The last love letter he wrote to me was a thank you card. In every possible action, our love and gratitude were inextricable, despite the societal sicknesses that divided us by race, gender, and landscape. Ross, who I described as my anti-racist white boyfriend, did his best to love me, a grateful adoptee, for the three years in which I purchased three one-way tickets to Korea.
Each time, he drove me to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport, carried my baggage, and kissed me farewell on my journey into adoptee activism. One year ago, we finally tired of the ritual, and parted ways in love and acceptance of our separate, emerging paths. On the other side of that departure, I arrived at KoRoot–a small, but mighty guest house and NGO in Seoul, South Korea.
Once again, I passed through the creaking front gate into the garden, continued forward up the concrete steps, and reached the guest house entrance where I paused to remove my shoes. Little did I know, I was beginning my daily return to KoRoot, a labor of love and gratitude to serve the 200,000 overseas Korean adoptees to which I belong, on behalf of the organization that has welcomed me in both times of greatness and vulnerability.
I was a guest when I first arrived at KoRoot three years ago, on the eve of reunion with my birth mother. I remember looking down at my blue tights when I passed through the threshold from the adopteephobic world I knew, into that amazing house—a safe and welcoming home for overseas Korean adoptees and our families, and a central location in our shared Korean adoptee history and culture.
Somehow, on the way to meeting my Korean mother, I had also found KoRoot. I cautiously approached the dining room table, put down my defenses to pick up a plate of delicious Korean food, and joined the meal that my community had started before me. If this were my only memory of KoRoot–to be safe without weapons within a violent world that threatens my adopted Korean body and desires for friendship and partnership–it would be enough to inspire my love into action.
However, in this past year, I was invited to serve alongside the Korean staff and volunteers, while holding the Korean adoptee consciousness of our work’s impact on the adoptees we welcome and let go each day of every year. Without the privilege of sentiment, I look back on this year of service to KoRoot that began with heartbreak, with a profound appreciation for each struggle that deepened my commitment to adoptee solidarity in an effort to love every adoptee in our brilliantly diverse community.
In my first self-order of business as the Adoptee Relations Coordinator, I asked Pastor Kim and his wife, Mrs. Kong, if I may coordinate a much overdue fundraiser for KoRoot. They both hated the idea. Pastor Kim expressed his gratitude for the personal and organizational growth that Korean adoptees and their families have facilitated at KoRoot and acknowledged his privilege and responsibility to serve adoptee society.
As I continued to push the issue with Pastor Kim, the debate escalated. I reminded him that I have been systematically denied access to my Korean family, language, and culture of origin, and therefore subjected to consuming services for which I am expected to be grateful. Within the context of adopterism, my community has been divided along the violent line of “grateful” and “ungrateful” adoptee, which is a barrier to personal healing and growth and inhibits our capacity for leadership.
As such, I give thanks to loved ones- of my choosing- as a powerful act of resistance to the oppressive confines of gratitude. In such cases, gratitude is an act of self-love and is integral to my personal reconciliation process with Korea. It is not only my choice to give back to KoRoot and Pastor Kim–who has stewarded our adoptee communities’ leadership for ten years–it is my inalienable right to contribute to Korean society.
KoRoot needs to ask the community for donations in order to grow, not for him, but for the adoptees we serve. And so, I finally won an argument with Pastor Kim—which was an incredible accomplishment in itself—and only the start of this vision to involve adoptees and their families in the work to make KoRoot more than just a guest house.
As an adoptee and a staff member, I understand KoRoot as a crucial access point and place for adoptees’ involvement, community building, and leadership development. In every day of just one of ten years, I witnessed the sacrifice of individuals doing their part to heal the societal sicknesses that plague all of us who yearn for wholeness and belonging. At times, KoRoot rises up into collective action, and in struggle, KoRoot may fall short with the best of intentions.
Still, KoRoot is the only non-adoptee organization in Korea that fights for adoptee rights and sustains an adoptee advisory board to ensure adoptee leadership in the organizational structure. KoRoot is not a charity; it’s an ally. And like all allies, our work is a relational process that requires listening to the adoptees we serve, and co-creating inclusive and accessible spaces within the intimacies of our home, and in society at large.
This month, I will depart from my position at KoRoot to continue on with Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK). This love letter is a thank you card for the opportunity to serve from that extraordinary house that I remember as my favorite place in the world and grew into a home that aspires to inhale suffering and exhale joy for each person it holds. I wish KoRoot well as it endeavors to be more inclusive and accessible to all Korean adoptees, our families, and our collective leadership. For Pastor Kim, his family, the devoted Korean staff and volunteers, and the entire KoRoot community, I am truly grateful. It is my privilege to serve our worldwide community.