place. It happens to everyone, even those within their own people. The small kid whom the bully taunts (even the bully himself is rejected). The overweight kid whom everyone teases and ostracizes. The kid who talks with an impediment. And list of those harangued and hurt goes on.

And it’s not only in childhood that these discriminations take place—we all know that, unfortunately, playground politics extend into adulthood.

Most apparent and relevant, the unwed mother marginalized and alienated by her family and society. Of course, the deeply embedded ideologies that perpetuate and prop up such negative and destructive stigmas are obviously a bit more complex and pertinacious than what happens on the playground—but so are the consequences and effects on the individuals and societies involved.

So, is the solution to this to just keep everyone separated within their own kind, so that no one ever feels excluded or “different?” Is the answer to surround oneself with people only like oneself? That will solve all hurts and pains?

That is why it is a problem with human nature, not culture or language. The darker parts of our human nature are what lead to the pain and suffering we experience not only as adoptees but as any human being who finds himself or herself in a situation in which he or she is “different.”

“Keeping them separated” only breeds more contempt and ignorance and prejudice. Again, we encounter these conflicting notions of simultaneously wanting to abolish such segregations of those who are different from one another versus perpetuating such segregations of those who are different from one another.


Really, there is this ideal concept that there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, Korean nor American, and so forth—but rather we are all one.

Is this still a concept that people value? Or has it been consigned to the realm of anachronistic idealism? If indeed, people still believe in such an ideal, then let us not grow weary in pursuing its application and practice.

Can we not work to educate people, to teach people to overcome the darker parts of our humanity that drive us to treat one another with discrimination and prejudice, rather than giving way to collective and self-perpetuated segregation from one another?

Don’t get me wrong, we need people who will be advocates for causes both small and large, both specific and general. But I think to be effective and to keep things in perspective, we would benefit to remember the larger picture—so that we do not make the mistake of becoming insular, un-relatable, and out of touch with the realities of the overall cause for humanity as a whole.

When advocating one cause for a human right, perhaps we would benefit to keep in mind that our one cause is just a singular piece of the whole cause for humane living and treatment of others.

As I have quoted before, a character in Chang Rae Lee’s novel, Native Speaker, reminds us of how we must remember to think, "I ask that you remember these things, or know them now. Know that what we have in common, the sadness and pain and injustice, will always be stronger than our differences."

So often, we get so caught up in the cause of our people, our group, our suffering, so much so that we forget that we are not the only ones. We forget that “the sadness and pain and injustice” can work to bring us all together for one another rather than against one another, if only we would stop for a moment to remember this truth, that is indeed, a truth for everyone.

Our pain and suffering is not only ours alone, but it is the world’s. It is through our personal pain and suffering that we can learn to feel compassion, sympathy, empathy not simply for ourselves but for our fellow man and woman on the other side of the world or just down the street.

The hardships we face, I believe are meant not only to draw us inwardly but to draw us outwardly that we may relate to and reach out to those around us. If only we would do so, not simply to those who are the same, but to those who are different, perhaps at first glance, but upon deeper observation share similar turmoil if not outwardly then inwardly.


As Emily Dickinson wrote, and as I have quoted before,

"I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain."

Her words, to me, capture so simply yet poignantly what it is that we can do with the life that we have been given, and in particular with the sufferings and toils we face. We can share them with one another to comfort and ease one another when we grow faint or weary.


As Americans we have this false and strayed notion that we must be a self-made man or a self-made woman. This is absurd and pure lie. Who of us would be here had we been left to our own selves, in both the practical and abstract sense?

Clearly, we all began as infants, utterly helpless and completely subject to the will and kindness of others. Left to ourselves, certainly we would have perished.

Furthermore, as we struggle through life, who of us would be where we are today without the help of others?

Whether it was a parent close to us, or the countless faceless individuals who paid their taxes to provide our public education or pave the roads that enabled us to travel to our private institutions? The construction workers who built our facilities, the financial aid workers who processed all the paperwork through the echelons of bureaucracy? The warehouse worker who loaded the textbooks onto the truck? The teacher or instructor or employer who believed in you?

The farmer who grows the food to nourish our bodies and minds? The grocery store clerk who helps us to purchase that food? The factory workers who produce the circuitry for our computers? The list of acknowledgements is endless.

Sincerely, who of us would be here without the other?

We like to tell ourselves that we need no one. We like to persuade ourselves that we have made it here due solely to our own hard work and efforts. Yet perhaps it would be more true to acknowledge that we stand where we are due not only to our individual hard work and efforts but also as a result of the collective hard work and efforts of nameless others—again, not a case of either/or, but of many.

If we think we are anyone due purely and exclusively to own effort, we deceive ourselves. This is the definition of arrogance and ignorance. And such fruit is short-lived and easily rotted and embittered, and ultimately leads to downfall.

We are here because of one another. If only we would reach out and humble ourselves that we could hold one another up in our weaknesses and spur one another on in our strengths.

Then indeed, we shall not have lived our lives in vain.


I am here due to the effort and sacrifice and love of not only one but of many.


Unknown said...

WOW! there are parts of this that were so overwhelming to me it was unbelievable. The questions I ask myself sometime and wonder have we truly done right by this little one we stirred. Sometimes I long to pick up and head south so my precious gift can meet you, know you and yet you are there and we are here. Somehow I would love to preserve your writings to pass along.

Much love

sherinala said...

Hi! Thanks for your comment - and CONGRATULATIONS! I am SO EXCITED FOR YOU!!!! Ohhh, I cannot wait, and I hope it is everything you are hoping it will be. Remember, we ARE brave, and we ARE strong! I am so glad we "met!" haha :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just wanted to leave a few words on your blog. I'm Johanna and I live in Sweden, I'm also an adoptee from South Korea. I'm so excited for you, that you've found your birth parents and that you've received beautiful letters and photos. Personally I've just recently read my adoption papers and it feels wonderful to just have two names and some information about the first 6 months while still living in Korea. I will continue to follow your story and I hope one day I can make my own :) All the best, Jo

Mila said...

Hi Johanna! Thank you so much for posting to my blog...I really appreciate hearing from people who happen to find my blog, especially other Korean adoptees. Please feel free to contact me any time! And let me know if there is ever anything that I can do to be of assistance to you :) (

Mia_h_n said...

Hey melissa.
As always you made me think and as usual, the connection I feel with you is pretty remarkable. You always linger in my head....thanks ;)

Mila said...

Mia, Yay! I feel very connected to you also :) It's too bad we live so far apart from one another...but in that case, thank goodness for modern technology :)

Gayla said...

This post means so much to me... I can't even begin to describe...

I am going to do my best to take these words into my heart and let them do their work; to change me into what I need to become; to make me into a person more sensitive, more knowledgeable, more human.

Thank you, Melissa.