July 2006

I thought it was just me. Spent more than two years in Korea, and
still, I have a tough time negotiating the streams of the Korean
language. Covered 5 levels of Korean courses, and still, I would
say my speaking skills are pitifully adolescent. What is up “there”
(in my head), which makes this so hard that blocks my tongue from
caressing over the words in the language imprinted in my blood??
Before I went to Korea, I had this hope/dream that I would wake up
REMEMBERING. It took me an entire year of immersion to have my
first “Korean dream”, it wasn’t all that exciting.

Nothing is natural. Korean rolls off my tongue as unnaturally as
the Spanish and French I learned in grammar school and HS. I
stutter often, and speak quietly, shyly, without confidence or the
articulation that I think portrays who I am. This is not the Korean that I
spoke when I strolled off the plane from Korea. Demanding! Whining!
Screaming! Asking for the bathroom, for food, for my mother! Where
has that gone? I’ve given up hope that it’s stored in any
accessible location – up there. If it’s in there, it’s deep, well sealed,
padlocked, atrophied…possibly, pushed so far into the farthest
recesses that it might as well be gone…poof!

Then, there are bright days. I’m talking to my Korean friend, we
speak Konglish, and dig deeper into more serious and convoluted
topics, harking back to our native tongues more and more, but then,
it comes out…especially as I’m talking about my feelings, about
my “마음” (ma-eum)…my “정” (chong)…I say it in Korean, because
that’s the way I feel…I can’t say it in English…but in Korean,
it articulates itself…and it’s powerful…beautiful…so
right…and she understands perfectly…tongue, mind, heart, spirit
all Korean all making sense…finally…

It’s taken me so long, and I have/want to go so much further. I can
do it, but it’s the grind that I’ve chosen…I’m embarrassed,
ashamed…I can’t speak “my” language. And then I get
mad…passionate rage. “Why do I feel so wronged?…and WHY, if my
Korean is not perfect do they look at me strange, look at me with
pity, look at me like I’m mentally handicapped…but…holy shit, a
white American, in their loud, nasal drawl horrendously mashes out a
simple, gutteral, deplorable, condescending, ‘COME-suh_HAP-ni_DA!’
they are crooned over???!!!!!” Their hedious pentamic, Romance,
Western infused mouthing of MY LANGUAGE! FUCK – THAT – !

So yeah, I will be quiet, and shy, ashamed…but when the day comes
that I speak perfectly…I will shout and scream, “내가 한국인 이
야!!! 내 말 들어봐!” (“I AM KOREAN! LISTEN TO ME!)…and maybe,
someone, someone who cares, WILL listen and croon over me…


As people, we naturally yearn to just “fit in”. It’s a concept that never seems to escape us adoptees, no matter how much time and effort we put in to building, reinforcing, and reminding ourselves of our self worth and identity.

For years, growing up in worlds that seem so our own, we are reminded time and time again that we don’t hold all the attributes – barring our complete assimilation. We wake up, day in and day out, many – even most – of us completely unaware nor caring of our inherent difference to the enculturation that we endured being raised in the respective environments we were adopted into. It’s rude awakenings, jolting shocks, near-slaps in the face moments which never let us forget – we are not totally our parents’ children, our siblings’ sibling, nor our community’s community.

Of course, during our younger ages, we are more directly affected by our difference. We’re hyper-sensitive to it, and as nurtured, learned survivors, have created mental/emotional defenses to defeat our inner feelings of incompatible failings. A near universal theme amongst the adoptees that I have come to know, has been the phase through which we birthed into our enculturized existence. For me this consisted of a near elimination of my Asian identity – forget welcoming it, I shunned it, shut it out of my life with an almost outrageous passion.

Obviously, much has changed in my adolescent and adult life. I’ve recreated “who” I am in an effort to embrace – “who” I am. This process has been long, arduous, painful, and most importantly, on-going. I am not, nor will I ever fully subject myself to accept the fact that I am not fully assimilated, but it’s a fact that during my stronger moments in life, I have come to accept.

It’s easy for me to verbalize, to bring some existential wisdom to, to express in the intellectual language of liberal erudition, what it means to be “proud of who I am”. I am a proud “Asian American”, I am empowered by the multicultural movement, the idea of ethnic studies, and the hopes for a nation of a quilted pattern. But…

Why then am I ashamed of sitting next to the Asian family I see at the beach during those weekends at home, ashamed of ordering Chinese food in the middle of my small, yuppy, suburban town, ashamed of seeing my people speak in their native languages at the local mall? Where is the pride in that? Where is the empowerment that I can so clearly define and project with such vigor? Where is the fairness of having to “feel” a shame that I can only know by knowing one culture, but being objectified as, and objectifying another…

This is the irony of MY existence. This is the dichotomy of who I am, and no matter what, I will always be reminded…and always, deep down during those hidden moments, feel that shame…and it hurts…

…there is a house – in the center of the first floor, a square opening with a ladder leading to the second. there, a bedroom with a soft, plastic floor – warm on my knees, dark wood walls surround me, and a mahogany bureau against the wall. i’m crawling on the floor, searching for my favorite – sugar cookies, hidden – someon comes in, and finds me, placating my child’s desire; the taste still sweet on my tongue, as i gloat over my good fortune.

suddenly…i’m crying, and don’t know why, and i’m held, and don’t know who. this house, with its ghosts, in my dreams, so fleeting – to focus on it, and it disappears into the threadbare wisps of memory, recedes into the dark corners of my cerebral maze…

is this all i have to hold on to? am i sleeping, or am i awake, dreams and memories dancing, intertwined in angry and wild colors, impossible to decipher, one in the same, the same in each other…

엄마 (mother), help me…help me remember…


so i was flicking through a couple of old albums at home, and pulled a few out and scanned into my computer. i realized that in this day and age, prints just won’t last, and it’s a good idea to have a couple online.
so i scanned a few from the first couple of days, and first couple of weeks when i arrived in the states. i thought i’d share a some of them. it’s an interesting juxtaposition, the happiness of arrival and the sadness of leaving. even at that tender age, i have to believe i was very much aware of one immediate on the mind, and the other heavy on the heart.

perhaps this can be illustrated…

picture sent to my parents prior to my arrival:

Foster Mom

w/ my foster mom, and my identity card…

Off the Plane
…off the plane…straight to……………..

…the new family!


…after crying…they stuffed something in my pockets – CANDY!

…my new family tried hard to make me feel at home…brown rice in chicken broth – i didn’t know the difference…

…so simple they say…sliding right into my new life…


… but still…wondering about all that was left behind…