I finally completed another Korean adoptee portrait! Among all the things I’m trying to do at once, the completion of something is a big deal for me! Ha.
I loved doing this one. I’m a sucker for pink and purple and bluey shades of green. So the colours in this just made me happy. 🙂
Anywho, here’s Bethany’s story:
I like to say I’m a writer. I’ve always known I loved writing and it would be a very important part of my life. I would tell other people’s stories and be their voice. This was my future, a path I had directly chosen.
On my way to majoring in journalism, I uncovered another path that would intersect with my current road. I discovered me, my heritage, and why it mattered more than what I was currently investing in it.
I was adopted from Daejeon in 1985, with a speculative birthdate of 1984. I was deliberately placed on the steps of a kimchi factory that is currently still operating next to a large river. I was cared for by a foster family, who after reuniting with in my later years, said they stopped fostering after me because it was too hard on their hearts. I still can’t decide if that knowledge makes me incredibly depressed or content.
At 11 months, I was adopted to a white mother and Chinese father. In order, they have 1 biological daughter, 1 adopted Korean son, and then me. I grew up with a Chinese grandmother who practically raised me. She was a former restaurant owner, so I learned the basics from her. Stir fries. Baos. Sui mei. I celebrated Chinese New Year with red envelopes. I had a small doll with black hair that wore a qipao. I knew I was Korean, but I embraced being raised Chinese.
We lived in a primarily white and Hispanic town in Washington State, with very little Asians. I was either not Asian enough by my peers’ standards, or I was fetishized for things that didn’t even apply to me. I am thankful for my upbringing and my family, but it was not without its challenges.
Hate. Disrespect. Assault.
It wasn’t until college that I was able to branch out. Once an extroverted social butterfly, I became alienated due an abusive high school boyfriend. Sadly, it took me a few abusive relationships to realize my worth, but somewhere in college I fell in love with the Comparative Ethnic Cultures program, where I second majored in. I fell in love with the people, the support, and the general understanding. While writing has been my first love, I’m happy to admit that discovering I could love myself was truly a turning point. I brought something to the table, and it wasn’t just my skills. It was simply being me.
I wish I could say that life has been incredible since then. But it’s always a struggle. While journalism doesn’t pay the bills anymore, I still get to tell stories through my current work and passion projects. I ended up marrying a Korean immigrant and have two children of our own. Since having kids, it’s made me wonder about my genealogy and potential health issues. As I get older, any little ailment makes me wonder if this is early onset insert-scary-WebMD-diagnosis-here. I’m often jealous of friends who have three-to-four generations to look back on. My siblings often joke that we’re turning into our parents, but we tease our sister extra hard since she is their blood. My brother and I…we just have to hope for the best.
One thing I do know, is that I’m proud of my Korean heritage. My existence might not be a glowing representation for the country, but I’m still inspired by its progress and ability to evolve. Like every one of us, it’s still a long ways away from being perfect, but it’s still trying. And that’s what I try to teach my kids. To be proud of being different. To know there’s always room for them at the table. There’s always an opportunity for them to change. That they will constantly be discovering who they are. And to never let anyone take away their voice.
What I find interesting about Bethany’s life is that she was adopted by another Asian person. Typically, we get adopted by white people; it’s unusual to see someone who has an Asian adoptive parent! But where she loved her Chinese adoptive family, I had a very different experience. My adoptive mother’s sister is married to a man of Chinese Malaysian descent. And instead of having an experience like Bethany’s, I felt like this was often used as crutch. I was told that part of the reason my parents chose Korea was “oh… well we have an Asian person in the family… so Korea made sense”. What? Because apparently all Asian countries are the same? Good to know I “should just fit in” because there’s someone with another Asian heritage around. EYE ROLL.
What’s more was that his heritage was always celebrated. Every year, despite my almost debilitating social anxiety that would send me into panic attacks, and “cousins” who left me out of things and ignored me like I was a stranger, I was made to go to large Chinese New Year parties, being told to put my feelings aside because “this is very important to him and his background/family”. Nothing about Korea was ever acknowledged, let alone celebrated in my growing up. But it was important to celebrate China. For someone else. Despite my own feelings. And y’know… panic attacks. It makes me sad to think that I wasted so many years of my life dismissing my own heritage for others’.
Both Bethany and I have our own kids now. And I agree that although Korea (and any country, really) has a long way to go in terms of stigmas and attitudes around unwed mothers etc., we need to embrace who we are, and I try so hard to instil that into my son. He is a very easy going kid and actually didn’t even begin to notice people’s skin colour until recently (he’s 7). But it makes me so happy when I hear him say that he loves himself; that he comes from me and my husband so he’s half Korean and half white, and that he loves that because it’s what his dad and I are.
I think so many people go into adoption thinking we’re just blank slates; that we can be moulded and just magically turned into a member of another family; a stranger’s family. And then we’re expected to bond with them. Not so. We come with our own histories, our own stories, our own families. My son has been asking about where he comes from lately. And I’ve told him the God honest truth: that when I was born, my mother didn’t want to look after me, so I was given to someone else. Then shipped to a foreign country to be raised by people I didn’t even know.
It’s taken a little while for him to get his head around that, particularly since I’ve told him so many times that the moment he was born was the best time of my life; that he spent 9 months in my belly which has given us a special bond; that I loved him since he was in my belly and when he was born he was put on my chest to go back to sleep (maybe the only time in his life that he’s wanted to do that. LOL!): something that babies need etc. etc. He’s said to me that he’s sad that I didn’t get that and I’ve just nodded and said “yeah, it’s been hard, but life’s good now and you can ask me whatever you like”. He’s just taken it in, then said that my life was sad but it’s good now, right, because I have him?!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Bethany mentioned that it’s difficult not being able to look back on relatives and see our own history reflected. It works the other way, too: our kids have to come to terms with not having certain things by which they can use to help define themselves. And I’ve found myself navigating that recently. I guess I just feel so lucky that, as my son says, he’s half my husband, making him very laid back and nowhere near as anxious and as highly strung as I am/was.
ANYWAY, this went on way longer than I’d intended. Thank you so much for sharing, Bethany. I hope you feel like this portrait does you justice. ^_^