hidden so deep

about 24 years ago, i was adopted. it's taken me this long to realize that it's a little confusing. it's also taken me this long to realize that i am not white.

Month: June, 2013

iii.

Someone I once knew used to make everything so very black and white. …Racially. I know that they were simply speaking from personal background and experience as a black person. In this country, there has been a lot a lot of conversation about racism against black people, and I know we still need more. But when conversations lean towards the black/white binary, my brow automatically and uncontrollably furrows. Which side do you expect me to be on? Which side should I be on? What are the sides, even? And I already know that there are way more than just two.

I confess that as a young child I was totally racist. I’m not proud of it, but I was also seven. I’m trying to cut myself just a tiny bit of slack, since I grew up to be a lot less racist. I recognize that as a light-skinned person (except in summer!) who is from a country that is widely recognized as safe, hardworking, and not a general “menace” to (white) society, I have a lot of privilege and that it gets in my way every day. I get in my way every day. I don’t internalize and recognize that privilege as often as I should. And I sure as hell didn’t has a seven year old.

What I want to consider in particular, though, is the fact that I sort of approached it pretending like I was a white person. No, I don’t know what that means. I mean, I guess, in the “them vs us” mentality that I had, I considered “us” to be white people. And that I was a part of it. And so when I experienced my earliest memory of explicit racism against me, several years later, I was unprepared for how it would affect me. The memories of me as a seven year old and me as a twelve year old linger now, seeping into the corners at unexpected moments.

And still now, amidst countless conversations about race occurring in my current city, all I can ever hear is black and white. It’s the only story that anyone tells. And now I don’t think I’m either “them” or “us.” Or maybe I am both. Thinking I was white was wrong, but at least I felt like I belonged somewhere.

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ii.

There is a tiny white photo frame on my mother’s dresser, adorned with a plastic rainbow. It has been there as long as I can remember. Inside is a photo of me as a wrinkly, reddened newborn, photographed in the hospital with a tiny sign that says, “YOO MIN-HEE.” I always assumed it meant, “Baby Girl.” Finally I asked my mother and she told me that it is my biological mother’s name for me. An internet friend whom I “met” in junior high school told me that it is a very pretty name. It just sounded like foreign nothingness to me until then. I didn’t know I could have a pretty Korean name.

Amidst remembering these things while writing, I obviously had to google the name. I didn’t spend much time searching for “myself,” mostly because that is not actually who I am. I don’t identify with that name and am not interested in being addressed by it. But also I could feel something stirring within the veins in my left arm. It’s like parts of my DNA were awakening and stirring, as though they suddenly remembered they should rip apart.

Ok, yes, that’s a little dramatic. In sum, it made me feel strange in a way that is unfamiliar to me.

It’s a little bit like reflecting on a path untraveled, considering what could have been. Occasionally I imagine a parallel me, one who stayed in her birth country, one who is called Min-hee. I imagine it like a movie, where the camera focuses on me right now in my apartment, knees curled to my chest as I type on this laptop, and then the scene slides over to the “alternate” me, with different clothing in a different country by a different window, also typing on her laptop with her knees curled to her chest. (Note that the “alternate me” has had the same educational and economic privileges I have. Interesting.)

Just as I may wonder what my life would have been if I had decided to move to the middle of Montana and start a cattle ranch, I wonder what my life would have been if I had been raised in South Korea. It’s not like I’m going to corral a wormhole and go back and re-do my whole life as a South Korean citizen, nor would I really want to. We all spend a little time confronting the myriad of possibilities that one’s life may have taken. That’s all I’m doing.

i.

Yesterday I spoke with the only two transracially adopted people I know about “well-meaning” questions from accidentally racist people.

And this morning I was thinking about how being adopted can be a very personal thing, a very difficult thing, for some people, and yet a lot of folks feel as though it’s completely their business.

I was lucky, in a lot of ways, to be adopted as an infant. Because I can only remember a stable and loving, though slightly insane, nuclear family. The reasons, history, and emotions behind being orphaned can be very painful and difficult, a dark mist that clouds the past. And yet, as soon as you “admit” that you are adopted, particularly internationally adopted, the listener feels it is okay to ask questions that may be intrusive. “When did you ‘come over?'” “How old were you?” “Are you an only child?” “Did you have any biological siblings?” “Were you in foster care?” “Do you ever want to meet your biological mother?” “Have you ever gone back there?”

I am almost always completely open about my adoption with others, so the questions never really felt like a big deal. I sort of had to, growing up in a small western Pennsylvania town where diversity was hella scarce. It’s not like I could hide the fact that my parents and I not only look dissimilar, we are of completely different races. And of course, my parents were always open about my adoption. They answered my questions about my adoption the best they could with the knowledge available to them. They showed me videotapes of my arrival at the airport.

Now I usually bring up my adoption in conversation when I can sense it is going there (and even sometimes when I can’t), like a pre-emptive strike to admit everything before I can be assailed with the mortar fallout of their questions. That makes it sound worse than it usually is. I know the questions typically come from places of love, of curiosity, of reaching for a connection like a hand extended through a fence. And so I know it’s unfair when I bite at the asker sometimes. But I get these questions a lot. By strangers. Sometimes multiple times in one day. I get exhausted of being asked to share something that right now seems so personal and confusing. Of being reminded that I am the “other.” Of being reminded that there is a whole part of me that is hidden so deep I don’t even know where to look.

Sometimes it just makes me so very tired.