I've known David for over 20 years now. Both of us grew up in Livonia, MI and attended Korean Culture Camp along with other Korean Adoptees in the Metro Detroit area. At this week long daycamp, Korean adoptees would learn about Korean culture whether it was making food, reading folktales, tae kwon do, and singing songs. In the photo seen below, I'd estimate this would be sometime around 2nd grade based on our haircuts. Since then we've always been friends and attended Grand Valley State University together.
What was your experience like growing up as a Korean adoptee?
The experience I had growing up as a Korean Adoptee in Livonia, MI was a small rollercoaster of growing pains and difficulties somewhat similar to what we all experience in early adolescence. But overall, I feel that it was a positive nurturing one. As I look back now and reflect on my upbringing, the constant positive reinforcement from my family and friends molded me into the person I am today.
Now, it's hard to say that it was all "rainbows and lollipops" as some may think from my initial statement. Yes, the city was predominately Caucasian at a staggering 99%, and yes, my Caucasian family was later fortunate enough to give birth to my 3 younger siblings, setting up an environment of easy persecution and many odd-man out scenarios. I was constantly reminded of how different I was. Whether it be a friendly/joking comment about my race, or a nostalgic review of my family photos and noticing how different I look, it was always present that I did not completely fit in.
The feeling of self-identity and the longing for that "completely fit in" feeling grew ever more present as I grew and matured. I remember times in High School of my fellow peers commenting on my eyes with a mimicking gesture, a predetermination that I would excel in mathematics and many other Asian stereotypes they could throw my way. Although it was all in good fun, it was part of the reinforcing reminder that I was different.
Time passed, the immaturities of High School were coming to an end, so I decided to experience something new and further my education at Grand Valley State University. I grew anxious to start over! A new school, new friends and a new me. GVSU provided the medium of the diversity I craved with a vastly more diverse group of peers to engage. Not just in race, but in upbringings and perspectives as well. Unfortunately, the reminders of how different we were still existed. I can recall a few scrums breaking out due to an unwelcome racial comment that I otherwise feel would not have happened had I been a different race. Similar gestures and stereotypical comments lingered throughout my 4-year enrollment, but far fewer than my early years. I was lucky enough to amass a large group of friends who understood my predicament and sympathized with my feelings.
As my identify quest continued, I sought out an opportunity to move to Boston, MA. A far larger melting-pot of cultures than what Michigan could provide. It was here I started to find my identity. A heavily transplanted population including many diverse groups of race, religion, background, sexual orientation, beliefs, origins, socioeconomic status, language, age and much more! It was here that I started to feel less like a standout, and more like the norm.
I share this small glimpse into my life in hopes to encourage a better understanding of our particular group. You may be lucky enough to read many stories or interact with many adoptees, not only from Korea, and you will find that no two are alike. And that is the exciting part that I have come to terms with. I(we) don't have to have to be one specific thing or belong to one group. It has taken some time, but I am overwhelmed and humbled by the upbringing I have had, and the future experience I hope to have. If you struggle with this sense of belonging I expressed in my passage, I highly recommend you to seek those who are like you and interact with them as much or little as you feel comfortable. As you can tell, many of my life decisions were heavily weighed by a continuing quest to find a sense of belonging. Today, the great support I have had and the individuals who have been apart of it are the real reason I was able to cope and navigate a life as a Korean Adoptee.
What are a few things you wish more people understood about Korean Adoptees?
The one thing I wish the general population would know or understand about Korean Adoptees is that we are a group of people that almost always find ourselves striving to identify who we are. It is something that I battle from time to time, and a message I hear from almost all Korean Adoptees. We are a group that is not quite Korean nor do we feel like we are 100% American.
What's one Korean dish everyone should try?
I don't think there is just one dish that everyone should try. I might be biased to some extent, but as an individual raised on an American diet I find the diversity of Korean food paints a broader picture of our culture. Today, I live in the little Korean-Town area of Boston and I eat it almost every day. Exploring the many dishes has been nothing but a welcoming culture shock. I do understand that there are many cuisines out there that would all say similar things, so if I had to narrow it down I would say try Sagol Budae Jjigae. It is a spicy stew with tofu, ham, sausage rice cake, vegetables and ramen noodles! FYI this is not a one-person entree meal, so bring some friends. Korean food is meant to be ate in the family style anyways!
You recently mentioned to me you're apart of a Korean Adoptee Group in Boston. Could you expand on that and give us some information about what the group does, and what made you decide to join a group that's important to you?
Boston Korean Adoptee is a small organization that was created specifically as a safe forum to exchange and share experiences among members and anyone else that wishes to know. I joined simply for that reason as well. To share my experience, but more importantly hear and support those who may have had more difficulties in their journey. The group is a positive reinforcement to help further validate that I am not alone and there is support right around the corner! http://www.bkadoptee.org/