Growing up as a Korean adoptee in a predominantly white family and community, I understand what it feels like to not have a sense of belonging. There were moments in my childhood where I wanted to fit in so I acted white and sometimes felt white, but over time there was a quiet disassociation of my Korean identity. My most vivid memory was during Halloween when my best friend and I dressed up as Madonna. I felt so inadequate. How can I look like a white pop star? I’m Asian. It validated my insecurities that I can never be an American. My Koreaness set me apart.
Shortly after returning from my first trip to Korea, I again started to question my own sense of belonging. Where do I belong? How do I fit in? Even though I looked Korean when I was in Korea, I didn’t feel Korean enough and when I am here, I don’t look or feel completely American either. My experiences in Korea made me realize that I had to be intentional about creating spaces where my son can see others who look like him and have the opportunities to make connections with other transracial adoptees. As a new adoptive parent, I was overwhelmed by this prospect. It was exhausting to always have to think about it.
Now even as an adult adoptee, I’m still trying to navigate being Korean, a person of color, and an adoptee. I understand this will always be a part of my identity. However, when I’m with other Korean adoptees I can be completely myself because there’s a shared history and a common language. I am completely understood. It’s in these collective moments when I think that maybe this is what it feels like to truly belong.
I understand that because my son is a transracial adoptee he will struggle to figure out where he fits in. He will constantly question his identity and his adoption. My greatest desire for my son is that perhaps at some small still moment during his adoption journey he will be able to look at himself in the mirror and feel like he is truly accepted-that he belongs.
…But the plants want love, too-
they lean into the sun like children diving
off the board saying watch me,
watch me, but it’s mostly just the sun
watching, the air caring
about the browning leaves before you
come and snip them
And the roots-I should insert
easy metaphor about my own
deep ones or lack of them
born, loved, left,
found, chosen, loved again and again,
these roots digging into
the earth like an apology
poem excerpt from Korean Adoptee Thinks about Plants by Lee Herrick