Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Few Pet Peeves: Koreans scolding me, AP's addicted to martyrdom, etc.

The tone of this particular blog post may strike some as a little "different" from the overall tone that I try to maintain on my blog. Just been feeling a bit irked and annoyed by some things lately and felt the need to vent...

Before moving on, however, to clarify, yet again, I want republish a "disclaimer" that I wrote to preface a previous post, "Listening to Adult Adoptees":

...I would like to clarify that when I write, "adoptive parents," I hope readers have the discernment to understand that I am not writing "all adoptive parents" but rather simply "adoptive parents," which can more specifically be interpreted as "those adoptive parents to whom the said description or behavior applies."

If you read a post and the said behavior or description does NOT apply to you, then voila, it doesn't apply to you. If you read a post, and it does happen to apply to you either at some point in the past or currently, understand that it is not meant to tear you down or make you feel poorly about yourself. Rather, it is meant to help. The intention of blogging about these topics is never to tear down, but rather to build up, out of a hope to educate those who are willing to read along.

I "republished" the above statement simply to remind everyone that I often speak in general terms not because I'm generalizing to ALL people, but because it's simply easier. Maybe it's laziness or maybe it's exhaustion or maybe it’s both...

But, please, take what applies to you and leave what doesn't and assume that I speak in generalities for the sake of concision and sanity. The constant demand to always add disclaimers & clarifications is exhausting & maddening both emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes, I just get dang tired of having to constantly add disclaimers to every post I write...

Understand, folks, that I understand that adoption is complicated—I have to live it every day of my life. Yes, when I blog I’m blogging from personal experience and encounters, and I realize that everyone is different. But I also hope that you realize that I’m not just making this stuff up. I know that what I write is not going to apply to ALL people. Duh and okay. But the things I say and write are not coming out of my derriere—they’re coming from the life I live and the people I encounter…

* * *

With that said, here are just a few personal "Pet Peeves" (the numbering is arbitrary and not meant to be any kind of ranking--they're all equally irksome):

  1. Koreans and other folks who scold and reprimand me for not knowing the Korean language as though I could have done something about the fact that I was adopted out to a White American family that didn't even know kimchi existed, much less what is was. It's understandable to me when Koreans or Americans show surprise when I say that I don't speak Korean. I can deal with that. But it's when I get these looks and remarks of how unfortunate or irresponsible it is to my heritage and people that I don't know the language--first of all, as if I don't already have to deal with feelings of failure and inadequacy without you pointing it out to me, and second of all, as if I could have done anything about it. What, as a 6-month old Korean infant adopted into an All-American White family surrounded by other All-American White families, I was supposed to teach myself the Korean language and figure out how to make kimchi? That sounds feasible.
  2. When folks, especially Adoptive Parents, ask me the question, "Would you have rather grown up in an orphanage?" First of all, I think the answer is obvious. Second of all, they don't really ask this seeking answers, but rather as a way to justify themselves and deflect from the deeper isssues...
  3. Which leads me to the next pet peeve--AP's and PAP's who are constantly justifying themselves in conversation, in the blogosphere, in the media, etc. It's hard not to think that AP's and PAP's who spend a majority of their time justifying themselves are making the mistake of making adoption, ultimately, all about themselves. It indicates a self-focus & a self-righteousness that misses the profound effects that adoption has on the actual adopted person. Sorry, you can call me judgmental and presumptuous, and tell me I don't understand...and maybe you're right to a certain degree, but if it walks like a cat and talks like a cat...
  4. Related to Pet Peeve #3 are Prospective Adoptive & Adoptive Parents who contact me, saying that they really want to hear my insight & feedback, but once I share it with them, they either run in the other direction or respond with self-righteous justifications as to why what I shared does not apply to them...or why I'm wrong somehow...or how I don't understand their particular situation. Sure, okay, then why did you ask me in the first place? (see Pet Peeve #3)
  5. Adoptive parents who use the experiences of some adoptees to invalidate and discount the experiences of other adoptees. This one really irks me. Again, the self-justification song and dance are counterproductive and miss the point.
  6. Even worse--when adoptees do this to each other. I've encountered it over and over, adoptees pitting themselves against one another rather than showing understanding and respect for each other and the variations in our experiences. Look, folks, let's recognize that there is a spectrum of adoptee experiences ranging from those who are happy and resolved about their adoptions to those who are enraged and disgusted with their adoptions and everything in between. Why does one have to invalidate the other? With as complex as adoption is, doesn't it make sense that the range of experiences is going to vary vastly and that each experience is just as valid? C'mon, my fellow adoptees...and Adoptive Parents...stop pitting one against the other...
  7. Adoptive Parents and the like who think they "get it" but actually don't. These are the most difficult parents and people to work with...it's like trying to teach someone to drive who thinks they already know how to drive...You can see all the potential danger and disaster coming, but there's not much you can do but bear with them and hope that they'll start to listen up one day.
  8. The disproportionate focus on Adoptive Parents and their experiences and perspective. There is such an imbalance that favors the perspectives and experiences of Adoptive Parents over those of adoptees, and in particular Adult Adoptees. The majority of people, whether the media, the blogosphere, the general public, other Adoptive Parents, they all turn to AP's for answers and insight into the adoptee experience. Not that AP's can't or don't have helpful insight, but they certainly will never be the experts on the adoptee psyche and experience. I don't care how many books you read or how amazing as an AP you may be--you just can't know. I don't mean this as an insult or a put-down--just a fact. I'm not the first to recognize this, of course, I'm just wondering when in the world it will finally change.
  9. Adoptive Parents who view themselves as martyrs (whether in secret or out in the open), and cry out about how difficult it is to be an adoptive parent, and how the rest of the world just doesn't understand their plight--all the sacrifice, all the hardship they must endure as an AP. I'm not saying that being an AP is easy, but, er, being an adoptive parent, being a parent (period) ain't about YOU. Your poor child, is what I have to say about that...
  10. The disgusting dearth of depth of the so-called education courses that adoption agencies provide for PAP's and AP's not only pre-adoption but also post-adoption--included in this "dearth" is the almost absolute absence of Adult Adoptees' inclusion as a part of the education process. If an agency does happen to include Adult Adoptees as educators, the agency often only features specific types of "model adoptees" that complement and laud adoption.
* * *

Okay, I suppose that's enough for now. Again, forgive the lack of grace in my tone, and I hate to feel like I'm complaining or being bitter. I do believe in forgiveness and grace, ultimately. But I've also never claimed to be Mother Theresa...and I never will...I'm too imperfect and too flawed for all that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Complexities of Transracial Adoptee Identity: Only That I Am

I read a post, "Others Will Always Judge Me," by blogger Mei-Ling at Shadow Between Two Worlds, which prompted me to recall a poem that I wrote years ago that coincidentally directly relates to what Mei-Ling wrote.

The fact that my poem and her post, although written distinctly apart from one another, so closely relate exemplifies potently the commonalities experienced among Asian adoptees adopted into White Western families (and other transracial adoptees)--the conflict of identity that we face not simply internally but externally. We must wrestle to develop an identity in the face of others constantly defining us according to their own ideas and preconceptions.

I understand that this theme in identity is common not only among adoptees, but rather that is it a universal experience within the human condition. Yet its universal nature should not be used therefore to dismiss or minimize such a struggle but rather to recognize its validity and the need for we, as human beings, to not only learn to embrace the complexities of human identity and experience, but ultimately to show compassion toward one another.

* * *



before i knew the world

it didn't matter who i was.

only that I am.

before i knew the world

i didn't care who i was.

only that I am.

before i knew the world

i didn't know who i was.

only that I am.

and now. that i know the world,

everyone i know

does. not. know enough.

or they think they know too much.

[and simply. that we are:

has never. (really) been enough]

and now that i know you.

i know exactly who i am.



chink. or is it jap? (actually to be ethnically correct, Korean. but culturally correct, American. by species, homo sapien, in fact. and as far as i know--i am breathing. and as far as i know--i am emoting. and as far as i know--i exited a womb in somewhat the same fashion as did you. i believe.)

a woman? indeed.

full of potential. according to what? age affirmative action gender the fact that my english is so very good. is that so? perhaps, because it is my first language. perhaps because I have been raised by Americans since the age of nursing (they point and gawk--look at the Tarzanette--look at her adapt). although i have never nursed. for obvious reasons. such services are not available to orphans. this is not the writing below the poster child. this is not a life story in the form of advertising to solicit your donations. this is you defining

who. i. am.

and who i was doesn't matter. because in all reality, who i was i never was.

in the first place. and who I think I am only goes as far. as your attention span.

which, upon observation, may span wide but

all you seem to have is a shallow end.

and. retention diminishes without depth.

like trying to transport the ocean using a cutting board.

and what use is the knife in our hands or the cutting board on our knees

when all we've got is water. (oh America, the optical illusion of your pseudo-depth: these are the mirages to which I run. into which i trip-- all i thought i knew: spills. like oil. and milk. but i will cry-- each and every tear.)

(interjection: i happened to have been raised by the Brady bunch. except my father has slightly less hair. and he never would have gotten a perm, even if he had wanted one)

in the underground: they salute only as bigots can: crackers for all to eat. we're such a clever species, aren't you? with such SAT-MCAT-GRE-LSAT-wisdom: absolute. genius.

full of senses--keenly: the way you so adroitly. pull. at. the corners of your. eyes-- to look like: me.


okay. enough: this scathing oration is scathing-- what is left of love.

in all sincerity: i despair. in my cynicism.

for years, the sun has been setting: i have been howling. [how true are the dogs that pant and beg--- the spell will split. (first impressions are lasting impressions: until the truth comes out)].

(look at my eyes: are they not pleading)

that i could redefine.


that i could re-meet the world.

get to know one another all over again: like we never knew the other existed--

until now:

on the paramount day: when we first exchange salutations and. once again:

feel the rise of:

Romance. Intrigue:

the rediscovery of Innocence.

* * *

Furthermore, PLEASE READ THIS: "Why so angry?" at John Raible Online where Dr. Raible answers the question, "What do transracial adoptees want?"

Again, PLEASE READ IT. His answers to the questions are the truth, I could relate to almost every statement made. I wish every single adoptive parent, prospective adoptive parent, social worker, basically, anyone connected to adoption in any way and even simply the general public would read it and get it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Silent Suffering of the Adoptee

The following is some pretty vulnerable and intense stuff. I don't necessarily know why I feel compelled to share it, other than to try to communicate the kind of silent suffering that adoptees often endure, and the intense lostness that persists coupled with the lack of understanding from those around us.

My experience may be a little more on the extreme side of the spectrum, simply because I am an extreme kind of personality--deeply emotional, incredibly passionate, prone to melancholy, and inherently rebellious.

And although I may have expressed and acted it out in extreme, even frightening, ways to some, I know that I am not alone in how I suffered and wrestled amidst unresolved confusion, unrecognized grief, and profound pain--all for which I could not identify a cause, because no one around me seemed to have the first clue about the consequences of adoption on a person's life.

I also want to admonish those who would come to the conclusion that I did what I did because I had "bad adoptive parents" or because I was a freakish kind of exception--be cautious and careful, slow and humble when making such conclusions...the pain and suffering of an adoptee remain no matter how loving and how caring an adoptive home may be...and so often that pain and suffering goes unrecognized because we, as adoptees, have no safe place to express it.

So, we put on our smiles. We adapt. We push to achieve and to please, because we know that's what the people really want to see. And hence, our suffering becomes ours and ours alone.

If you were to meet me, you'd never know, outwardly, that I would have ever acted out in such ways or that I can be so fragile at times. Adoptees know how to appear strong. We know how to perform our expected role. We know how to please those around us. We know what folks want from us, and we know how to deliver it.

I was 19 years old when the events recounted below occurred. I'm 35 years old now. A lot has changed in the 16 years between. I have changed a lot in the 16 years between. I am in a different, I believe healthier, place now.

It all feels as though it was a lifetime ago. But the pain still festers. The silence often lingers. And I am still trying to find my way...

But I think at least now I know what I am looking for, who I am and who I want to be...

I share the following account to give voice to and to honor those fellow adoptees of mine who have suffered in silence, who, like me, are still trying to find their way--hoping that we can know we need not suffer alone...

* * *

[The below poem is to preface the personal account that follows it]


when you hop in your car and begin driving to you don't know where.

just anywhere. but here.

without any plan of return,

you’re thinking that this might be it.

and it seems to

surface seemingly from nowhere.

jumps inside the

labyrinth of your mind and gets. lost. it is

lost until you find it. it has been there forever

just wandering around and

suddenly your thoughts stumble upon this:


and at first:

you tell it that it is trespassing and that.

it must leave. immediately. but



puts on the moves. it’s a smooth.


and it says that it's here to help. you.

if you would just show it the way out, it will. help you. it tells you

it knows you don't want some stranger inside your head.

it starts to make sense. to you.

it starts to sound. logical. to you.

And so you show it the way out, and

you hop in your car. And

you’re driving. You’re going down.



And then

when you’re six hundred miles south—

you start to think again.

and you wish you hadn't let that stranger out.

because that


is you.

* * *

Lesson # 1955:

Running = Dying = Resurrection

I awaken.

I feel something like sound and moisture pour out of my mouth. I think I am screaming for help.

One of my brothers appears in the doorway of my bedroom. He looks like an angel. No, he looks confused and terrified.

He yells out.

* * *

I wake up in the ER. They're making me vomit.

* * *

I stay in the care of psychiatric professionals for months. I run through Prozac and Zoloft and Effexor. My shrink is an egocentric Freudian thinks-he-knows-it-all. He experiments with me like a hamster, poking at me with his snide smiles and slivered eyes.

* * *

Just three months prior to the episode of the overdose, my parents had hired a private investigator. I had disappeared from my college campus during a weekend.

They probably never would have known had I not stolen three hundred dollars in cash from their personal bank account. I would have taken more, but the ATM would not let me withdraw more than that.

I woke up in a hotel room somewhere in Tennessee to a loud banging on the door. It was the private investigator. He had found me.

The funny thing is—to this day—I still have no recollection of how I ended up in that hotel room. I just remember getting in my car, turning the key in the ignition, and merging onto the freeway. After that, I don't remember a thing before awakening to the loud banging on the hotel room door, and even that’s a bit grainy and hazy.

* * *

After the private investigator tracked me down, I do remember standing next to my Mom, getting checked into a psychiatric unit. As my Mom signed papers, I noticed a wrinkled curly-haired woman wandering around stark naked. The nurses tried to corral her—she swatted at them like they were giant insects. Another woman, thin with long black hair, walked laps around the unit with a plastic look on her face, clutching a handbag closely to her body.

As I stood there awaiting my fate, I felt equally terrified yet relieved.

* * *

I was in the coo-coo’s nest for only one week that first time.

In comparison to all my fellow comrades on the unit, I must have appeared as stable and as sane as the U.S. Constitution to most of the doctors and nurses.

But I was sure to tumble that assessment.

* * *

Less than three months after my release, on Easter morning, I decided that I wanted to sleep. For the rest of my life.

What better day to sleep than on the day of resurrection.

I thought that if I could somehow die like Jesus then maybe I could somehow be resurrected like Jesus. I imagined that I could lay to rest forever all my wrongs and all my pain, all my loneliness and all my selfish crimes. And upon my awakening, all that would be left would be everything good and happy.

But it doesn't work that way. I wasn't able, that day, to kill the darker parts of myself. It's all or nothing. And I came up with nothing. Or perhaps, I was secretly hoping to find it all.

It would seem that no resurrection came to me that day. At least, not the resurrection for which I was looking.

Instead of waking up anew, I woke up vomiting. And like I said, I got a three-month vacation, munching on anti-depressants and playing hamster for the shrink—somehow still waiting, still hoping, for that elusive day, when all that would remain would be good.

* * *

[For more personal accounts of my experiences "Growing up as a Korean-American adoptee" click here.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We can stop the bleeding: Addressing the root causes

is what I'm talking about--change at the root of the problem. Working for true reform at the social level--

[excerpted from the website]

...With an office in Seoul and two people on staff, KUMSN is the ONLY organization whose only focus is advocating for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea.... [emphasis mine]

...The Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea. The Network’s goal is to enable Korean women to have sufficient resources and support to keep their babies if they choose, and thrive in Korean society, rather than feel compelled to give up their children for adoption or risk a life of poverty.

Founded by Dr. Richard Boas, an American father who adopted a Korean daughter twenty years ago, the Network’s primary focus is on raising awareness in Korea and amongst Korean groups in the US to effect positive change. The Network works to educate, inform and promote discussion about the difficulties facing unwed mothers and their children in Korea in order to elevate their economic, political and social potential in society....

* * *

Notice that the KUMSN is the ONLY organization of its kind in Korea, whose sole focus is supporting unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children. There are other groups who advocate at the political and legislative levels such as TRACK, and at the social and cultural levels such as Miss Mama Mia.

But KUMSN is the only one of its kind in the sense that it actually provides practical support services and resources including facilities, financial, and employment assistance.

And yet, how many groups and organizations exist whose primary focus is international adoption? In Korea there are four primary agencies that specialize in international adoption accompanied by orphanages scattered throughout the country, while there are dozens of sister agencies in Europe, Australia, and America that work in conjunction with the Korean agencies to facilitate international adoption.

My point? There is an imbalance in power, in resources and support services that favors international adoption over domestic solutions. And it's this way all around the world...

I'm not looking to attend to one group at the price of another. But I am looking for equity, for balance--and at the least recognition that there are very real, feasible, healthy solutions that are so often neglected due to the overshadowing popularity and favoritism shown toward international adoption.

I am looking to address the ROOT CAUSES, not just the symptoms. International adoption addresses the symptoms, but it does nothing to confront the causes.

As long as we treat only the symptoms, real, true change will never happen.

It's like performing triple bypass surgery without also addressing the diet and lifestyle changes that need to happen. The bypass surgery may deal with the most immediate and urgent danger, but it does nothing to fix what is causing the problem.

If diet and lifestyle are not reformed, the person will only find him- or herself under the knife again or worse yet, find themselves in heart failure or suffering a fatal heart attack.

If we continue to extend our efforts no further than international adoption, then nothing will ever change. Orphanages will continue to proliferate, and children will continue to bleed out of them. Adoption and orphanages are like a band-aids on a hemorrhaging wound. In the long-run they're not very effective at stopping the bleeding...

As long as this imbalance of focus and resources persists, as long as international adoption is lauded, promoted, favored to the neglect of alternative domestic and family-based solutions then the bleeding will never find relief...and the orphans and families we say we want to help will never truly be helped...

I think perhaps some folks still tend to favor international adoption over family preservation or other domestic solutions, because they believe that these alternative solutions are somehow inherently inferior to what international adoption has to offer--aka, the material comforts and opportunities of Western countries--which again is a reflection of the imbalance of power and resources.

And in that light, international adoption in a very real way can contribute to that imbalance. Rather than empowering these children and their families in their own countries, they're adopted into a foreign country, where they become educated, productive Western citizens. This fact demonstrates that they could have just as likely contributed their intelligence and abilities to their original family and country if only they had been provided with the opportunities. Does this make sense?

Look, I'm not saying that international adoption is always part of the problem all the time--I generally like to avoid extremes, because life is more complicated than that.

But I am saying that international adoption can contribute to the problem, especially when it is favored as the first and inherently superior option rather than the inherently flawed option that it is, and the last resort that it should be. I am saying that international adoption has often contributed to stunting and often prohibiting the progress needed that could actually prevent children from ending up in orphanages in the first place. Doesn't that make logical sense?

If all the social, political and financial focus, resources, organizations, and services being bolstered are those that support orphanages and IA, how then are these sending countries and the governments involved ever going to be compelled to develop and provide the reform, education, and services required to preserve families and help them to thrive?

And the truth is that the alternative solutions actually are not simply more cost-effective than orphanages and international adoption, but they have benefits that extend beyond just the child involved--the benefits extend to entire families, entire communities, and ultimately, an entire people and nation. If we address the root causes, we're not only helping to keep children from being orphaned, socially and circumstantially, but we're empowering whole nations and their people to rise out of poverty to become independent and productive citizens of the world. And who wouldn't want that?

I think we can all agree that we would all love to see orphanages diminish and more families given the choice to receive the support and empowerment they need. I think we can all agree that we would love to see social, political, and economic circumstances change so that more families have a real choice to not only stay together, but to thrive.

* * *

The Riley family seems to believe that this kind of change can happen--so much so that they cashed in their life savings and moved to Uganda.

They recognize the need for true social change. They're not content with orphanage after orphanage being built and opened, as stated in their post, "If you build it, they will come":

Whenever I hear of another Westerner opening up an "orphanage" here in Uganda my heart sinks. When I hear it is a church based organization my heart sinks even lower. They think they are helping a situation, but they are actually making it worse. If as a church community you want to help in some way, support initiatives that are encouraging and helping families to keep their children and projects which are focused on resettlement and family based care. They are in the minority at the moment so they need your support, so that more similar projects can be created and funded.

When I think about institutional care, often the infamous quote from the wonderful movie "The Field of Dreams" rings in my ears. "If you build it, he will come".
Poverty is the presiding factor for a large majority of the children found in institutional care. In a recent survey in Uganda, only 15% of children in institutional care had lost one or both parents. We are often led to believe that "orphanages" are full of orphans but please don't be deceived, this really is not true.

The Rileys have vision for reform and change at the roots. They're an adoptive family who allowed their own personal experience with adoption to compel them to dig deeply and try to get to the root of the problem.

I'm not therefore saying that everyone of us should or can do the same, but I am at least saying, "Look, it IS possible. It CAN be done." And even if all that the rest of us can do is to support these families and organizations working to address the causes, then that's at least something. And something is more than nothing.

I simply use these examples to demonstrate that it is possible to hold onto one without letting go of the other. In other words, the adoption world does not have to be full of groups and causes that are mutually exclusive. The above families and groups clearly exemplify the concept of working together, of addressing the root causes without neglecting the affected children and their own families.

And Dr. Boas demonstrates that it's never too late to make a difference, to catch a vision. He adopted twenty years ago. Obviously, it has been a long journey for him. But when he saw the realities of the circumstances faced by unwed Korean women and their children, he let his heart and life be changed.

These are people who inspire me because of their willingness to open their hearts, their minds, their own lives to make a difference in ways that so many have thought impossible. They were not afraid to acknowledge their role. They were not afraid to take on a personal responsibility. Hence, they've made themselves available to blaze the trail, to not only face head on the deep complexities and realities of the social, political, and economic circumstances that require radical reform and change--but they're willing to take the risks and the action to do something real and tangible about it.

I hope that I can in some small way follow in their footsteps...

* * *

Here are some other organizations that you can help to support:

[Note: Although I have listed the above groups, they do not necessarily represent my own beliefs or ideas. I may not necessarily agree with certain aspects of the philosophies and/or missions stated by some of the above organizations. Nonetheless, I included each group because of the ways in which the specific program enables and empowers women and families to support their children and themselves within their own communities.]

Please let me know of any other groups or people you know of that are working to address the root causes!