Disbursed and Returned
Am I anywhere different?
The scenery doesn’t really change. I’m still inhabiting this body. I’m still outside looking in.
This is my first myspace generation type narcissistic self photo, taken in the bathroom of the Seoul Folk Flea Market. I like how it could have been taken anywhere, and I am standing still and the rest of the world is moving around me. It just seemed like what I should do at the time. And later, after attending the Disbursed and Returned exhibit about returning adoptees, it wanted me to post it and write about it.
Rev. Kim Do Hyun, speaking to the Korean audience of subway go-ers passing through the exhibit, wrote:
Having to continuously explain your existence is not necessarily a pleasant thing….When international adoptees no longer have to explain and justify their existence, the returnees are liberated from the coercion of continuous self-explanation.
And yet I don’t have to do that here, not really. I recognize Rev. Kim is trying to elicit understanding from the Korean people, and the point he made later was that it is not us adoptees who have explaining to do: it is the Korean people who should be making explanations to us.
Here, I WANT to explain my existence, but nobody really wants to know. As soon as you open your mouth, they can tell, and they’d rather not talk about it. You are a reminder of their shame. And in the United States, with every new encounter, I had to explain my existence. And the best one of all, that I got with alarming frequency, was, “What ARE you???” I am not one of you, obviously…
Here, I blend in. Here, I am not one of you, though it’s obvious I should be.
I really liked what Maria Hee Jung, returning adoptee from Denmark wrote.
I think most adoptees realize that they don’t really have a country that is truly theirs, when they come to Korea. I think it would actually be easier for me to be accepted and to feel comfortable in a third nation without blood relation and anything else.
Tobias Hubinette, Swedish adoptee, wrote in Comforting an Orphaned Nation
It is precisely in the interstitial space, oscillating between this still unfinished reconciliation with the past and still on-going imagining of the future, that the adopted Koreans are appearing as comfort children in order to ease and console the homeless and orphaned Korean nation.
Our return, for the 500+ of us who have done so, is perhaps even more important for Korea than it is for us. We adoptees were sacrificed in exchange for a better life: because they couldn’t see that they were already free, that it was only their colonized mind-set that enslaved them, and that they had the power to make change within themselves. They need to see and recognize us so they can move on to the next phase of their personal development.
A particularly well-written assessment of Korea’s desperation to do ANYTHING to get ahead, the later shame of such desperate acts, and the denial of desperation and erasure of those acts, was written as an article entitled, The Korean Adoption Syndrome by Dr. Kim Su Rasmussen, PhD in History of Ideas, Seoul National University:
International adoption is a vector of deterritorialization in modern Korean society. The Korean adoptee syndrome is a politico-historical phenomenon that involves more than 150,000 adoptees who have been subjected to involuntary migration. And with the exception of a hyper-sentimentalized portrait of adoptees and their reunions with their birth families, which merely functions as a screen-memory, it is a phenomenon that has been wiped from the collective awareness in Korea. There is no mention of international adoption in Korean history books, nor is it part of the curriculum in Korean elementary or middle schools. Myths and deliberate distortions of the history of international adoption are widespread. Only the most progressive elements of Korean society are able to see international adoption as a dark side of the militarized industrialization of the modern Korean society. International adoption is a constitutive blind spot in the modern Korean society. The Korean adoption syndrome raises a number of questions about the phenomenological experience of adoptees returning to Korea and their historical and political position in the Korean society. While the traditional approach is to explain international adoption by referring to various antagonisms in the Korean society, I maintain that the study of international adoption provides a unique opportunity for us to gain understanding of modern Korea and its phenomenal rise in the international order of industrialized nations.
My journey to Korea has been forty years in the making. My radicalization has been forty years in the making. It is not enough to sit back and observe and let this life happen to me. Fatalism is not productive. And people who read my works volley back to me that I am negative or angry. And to that I say: Sorting through this morass of complicated issues is a positive action. Coming here to live is an act of bravery. Confronting Korean society and questioning the world’s assumptions about adoption is based upon a love of humanity and a faith in the capacity of people to change for the better. You must turn over the soil and make a new bed before you plant new seeds.
Dr. Kim Su Rasmussen also wrote about Self-Rejection and Emancipation:
Returning to Korea is a journey of discovery. It is a discovery of an entire world of sounds, smells, and extraordinary sensations. The magical country that was only a vague fantasy during childhood and adolescence suddenly becomes very concrete: the pushing and jostling in the subway during rush hour, the army of impeccable suits and high heels, the ringing of a bell in a Buddhist temple, the unbearable hot and humid summer. It is a pleasing shock to discover that for some people, the Koreans, this is the center of the world.
However, returning to Korea is first and foremost a journey of self-discovery. It is an experience of radical disjunction between the past and the present, the West and the East, the mind and the body. It is a threatening experience that destabilizes and decenters the world of the adoptee: returning to Korea is an experience of oneself as an other; it is an experience of radical deterritorialization in which everything, including the very core of our self, is being questioned; and it is, at least potentially, an experience of emancipation and empowerment.
So yeah, I’ve been abandoned and exiled and abused and marginalized and silenced and OF COURSE that makes me angry! But once upon a time, I didn’t know I was angry. I was uncomfortable, but couldn’t verbalize it. Later, I realized that internalizing discomfort was really hurting me.
I can ignore my discomfort and swallow my anger and hurt myself, or I can work to make it so no child in the future has to experience such avoidable trauma. Righteous anger has powerful energy, and channeling that energy is how the world changes for the better. I am certainly destabilized here, and it effects me. But I try to learn from the past and persist into a future where I can contribute to society in the most meaningful way possible.
This is what optimism looks like.