Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Identity

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately on the topic of identity. My thoughts have been all over the place and what I write in this post will probably be the same. I'm a transracial adoptee. Meaning, I'm ethincally one thing and culturally another. I don't fully fit into my ethnic identity and I don't fully fit into my cultural identity. Lately, I've been trying to figure out how the two fit together...or if they even fit together at all.

I'm a Korean. I was born in Yeosu, Joellanam-do, South Korea. When you look at me you will see a Korean or an Asian if you can't tell the difference. I get treated differently based on my appearance and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. Sometimes people think I'm brand new to the U.S. and talk to me loudly and slowly. I get funny looks. I've been called names too. All because I look like I'm not from here.

A lady here in Seattle saw me eating lunch in a park. She walked up to me and without introduction stated talking to me quite loudly and slowly. She wanted to make sure I knew about the park behind me that had beautiful gardens. I've been in the gardens before. When she started doing that, I didn't really know how to respond. So I politely told her that when I finished my lunch, I'd take a look at the garden. Boy was she surprised. She didn't even say good-bye. She was so startled that she just walked away from me. I'm sure she wasn't meaning to be malicious. The woman was only trying to be helpful. But by attempting to help me like that, she also became insensitive and made an assumption about who I am based on how I look. I look like a Korean. Therefore, I must be fresh off the boat and must not speak English very well.

I grew up in Idaho. I am culturally an Idahoan...and American or maybe even a hick. I have lived in the states since I was three and a half months old. Yes, MONTHS. I have no memories of Korea. Everything I remember is of growing up in Idaho. Sometimes I want to go back because it's where people "know" me. Not because I'm known as a Korean or that one Asian girl, but because I'm known as Karen. I lived in Idaho for 13+ years and people knew who I was. I wasn't labelled as being any one specific thing.

When I took a trip back to Korea in 2003, I felt really out of place. Almost like I was deficient because I didn't know the language or the culture. No matter how hard I tried to fit in while I was there and blend in, people either could peg me right away as an American or were pitying me because I was an adoptee. It was amost like I was doing a disservice to myself by not knowing my culture and not learning my language. That...I should be learning Korean and learning about my culture because ethincally I'm Korean. Sometimes, when I meet Koreans who are culturally Korean I am told that I should do certain things to be more Korean like. At times I feel like that goes against who I actually am. That it's forcing me to choose one over the other.

I never knew other adoptees growing up outside of my brothers. I knew of other adoptees, but I never really got the chance to get to know them on a more personal level. My older brothers are also adopted, but I don't think they necessarily have the same identity questions because there isn't another ethnicity involved.

I've always wondered based on my childhood and where I'm at now, where I actually fit in and who I fit in with. I've always struggled with the fact that I want people to know me as Karen...to know me as me and not as these labels. I don't want to be known as a Korean Adoptee, an Idahoan, an Asian, or that girl that fixes computers. I want people to know me as Karen. Those labels or facets of my life are only a small portion of who I am and sometimes I wish people didn't focus on them as much as they do.

This past week I attended a dinner for Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington (AAAW). How incredible! I was the youngest person in attendance, but each person at that table has had a similar experience or had similar questions about who they are as individuals. I had always felt like I was the only one with this story because of the fact that there aren't resources like this in Lewiston and there aren't many other adoptees in the area. I was amazed at how quickly I felt like I fit in and that I had a community. I've always worried about whether or not I'll fit in or if someone will like me when I attend something new. I can be fairly self conscious at times because I didn't like sticking out when I was growing up. I wanted to be like everyone else...and that at times I think, included being white. While I was driving to the dinner I was praying over and over in my head..."Please let there be at least one person I can talk to. Someone who can relate to me. I don't know what I'll do if that doesn't happen..."

Amazingly...God put 11 (maybe 12) people who are just like me and have something that they can relate to with me, in front of me at dinner. 12 people at dinner to talk to about life, my experiences and my questions. People who know what it feels like to be adopted and what it's like to not look like everyone else.

I love my family. I love where I came from. I wouldn't change anything about that ever. God blessed me with an incredible set of parents and two wonderful older brothers. Even my extended family is amazing. I couldn't ask for anything better. In spite of these wonderful people and the wonderful childhood I had because of these people, I still felt different. Not that I was unloved...I have never felt unloved. I've just kind of felt like I was alone at times. That there's no one else in the world who's going to understand how I felt because they have a different perspective from me. I know God will understand, but having someone to talk to and share stuff with is important too...having community is important.

I know that being an adoptee is only a fraction of who I am and the type of person that I want to be. I know that it changes nothing about who loves me. However, it changes the way I see myself in the mirror. I'm beginning to love all of me - my ethnic and cultural identity. I'm beginning to understand both of them and how the two of them work and affect the way we view ourselves, our surroundings, the people in our lives and the world. When I become more aware of myeslf, I can love myself more and I can become more genuine and open with people. This is exciting and terrifying at the same time.

I'm curious to see where this journey will take me...this path that God has set before me.