Dear Adoption, How Does One Reclaim Home?
Here I share a deeply personal reflection on a journey home to the land in which I began. Being a Korean Adoptee means having a complex identity and a lifelong responsibility to reclaim and make sense of our unique experience. This is a small reflection on a focused piece of my experience in returning to Korea for the first time as an adult.
How do you reflect on a journey that holds your soul in the deepest ways possible? How do you capture the feelings of returning to a country you’ve forever grieved its loss?
Walking the streets of Namdaemun, I smell gochujang and the pungent aroma of 김치. I can taste the flavors of my country-but I cannot digest them. Turning the corner, I see 아추머니 squatting, roasting sweet potatoes over an open flame, splitting chestnuts in the harsh summer sun. Their hands are strong and weathered; their faces, broad and flat. Their eyes strain in concentration, with focused attention to their task at hand. They see me approaching and give a quick glace before rattling off phrases in Korean that are meant to entice me to buy their sweets.
Are you my grandmother? Could you be my auntie?
Climbing the stairs of the subway in Insa-dong, I see the many homeless men, skin tanned as dark as the darkest leather, feet bare, with thick, blistered soles. They do not look up, for they are busy napping on boxes, and tidying up their few possessions into neat sacks.
Are you my 아버지? The father I lost so many years ago to poverty rife amongst a war torn country?
Walking the streets of Seoul, my eyes scan the crowd as I take in all the women hustling to work, shopping and selling. One woman has the same slant to her lips, the same anxious look on her face as I have when I am lost deep in a thought and I can’t help but wonder… Are you my 엄마? Are you the woman who sacrificed her child due to the steep and relentless pressures of South Korea? Can you see my face in yours…?
Are you my mother?
Listening to the sounds of Korean but responding in English, I am limited by my inability to connect with language. There’s a pang in my chest, and my heart beats faster as my soul dips into the deep but all too familiar lull. The lull of a child missing her homeland and the cries of an infant wishing to be soothed. To every street vendor and sales woman I see inside the beautiful, polished stores of Myeong-dong, I want to scream, “My name is 장원숙& I was born in this country, your country… Our country!! I am as Korean as you, with the same face; same love for spicy 닭갈비and the same temper that Koreans are stereotypically known for! I am the same as you…”, but what escapes my mouth is a botched “thank you” in Korean and a nervous, shamed smile. I’ve returned home, but they have not claimed me.
A homeland I’ve longed to belong to and a country I’ve yearned for as long as I could think; I’ve returned home but there is so much distance between us. I am Korean American and adopted and perhaps this is the divide that’s been created over 30+ years of yearning, longing and hoping. A desire that’s bred in the heart without logic or reason and pain from a primal wound that was created at birth, I know will never respond to any type of cognitive thought I’ve been taught. The tiny baby born in South Korea on a cold November night still cries for her mother, her homeland and a culture that can never be fully reclaimed.
I began as “장원숙” to a terrified woman whose only identifier I know is her surname, and to a young father whose last name I bear. I am a Transracial Korean American Adoptee and this is my story.
What a powerful start on a journey to reclaim home…고맙습니다 🇰🇷/🇺🇸