It’s safe to say that although being trans-racially adopted is all I have ever known, the love and honor my parents have always had for my Korean culture has in many ways shaped who I am and shapes how I would help you, the adoptive parent.
My parents have always shared with me stories of my journey and every time, these stories bring security to who I am. I was matched with my family when I was 4 months old, and made my voyage from Jeju Island, Korea to the United States at 6 months old. I landed at the JFK Airport in New York City and was greeted by my mother and father. I had a beautiful and in many ways, stereotypical American childhood in the suburbs of Rochester, New York filled with fun activities, tons of love and a brute of cousins. My hilarious younger brother and I are the best of friends, yet we often made people stop and question our relationship as his bright red hair contrasted with my straight black hair. Our parents constantly reminded us that we were both wondrous in our own ways and celebrated our differences while never making it feel like one of us was better than the other.
Being trans-racially adopted has meant different things to me through each stage of my life. As a child, I wish we had had even more opportunities to talk about our racial differences as a family but thankfully due to today’s cultural climate we have had more productive conversations as adults. The hardest thing about being adopted by a family of a different race has been the loss… the loss of my racial background, of the cultural mirrors, and the reality that I am not white even though I was raised in a white community. This is not only the hardest thing for me, but is it really hard for my parents… the fact that they can’t fix this for me is painful for them, yet they have and continue to sit with me in the loss.
For any adult adoptee out there struggling to find their identity, I just want to remind you of how brave you are. Make space in your life to feel the weight and loss of adoption and remember that even though you didn’t choose for this to be your story, you can choose it now. I hope you choose to own your story with courage… for me, my story is still shaping me even 30 plus years later.
Parents, please remember this:
1. Be open and engaged in the lifelong conversation of adoption and share with your child their story always, scaffolding it at age appropriate times.
2. Race has to be a conversation you lead and continue. Your child needs racial mirrors in the media but also in their community. Learn from these people, allowing them to help shape your family’s experience. I would encourage you to use story books, tv shows, and cultural experiences like museum trips to influence your child’s lens of themselves.
3. Your child may never feel like they fully belong but rather they sit in intersection of all their shared racial groups, allow this to be good and help them find ways this makes them powerful.
4. Their biological family will always be apart of them and cannot be erased. Love and honor them in all stages of your family. Try your best to have connection with some part of their history.
5. You are their parent and no matter where their journey takes them, they will know this. The way you lead their adoption story encourages or discourages how much they allow you in their life long process of becoming.
Doing the leg work for your kids while they are in your home makes it a safe space for them to share, and it also shows them that you value their whole story. The racial understanding you give them now will shape them as adults!