Category Archives: Puerto Rico

Undercover Adoptee

Yesterday morning at breakfast, I heard this Story Corps taping (before you continue, you might want to listen). 
This dialogue between a mother and daughter will surprise you when you reach the end. In less than three minutes we discover the mother was adopted but did not discover this until adulthood.
This 2012 was a year of discovery in my adoption story, but mine focused on the discovery of other adoptees. 
Up until this year, I wandered around believing that I was quite alone and undercover. Every now and then, my secret identity would need verification through statements like, “I have no medical family history because I’m adopted.” and “Well, that isn’t really my birthday, it was given to me by the Korean government.”  
As I have mentioned, my life has been recently touched by three Korean adoptees. In a couple of instances, the adoptee knew immediately upon meeting me face to face that I must be adopted … few Koreans have a full Puerto Rican name.
Over the holidays, I had a cookie exchange. While introducing people, a new friend, Amy. (not to be confused with Amy in this post), asked how Miya and I knew one another. We mentioned that our adoption histories were similar.  At this, Amy said with a smile, “I’m adopted too!”
Amy is a caucasian woman with blonde hair. Her identity as an adoptee is not written on her face, nor does her name give any indication that she is adopted. Amy, Miya and I started sharing our common frustrations with routine questions like “Do you have any diseases in your family history?”
Like me, Amy lost her adoptive mother too soon. Like me, Amy has a younger sibling who is not only six years younger than her, but the sibling is also the biological child of her adoptive parents. 
Unlike me, Amy lost her father to cancer and had a middle brother who was also adopted. She had a sibling with whom she could confide as well as share her adoption questions as they became older. 
Amy is an art teacher. It is our love of art education that brought us together. When she began teaching, she spoke with her adopted brother about her fear that any of the children she was teaching could, in fact, be biologically related to her. Being so close to her birthplace and much like the adoption story in Story Corps, there was the possibility that those whose social circles intersected hers could be biologically related to her. Her brother assured her that she would be a fabulous teacher regardless of the background of her students.
Amy shares the deep love of her adoptive family that I do, but now I see another side of adoption. Those adoptions that are not international pose completely different questions and challenges. When you aren’t racially different from your family, you are undercover. My race has helped me find others like me, albeit some 40 years into my life, but for Amy and the woman in the Story Corps article, no one assumes that they are adopted.
This year has brought me rich relationships with people who share my adoption experience. I am truly grateful for these friendships. While we are all adopted, each of our stories varies and flows in differing ways, but we all can relate to one another in a way that others cannot. With one another, we are no longer undercover.
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Korea is my mother.

My husband recently came home obsessed with another woman.

He explained that she looked similar to me and had the same mannerisms. Every move I made was followed by a “Do you realize how Korean you are?”

This from the man who has lived with me for the last 17 years. He knows everything about me. And I feel at times we’re truly one person. But that day, he viewed me as a different person.  He had made a discovery.

That week, during his work trip, he had met a Korean American woman. He said he felt he had seen my twin. While she certainly did not have a Southern drawl, she did have my fastidiousness. And he felt her mannerisms mirrored mine.

This seemed to intrigue and disturb him all at once. I think he felt he knew everything about me: my upbringing in Tennessee, my Puerto Rican roots, my lack of interest in my biological background. But now, he had seen glimpses of my Korean heritage. Glimpses he felt I knew nothing about.

Sure, I do not know that much about Korea. But recently, my friends have been educating me on all things Asian. It has been a journey, but a personal one. All this time, I realized that I hadn’t shared my discoveries with him.

Once again, there is a reminder that I am not completely sure of who I am. I do know myself as a Korean-adopted Tennerican, but I do not know myself as a Korean.

I recently watched my first episode of the television program, Glee. In it, a young teen, raised by adoptive fathers finds her birth mother and longs for a relationship. The birth mother seems to sum up my quandary and says, “I’m your mother, not your Mom.”

Korea is my mother but not my Mom.

Oh, how they forget!

My family has accepted me from the first day. At times, they forget that I am adopted, though it is shockingly apparent to those who don’t know us.

My mother has had so many of those moments. Once as a teenager, I was fantasizing about what my own family might be one day. I said, “I wish I could have a red-headed child.” My mother said casually, “You could. I’m a red-head, your grandmother was a red-head … ” I asked her, as a smart teenager, “Have you looked at me lately?” And her response was, “Oh, I guess not.”

Another time, I sat with her at the Opryland Hotel bar. We ordered drinks, and the server asked for my identification. My mother was brooding as I produced proof of my age. She was fuming. I asked her what was wrong. She said, “I’m your mother. I wouldn’t allow you to drink if you were underage!” I tried not to laugh, and I calmed her by saying, “Mom, SHE doesn’t know that I’m your daughter.”

My sister is my parents’ biological daughter and six years my junior. We grew closer as we both reached early adulthood. One evening, we attended a Blue Nile concert in the Old Town area of Knoxville, Tennessee. We sat very close together, hugging and wrapping our arms around each other. Later, we noticed some disapproving looks. We were truly puzzled until we realized that we didn’t look like siblings.

In Puerto Rico, where my father’s family lives, they, too, have forgotten my biological roots. The first time my husband and I brought our infant son to the island, a cousin took us around to the city hall. There we found a photograph of my father’s grandfather, a former mayor. My cousin held up my infant son and said, “He looks just like him!” My husband and I smiled, enjoying the absolute love.