This week I had the opportunity to learn Hangul with two other Korean adoptees. I didn’t know how I would feel about learning my birth language. Would this trigger any feelings of sadness or loss? As we started the lesson, I was immediately surprised by how empowered I felt as I practiced saying the consonants out loud. Listening to the sounds over and over gave me a sense of healing. Maybe it was the fact that I was reclaiming my culture. Now I wonder what took me so long.
One of the losses of adoption is loss of culture. As a transracial Korean adoptee, I grew up in a predominantly white culture with little to no exposure to my Korean heritage. I lived in mostly white spaces. Being Korean was not talked about and I assumed that I was left to navigate my cultural identity on my own. Coming into my Koreaness was slow and at times a lonely transformation. In some ways, I consider myself a late bloomer. Eventually, in my early twenties is when I started to explore more of my identity. I researched Asian movies and books grasping on to anything I could find. I remember reading the book The Woman Warrior written by the Chinese American author Maxine Hong Kingston and how afterwards it made me feel so proud to be Asian. This was a turning point.
When I had a family, one of the values I wanted to pass on to my son was Korean culture but at the same time I knew this would be impossible. I was raised in white culture. How could I possibly teach him the traditions of a culture that I didn’t even know myself? Sure, I can cook bulgogi, sing along to the music of BTS, and even celebrate Seollal, but this can only sustain me for a while. At some point the jig will be up and I am still left wondering if I am Korean enough.
Maybe it doesn’t matter what I do to feel more Korean. Or the measure I place on my Koreaness. Perhaps what’s more important is finding a space where I no longer have to define what it means to be Korean-a place where I can fully accept the in betweenness.