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FALLING INTO STEP WITH KOREAN ADOPTEES

AKA | SF hosted a warm reception to greet everyone to the weekend!

My flight instinct kicked in the moment I entered the room filled with Korean faces. It’s nothing against them, and all about me, because I came from Korea too. However, I didn’t grow up in Korea, nor with Korean culture. My rational mind reminded me that, most likely, neither did they. We represent a handful of 200,000 Korean adoptees (KAD) adopted away from our birth country since the 1950s. From my perspective, adoption positively impacted my life and I’m grateful for the path I’m on. As a writer, or maybe as an adoptee, I felt I couldn’t fully reconcile my current story without a full grasp of my backstory. So after 47 years, I stepped into the room to start my journey to unravel my first 8 months.

Visit IKAA.org for info on the next event!

Obviously, I didn’t just wander into San Francisco, happening to arrive at the annual IKAA* conference reception (this year hosted by the AKA|SF**). I’ll explain my “Why now?” later because the question peppered me regularly leading up to and throughout the weekend. I yearned to spend a weekend getting introduced to my Korean Adoptee clan. I hoped that a full weekend would encourage me to get past the surface amusement of familiar appearances to find deeper connections. I steeled myself to feel the emotion of adoptees’ various experiences, especially those brave enough to share less positive adoption stories.

During my first lap of the reception room, I fought to lower my guard. I thought the high concentration of people with shared history would comfort me as if we shared a silent language. Yet, it unsettled me knowing these KADs could feel my deepest self without having to show my most personal card, “I’m adopted.” That was usually the last card I’d play at a social gathering and I’d toss it playfully into conversation, watch it flutter, then fall out of the conversation.

My newest, fastest FUNtastic friends!

Somewhere during my second lap, the impact and protection of being surrounded by so many others sharing my history crumbled my guard. My heart swelled validating my disparities felt growing up, aligning me with my path and rewarding my timeline. I scanned the 200+ faces for the friendliest, which fortunately I found sitting down making it harder for her to turn to walk away. She took me in, made introductions and in no time it felt like she and I, and everyone else I met, were meant to cross paths.

The next day offered a full schedule of informative programs detailing different paths for KADs to take with their personal adoption story. Heartfelt testimonials from adoptees farther along their DNA searches or journeys home to Korea provided valuable information and perspective. Post-adoption support programs initiated conversations about the experiences unique to transnational adoptees, offering me a new level of comfort and some validation knowing we shared these internal conversations with fellow KADs. Many adoptees translated their internal conversations into beautiful, moving expressions of art.

The many sessions were so informative, it was tough to choose which ones to attend!

Between sessions, my mind wandered:

I wasn’t the oldest person here:
The significant number of 40-something year old first-time attendees pleasantly surprised me. The increasingly noticeable pull of the second half of my life now took an uphill turn as I started this new journey to peel back more personal layers.

KAD faces:
Before this weekend, I prided myself in my ability to recognize who “my people” were but there were so many variations of beautiful faces introduced to me that my heart split wide open wanting to study and greet them all, and collect them as long-lost keepsakes. I hope the intensity with which I admired our similarities and differences didn’t freak any other KADs out!

People’s stories:
Some adoptees have memories from Korea, others (like me) don’t. For some adoptees, the unsettling part of their journey did not end when placed with their adoptive homes. Both their strength to share their stories and their resilience to survive them were honored. Some adoptees shared stories of hope after clearing through their tangled backstory and shared reactions of the people now, unexpectedly or not, traveling this new trail with them.

The truth is out there:
What little history we know about ourselves from our adoption papers could be incomplete or fabricated. As I learn more about the Korean society and the poverty experienced after the war, adoption as a profitable business, and the status of single moms to this day in South Korea, it’s no surprise to learn that many mothers did not want to put their babies up for adoption but felt no other options – or someone forced their hand. This is not just optimistic me hoping for a fairy tale ending, (that is the long-lost Korean princess story echoing in my head). Now, as a mother myself, IF that were the case, I’d want to give that woman some closure. It all worked out well.

The beautiful variety of HAPA stories really spoke to my heart!

I fit in:
Being half-Korean brings with it it’s own special set of circumstances. Physically and culturally, we’ve straddled the line – not being Asian enough for our home country, and, in my case, not white enough for my adoptive country. Through DNA matches, I might encounter family with no prior knowledge of a Korean relative. The Conference offered specific discussions for us Hapa adoptees. We half-Koreans left feeling whole.

Cloudy forecast:
While conference resources help KADs find clear answers to their questions, the knowledge still unravels mixed emotions on both sides. We come from a country still sorting their comfort level with their justification about our adoption story. While originally aiming to solve a post-war problem, for some, the feeling of exporting so many babies was seasoned with a sprinkling of shame. Now a slight curiosity exists regarding welcoming those of us raised in America back to Korea to see how this unique perspective and global upbringing might impact our birth country. The KADs recently started returning to our homeland, curious to learn their history, eager to embrace their roots, yet always with the knowledge that on some level, this country rejected them.

In the end, I left with clearer perspective and with tools to guide me down a newly revealed path. I felt energized sitting with 236 Adoptees from 26 states, representing 6 countries. Fellow KAD, film-maker Deanne Borshay Liem explained the experience perfectly that together we “Celebrated our future by honoring our past.” It is not taboo to go into our past to retrieve what may be forgotten.

This gathering welcomed KADs from the first group of adoptees in the 1950s to now! So grateful to be part of this group!

My next steps involve doing research on my past through various channels to retrace my brief time in Seoul. Largely present in my peripheral view, a visit to Seoul beckons to me. The government and various other agencies, now realizing the importance of introducing adoptees to their homeland, offer trips partially or fully funded through grants. My attention aims towards the Hapa Mosaic Tour that introduces KADs to Korea with itineraries specific to the half-Korean experience.

This eye-opening and heart-filled weekend went too fast. I still need to carve out time to process my next steps. The Mosaic Tour application (due Jan. 15) suggests a to-do list of things in the meanwhile to obtain the maximum information before taking such a large physical journey into my past. I also want to continue to simmer over everything that I experienced over one weekend and get together through other KAD gatherings. I am grateful for the people I met, the experience, information and camaraderie. I feel as though I’ve fallen into step with my sisters and brothers. I must sit still and figure out the shift that occurred. …but it is good.

Though we met in San Francisco, I look forward to keeping up with my fellow Angeleno KADs!

*International Korean Adoptee Association
**Association of Korean Adoptees | San Francisco

Korean Adoptees May get a FREE DNA test through 325Kamra.org

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All photos (except photo booth) courtesy of my new friend and fellow Korean Adoptee, Allen Majors.  Thank you!!

#AKASF20 #IKAA #yearofsayingyes #kad #hapa #ShiftHappens #bepresent #bestill #KoreanAdoptee #SeoulSearching #omaginsiders #yearofquestions #myhistoryisamystery #makesmewander

What about you?!

  • Are you adopted?
  • Are you actively researching your past?
  • Have you been successful with your search?
  • Where did you start?
  • Any helpful resources?
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WHAT NOW?!

Recently I got some Big News and at first curiosity bubbled over as I wondered “What now?!” Part of me itched to hurry and tell somebody because the news was too big not to share! Part of me craved to be still, sit and simmer on the information to allow me to maintain control of the situation and to figure out what purpose it serves me. I’ll admit, I followed my curiosity down the online rabbit hole snooping some but also to help shape my idea of “What this all means!”

My original motive for taking a DNA test was to figure out what my other ½ was since I didn’t have that information when I was adopted. When that can of worms opened, family spilled out – as I knew they would.  Right away the database paired me with a few 2nd – 4th cousins.  While that sounds really close, (2nd is almost as good as 1st, right?) realistically 2nd means that, if we’re lucky, we share great-grandparents. So you can guess how distant 4th cousins feel. Exhilarated, I snooped some close matches online searching for any obvious commonalities on their online profiles.  I’ll admit, too, I sat staring at the little envelope button (below the red arrow) and continued to simmer on the whys and what ifs. How would this be received by the recipient?

familytreedna-matches-www-makesmewander-com-what-now

The reason I’d never really considered looking for biological parents growing up was because I simply believed it was an impossibility. In my mind I’d painted a tale of a military guy on a weekend furlough looking for fun in the country he was stationed in that wound up having a side consequence he never knew of. Whether this is part of the script they tell us to help us “cut ties” with our home country or something I made up to protect myself from potential disappointment, I’m not sure. Since my exposure to other adoptees was super limited and nobody else offered a different picture – I just sat within this reality.

Since then, I’ve read a few books and joined a few online Korean Adoptee groups that paint a very different possibility and changed my perspective enough to be open to communication with a relative if they reached out to me or if were a direct match. I would love to let Korean relatives know that their selfless decision to let me go turned out well. I don’t aim to blow anyone’s vision of what their family unit looks like with a surprise relative from a far land.

ancestry-test-www-makesmewander-com-what-now

While contemplating this new branch of my family tree and how to prune it, I took another DNA test. While attending a blogging conference this past summer, Ancestry.com was there and when they heard I had a 2nd – 4th cousin match on my first round of matches, they said “Here, take this test, our database is one of the largest, maybe we’ll get even closer!”

ancestry-matches-www-makesmewander-com-what-now

They brought forth a different cousin – but a 2nd or 3rd!  After the usual online snooping, I wasn’t any further to finding any information on this new person. Also, the closest people from the first database didn’t overlap this new sprinkling of relatives.

To go all in, I also downloaded the raw data and threw it into a Korean adoptee specific database (but truly have no idea how to navigate it).

What now?  

  • I know that I want to go to Seoul, South Korea.  I know it’s super far and if I’m going to go, I’d want it to be a meaningful trip, not just a tourist trip.
  • It could be cool to trace some lineage to answer “behavior or biological” questions.  
  • As an INFJ, I’m not seeking to have a pile of “relatives” to flood my inbox since I can barely keep up with my own family!

One of the folks in an adoptee group I joined explained it perfectly that we adoptees have blind spots that exist and that we wind up richer by allowing ourselves the curiosity and tenderness towards our own past to let it grow and flourish, thereby overtaking the shadows that have followed us, knowingly or not.

heart-shadow-www-makesmewander-com-what-now

Perfect picture from Pixabay

What about you?
Have you taken a DNA test?

Were you adopted or just researching ancestry?
Any surprises?
What’d you do next?

 

 

 

MAPPING OUT ME

Growing up, one classmate told people he was born on a star. We laughed it off but, underneath, I empathized. I knew very little about my Korean origins, many moons from where I landed in America.

korea map

WTF: Wow, That’s Far!

Alien and alone, I tried to make sense of my differences without all the information. Being ½, Asians don’t think I’m Asian. Most people think I’m Hawaiian. Most Hawaiians think I’m Haole. In my family, those of us born outside the country outnumber those born inside (Stand down, Trump).

During my daughter’s recent assignment displaying flags of her ethnicity, though her genetic variety left very little white space to fill, again the reminder that the mystery extends to her generation. So, I signed up for an autosomal DNA test.

vkc flags

Because I am female looking for information on the man’s family (but with no access to them), I did “Family Finder.” It provided my specific DNA markers and a snapshot of areas reporting similar DNA patterns.

No surprise, I’m 50% Asian! It’s exciting to see that my love of Chicken Paprikas, Outlanders and the drive to visit Ireland may be intrinsic, not just a product of my environment. Am I now 1 gazillionth in line for the British throne and ineligible to marry Harry?

image

Truth: they’re all foreign to me.

The website fascinates me with details on people’s global migration explaining how my markers reach Madagascar and beyond. I’ve always wanted to “Eat our way around the world without leaving LA” but now have a more personal path to map.

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Crack open that Korean cans of worms… who shares my DNA.  Since I’m not currently conducting pursuing leads, I simply check in sporadically to see (as more people test) if anyone joined my tribe.  So far the closest match were 2nd – 4th cousins, and many 3rd – 5th.  The fact that I can’t tell the difference between 2nd cousins vs. cousins twice-removed causes me more anxiety than who appears in my feed.  Though I’ve seen some similarities in a face that could complement mine, my kids disagree.

Though so far not life-changing, I’m glad I learned this information to strengthen the weave of my tapestry of life experiences making up ME!

sarah

OPENING A KOREAN CAN OF WORMS

As soon as I clicked the “place order” button, A warmth spilled out from my chest and enveloped me. You know that feeling when you splurge on some guilty indulgence, just what you need at that moment to make your life complete. Others question “Do you really need that?!” Doesn’t matter. You deserve to do nice things for yourself for once.

Well, what I’d ordered as my long-overdue gift to me was a DNA test. …and if I ordered in the next 15 minutes, it came with a free can of worms at no extra cost.

Obviously in the ongoing debate between nature vs. nurture – we’re more than just where we come from. For me, it’s never really been a void – sure it’s been been a drunken party game to “Guess Sarah’s ethnicity” and a running joke that my kids are already a Heinz 57 mix – so why dilute that perfect recipe. But lately I want to fill in blank spots in my history as well as check more boxes than just “Asian” on the next personal profile form.


According to familytreeDNA.com, the test I took is an autosomal test designed to find relatives on any ancestral lines within 5 generations. Autosomal DNA is a mixture of DNA received from both parents (about 50% from each) and is unique to each person. Assuming my birthmother is from Korea (being that I was born there) then the rest is from my birthdad.

…And, the bonus can of worms.

WTH: What? This’s Healthy?!

Putting my information into a huge database enables connections to occur. Connections between people with similar DNA patterns. Some voluntary – for example if I joined an on-going Korean Adoptee Study – some involuntary – if an email pops up indicating that my neighbor’s DNA patterns imply we could be family. I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew.


I took the test August 4th after viewing an amazing story about family and Korean adoption called Twinsters. Through these shared experiences and this specific action I am constructing my history. Now that I did my cheek swabs I can’t wait to find out the results.


My results are in! Place your bets…

WANDERING INTO FOREIGN TERRITORY

Today seemingly random sequences of events caught my attention and changed my focus.  I believe that nothing happens coincidentally. This year, my goal continues to ride every wave no matter how far or deep I need to swim.

Beautiful flowers in Seoul...

A thank you letter for a donation in honor of the recently passed Father John P. Daly landed on my desk requiring my bosses’ signature. My boss stopped his speeding train of thought to mention that Father Daly was an amazing man who did significant years of work with Korea and was crucial to the growth of the college’s Asian Studies program. Since Father Daly’s name inspires a smile on the face of anyone who speaks of him, I looked for an obituary.

I read that shortly after taking his Jesuit vows he rooted himself in Korea during a critical period from 1963 – 1975.  My curiosity flared and launched me in a full-circle moment.

I came to America through Holt International Knowing a religious undertone existed at the adoption agency, I wanted to know if Father Daly shared ties.  While I never located a link, I sparked some clarity on a 25 year-old question.

My parents explained that the end-result of the Korean War, the devastated country resulted in families leaving babes to adopt. One person pointed out, “The Korean War ended in the 50’s?!”  Truthfully I had no response and with history being my weakest subject – I wasn’t interested in finding one then.

Now, I feel like returning to the start could sculpt a more 3-D image of my past.  I am less interested in long-lost relatives, more interested in the time before I left Korea – warm fuzzy stories like the political climate, born as a half-blooded Korean and other societal factors that launched me towards the states. I live the fairy tale – how I’d literally been abandoned until someone found me and turned me into an orphanage, I fortunately came to America and never looked back.  But, it’s part of me.

I listed Going to Korea as one of my “101 in 1001 goals,” but don’t want to visit, I want to understand Korea. Father Daly’s influence on people to learn about Korea continues.