Friday, December 30, 2016

It's been a while

This past year was interesting.  It started out rough for me.  I was dealing with some personal family stuff and it was just a lot to handle.  Slowly as the year progressed, we were able to work through so much of it and move forward a stronger family unit than ever.  Which was a great thing!

March was a rough month in particular because days after the anniversary of my mother's death, I lost my mentor.  Losing her at that time was devistating, especially because we didn't see it coming.  She was a third grandmother to me and I couldn't have survived the last five years without her love and support.  It took me a long time to recover from that loss, and there are still days when the grief washes over me like a rouge wave.  That's the thing about grief; it manages to catch you unaware months and years after the initial loss.  It never truly goes away.

Fast forward to April, when we took an amazing vacation.  The highlight of the spring as far as I'm concerned.  It was great to reset and prepare for the rest of the year, and a great way to reconnect with my amazing husband.

And then we got to June.  Oh June, you amazing month.  Right before Father's Day I got to tell my amazing husband that next Father's Day is going to be a little more special for him.  And pretty much right after that morning sickness yuckiness hit with a vengeance.  Worst.  Summer.  Ever.  Most of my summer was spent on the couch trying not to throw up with the AC blasting and an ice pack on my head.  Plans were canceled, we left weddings early, and I had to give concert tickets away.  It was a fun time.

But then we managed to make it through until the fall.  And now here we are post holidays (finally) getting ready to meet our little one in the next few months, whenever she decides to make her grand entrance.  And man oh man the adoption issues are in their glory right now.  Full on adoptee panic attacks are not fun.  Luckily my amazing husband has been around long enough to get that he's going to have to make some adjustments to make me happy and not freaking out.  It's fun.

So that's been my year for the most part.  At this point I'm trucking along, hoping for all the good things to come, and working my way through lots of scary things that the hormones like to exaggerate.  A good therapist really helps...  To Be Continued.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ready for 2017

2016 was a rough year for a lot of us at Lost Daughters, for a variety of reasons.  We're still working through figuring out how we're going to move forward, but I know most of our writers and editors haven't been around as much.

Sometimes, people need to regroup and recharge.  That's my plan anyway for 2017.  This new year is going to bring a lot of changes to me personally and I can't wait to move past 2016 on to a brighter future focusing on all the good things that are to come.

I wish peace, love, and acceptance to those who need it, and strength to all of us.  Hold on, just a few more days and we'll get a new beginning.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Fragments and Forgotten Memories

My Soul
Come To Life
When I Hear
Something in Korean
My Heart and Soul
Starts Singing
I Feel Happy yet Sad
The Smells
From Korea
Feels Like Home
To Me


My Soul
For Me
Come Back
I Once Was
Born But
Forced to Forget
About Myself

My Heart and Soul
Has Not Forgotten
This Is Why
I Must Return
My Happiness
Could Be
In Korea
Have To Find
That Missing


Before I Was Born
Even Created
There Was A Woman
I Was Supposed
To Have Called
Just As
There Once
Was A
Proud Man
That I Never
Got Know
As My Father

Older Sisters
Voices And Laughter
I Never Got
To Hear
An Entire Life
I Was Erased From

Memories Soon
Turned In To
Suddenly Forgotten
A Blank Space
In It's Place


Sunday, November 13, 2016

For Adoptees, the Fight Continues

This month has been difficult for many. In the adoptee community, November is usually spent spotlighting adoptee voices for National Adoption Awareness Month, but for many of us our attention has been turned towards an American presidential election that has turned more unbelievable at every turn. Many of us watched the results in horror and disbelief thinking, maybe the country isn’t as progressive as we thought it was.

It made me think about attitudes towards adoption and adoptees - are things really changing?

On September 13th, I received an email from Al Jazeera about participating in their online show, The Stream. They were searching for transracial adoptees who had decided to move back to their countries of birth. Although I didn’t fit the exact profile they were looking for, they still asked me to submit a video comment. I did, and I tuned in on Thursday, September 29 to watch the show.

Tadesse speaking out on Al Jazeera's The Stream
The show featured three adoptees: Heran Tadesse an Ethiopian adoptee from the Netherlands, Caspar Erickson, a Korean adoptee from Denmark, and Holly McGinnis, a Korean Adoptee from the United States. The three adoptees were also joined by Elizabeth Bartholet, an adoptive mom and the director of the child advocacy program at Harvard Law School.

The host, Femi Oke asked the adoptees a few questions about their experiences growing up, which lead to a discussion about identity. Tadesse said she lost her traditional culture and she had to relearn her language, which is why she moved back to Ethiopia.

Oke then asked Bartholet, the adoptive mom of two, how her children dealt with their identity growing up. Bartholet she said that all children struggle with identity, and she did not that think there were “major traumatizing psychological issues build into the idea of being adopted.” Bartholet went on to say “that are way worse things that kids go through.”

Whoa, I thought to myself. I know that she doesn't represent all adoptive parents, but she was sharing the same platform with adoptees to spout such potentially damaging rhetoric. How many others had consulted with her because they viewed her as an adoption expert? How many adoptive parents had gone to her with their questions?

Later on in the show, I tweeted in and I suggested that parents take the fees from adoption agencies (which can be upwards of $50,000) and spend it on supporting families. Potential adopters (or anyone, really) can support mothers by supporting organizations like Haitian Families First so mothers are not pressured into relinquishing their children in exchange for medical care or a chance at an education.

Bartolett scoffed at the suggestion and said that “it’s not going to happen.” Why? Because it’s not how the adoption system works.The widespread belief is that children living in poverty need new families. For adoptees, biology gets pushed down on the list of priorities, but having your basic needs met and knowing your family history are both important in the development of a healthy child.

As an adoptee who has benefitted greatly from my circumstances. I have never shied away from acknowledging and appreciating everything I have gained through my adoption. But I also won't shy away from lamenting the things I have lost. I can express both of these feelings at the same time. And people still don’t understand that. I try not to read the negative comments on news websites and blogs, but I have been called an “ungrateful bitch” because I went back to search for my family in Haiti. I’ve been told to go back to my “shit hole” of a country if I was so unhappy. I’ve been accused of being a “spoiled little brat” because I wanted to know more about my history. Because I’ve expressed how hard it was to grow up not really knowing who I was. And while these comments are from people able to hide behind the anonymity of the internet, these sentiments reflect the general attitude towards adoptees speaking out - "You're lucky, so be quiet."

With adoptee centered blogs, books, conferences, and documentaries, it seems that we are making progress with how we view adoption, right? Sometimes I’m not so sure.

Like many Americans who felt disappointed and angry with the results of the election, their feelings were rooted in their previous perception that things were changing. But here we are. Still fighting an uphill battle it seems.

Adoptees are still fighting to change the conversation about adoption. We fight it every time we speak up, write a book, host a podcast, film an interview. We challenge the idea that adoptees must stay silent or only express their gratitude. Instead, adoptees should be allowed to express a wide range of emotions when it comes to their adoption experience. And it’s going to take adoptees speaking out and continuing to fight to change the adoption narrative so the next generation of adoptees will benefit.

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she is a published author and supporter of international adoption reform.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Motherly Rejection

I have been rejected twice in my short life, it all begun when I was born or even before my actual birth. My maternal grandmother rejected me decided that I was not know my blood relatives. She thought that six young daughters was enough, a married woman with no son was worth next to nothing. The husband had reason to divorce his wife should she fail to give birth to a son. It was told to me years later that since my birthmother was dying they all feared she would not survive.

Karen Grassle aka Mrs Ingalls and daughters in Little House on the Prarie 

At the time of my birth social workers and adoption agencies fully covered the birth mother's medical bill for her treatment and it is a fact that my birth parents were empoverished when I was born so I suspect they needed the money more than another mouth to feed. Easy solution I get a better life and my birth mother gets treatment and can focus on the daughters' that she has.

They say Korea is hierarchial society and that may be true, but a woman who has given birth to eight children is the matriarch in her family. I learned this just recently after my second trip back, my mother has advised everyone to give me a cold shoulder, I longed for her love and confrimation yet now when we have met she is choosing to dishonor me. Perhaps I was not what she imagined, maybe she believed I was more like her and less Western. Fact is that I was raised in a Western country and people generally believe Europe and Scandinavia is an affluent part of the world, and supposedly it did not help that my birthfamily already was familiar with the Western world since one of their daugthers married a European, settled in Europe and raised a family.

Eleanor Parker as Baroness von Schraeder in Sound of Music 
Unconciously, I believe that they assumed I was the female equivalent of my older brother-in-law, it is true that I may have had something similar to material wealth but my APs were never rich. Yes, it does cost a lot of many to adopt and my parents did it twice. But my APs belong to the middle class not even upper middle class. Both mum and dad have since long retired and me and my (adoptive) brother still struggle with trying to finish our upper studies.

My birth father was a warm, generous, caring but timid man. It hurts me to think that my father might suffer and secretly still want to maintain in contact. All of because of my birth mother and his wife, we cannot.I realize now that I have always missed the unconditional love from my first father, and even though my birth mother made sure that her opinion was the final one.  She has deprived me of my birth father, intially when I first initated the birth family search all I could think of was my birth mother. Since I failed to keep my end of the bargain I'm of no use to her.

I know I am fortunate for being able to locate and meet my supposed birth parents. I located my birth parents in 2004, eventually I reunited with them in 2010. Meet them again in 2011 and by 2012 the Special Adoption law was ratified to protect birth parents identites from being given to adoptees. Instead it seems like some adoptees are able to be reunite with their birth families much thanks to DNA.

When I located my supposed birth parents the scientific research was not developed for that purpose yet. Unless I have scientific proof for something I tend to disbelief it. Mom especially wants me to stop second guessing that my birth parents aren't actually my burth parents. The reason for that is that my birth involves exraordinary circumstances just as my birth mother's health has similiar extraprdinary circumstances.

Fortunately, science is availble for adoptees and birth families. However it is only recently available so the highest likelihood of getting a DNA match is if you have a birth parent with another ethnicity. Koreans rarely relies in DNA, secondly adoption is still considered a huge stigma. Statistically perhaps only a couple thousand adoptees will find blood relative from DNA.

The truth is this, I blame my adoptive mother for my adoption separation. I would have been content and happy living with my peasant birth family even if they were- and still is poor. Why do I blame my adoptive mother then? The reason why my APs decided to pursue adoption is because my A mom was infertile. My A mom reminds me of the mother that I lost and never got a chance to know as a child. My A dad would have been able to father his own natural children if it had not been for my A mom. Perhaps my dad actually has older biological children out there...

That's at least technically possible.

I really wish my AP's wouldn't feel like their decision to adopt me through intercountry adoption as an infant was justified. They still consider that they saved me from a difficult life in poverty without any chance of a proper education or a decent life,

Even though I most likely would have been poor, I would still have my birthparents and older siblings in my life. That's not insignificant and the importance of blood or biological ties should not be underestimated. I was legally removed from my birthparents and instead placed with strangers.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In My Next Life

Mother will you
be my mother
in heaven.
Will I
 recognize you?
Mother, will you be
mum in my next life ?

Is my loss not real
Did it not happen
Should I dry my tears
Put on a smile
Even if it feels
Like I'm breaking inside

Mother are you still my mother?
I know I am your daughter
You once gave birth to me
Even if you cannot remember
I will always mourn
The loss of you

Friday, September 23, 2016

Adult Adoptee Mold

source Songgwangsa

I recently learned that even among my fellow adoptees and countrymen , unfortunately my outlook on life after my epiphany is not accepted by them. According to some or most of them my reunion experience or the simple fact that I know who my birth family is-should not and cannot be considered as life altering or the thing that will make my happy and complete my life.

Excuse me, but do they know me and my struggle or my circumstances, most of them don't. To me my reunion was everything they say it cannot be. It was life altering, an epiphany and it did complete my life. Please don't try to belittle my experience or underestimate it's impact on my life. Once again I am reminded that there are no manuals, instructions or general understanding one how we as adult adoptees and females are supposed to live our lives. So far I know that my views on my own life are not generally accepted, acknowledged or even respected. To be honest I feel like an outsider among the already stigmatized. Sadly to say... Some of them believe me to be a radical, extremist or rebel but I cannot see how my honest conviction and devotion towards my first family would make a person with these kind of views...


I don't keep clining on to the past, I assure you but my past have influenced my life so I acknowledge that. To know who we are most of us most know who we were in the beginning of our lives. Anxiously and eagerly I look forward to a future where I can embrace my Korean heritage and learn to know my biological siblings.

Of course I realize it will not be easy but life rarely is easy, without challenges in life we cannot grow as people or learn from our mistakes. The family dynamics in a birth famiy were one family member was raised in other family is not uncomplicated. Especially not if you now find yourself separated by different languages and cultures.

If there is a will there is a way, and my love for them will never alter or disappear completely or eternally. I am a member in my birth family-one of them, another daughter to my Korean mother and father and a sister to my seven siblings. Never will I deny how much I love them or what they mean to me, knowing about them has altered my life. Getting to know them has made me determined not to settle for less -or relive my mother's destiny or repeat the choices that my sisters' made.

Maybe I have struck a nerve, what I encontered during my last experience with the KAD community was a mixture of fear, jelaousy , anger and sorrow. If it was it is no excuse to make me feel like I don't belong like I should have to abandon my opinions and lifestyle and cobcious chooses that I made so far... If you have not walked a mile in my shoes you have no reason or right to judge me. I am proud to be an ethnic Korean, more so than I am to be an adoptee or more so a Swedish adoptee. Because the adoptees that I have come to know, rather superficial is not people I would like to be associated with just like I at times am ashamed to be a Swedish adoptee.

Recently my dad commented and said something like "do you really think it's that special to be an ethnic Korean", comments like these. Makes me ashamed of my adoptive parents and the society where I was raised and grew up. I don't think it's special to be an ethnic Korean it is just another ethnicity. But it is important to say that you're a South Korean, not just any Asian. In that regard it becomes significantly important. The thing is though parents loves their children unconditionally, and somehow soceity assumes that every child therefore most love their parents.

My Amom and I have a very complicated relationship, I love her I do, but I wish my love wouldn't be assumed or taken for granted. I wish my love for the woman that raised me would be appreciated for what it actually is. That love is sacred it's the same exact love that I would have developed for my birth parents. The love I share for her has never been at the expense of my birth parents. I still love my birthparents and even all my siblings.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Black Diversity in Canada and The Importance of a Global #BlackLivesMatter Movement

By D. Mathieu Cassendo

The growth of BlackLivesMatter protests beyond U.S. borders highlights the urgency of dealing with anti-black racism and systemic inequality globally. For me, this movement really inspires hope and change. Here in Canada, anti-black racism is usually denied, ignored, played down as well as the racism and colonization that has played a part in the creation of what we know today as Canada. As a black Canadian of Ethiopian origin, raised in Quebec by anglophone white parents in a completely white and rural environment, I was disconnected from black people for three quarters of my life, but that changed when I moved to Montreal. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a diversity of black people, from the French and English-speaking Caribbean and also from Francophone West Africa. I was happy for the diversity but I could not relate: I didn't feel like I belonged to a culture, most likely because I didn't know anything about Ethiopian culture at the time. I felt closer to black Americans because they were the only black people I saw, but only on TV and in movies. I also admired them for having survived years of oppression and coming out victorious, by carving out a space for themselves as an essential fabric of American society. I used to wonder why I didn’t see the same type of progress and advancement in Quebec and in the rest of Canada; after all we have a history of slavery and institutionalized anti-black racism here too. 

I often have conversations with my black American friends about the black Canadian identity. I self-identify as Ethiopian and black. For me, identifying as black is a way of honoring my connection and commitment to other people of African descent and our shared experiences of racism, discredit, marginalization, resistance, amazing resiliency and brilliance that spans five continents and thousands of years. At the same time, it's not accurate for me to call myself a black Canadian: I am Afro-Canadian or Ethiopian-Canadian. Sadly, many people are unaware of the original black Canadian communities (Africville, Nova Scotia and Priceville, Ontario for example) were very small and have been hidden or largely destroyed. The other reason is that most black Canadians tend to identify more with their ethnicity or their family's country of origin. It’s not that we want to deny our blackness, it’s that we don’t really have a shared cultural black Canadian identity or one that can be easily identified. Also, in places like Quebec, linguistic and cultural differences separate English and French-speaking black communities--some may even consider themselves Quebecers and not Canadian. This speaks to the diversity of black communities in Canada and the issues affecting us, depending on where we live. Nonetheless, we do have a lot in common; we face the same systemic racism, whether it is racial profilinghigh rates of unemployment, under-representation in private and public sectors and over-representation in prisons. One difference is that English-speaking black people are more disadvantaged and marginalized because of provincial legislation on language, making it difficult to access employment and various health and social services in English, especially if they live outside of Montreal.  Still, the biggest challenge that we face is pushing back against nationalist discourses in Quebec which tend to avoid honest and frank discussions about race, instead there is usually focus on "learning and celebrating the cultural diversity of Quebec" and on integrating immigrants (i.e. making sure they learn French), but very few on racism.

Luckily, in the last couple of years, Montreal has seen a surge of black, indigeneous and people of color organizing. There’s been quite a bit of direct action bringing issues of racism and islamophobia into the foray, just recently Quebec Inclusif has started a petition asking for a public commission on systemic racism. There’s also many conferences and events (I cannot keep up anymore) on a myriad of issues such as black Afro-feminism in Quebec and France, mental health, birth justice, afro-futurism, black wealth, transracial adoption and more. Perhaps we were having these discussions before but I obviously didn’t know about them. In any case, I feel a great sense of relief: after all these years, I’m seeing more people who look like me take political action, organize festivals and sit on academic panels talking about issues that relate directly to me and to my experience.

The #BLM movement has definitely helped shine a light on the conditions of black communities here, however I would argue that it has helped empower us more to speak up than it has given visibility to injustices we face, specifically because the classic response is “well, there is more racism in the U.S. than there is here”. This response irks me to my core because it not only dismisses our experiences (as if they weren't a result of systemic racism), but it's also a convenient way to shut down a conversation that needs to be had. I'm tired of educating my peers about systemic racism, but at the same time, I recognize that I need to cease these opportunities to set the record straight.

I think the huge outpouring of support for #BLM has unsettled some people because they did not realize or chose not to realize (because they had the luxury) that deep-seated inequalities are intertwined with their personal privilege and the onus is on them to act positively and not to look away. As one of my favorite writers Brené Brown says, "we can't have real conversations about race without talking about privilege and when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame". I truly believe that adopting anti-racism as a practice requires serious introspection, honesty, a commitment to un-learning, learning and listening to what people of color have to say, without judgment. It's not an easy feat, but it is do-able.

My support for #BLM is not just about resisting white supremacist modes of existing in the world, but more about love - for myself and for others. I also think it is important to remember communities of African descent who experience the most severe oppression are communities that we barely hear of, who live in places like India, Iran, Mauritania, Palestine, and the Pacific coast of Colombia to name a few. My hope is that #BLM, which was founded by Queer Black Women will continue to be globalized and that it will incite people to work in solidarity with communities who lack access to getting their voices heard in hopes that they too, can get the human rights and dignity that they deserve. After all, Black Lives Matter because all lives should be treated with the same value.

Kassaye is an Ethiopian adoptee who lives in Montréal, Québec. She is the co-founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora and is currently working on an anthology entitled, Lions Roaring Far From Home featuring the voices of Ethiopian adoptees from North America, Europe and Australia.

Black Lives Matter image (used with permission): by D. Mathieu Cassendo, who is a comic artist, illustrator and painter based in Montreal. You can follow her on facebook at D.Mathieu Cassendo:: BD or visit her website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Questions with Lost Answers

When I decided to begin my birth family search all those years ago it was my interest, need and curiosity to know my biological roots that spurred me. I wanted a chance to meet my mother and father and I also wanted to know my exact time of birth. I do not have any details of my birth all I know is that I was born in a certain Red Cross hospital somewhere in Korea, I was transfered to an orphanage and hospital in Seoul very soon after my birth. That is why I used to believe that I really was born in Seoul when I actually was born in a much smaller region. That I know now.


My younger brother, the oldest of the two and the brother whom I am not related to but connected to legally, his circumstances are not anything like mine. He knows when he was born, whereas I most likely never will, I will have to accept I probably never will know my exact time of birth. I have an estimated birthday, but there is nothing written about my mother's pregnancy other than that it was a normal pregnancy.

Which I now know and suspect may be a reconstructed truth. The truth is my birth mother was in very poor health I suspect she might have contructed pre-eclampsia which could result in the infant being born with jaundice like I was. I was also malnourished--- while my brother was not, neither of my brother were.

I have all this information, faces and memories yet since there were very unfortunate circumstances surrounding my birth the one person whom usually knows the answer, does not know a thing. Besides my birth there no memories apart from a few pictures and journals in my adoption file that bear witness of my first 100 days in life. Yes, the hospital staff might know if they remember but it seems to be unneccessary to try to locate someone in a hospital 30 years later. Millions of babies have been born, and babies are born every day. They could know something about my mother's birth-most likely though is that they do not remember.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Life Is Complicated

You may or, may not remember my previous post about genealogy and social heritage. My own discovery that my dad's father was a foster child was eye opening too me. But I never told you that is very likely that the person who decided to take him on as foster child was in fact his real father. There is no real physical proofs of that --- nothing more than hersay and a rumor.


But imagine to live as an adoptee or foster child being raised by a real blood relative who has decided to care for you for some reason. Yet since the foster father is married his wife dislikes you and influences your own father to mistreat you and neglect you. That was just what life was like for my dad's paternal grandfather.

People say it takes a special kind of man to willingly agree to settle down with a divorcée with kids or a single mother. Because raising someone else's child, whose biologcally not yours is something most men shy away from.

Isn't that just what adoption is though- taking someone else's child and raising it as if it was your very own?

Regarding my AP mom is it possible for someone to develop more narcissistic traits over time? At times I do not know how to handle her, she is constantly making sure she's in the spot light or benefits from her two children's private lives or issues. She even tries to still controll me and she made me self aware and self concious as a teen about my weight. She denied me to eat because she said it was a shame my tummy wasn't flat even though I was so young. She's gone behind my back twice, and she compares me with another adopted child and praises them instead of being neutral or praising her own children. She made me feel unworthy and not good enough, made me second guess myself a lot. I think I can say that the reason I developed an eating disorder, or at least a strange relationship to food is all because of mom.


I don't think she was as narcissistic a few years ago, now she can't handle criticism or a constructive discussion any longer. I love my mom, but I don't love this side of her that I doubt anyone but I have seen.

If I ever do have children, I garantuee I won't treat them as my mom has treated me.

As an adult adoptee and young (Asian) woman, there has been many times when my APs have acted strangely towards me. My APs always spoke about my birth family and adoption when I was growing up.

Although, my adoptive father is very self concious and self aware of the fact that people in socety thinks I must be his much younger Asian girlfriend whenever just the two of us are out together. It has gotten to the point were he will refuse to be seen with me in public unless I dress appropriately.

I still remember when she made the comment about my lack of a flat tummy as teenager. Perhaps mom was trying to help me, but looking back now she managed to achieve the exact opposite. A good mother knows not to make comments about their daughters weight or appearances but I guess mom never  realized that. She takes after her own mother, it is apparently sshe that believes that thirty is middleaged and eed to dress age appropriate and  unprovoking not to entice men. That said my grandma is over 90 and mom she's over 60.

Of course my dad has mentioned how much it troubles him to my mom. Mom has always been very critical towards me, but now she is starting to insult me based on what I wear. Apparently there are not many items of clothes that she approves of that doesn't make me look like a prostitute and that is age appropriate. Because apparently, society does not approve of women in their thirties that dresses too provokingly.

If that really is what my insecure mom thinks of me then I guess I can't even step out of the house before someone assumes I'm a prostitute. This is absurd if you ask me-so all Asian women that choses to dress in high heels and short hemlines must therefore be prostitutes!? At least if you ask my mom, I refuse to let my etnicity dictate how I should be dressing.

Honestly I can't help but feel like my mom's opinions about the way I choose to dress is borderlining on racist. But then again maybe it's just me, and of course since mom already is self critical and insecure of course she would project all her inscecurities and fears on me.

Ever since that comment I've begun to pay attention how women my age dresses and since I noticed many actually do dress in short hemlines and high heels I suspect that it may be a racial stereotype that society has taught most of us. Because I do not honestly think my mom is a racist, but then again she could be just like my dear dad.

The thing is I never asked to be born by Asian parents, let alone to be adopted overseas to a European country in the Western world and raised by a Cacuasian couple.

As an Asian woman, society objectifies women like me, just like they ridicule and understimates Asian men. These views are slowly changing, but not fast enough if you ask me.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dark Skin, Light Masks: Colorism as an Adoptee in Korea

We are in the midst of summer. The temperatures are high (for the most part), the sun is shining, and the water is tempting. Summer also has routinely been synonymous with tanning and tan lines. (This is not to overlook or disregard the importance of sunscreen). At the same time, my impending visit to Korea means I must grapple with skin color politics. In Korea, the valorization of light, pale skin makes my tan, dark skin automatically foreign—exacerbating differences already produced by my adoptee status.

I hear the internalized logic of pale skin amongst Korean adoptees who joke about “being good Korean girls” with pale, light skin, covered up in the summer to avoid the sun’s beaming rays. What does it mean when “being a good Korean girl” is tied to light skin? How do we grapple with the ways in which colorism is alive and well?

Colorism is not solely Black or White. We know this. Or at least we should know this. Colorism is evident in Asian countries where advertisements promote skin lightening or whitening regimens or creams.

For the uninitiated, in the US we most often hear colorism associated within the Black community. Colorism valorizes whiteness and perpetuates skin tone stratification. J.N. Salters writes, “this system of discrimination that privileges light skin, Anglo features, and good hair,” is a remnant of slavery, embedded in America’s consciousness since the antebellum period.” To this end, Trina Jones notes, “Given the critical role of skin color in racial classification, it is not surprising that the color hierarchy in the United States generally tracks the racial hierarchy. The lighter one is the more desirable one is deemed to be. Conversely, the darker one’s skin tone, the more negative are the stereotypes and biases projected onto one’s person.”

Addressing the broader, worldwide implications of the lightness obsession, Evelyn Nakano Glenn states,

The production and marketing of [skin lightening] products that offer the prospect of lighter, brighter, whiter skin has become a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Skin lightening has been incorporated into transnational flows of capital, goods, people, and culture.

In her article, Nakano Glenn explores the histories of colorism within various global communities. She finds that the origins often are rooted in racist histories of colonialism and imperialism as well as in countries or regions’ investments in the relationship between pale skin and socioeconomic standing—the assumption being that if one is a laborer, one is darker.

I begin with an overview of colorism because we tend to overlook how conversations about color and skin tone shape Asian adoptees’ understandings of self. And, when your parents are white, they’re often underprepared for the politics of skin color when white folks—mainly women—historically and, arguably, continually strive to get a “healthy glow” through tanning year after year. As a result, when you’re a Korean adoptee growing up in white American culture, you never think getting “too dark” is a possibility; rather, it’s a question of, “How does my tan look?”

Ever since I can remember, I always tanned easily. (This is not to say that I don’t use sunscreen, I do.) My mom always retells the story of how walking home from elementary school with a hole in my jeans resulted in me getting a tiny little circular tan on my leg. The walk was maybe fifteen minutes long. This ability to get tan also garnered supportive nods from my friends growing up, because who wasn’t trying to get tan in the ‘90s and early ‘00s? Remember, we were coming of age in the era of MTV Spring Break—for better or for worse—and the term fake and bake was just entering popular culture parlance. We need to remember there was a time when baby oil ruled the summer.

In college, a Korean American, non-adoptee friend of mine made it clear that perhaps being tan wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. I remember her excitedly discussing her pale, Snow White skin, how her skin was almost translucent. I distinctly remember sitting in her dorm room our sophomore year as she showed off her milky white complexion. My understanding of the value of lightness began to take shape after this encounter.

Photos of the author in Korea
L to R (clockwise): The author in Korea
in 2007, 2010, 2013, 2011
By the time I first set foot in Seoul in summer 2007, I had learned more about the value of pale, light skin in South Korea. That visit and a subsequent trip in 2010 rendered me Other—unintelligible as a Korean or even gyopo. In fact, 2010 saw me argue with an ahjussi about being Korean—I clearly lost the argument—and me be asked by an ahjumma if I was from “Africa.” It was not until I returned to live in Jeonju (summer 2011) that I was finally read as Korean. I honestly attribute this to two factors: 1) I wasn’t in Seoul; 2) I finally was learning some basic Korean (and rocked an awesome success perm). That summer made me become more comfortable claiming my space as an adopted Korean and as someone who finally was read as Korean. To become legible in a place where my Koreanness was somehow less because I was tan highlights how my body and I existed in the middle of skin color politics.

When I passed as Korean—in Angel-in-Us Coffee near the Chonbuk National University campus—I was ecstatic inside. Between this moment and when I communicated with my taxi driver with relative ease in Seoul that summer, I could not have been happier. I became a legible Korean subject—one that could pass, even if my language skills and Korean cultural competency remain lacking. For me, the simple fact that my physiognomy allowed me to be read as Korean was enough—and I’ve made my peace with being functionally illiterate in Korean and on a continual learning curve about the nuances of Korean culture.

Yet when all is said and done, and while these previous experiences solidified my feeling of home in Korea, this doesn’t erase or elide nervousness about showing up to see my family with my summer tan.

I first met my birth family in December 2013. It was winter. I was a lighter. A year later, I see them in September 2014. I was slightly darker that time, but still light enough where my color didn’t cause too much of a conversation. In fact, I remember a piecing together a conversation between my Korean dad and sister about the fact that my makeup was so natural that he didn’t think I had any on—I’m took this as a compliment. Why read more into something, when it seems so nice lost in translation? Last year, I saw them in August. With a cooler summer spent mainly indoors, at conferences, or traveling, I was still light.

This visit is rolling around the corner. I fly out at the end of July. I’m spending time with my Korean mother and father’s families. I am about ten times darker than anytime they’ve seen me. At least, I feel that way. Honestly, I’m probably just as dark as I was in 2007 and 2010.

I don’t fear rejection. What I fear are the comments. The “you are so dark” comments. The “why aren’t you wearing ahjumma arm sleeves and visor” comments.  (Okay, they probably won’t make the latter of the two comments.)

I knew at the outset of this summer that this was not going to be the summer that I finally stayed out of the sun or the summer where I would wear long sleeves and long pants and a sun hat. Sun screen, yes. But, extra precautions to appease—or potentially appease (after all we don’t know what, if anything, they will say)—my Korean family would not be taken. I was not going to become less of me. And yet, I’m writing and reflecting on this becoming a potential issue. I’m self conscious for something that may be a non-issue. For something that I can’t prepare for. For something that could all be an internal conversation I’m having here and in my head. And yet, I still write. Even if they say nothing, I am fully aware that my concerns about being marked Other are not unfounded. Colorism in Korean culture cannot be erased just like we cannot erase colorism from American culture.

What sparked this piece is an off-hand remark a female, Korean adoptee made jokingly about being a good Korean girl in her sunhat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved garments. Inside I cringed. On the outside, I smiled back with a small laugh—“Oh, those Koreans and their notions about paleness” the laugh signaled with jest. Nevertheless, on the inside I was still struck. Struck by how we as an adoptee community remain complicit in white supremacist, imperialist, and colonialist standards of beauty. How we perpetuate violent cycles of what is acceptable beauty. Where we denigrate darkness. When adoptees and adoptive parents repeat comments that underscore the valorization of white, light, and pale skin, we become complicit. Don’t let anyone tell you or make you believe you are somehow less Korean because you don’t adhere to racist standards of beauty.

I’m not sure if I shared anything new or offered new insights on the issue. My intention is to disentangle colorism from a Black/White binary and to expose how internalized standards of beauty and assumptions concerning skin color impact adoptees. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reunion: A Year Later

It’s been almost a year since I boarded an airplane after being interviewed by a reporter about my trip to Haiti.“How are you feeling?” he asked me. I took a deep breath, trying to put together a coherent sentence. I did my best to not look directly at the camera, and I tried to speak clearly and slowly, filtering my words before they reached my lips. As I spoke, travelers passed us, craning their necks to see the spectacle in the middle of the airport terminal.

I remember telling the reporter that I was nervous. I told him that that day would be one of the most important days of my life outside of my wedding day and my children being born. And it was. When I met my mother and my siblings after being separated for almost 30 years, it opened up a part of myself that I had long closed off. I had stopped believing that I could ever find my family. I had stopped believing that my parents were alive.

With my mom after almost 30 years apart 

I spent that week in Haiti visiting my mother’s house, celebrating her 70th birthday with cake and candles, and taking pictures and videos to show my own kids when I went home. At the end of the week, I told the reporter that I felt an overwhelming peace. I finally felt that I had found the rich, dark soil that I could bury my roots in.

And then I went home. I went back to my “normal” life with my husband and kids, and the first few days were the hardest. I came back on a Friday afternoon, and spent most of the weekend in bed. Partly because I was so tired. I had barely slept while I was in Haiti - the heat and my thoughts had kept me up every single night. But I stayed in bed mostly because I wanted to hold on to the experience for a little bit longer. That week in Haiti still felt like a dream, and I felt like if I had to resume everything right away, none of it would be real.

In Haiti, I was my mother’s daughter, the sister who had returned after almost three decades. I spent the week trying to fit into a role I had never known. Back at home, I went back to being a wife and mother, but I constantly thought about my family, especially my mom. But it wasn’t the same feeling of loss that I had known before. Now that I had met my mom, saw her face, knew the sound of her laugh, I saw myself in her. I missed a piece of myself that I had to leave back in Haiti.

As the weeks and months went on, I accepted a new normal. Even though I was a short plane ride away from my family, we were still separated. But we found ways to be in each other’s lives. Throughout the year, I maintained communication with most of my siblings through texting. We sent each other messages, pictures, and updates on our families.

This past year has been challenging at times. Truthfully, there have been days when I have questioned my decision to search and share my story. My life wouldn’t be as messy, as public as I have made it. But then I think of the old ache that I used to carry around, the desire to know who I was, and I no longer feel that ache. There is a freedom in knowing my history, knowing the names of my grandparents on both sides, adding my own children to the branches of our family tree. And I hope that in sharing my story, someone will one day be able to have that same experience.

Ultimately, my reunion means that I am no longer dependent on others for information about my adoption and my family in Haiti. Reuniting with my family has allowed me to communicate with them on my own and at my own pace. My reunion has not solved all of my problems. It hasn't magically made my life perfect. But I am thankful. When I step back and look at the events of the past two years, it still feels like a miracle that we found each other.

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she writes essays, short stories, and poems that usually focus on adoption.