Monday, September 28, 2009



Here I stand, but do you see me?
The reflection of the world upon my face,
always scuffling and shuffling to embrace my "true" race.
Always hidden, but in plain sight.
Do you see me?
Or are you still thinking in calculations?
Your mouth and thoughts exploding with flawed realities,
based solely on my face.
Did you know?
Your words, they broke me,
and in the winter, my pieces scattered -- too afraid to find their place again.
The temporary numbness of the cold air comforted in a way that even my pale faced parents couldn't match up.
Your actions twisted the knife.
Helpless little girl, 
her dark shiny hair in a tight pony tail, wearing her favorite flower print dress,
 stood in the hot sun,
forced to watch her insides spill out onto the side walk,
 and ooze down the drain like melted ice cream.
I felt worthless,
and still do.
Rejected by my own blood before I could form my first memory, 
I felt abandoned, 
and still do.
My heritage, my culture, my language, and my birth right,
all erased as soon as the documents were processed.
This was my new home,
this is where I grew up and fell in love with pizza and baseball,
but because of you, I felt like a foreigner,
and I still do.


A couple weeks ago I started to do research on Korean American adoptees.  The whole process of preparing before the interview I did last weekend was not only interesting, but very emotionally draining.  You can't deny that being Korea-American or (insert race here)-American comes with varying bouts of identity issues.  I can't speak for everyone, but I feel that the majority of individuals who come from different ethnic backgrounds have been faced with moments when they've had to chose between their culture and American culture.  Although I can never deny the fact that my heritage is Korea, I certainly tried everything I could to disassociate myself from it as soon as I fell prey to racial slurs and stereotyping as a kid.  There are individuals who have had generations before them living in America and have absolutely no tie to their culture at all.  Nevertheless, they are still forced to prove to the population of sometimes ignorant individuals they they are in fact American.

I stumbled upon a facebook group for Korean American Adoptees and began to read through some of the discussion topics on the page.  The very first discussion topic was titled, "How do you cope, how have you healed?"  Using my own words cannot give justice to the amount of pain some of these KAD endure, so I've chosen some posts for you to read for yourselves:

I am still trying to find healing...I am 45 years old and was adopted at 2 1/2 years old by two african american parents...they did not teach me a thing about my the 60's if you were anything but obviously white, they slapped this "father was of negroid race" on your birth certificate. What the hell does that mean? unfortunately my adopted parents ran with that and tried to raise me as an african american girl...this was very hard on me growing up in the 70's...i was rejected and experienced racism from everyone...i was not black enough, white enough, asian enough...i wasnt mexican..i wasnt anything...spent my whole life just trying to be accepted by someone... i went to all white schools and ended up having mostly white friends. to this day i am still stopped by perfect strangers and asked, what are you? where are you from? are you american? are you black? are you white? are you from hawaii? are you from viet nam? oh my God...if i had a dollar for everytime someone inquires about what i am, i could stimulate the american economy alone!!! I dont know how to heal because it seems to get thrown in my face almost daily that i dont look like everyone else...I live in Texas and that is some of the problem that i have had most of my life...very color oriented in these parts...and the southern states of the U.S. can be extremely racist...


I was also always told by my family that in Korea, I was not accepted because of my mix which was why my mother had to place me up for adoption apparently. My parents told me that Koreans did not like mixed Koreans and were very racist against them, which was why I was in an orphanage at St. Vincent's Home for Amerasians. So although I have always had this desire inside of me to know my Korean culture, I sort of never pursued it because in my head, I believed I was not accepted by them either. It still didn't stop my hope than when I ran into other Korean Americans on the street or in stores, I always wondered and still do, if they can tell that I have half Korean. In the end, I often felt I had no place to turn to. Sometimes I still do... I am older now but I think the identity crisis and confusion never seems to go away. I am 29 years old, married to a black man and have a son. I suppose I identify myself as black but I still long to know my Korean side. To know my mother and her story and mine. I have pictures of her and I together when I was just a toddler. The information on my adoption papers say she visited me often in the orphanage. When I look at those pictures and of the little girl I was and the wioman she was...I feel this void inside of me and this shock that there is another side of myself that I know nothing about. Its like waking up to find you have amenesia and being forced to live the rest of your life forming new memories, new friends, new families but never ever being able to unlock your past and who you use to be.

I don't think I've QUITE gotten over it, but then again I'm only 21. I've tried to become more korean, but sometimes i feel like i'm trying too hard because some of the korean koreans i meet like american things more, which I find interesting. I'm taking classes to learn korean, listen almost exclusively to korean music, dress as asian as possible with the limited resources. ha.  but I still have problems hanging out with korean people when i'm around koreans, mostly because I can't speak korean, i think. when i'm around other adoptees, sometimes i feel like they're not proud to be who they are and just want to be white (or just not korean), which may very well be true, but i think one should embrace what they are, and not what they can't be or aren't.  ALWAYS self consious about my asianness when i'm out with my parents who are white (...surprise surprise.. ;) ). I have no idea why and I can't seem to find a way to quell that feeling. I have no desire to be white, and I love being korean. maybe its shame that white people are my parents instead of korean? i dont know.


i should be taking meds...  but i dont. i use to take lithium. prozac.  and than some other type of medication  that i forget the name of.  it cause me to have adverse side effects  that i expressed with my psychiatrist and i eventually stopped taking them. i have been in the same boat too when it  comes to being hospitalized and going thru so called therapy too...  all in which i feel had no real signifigant  meaning to me..  and its been years since i've been on meds..  and honestly, while there are somethings that may cause an emotional trigger for  me to get upset, i think relatively speaking tho i am doing pretty good.  i dunno what stage everyone else is at...  but i feel i have developed a pretty clear picture  of who i am. how i like to identify myself..  and have a good sense of belonging...  like i feel comfortable in my own skin...  which i feel all helps in my emotional well being..

When I read these, I couldn't help but cry.  I guess it's because I can relate in some sense.  My mother got a divorce when I was very young.  Although I was only about 4, I still have memories of my biological father.  The majority of these memories deal with his violence.  Growing up, I never thought much about him, mainly because I had a wonderful new father that I loved dearly.  I guess it wasn't until recently that I started to think about my biological father again.  When I went home for Christmas last winter and saw how my dad and my siblings interacted, there was something inside of me that felt a little pang of pain.  This may have been triggered by the fact that I've been away from home for so long and my relationship with my dad has worn thin a little.  But anyways, I got to thinking; my brother and sister are his real blood and although I knew he loved me, I couldn't help but feeling his love for his own blood was deeper (or maybe just different) from the love he had for me.  Whenever I would go out with my dad to eat or shop, I couldn't help but notice all the people staring with their judgmental eyes, thinking that I was probably his young import wife.  

Anyways, back to my point, although I never wanted to look for my biological father, I started wondering if he had every thought about me, if he had missed me, or if he even cared about me.  I after all, I was his blood.  When I returned to Korea, for some reason, I couldn't shake these thoughts.  What transpired in the short months after my return was nothing short of a miracle.  To go into detail of it all would take too long, so this is my attempt at an abridged version.  It still might be long.  

I had gotten the job as correspondent for Arirang Radio at the beginning of March, but in order to work in Korea you need special visas.  When I came to Korea, I had an E-2 Visa (teaching visa).  If you are Korean American and your parents were born in Korea, you are eligible to get an F-4 visa, which essentially gives you almost all the perks of being a citizen.  In order to get this, you need to prove, through a family registry, that your parents were born in Korea.  After a long and frustrating process, I finally got my hands on my mother's family registry, but I was denied.  The reason being, all children born before 1990 (which is when a new law was passed) needed to show their father's registry in order to get their F-4 because the family blood line was passed down through him.  This basically meant, I needed to get his registry somehow.  Again, cutting out a loooot of details, I had to find him.  I was able to find his number through the internet (crazy how easy it was), and there I was, in front my computer, freaking out.  

Was he going to give me the information, was he going to remember me, was he going to be shocked, excited, happy?  Did this mean we were going to start a relationship?  What would this mean for my daddy, the one who raised me my whole life?  What would this mean for my mother, who still carried a hidden pain from the past?  What would this mean for my siblings?  So many questions!  Funny thing is, my aunt ended up calling him and got the information that I needed.  "Whew," I thought, glad I didn't actually have to do it.  So I went back to the immigration office for the 20th time to try to finalize everything, and for some reason, nothing was showing up for his records.  On Easter Sunday, I felt very convicted to call him, and thankfully, I had no stress or anxiety about anything.  I dialed his number, then waited.  

"Hello?"  he answered.
"Hi, this is Hannah."
"Hannah?  Hannah?  My daughter?!" (sobbing in the background).
"Yeah, I just called to thank you for sending your information to my emo."
"Yadda yadda yadda yadda."

I honestly don't remember everything he said after that, he was talking so fast and his voice was so muffled and heavily accented.  I told him Happy Easter, and then we ended our 3 minute phone conversation.  The first conversation in 20 years.  

Still a little troubled and stressed by the fact that I couldn't find his paperwork, I was starting to doubt that I would ever be able to stay in Korea without having to teach English.  About a week later, I got a phone call from a Korean lady...

"Hi, is this Hannah?"
"Hi Hannah, this is your daddy's sister in law." (the fact that she said daddy, made me cringe a little).
"I just wanted to let you know that he's coming with your grandmother next week to see you."

I stopped breathing for a good minute.

"So I will call you when he arrives, you can have dinner at my house."

So a week later, he arrived in Korea.  When I walked out of exit 4 at Ichon station and saw him at the end of the hall, I wanted to run away and hide.  I can't even begin to explain the things I was feeling.  I reached the end, I could see that he and his mother had been crying quite a bit and when they saw me, they cried even more.  You would think this would be a happy occasion for all, but just remember what I said earlier, my only memories of him were violent ones.

We went to his sister in laws house and sat down for dinner.  I thank God that I felt so numb the whole night.  His sister in law casually asked about my family back home and then the topic of why my mom left him came to the table.  Of course, I felt reserved in answering, but before I could say anything, he answered,

"Her mother didn't like a Korean style husband.  All of her sisters married American guys and I was the only Korea guy.  She always looked at her sister's husbands and wanted me to be like that.  But I was Korean, so I couldn't."

I almost choked on my food as I clenched my fist.  

"SHE didn't like Korean style?"  I thought to myself.
"Korean style as in you would beat her.  Korean style as in you broke her tailbone?  Korean style as in you weren't there when I was born?  Korean style as in you left her for a year?  Korean style as in you'd threaten her with a knife?  Korean style as in you'd strangler her and throw her to the ground?"...Which style are you referring to?

I was so disgusted and sooooo angry.  I wasn't expecting our reunion to be anything exciting, but his words and the biting words of his mother brought to light a lot of things my mom had said to me about them when I was growing up. 

Anyways, the dinner finally ended and they took me home.  I seriously wanted to throw up because he was constantly touching me and holding me and doing a lot of things that made me feel very uncomfortable.  For him, I was his daughter, but for me, he was like any stranger on the street.  Ewww, thinking about it just makes my skin crawl.  

When we got to my house, I quickly jumped out of the car and tried to make a quick escape, but they wanted to come in and give me some food.  So reluctantly, I let them in.  As I was sitting on the bed, waiting for them to get out of my house, he looked at me with tear filled eyes and said, "Oh our little Hannah, she's grown into a woman," by which point he reached out and grabbed my breast.  I was so shocked I started laughing...could this really be happening?  Finally, they left.  Flustered and confused at what to make of this strange encounter with my long lost father, I passed out as soon as I lied down.  

I woke up in the morning fuming with anger.  Angry at the fact that he acted in such a barbaric manner, and at the fact that he didn't seem remorseful about ANY of his actions from the past.  In addition to that, who was he to touch me in that way.  My own daddy would have never even touched me like that.  I called him at work later that day and very sternly told him that I needed hit to get me my papers so I could get my F-4, also that I needed to talk to him, alone.  He tried calling me many times before we met, but I couldn't get myself to answer.  

Saturday came.  I asked my friend Linda to come with me because I definitely didn't feel comfortable going alone.  As we sat at the table, my heart raced.  I was  finally getting the chance to get everything I ever wanted to say, or ask him off my chest.  When I was in junior high, I remember my aunt telling me that I'd probably want to find my biological father one day.  I wanted to punch her.  Why would I want to find such a jerk?  I thought about what I would do if I ever saw him, and I just remember I wanted to have a bat if I ever did.  When I first got my driver's license, I had to use my former last name, because in order to legally change my name to Johnson, I needed consent from both birth parents due to the fact that I was a minor.  This meant, we would had to find him, which I definitely did not want to do.  When I turned 18 and got my new license, I remember I cut the old one up into tiny little pieces, especially the part that said "Hannah Choe Kim" and happily threw it in the trash can on my way off to tennis practice.  

So this was it, the moment of truth.  Everything came out.  EVERYTHING.  Things that I didn't even know I had inside of me, it all came out.  20 years of hidden pain and wonder spilling out into a haphazard collage of emotion onto the kitchen table.  What angered me a little was the fact that I felt like he wasn't listening to everything I was saying.  It's like he knew everything I was going to say, and was just waiting for me to finish so he could tell his side.  When I was done, he took out a coin and said,

"See this, it's a coin.  A coin has 2 sides.  You're whole life, you've been living with your mother, so you only have 1 side, now I'm going to tell you the other side."

He went on to tell me everything that I already knew.  Finally, after a very long drawn out narrative (of what I already knew), he apologized.  Now, you might think that everything was all dandy afterwards, but I just didn't feel right about everything he said.  Of course, I forgave him.  I told him that I really believed that God brought us together for a reason.  After 20 years, we were both able to have closure.  I also told him that I was willing to start a relationship with him, but it would take time.  

Then that was that.  

I called him a few days later, because I really wanted to exercise this forgiveness through grace.  We went to lunch and then we went to the immigration office where I finally got my F-4 visa.  As I was about to get on the bus.  I said my good byes and thank yous.  I told him to have a safe flight.  Before I could get on, he quickly stashed money into my purse and said, "Your grandmother and I wanted to spend more time with you while we were here, but since we couldn't this is for you."  I tried to give it back, but he wouldn't let me, so I got on the bus, angry get again.  

It's been about 4 months since I saw him, and no word from him since.  It doesn't matter though because I got what I wanted, closure and healing.  There were things he said in his explanation that definitely didn't match up.  For example, he said he waited for my mother for 9 years before he got married.  He has a 15 year old son.  If he waited for 9 years, his son would be 11.  

Those things don't really matter, what matters is, through this experience, I gain so much more conviction that my daddy, my true daddy is the only father I will ever need.  It made me appreciate and love him so much more for the father he's been to me versus what my blood was never.

See, told you it was long.

Now, coming back to the beginning.  I'm so thankful that I was blessed with the opportunity to answer my questions and fill whatever holes I may have had as a result of having a white father.  But there are so many adoptees out there, who never get the chance.  This is why my heart broke and I cried so much when I read about their stories.    

Some adoptees have gone on searches to find their birth parents in Korea.  Reading about these stories were even more heartbreaking.  Some don't even have anything to start with because they were abandoned.  There was a woman I found on youtube who was trying to raise funds for her and her husband to go to Korea to be reunited with her birth parents.  I was able to find her blog and read about the whole process, and again, I couldn't help but feel so heavy for her.  Not only had she dealt with the more usual feelings of most KAD, but after she met her birth parents, she didn't necessarily find her silver lining.  She ached because of a lifetime with them that was lost.   

Just a little history about this.  The first wave of Korean children sent away for international adoption was during the wake of the Korean War.  In the 1980’s, the percentage of children leaving Korea for adoption was about 1% of all live births.  The Korean government made efforts in the late 80’s to reduce the number of international adoptions, hoping that by 2015, it would be totally eliminated.  However, the restrictions were temporarily lifted during the economic hardships of the late 90’s after the number of abandoned children sharply increased.  Today, despite the fact that Korea is a major part of the global economy, an OECD nation, and has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, about 1 in 200 children are still being sent abroad for international adoption.  This is mainly because of how blood lines are stressed in this culture.  It is very rare that a Korean will adopted another person's child.  

Over the years, the Korean Adoptee community has evolved into a unique ethnicity and culture.  By trying to regain their own culture and heritage, Korean adoptees are sometimes fighting against the feelings of not truly belonging to either South Korean culture or in the cultures of their adoptive countries.  The adoption policies among the first generation of Korean adoptees stressed the importance of full assimilation, believing quality of life would be enhanced if the adoptee were to remove any trace of their Korean background.  Over the years, these policies have receded as more and more adoptees have the opportunity to learn about their culture. 

As you can tell from the posts above, there have been many recorded cases of KAD struggling with identity crisis, low self esteem, isolation, and depression as they struggle with bi, sometimes tri cultural identities.  Growing up, they naturally view themselves as typical American kids (why wouldn't they) as they engage in every day things, but as evidence in many cases, it is very typical for peers and sometimes even family member to look upon adoptees as foreigners and targets of hurtful stereotypes.

It was very encouraging to see so many empowering KAD society groups and organization established to enable the community to help each other.  There are many conferences I read about as well that were constructed to help KAD in embracing their identities as well as providing education to adoptive parents.  The movement by KAD to provoke awareness is very extraordinary to see.  

I wish I could do more, but I hope that in sharing with you the struggles of the KAD experience, I was able to spark some feelings of empathy ^^  

Reading about their experience has helped me to gain more insight on Korea, and I feel more connected I guess you could say, to another fraction of the Korean American diaspora.  I hope you do too!   



Grace said...

hi hannah,

i found your blog! and i wanted to applaud you on your honesty and openness in this post. quite moving. keep means more to others than you can imagine!


s d v said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
s d v said...

i'm sooo happy for you, hj & so glad you were able to get that closure you needed <3

heiwa said...

very moving post hannah. it's something i've always wanted to ask you about (you briefly mentioned things), but I'm glad I know the whole story.

you're such a strong person and I admire you very much. i'm glad you got the closure you deserve.

i miss you and i hope i can visit you in a couple months!

Blaze.Eisner said...

Not gonna lie, nearly cried because it brought to the surface so many thoughts about my own father who like yours left my mother when I was 4. It's funny how paths can cross half way around the world, through a blog, and a part of your heart is at the same place in time with someone you've never met in person.

Jered "jrock" Lyons said...

Wow...That was awesome hannah thanks for sharing that information