A Grateful Adoptee

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 looking to reclaim my cultural heritage, or what was left of that.

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.

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Let’s listen to this Laura Klunder story. When a Timebender gets cancer, you may stop breathing. Your chest will tighten as her cells multiply. Your body will weaken as hers deteriorates. This is her magic, too. She is here and gone without warning. She ages you too quickly and bends you backward to meet in her youth.

In the first seconds of reunion, she is truly extraordinary. While her strength may seem unprecedented in search, it is the threat of passing that reveals her reach. Wherever you run, her determination in both birth and death will chase you. My birth mother is a Timebender. When I learned that she has cancer, I felt betrayed by time.

I am one of two hundred thousand exiled Spacebenders, born into a world at war against Timebenders. In solidarity with each of us who has been relegated to the margins of society, I have learned to deconstruct and reshape space to hold intersecting, divergent, and shifting locations of home and family. In childhood, I sensed my magic due to the uncanny ability to adapt to the smallest places.

Nevertheless, I was isolated by violence and felt abandoned. I was disgusted by my outstanding qualities and wished to run away rather than just fit into the narrow minds that restricted me.

By adolescence, I wearied of the game of hide and shrink and desired spaces that expanded with my growth. And so, I set forth on an adventure into the unknown territories of self and cultural landscape, while holding the loved ones that had shaped me thus far. On this quest, I encountered a Timebender, who happened to be my birth mother.

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Dear Mother

I didn’t know till now how secret from myself my hopes were.
They tell me you’re on medication.
They tell me you don’t remember me.
The anesthetic they injected before my birth must have done its work.
Now, my Dear Mother, you remember no pain.

Now, you don’t remember the extraction, the surgery,
the body that burgeoned like a weed from yours.
Me, the mud you wiped from your boot at the door,
or maybe it was your mother and father who scraped me from your sleeping soles,
either way, the rain has come
and rinsed my rust down the driveway.

Your mind is fluorescent hospital hallway.
Our blood has been bleached from the sheet.
They’ve convinced you sterile means peace.

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Thoughts on Activism and Being in Three Movements

In this post, Let’s dig a little bit deeper into my thoughts on activism and being in three movements to address the social and emotional sides in general, and, in my case, with adoption from Korea in particular and how it all relates to individuals who are perhaps a little different from the average person and have to deal with “transphobia”. Read on to learn what my activism is all about.

First: Crescendo. Marcato.
The Recipe

Step 1: Combine equal parts Doodle scheduler, conference call, shared Google Document, pronoun self-determination check-in question, transformative justice rhetoric, non-hierarchical consensus process.
Step 2: Add anger. Add outrage. Add fierceness. Reclaim culture. Add passion.
Step 3: Paint signs. Paint more signs. Paint a banner. Paint the town … red.
Step 4: Create a Facebook event. Invite everyone you know. That “Share” button is technology’s new wheat paste, so go big or go home. Adhere it to your Wall between a billet-doux to organic kale and a rant on OKCupid’s lack of gender & sexuality options. Gotta be down for the struggle and the snuggle, right?
Step 5: Get up. Get out there. The revolution is not a “House of Cards” Netflix binge. Boots on the pavement. Chants in the megaphone. KYR in the pocket. Fire in the heart.

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The River

Let me tell you a secret. I once fell in love with the river. I was young then, and I didn’t know any better. She lured me in with the promise of a better life and swept me away from my people and land. She was rich and beautiful, and I was reckless. Even if I had known how to stop water in her tracks, I would have refused so that I could keep playing but I remember feeling amused by their warnings about the river.

Some people hate having fun. They insisted the water is toxic and that I would die if I remain in the river. I ignored their warnings out of necessity. I could not imagine life outside of her walls. I have no memories beyond the river. She is my only home and family. So I continued to delight in my captivity, feeling lucky to be alive and swimming.

On one particularly lonely day, I almost drowned in the river. The shy boy who had a crush on me offered me his hand. I felt invisible to everyone else and was amazed that he could see me. Wearied by the tumultuous waters at home, I fell victim to desires of escape within a hopeless reality. When his open hand turned cold and revealed itself as a weapon against my body, I learned that the river was a dangerous place. Help is not always as it seems.

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Reclaiming Culture

So many thoughts went through my head. I thought about writing about the social injustices that have been plaguing people of color and I thought about writing about oppression on a broader scale.

Both of these are worthy topics and there’s much to say about each. I hope my readers have a good understanding of English Grammar. The subject is serious enough to pay attention to detail. It has to do with reclaiming culture so I decided ultimately to go back to the overarching theme for these columns—research.

In a previous post, I wrote about doing insider research in my role as an adult international adoptee who does research on adoptees. I’d like to report on some of the scholarships that I have produced within this capacity.

In October of 2012, I, along with a graduate student of mine, Lisa Treweeke, and a colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Muninder Ahluwalia, published a paper titled, “Reclaiming culture: Reculturation of transracial and international adoptees” in the Journal of Counseling and Development.

The concept of reculturation refers to the process by which transracial and international adoptees (to whom I’ll refer as TRIAs to simplify this narrative) reclaim their birth cultures, which were lost or never attained due to their placement in transracial adoptive homes.

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The Story of Darren Wheelock – Going “Home”

In this post, let’s listen to the story of Darren Wheelock – Going “Home” for the Korean-born. “It’s been 38 years since I left Korea. I was 4 then. I returned this past summer for my first time, and I was really apprehensive and a bit scared to go back. I’ve heard mixed reviews regarding the experiences of adoptees that return to Korea.” His story is similar to that of Shin Song Hyuk in the following video.

The “insensitive” depiction of adoptees in the Korean media has been the topic of discussion on this site and others. I have also spoken to adoptee friends who have returned, and their accounts have ranged from wonderful to horrible. Research on the topic of returning Korean adoptees presents a similar mixed bag of experiences.

Mustering up the nerve to go back and then being treated like a persona non grata isn’t what I was hoping for in my inglorious return. I also wanted to speak Korean when I returned, and while I am learning the language, describing my mastery of Korean as equivalent to a four-year-old is an insult to four-year-olds.

The context for my return was ideal. I definitely wasn’t ready to track down my birth mother; I went to Korea and Japan as part of a work trip. I met with friends and colleagues in Japan to discuss future research collaborations, and I traveled to Korea to meet with officials at a university in Seoul to discuss a future study abroad possibility for my course concerning comparative criminology. My two closest friends from Minnesota accompanied me since they also love to travel. We spent about five days in Japan and then five days in Korea.

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Identity Politics in Canada

In this post, let’s listen to the story of Annette Kassaye MacDonald who was raised in Canada, in Quebec, and had to deal with lots of identity politics in Canada. “It may seem strange, but I feel a bit confused every time someone refers to me as Canadian or Ethiopian-Canadian. Yes, I was born in Ethiopia, raised in Canada, but I’m from Québec—Canada’s only majority-speaking French province.”

Québec has its own separate identity apart from Canada, one that it is very proud of! Québec’s culture, language, and legal systems reflect its colonial ties to France; the other provinces reflect their British origins. Québec also has a different relationship with Canada and the federal system compared to its counterparts.

Most French-speaking Québécois, who make up the majority, do not consider themselves Canadian. In fact, the people of Québec refer to themselves as Québécois or Québécoise, not Canadian, a distinction that is almost an insult! English-speaking Québécois, who are a minority, tend to relate more to being Canadian than only Québécois.

Québec’s nationalist pride took root in the 1960s during the Quiet Revolution. Having previously been oppressed by the Catholic church and English-speaking minority elites, Québec society underwent rapid social, political, economic changes. In the 1970s, strict language laws made French the only official language (meaning that other languages can be used but cannot replace the use of French for all forms of public communication). On a side note, we actually have “language police” who intervene.

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At the Intersection of Fathers’ and Adoptees’ Rights

Let’s take a closer look at things that occur at the intersection of fathers’ and adoptees’ rights through this case. From my plush brown seat, I marveled at the room surrounding me with its monochromatic layers of brown paint and woodwork lining the walls, ceiling, and floors. I heard the older woman to my right release a deep sigh. A friend, she is a mother who surrendered a son to adoption years ago — whose son died before they could ever meet.

My left elbow protruded slightly into an aisle. My eyes followed the floor of the aisle to the tables and chairs ahead of me until they met the round lens of the small camera recording the hearing which brought me to an abrupt consciousness that I was being recorded.

My mind had been drifting from the adoption narrative being repeated at the long boardroom table directly in front of me. A powerful adoption executive, Francis Viglietta of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, sat before a committee of legislators offering opposing testimony to a bill that would restore the right of Pennsylvania-born adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates.

His testimony, in large part, repeated a handful of second and third-hand stories of original mothers reacting with fear and dismay at their names being known to their surrendered descendants. He said he spoke on behalf of original mothers and promised that he would speak on behalf of adoptees if we needed him to.

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Exploring the Adoption Community

As a budding psychotherapist who has shared adoption in common with clients, I approach this work with a nuanced lens. Yet still, I am challenged to manage strong emotions evoked by my clients’ narratives of adoption trauma, loss, and grief. My first therapy session with a fostered youth was my first and most powerful experience with countertransference when it comes to exploring the Adoption Community.

In a brief moment of silence I became wholly and powerfully filled with anxiety and sadness—the space between us heavy and charged with emotion. These sensations filtered through my experiences as an adoptee and were assigned the label rejection. I felt panicked—quick to think that I could be of no help to her—before catching my racing thoughts. Rejection. What did this mean to her? To me? I held it, tolerated it.

Slowly, I wondered if this feeling that crept over my shoulders and filled my chest so tightly was her disavowal that became my privilege to hold or if these familiar ghosts—abandonment and rejection—were ominous visitors from my own childhood.

Navigating countertransference evoked by adoption grief, loss, and trauma is a road well-trodden for clinicians who share adoption in common with their clients, one I need not walk alone.

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