Sharing Our Adoptee Stories

Research Center conference on Korean Adoptees

This weekend I had the honor of participating in The Research Center for Korean Community’s annual conference. Earlier this summer, I saw a call for essays for an anthology and conference on an adoptee FaceBook group and thought this would be a way to add my voice to the adoptee conversation. Writing the essay was fairly easy, but reading it aloud was harder. Sometimes we hide behind the written word, but standing in front of an audience sharing intimate details of my life offers no hiding place. As one of the other presenters expressed, adoptee events like these can feel like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting: “Hello, my name Wendy and I’m an adoptee.” Admitting and owning your adoptee-ness is a revealing or coming out of sorts. It can be a misunderstood and shame-filled identity. In many ways, especially in adulthood, there may not be an easily visible community. It can be lonely. But sometimes it can be affirming, empowering, comforting. This weekend was one of those moments.

After a slightly harrowing bus ride, which included the bus driver hitting a toll booth (the first one outside of Baltimore, at that!), I arrived in NYC. An equally harrowing taxi ride later, and in New York City traffic, I made it to Queens just in time for a dinner with other presenters. Delicious Korean comfort food and getting to know some of my fellow presenters prepped me for the next day’s conference.

The conference, titled “Made in Korea, Assembled in the U.S.: Personal Narratives of Korean Adoptees,” lasted all day and included presentations from eleven Korean adoptees. Even among such a small number of the over 110,000 Korean adoptees adopted to the U.S., our stories encompassed a wide range of experiences. We had adoptees from the first wave (those adopted during the 1950s and 1960s) up to the 1990s. We also had representation from various hometowns across the U.S., socioeconomic statuses, family composition, and family experiences. We represented adoptees at with different levels of connectedness to the adoptee and Korean-American community. There were those among us who had organized adoptee conferences, presented at dozens of adoptee-related events, searched for their birth family, lived in Korea for several years, or were experiencing their first adoptee event. In addition to showing the range of adoptee experiences, the conference highlighted areas that have traditionally been understudied within adoptee-related research, namely the frequency and effect of falsified birth documents, adoptee mental health outcomes, and adoptee experiences of abuse or trauma, more broadly.

The day was long and emotional, but at the same time healing and affirming. The conference showed that our experiences, our stories, our testimonies are valuable, important, and necessary parts of the adoption story, the Korean-American community, and American nation building. Although we may span various communities, identities, and labels, as many of the participants stated Korean Adoptee is a unique and distinct identity. The label of Korean isn’t enough. The label of American isn’t enough. Even Korean-American isn’t enough. But we, we are enough. I’m thankful that The Research Center for Korean Community saw how integral we are to ideas of Korean community but more importantly how important we are because of our adoptee experience.

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