Full Circle

By Patrick Armstrong

Hi! My name is Patrick Armstrong and I attended KAAN for the very first time in 2021. It was a surreal, full-circle moment for me on my journey to embrace and understand my identities as Korean, Asian American, and an adoptee.

Like many adoptees I’ve come to know over the past year, my journey did not start until I was well into adulthood—30 years into it for me. Adopted in 1990, I grew up in a white family with white friends in a predominantly white town in rural Indiana. Devoid of much diversity, I (along with my sister, also a KAD [non-biological]) made every effort to assimilate to my surroundings and fit in; no matter how hard I tried, though, I always felt different.

Feeling different did not stop me from internalizing the whiteness of my environment. While my adoptive parents were really amazing and provided my sister and I with a solid moral foundation from which to grow, it didn’t mean there weren’t struggles, particularly when talking about race. We were raised via a colorblind approach—aka we didn’t talk about it.

That internalized whiteness stayed with me throughout my college and most of my adult life. After leaving for college, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures and actual diversity for the first time, I still struggled to identify as anything other than “American”. I was still resistant to the idea that I was Asian; I told myself that I was actually white and continued to hang out with the same group of friends I always had.

Fast forward to 2020: it’s a hot summer and an even hotter social climate. George Floyd has just been murdered by a white officer of the Minneapolis Police Department and protests have erupted across the country. It’s a moment of reckoning for many, and I was no different.

Learning about what it means to be anti-racist led me to question that whiteness I had internalized. I realized that for most of my life I had fought against myself and suppressed my Korean and Asian American identities. Why did I do this? There are many answers, but in those first moments I was realizing just how much I had given up to stay comfortable.

In June of 2020 I made a conscious effort to explore my heritage and culture. As a podcast listener, I searched for Asian American podcasts and found a show called Dear Asian Americans. This moment would alter the trajectory of my life—after listening to the first episode, I knew fate had intervened in my timeline and nudged me down the path that I find myself on today.

That episode of Dear Asian Americans led to me guesting on the show and through a random/not-random series of events, led to me starting a podcast of my own with two other Korean adoptees (Nathan Nowack and KJ Roelke) called the Janchi Show. Not only would this be a platform for us to celebrate our identities and share other KAD stories, it would serve as an outlet for me to document my journey and to process the many emotions and revelations and discoveries I would have on this journey in real time: another pivotal moment.

At one point, we had the great honor of having Glenn Morey as a guest. Glenn is a fellow KAD and filmmaker and directed the documentary Side by Side—a series of interviews with adopted Koreans and Koreans who grew up and aged out of Korean orphanages.