By J. Park
*Note to readers: The following writing mentions the topic of suicide.
As you begin to read this blog post, I’d like to address what led to releasing such thoughts and experiences. I can’t say this was sparked by one event or circumstance, but it’s been a compilation of time, heartbreak, current times, and finding a group of individuals, who “get it.” I felt inspired after meeting with KADs in a virtual setting, where we could openly discuss topics that we didn’t have to elaborate on in great detail. It felt oddly comforting and unsettling all at once. I recall sitting there and observing all the beautiful faces on screen, wondering how they were and if we shared similar thoughts.
I felt a sense of community I hadn’t experienced in a very long time and I found myself wishing we could spend time together at one big table, passing our favorite dishes around, and building a special family. I’ve had to let that sink in – family.
What is identity and why does it matter? I think it’s important to outright say that I’m a Christian, I believe in God and His love. I’ve found myself questioning over the past seven years what this means when He says my identity is in Him and what He has declared over my life. Prior to my relationship with God, I didn’t have any desire to relate or connect on this level. There is no glamorous way to state this…I tried committing suicide and found myself at the crossroads in a parking lot. A “divine intervention” is probably the best way to describe it because I’ve tried finding other ways and haven’t been able to. Nothing shot out of the sky, the ground didn’t shake, and I didn’t see stars shooting all around and certainly, no visible angels were standing there. I didn’t see the face of God or hear a loud voice telling me to “come hither.” This attempt was one of a few but this was the first one where I felt a shift within.
For thirty years, my identity was based on the narrative sewn around my being. It was what they said and what America said and what strangers said. In one country I was just a number and one letter, in another I was just another Asian face placed with white people. I didn’t fit the stereotype entirely because I was more developed than peers and I certainly didn’t fit with other “real Koreans” because I wasn’t pale or beautiful enough. The separation of identities has always been present with or without my permission. I recall being 12 years old, working hard to appear “more white” so, I’d try to find ways to make my small eyes wider without others noticing. Then it shifted into trying to appear “more Korean,” which meant not tanning in the summer, wearing lighter foundation, and ensuring that every strand of hair was perfectly straight. My childhood was made up of being cornered in school hallways being shamed for the shape of my eyes, children shouting racist rhymes in public, betrayal from educators, and being tormented by a white neighborhood.
I stopped blaming people who were unprepared for post-adoption and having a transracial child. What could they say that would override the abuse, neglect, and years of grief? After all, they contributed scars and I still left with questions of “Why did I have to go through this?” and “What was the purpose?” It is simply another grey zone in this treasure hunting process.
So far, what has been described tends to fall in the categories of bullying, discrimination, and developmental milestones. What complicated and complicates these experiences is the impact of adoption and being a transracial adoptee. These intersectionalities create a very complicated journey of self-discovery and coming to terms with the fact that one may never find “answers.” The “closure” I tend to search for falls along the lines of black and white; it is or it isn’t but let’s not stay in a grey zone. What can I say, I like clarity. Yet, here I am…grey zoned by the very people and country who share genetics and heritage.
In my 20s, I was asked to write a letter and not mention the abuse or hardships I had as a child and teenager. For obvious reasons, it would not be beneficial to the birth family considering the stigma around adoption. The letter clearly outlined all the wonderful things I achieved, the glamour of master’s degrees, independence, strength, and the compassion, and empathy for them. I attached a few photographs that encompassed what a “great life in America” may look like and sent it off with hopes they’d be impressed to the point of having no other choice but to say yes. Fast forward six years and I got a response stating they “made contact with your birth father but he hung up the call.” At the age of 36, they contacted again to report I would be in Korea soon but the same story applies so I wonder how many times does one answer the phone and still choose to hang up. Aren’t you curious?
It’s easy to assume that suicide can’t or shouldn’t be intertwined into being an adopted person, but it does. For sake of writing this, I can’t encompass every KAD I’ve had the honor of meeting, but I can say that the journey of finding self, roots, and navigating what grief and loss look like as a transracial person is not simple. None of “this” is simple. I suppose this is where a lot of my inner conflict comes into play being a person of faith. How can I still struggle with this entire concept of being and openly declare my relationship with God? Maybe it is a question I won’t have an answer to until my last days or maybe it’ll hit me out of the blue.
Unfortunately, what many fail to realize, is a transracial adoptee doesn’t “just lose their parents” but they lose culture, language, relationships, and a sense of belonging that doesn’t need to be justified. Sure, some of these things can be rectified in some fashion, but this becomes a secondhand experience and the authenticity I have sought hasn’t been resolved this way.
Many of life’s average encounters have failed because I didn’t truly understand what “loss” meant but I carried it within my heart in fear I’d lose something I had grown so comfortable with. As I grow and learn more along the way, I’m sure this will morph differently. There is an emptiness that can’t be understood by the masses and the longing to be embraced and cared for by birth family and relatives is very much a fantasy that very few get to experience.
I’ve had to over-explain, to a stranger why I “deserved” to take my birth name back and why it mattered. (Again being in a position of having to justify what is or isn’t part of my narrative.) “It is the one thing I have that I can say is mine because it is all I have linking me, to them.” Today, all I want is to see their faces, hold their hands, and share hearty meals together while laughing about all the time we lost. So, 아버지 & 어머니, how come you can’t love me?
I have great friends who have stuck by my side while navigating the murky waters of adoption and finding meaning. Sure, I still get asked questions and hear overgeneralized empathetic statements, but one who has not walked this path will never entirely understand what this is and why it matters. And, not every KAD will share similar experiences but I guarantee we all have had a moment of reflection asking why.
**[If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255]. For more information and resources, please see this previous blog post.
J. Park is a licensed social worker in New York and provides mental health therapy to children and young adults. During her free time, she focuses on writing, photography, travel, and spending time with friends. She attended Fordham University and Chicago School of Psychology and continues to seek out ways to educate and bridge gaps in mental health about transracial adoption, suicide, and how we can turn pain into superpowers.