I wonder who my Omma (Korean birth mother) and Appa (Korean birth father) might have become had they been given the same opportunities that I have been given? And then, I started thinking about what might have happened had I grown up in the same circumstances in which they had grown up? Or what my life might have been had I grown up with them as my parents in the situations they faced?
And automatically my mind started to veer onto the track of "See, it's a good thing you were adopted. Look at all you have because you were adopted. So, maybe it was best that you were adopted out of Korea to America."
But then I stopped, and thought some more--about the true causes, the root causes of my adoption, and I was able to steer back onto the path of reality.
The truth is that we have no concrete way of knowing what might have been had I stayed with my Korean family--for better or for worse. And the reality is that it is not adoption that gave me all these so-called "good things." And it is not adoption that "saved" me.
Rather the truth is that it is social injustice and inequality that took away the good things from not only me, but from my Omma and from my Appa. It is the truth that part of the cause of this social injustice and inequality is that so much of the so-called grown-up world is still so unwilling to apply the basic practice we adamantly try to teach our children--to share.
And the reality is that had my Omma and Appa been given similar opportunities as I have been--if others had been willing to share with not only me but also with my Omma and Appa, and we all three had been "adopted" as a family that perhaps all three of us could have ended up with these "good things." I say perhaps. I am not so naive as to romanticize what could have been--but in the same way, I do not think it is fair or accurate to say that being adopted gave me a better life than what I would have had if I had remained with my Omma and Appa. We simply cannot know this for sure.
And when I say "good things" in this context, I'm not talking about material things. I'm talking about the opportunity to be a family, the opportunity to love one another, to hold onto one another, the opportunity to endure and overcome together as a family, to learn to thrive and grow as a family. The material things are only a substrate on which these things can grow, but they certainly are not the fruit itself. And you certainly don't need much as far as material means to be a family and love one another.
And the truth is that eventually, my Omma and Appa did seize these opportunities. They both have their own families now in Korea, which I find terribly ironic and surreal at times.
Yet they both are still haunted and grieved, just as am I, by the fact that we were separated so long ago and that we still remain separated--not because we did not want to be together but because no one was willing to help us stay together when hard times came.
My point is, of course, that the answer to my situation and countless others is not "it was best for you to be adopted." The answer to families being torn apart is not international adoption, but rather social justice.
The other thought that emerged from my initial thought questions the standards by which we tend to qualify and identify a "successful adoption."
Ultimately, if an adoptee has a good career, makes good money, and overall appears to have a good material life, then we say, "Look, see, here is a successful adoptee! Look what adoption did for this adoptee!" How can you question that? But of course, I'm going to question it.
Why are these the measures by which we proclaim success? Because, as we all know, a person can have every appearance of "success" when seen from without. But what about from within? What if within that adoptee is dying? What if from within that adoptee is hurting and grieving? What if within that adoptee feels confused, torn, conflicted, tormented? Then what do you say?
Or what if an adoptee does not achieve these standards of worldly success? Are they failures in your eyes? Have they fallen short of the "opportunities" given to them?
And who is to say that if that same adoptee and his or her family were given the same opportunities, but in their country of origin that they all would not have been just as successful, with the added, more significant success that they would have all remained together as a family?
We think that it is America that gives all these good things. We think that it is America that gives a unique, unequaled love and environment in which adopted people can grow and thrive and succeed.
No. It's not America. America is not the only one who can give good things.
But rather the problem is what Dr. Paul Farmer has stated before, "The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world."
These other countries, these other families can give good things also, just as well as does America, if not better in some ways. They can provide just as equally the same love and environment in which these children can thrive and succeed. If only their lives would matter as much to us, to you. If only they would be given the same chance and opportunity that we have given to one another. But for some reason, America thinks it can do it better. America thinks it is the only who can get it right. And so, we say, "See, you should be grateful you were adopted to America."
As far as I know, America is not the only place that has loving, hard-working, trustworthy, decent people. America just likes to think so.
My point with all this is to say that assessing the success of adoption by standards of outward appearance and affluence is folly, to say the least. And to think because America is fat with affluence and outward appearance that America is entitled to adopt internationally is blind and shameful sanctimony.
The social inequality and injustice that led to me being relinquished and adopted are not reasons to continue to perpetuate modern adoption practices, or reasons to tell me, "See, it was best for you to be adopted!" Rather they are reasons to question and challenge current adoption practices.
In adoption, we tell ourselves that we are thinking about the children and what is best for them. But I don't know that we really are. Rather, I think we confirm our biases, and somehow convince ourselves that we are thinking about what is best for the children. If we truly believe that love is the most important, defining quality of family (that's what adoptive parents say all the time), then it's time we apply that thinking in the other direction--to the original families as well.
I certainly don't have all the answers, and I'm not saying that adoption should never be an option.
I am saying, please do not use my story, our stories as posters and flyers to pronounce, "See it was best for you to be adopted." Do not oversimplify the complex realities that lead to relinquishment, in order to justify adoption in your mind. Rather, look at the story as a whole--all the characters involved, including the original family and country, all the circumstances and factors at play.
Then you will be able to ask the questions that really matter, that really get to the root. I've stated this before as have many other adult adoptee bloggers. And we'll keep saying it until people finally start to not only listen but to act.
The question to ask yourself is not what are all the good reasons for adoption to continue? Or whether it was best for me to be adopted?
Instead, I believe, the question to answer is WHY are children being relinquished and adopted in the first place?
The answers are complicated but absolutely necessary to face.
Then, perhaps, you'll see the potential reality of who not only my Omma and Appa and I could have been, but who all these other families could have been, if someone had been willing to ask those questions long ago...