Friday, March 21, 2008

My Coming to America

When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I used to feel really uncomfortable and uneasy when it came to my friends and the conversation of birthdays. I'm not sure if your peers at that age were anything like mine, but it became some one's novelty idea to state not only their date of birth but the exact time stamp as well. You would be in the middle of 5th grade English class, and it'd be Mary Sue's birthday and when asked if it was, indeed, her birthday, Mary Sue would reply: "Yes! But my Mom says I wasn't born until 1:45 pm exactly!"

At that age, the fact that I couldn't give you the exact time of my birth unsettled me in some way. I don't know if I can dig that far back into my past to precisely explain to you why I felt the way that I did, and I'm not even sure that if you could talk to the 10-year old me that I would be able to explain it any better. I just did.

I felt embarrassed, and overwhelmed with just how embarrassed I felt over some minute detail that in the grand scheme of things, held little to no consequence if not to just be some sentimental value to throw into the pages of a baby book. But God, no matter how lame you might have tried to twist it to be, I would have wanted nothing more than to tell you what time I was born.

When I think back at the significance of my feelings as a kid, I guess I could self-analyze and tell you that this obsession and immense feeling of hurt/embarrassment that came with not knowing the time of day I was brought into this world would probably stem from the deeper-rooted problem of just not knowing anything. It could be, but I can't exactly be sure. Perhaps you could just chalk it up to pure peer pressure and peer anxiety of wanting to fit in. I guess maybe essentially that's all my adoption issues were - this identity confusion and overwhelming sense of wanting to find a place to belong. Who knows. (I sure as hell don't, even after all these years.)

Today, though, today is my redemption. Today would eventually become the counter-attack for my self-esteem during the early years when I would battle with my adoption demons over what made me feel more "whole". And as I grew older, and into my now early twenties, I have been able to remember this day with a tainted bittersweetness. The kind of bittersweetness you feel when speaking of a loved one: can't live with it, can't live without it.

Today is my "Gotcha' Day". The day that I arrived off the plane from South Korea into BWI at around 11:45 pm at night. The flight was long and I was actually part of a group of seven or eight children that were being flown into the airport from Korea with my parents being one of the adoptive couples. I hear stories, and I see pictures - a picture of my tiny, frail premature body being carried off the plane by one of my mother's closest friends - another picture of an anonymous Korean woman standing at the edge of the airflight gate, looking on with tears in her eyes. I had later learned that this woman was one of the young Korean women who volunteer to be "baby escorts" or pseudo-mothers for at least the long journey over to America. This was my "birth", so to speak. This was my coming into my life as an Asian-American. As the person that I am now.

At the peak of my teen angst years, I looked at this day with disdain. In my eyes, I was brought here against my will, I had no say in the matter - and it especially hit me harder whenever my parents would say things like, "We didn't bring you here to screw up your life." or "We adopted you to save you. You wouldn't have survived at all in that orphanage."

Nowadays, it's just a day. A day to remember, of course, but just a day nonetheless. Without it, I probably wouldn't be here writing in this blog, in this chair, thinking about how my Spanish midterm is due by midnight tonight. With it, I have faced a lot of turmoil, identity confusion, frustration and hurt. But I wouldn't be me without all of those things.

So maybe, just maybe, I'll break out the vodka and orange juice tonight to celebrate. And more than likely, I might even throw on "Coming to America" to heighten the celebration festivities. =)


Anonymous said...

Hey- I stumbled upon your blog when I was looking up Korean adoptees. I read some of your posts, and def relate. Thanks for stories.

Carl Clark said...

Hi here is my response to your posting on my blog.I am moved my your "My Coming to America" I do understand your feelings. My Grandfather was also brought her to America without his consent or desire. I became close friends with another American adopted Korean woman. We met in school and almost had an affair. She has since moved away to the mid-west we wrote for a while than stopped. I miss her. She too struggle with her Korean-American status. She felt Korean on the outside and white inside. She said the Korean community was upset with her because she did not speak Korean and the white community expected her to be Korean in behavior not white. She often felt lost. Being Black in America I also feel lost at times.
carl clark said...
Welcome braving the arirang. I am glad hear from you. By he way I would also die if I had to give up Kim-chi. Having spent 8 years in Asia my wife and I love spicy foods. I most likely was in Korea before you were born. Below are two links that celebrate the great folk song that is your namesake. Yes outsourcing jobs has terribly hurt the working classes. However, I wonder if our manufacturers tried to become more efficient we could produce as cheaply as it is being done overseas and still pay a decent wage. Or maybe we should demand that all countries pay a living wage. That would make our workers competitive. I don’t know but outsourcing seem a over simplified convenient solution

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words. I know we'll both get through this, and def get the book. I'm not saying we should live our life by it, but it just opens your eyes to a different perspective. Anyway, I look forward to more posts by you, def an inspiration :)

goosey said...


christlet said...

hi there, I came upon your blog when i was searching for "coming to america" stories/experiences. Although I'm not adopted, I feel that identity struggle too. My parents brought me over on the plane from korea when i was one, and ever since we've been in the DC area...about 33 years. Korean communities were scarce back then so we quickly had to asimilate to american culture. growing up like bananas...yellow on the outside, white on the inside, and never fully accepted as american or korean.

after being here in america for 3 decades, it's odd being asked...."do you speak English? are you a student visiting the states?" Mind you, this was when i was visiting middle of no-where pennsylvania but those people visit DC too...and they'd think the same things if they were to pass me by on the streets here. On the other hand, I get disdain from korean folk when they realize I don't speak Korean fluently.

anyways, i can relate. it's nice to meet you! :)