Saturday, January 21, 2012

On the Loss of Her History, or An Ode to White Mythmaking

On the Loss of Her History, or An Ode to White Mythmaking
Written by friend and poet, Tel McGaha

What I meant to say over Christmas supper when I said
whites should not save little Asian babies, is this:

Somewhere in the city a woman felt a pang of pain
and knew her daughter was giving birth while
withdrawing funds from Shinhan Bank so she might
vacation with her children in Daegu, if she were not dead
from the invented stones you layered in her pockets before
leaping from the Busan Bridge, all for honor
so she might come speechless to us
(엄마 and 간식 stolen from her mouth),

across the sea in the arms of a nanny on Northwest,
or porcelain Moses-like floating into Memphis
in a straw-filled crate, or better yet:
Carried upon the back of an Asian dragon,
but of the white variety like the one I hated
in The NeverEnding Story of my own childhood.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I search

In the past six months, I have gotten a little more serious about my birth family search.  I wouldn't call it quite active, but the door is open for me to travel to Korea to appear on the KBS show "I Miss that Person," and I have built enough of a network that I feel I could pull off a somewhat diligent search when my personal resources allow.  In honesty, I can't say I have any hope that a search would be fruitful.  Nor am I sure I'd be fully prepared for the consequences of a successful search - but when can one really be ready?

The question I've fielded from a number of people is Why?  Why search?  When you already have a happy life, a wonderful family who loves you beyond measure, what could one possibly be searching for?  I can tell you that I am not searching for a family to replace the one I have.  I am not looking for a happiness that my own life denied me.  I'm not even looking for a "missing piece" of myself or my history.  What I seek is far greater in scope and much more difficult to explain.

The problem with trying to relay my motives is that I lack the vocabulary, and  I am also speaking to an audience who lack the frame of reference to understand.  But I'm going to try.

In the American culture, the vocabulary used to define and describe family is loaded with connotations.  Stop for a moment and think of what the word family means to you.  Look at the word parent, and pull it apart to all the ways it has been applied in your life.  Now mother.  At the most fundamental level, what is a mother?

Most adults I know cannot pull apart the concepts of parental love and biological kinship.  I mean this from the child's perspective - many adults I know have not experienced love and biology as mutually exclusive concepts and are therefore deeply ingrained to connect one to the other.  This is not a shortcoming of any person - it is just the way that our brains are able to make sense of the world.  To those who were raised by their biological parents, they do not even understand that "parent" carries both definitions - the roles and actions of a person who nurtures, loves, and parents a child vs. the spiritual and almost instinctive way that the parent is linked to the child.  One might understand this at an academic level, but there are implications on a deeply personal and emotional level that cannot be understood until the two concepts are cleaved apart.

How can you explain the parents who stand by their children who have committed murder, rape, or worse?  What causes us to forgive family members who have deeply wronged us, when we could never forgive a person outside of our biological circle?  Why do we place our own biological family, in most cases, in greater personal importance than any other person on earth?  It is normal and human to have a strong bias to one's own blood.

In parenting my own children, I observe the joy they take from having physical similarities.  I sense the confidence they gain from knowing that their parents are uniquely and biologically theirs.  They have a sense of roots, history and permanence in knowing that they were born into their perfect place in the world.

For children whose biological narrative is broken, they lack those experiences that most people don't even realize they are experiencing.  I will not speak for all adopted people, but I will speak for myself.  As I child I saw no faces like my own, and lacked that simple joy of physical validation.  I understood at a fundamental level that I was not unique - I was any child from any orphanage, and if I hadn't been placed with this family then another child would have.  I had no sense of personal family history - I felt my story began the day my airplane landed in the US, and that I had no roots.

Only as an adult am I beginning to reclaim some of that lost territory.  I find some physical validation in my children, I know that I am the unique and right mother for my children, and I know that my history will not end when I die.

But I choose to search because I should not have to find that simple human validation only as a mother.  In many ways, I had half a childhood.  This is no fault of my parents or greater family - I love them and they are truly my family.  My American family has not failed in any way.  I realize they may not completely be able to understand my motives for searching because they have had the luxury of knowing family to be both love and biology.  Most people believe that love is the definition of family, but that is because they have not had to isolate love from biology.  By default, biology is the most basic tenet of family.  Who can argue that it's not?

I know there are exceptions.  Please don't belabor the point with the myriad exceptions, or with examples of blended families.  This is just the best and easiest way I know to explain why I choose to search.  It is not something that every person can understand - and I don't expect every person to understand or agree.  If you comment in order to change my mind or make me feel I'm wrong, then you may want to examine your own motivations, and perhaps even your own insecurities.  My family is secure enough to know that their love and relationship are not in jeopardy if I am miraculously able to find my Korean family.

I'm not searching for something that is lost or missing.  I'm searching for something that, as a basic human right, has always been mine to claim.