Voices of Adoption: Korean Adoptee Perspectives

Every adoptee has a unique and compelling story to tell. In Fall of 2000, NAATA placed an "open call" to Korean adoptees from around the country for personal stories and creative writing for this website. Our goal: to expand the body of creative and personal expression made by adoptees and to illustrate the diversity of their experiences. We extend our thanks to everyone who submitted material and while we could not present all submissions, we are honored to present here a selection of writings by eight adoptees.

Heather Papp

And unto this day a baby is born, and she shall be called Heather Elizabeth Hwa Sook Lee Papp. And the people--whoever they are--shall rejoice? --(circa February 4, 1974, Seoul, South Korea)

I used to think I gave birth to myself; that I opened my mouth and said, "AAAAAAHHHHH" and out plopped 100% of me--a healthy, happy baby girl who gurgled and drooled on herself. This creation myth implies that I carried on with self-sufficiency. I either pulled my baby self up and rapidly learned how to scrounge for food and shelter and clothe myself, or I skipped babyhood altogether and grew into a capsule of a human being--doing fine on my own, thank you very much. It took me quite a few years to shake these notions, and I'm sure I did damage to both myself and others in the process. Today, I stand corrected. I have an antecedent. I am meaningfully connected to others. What I do affects them, and them, me. I need people in my life.

Need. Like a baby wrapped in a blanket and left on a doorstep, crying.

II. So the children gathered on the street and lined up to play the game. A voice announced,"You,over there! Take five baby steps." I hesitated, and then replied, "Mother, may I?" --(here and now, San Francisco, California)

I'm awakened by a phone call at 4:00 in the morning. It's Moto calling from Japan, where I'll soon join him. We've been doing the frustrating stretch of bridging different time zones for the past two months. Sun there, moon here. He tells me that today, he tried to see a ghost.

Moto and I have been going back and forth, working out the intricacies of heart, mind and logistics as we plan a marriage long-distance. I've called him up with late afternoon tears after realizing how difficult it will be to process a green card for him. He has sent me the floor plan of the house where we'll live in Japan and asked, "What do you prefer--bed or futon?" And across this divide, we've confronted some of the harder questions and sensed the boundaries to the answers. I point-blank asked him one day, "Is it OK with your parents that I'm Korean and American?" His answer rotated from, "Of course it's OK," to, "Some people will make it hard for us."

And as that settles with me and my growing consciousness of myself as Korean American, all I can do is acknowledge that everyone has to find their way in a vast, soupy unknown. But, of course, there are concerns that cannot be shrugged off. How do I erase from mind the image of Soon-Deuk Kim, former Korean comfort woman who stood incandescent at a recent panel discussion in Oakland, and told of the atrocities done her by Japanese soldiers? Or those somber passages in books that detail the existence of Korean ghettos in Japan, widely considered "the bad parts of town"? And what about the fact that Koreans who are essentially, culturally Japanese are still denied voting rights in Japan on the basis of ethnicity alone? Conflict of interests, possibly, and one that will make more or less sense to me, depending on the day.

I stand grounded on the fact that, here, right now, Moto sees me with as much clarity as anyone. Ironic that he's Japanese? Maybe, but probably not. He comes from a place much different from my own. But his inner world intersects with mine in ways that make me feel cushioned when venturing close to the edge of trying to figure out what this Korean stuff is all about. And should I go over the edge, I may grow wings and fly all by myself; but if not, he's there to help me fall gently. And what's more, he's there to tell me something about myself after I dust off my knees.

By the glare of my alarm clock, which now reads 4:30 in the morning, I listen to him tell me that he tried to see a ghost. And my sleepy eyes open, and my sleepy voice says, "Next time you try to see a ghost, Moto, will you please try to see my mother?"

And the answer comes back, "I do."

PERSONAL STATEMENT: I love my parents Paul and Ann Papp, and my brother Mark, very much. They become clearer to me as I become clearer to myself. I want to see them soon. In the meantime, I ask them to wait for me until I can hold their hands in person. And hopefully, when we're together again, I'll be able to connect the hands of my family with the hands of the family I have now started.

Love is good, isn't it?

Thank you.

Copyright © 2000 Deann Borshay Liem & NAATA. This content was originally created in 2000. Visit the original site.