There’s good and bad stereotypes. I get the stereotype that Asians are smart, in math and science. I hated that. My parents didn’t put any expectations on me. They didn’t put any pressures on me. But, I think I’ve always put pressure on myself, to do the best I could, whether in school or in athletics. You know, obviously growing up in a small town there weren’t any minorities, all my friends were Caucasians, or whatever you want to call them. Going to college I wasn’t ashamed of who I was. I always considered myself American, or almost, if you will, Caucasian. White.
In my senior year in high school there was a family that just moved into my hometown, and they had two Korean adopted sons. They were in ninth grade or something like that, so I never really got to know them. I was the senior, why would I talk to a freshman? And also I was embarrassed. That’s what part of it was, I was embarrassed. Because with my friends, if I hung out or started talking to Asians, they’d say, “Oh, Pat’s getting back to his roots,” or something, and I don’t want that. So I went with the crowd, you know, like most high schoolers. I didn’t befriend those two kids. I don’t know what they would’ve said, but back then, you know . . . I’d be embarrassed, if I did that. Maybe, if I would have done it, my friends would have respected me just the same; but I just had this — maybe it’s an irrational fear that they wouldn’t accept me for who I am, who I was, if I decided to start being more “pro-Korea,” or whatever you want to call it. So I just kind of kept that to myself. Now, I don’t give a crap what they think; they wouldn’t be my friends if they said things like that, obviously. And they respect what I do now. But back in high school, it’s a small group and, you know, it’s just peer pressure. That kind of stuff. So I didn’t reach out, or I didn’t really investigate, or get to know anyone, I guess.
Moving to the Twin Cities was an adjustment. It’s kind of like the pot, or the kettle, calling the pot black? I was the only minority in my town, and I’d never been accustomed to seeing African Americans. Then going to live in Minneapolis, I’m like [laughing] “Wow! there’s a lot of minorities here!” It’s like, this is kind of funny. I’m the one that’s saying it: I’m a minority and I’m saying that to other minorities.
I remember being at the University of St. Thomas with a friend, eating at the cafeteria. There were a couple of foreign students ahead of me, and they had really thick accents. I remember the lunch lady asking me if I was part of that group. And I said, “No,” you know, with disdain, like, “How can she mistake me for that group . . . can’t you tell? You know, I’m speaking English with clear diction,” and so on. I guess maybe I had a chip on my shoulder back then. I didn’t associate myself with Asians, I guess. It was like a “man without a country” type of thing—I was in America, but then if I go back to Korea, I wasn’t Korean. Now that I’m older, you know, I’m proud of who I am, and it took me a while to figure out who I am. I didn’t consider myself Korean, I considered myself American. My friends considered me American, I guess, just as one of them. They accepted me, but I didn’t accept myself. I tried to push everything in my history, or where I was from, just in the back, because . . . I don’t know if I was ashamed of who I was or what. I guess I didn’t know enough information. About where I was from.
When I was younger, my grandparents had befriended a Korean student. He was getting his Masters in Lincoln, Nebraska. My grandmother may have been in some kind of group, or something; she was a professor at UNL. She kind of just befriended and was kind of the host type of family for this Korean couple. Probably back then—this was back in the mid-80s—they were probably 25 at the time. So on occasion, we’d visit our grandparents and we’d see them once in a while. And so, fast-forward to a few years ago. I had an old e-mail address for this Korean couple. So I contacted them, and they were more than happy for me to visit them in Korea. I think he got his doctorate in engineering. So they moved back, and they were living there for three years or so after he got done with school. So it was like, “Hey, I was just wondering if I could come visit?” “Yeah, absolutely.” After living here for ten years, they could speak really, really good English. So I went there, just open-minded, and stayed with them for two weeks. That trip was kind of the beginning of me getting back to my roots, I guess. And by then I was old enough to know who I am and not follow the crowd. I can decide on my own and I’m confident in myself. And so I fell in love with Korea and, actually, met my wife there.
When I went over for the first time in 2003, I did contact the adoption agency here, LSS. They didn’t have much. They just gave me their sister agency over there, KSS. The family that I was staying with, they were more than happy to help. The wife talked to the KSS rep. They looked at my case number and they didn’t have anything. Their story is that the record-keeping back in the ’70s was just crappy. I made, or she made, that one call, and it’s like, “There really isn’t much.” The wife said, “We can drive there,” but it’s like, screw it, you know? We stopped.
Each person is different and that’s just how I am. I don’t know the reasons why I was put up for adoption, but I don’t feel abandoned. I don’t feel like I need to find my parents and ask them why. I have a good life, I got a great family, and there was probably a reason why my biological parents, you know, put me up for adoption. I’d be working in the rice field and . . . well, I don’t know. So I’m saying, I have a hell of a good life here, I got a roof over my head, I got a job, and who knows what I’d be over there? And so, it’s like, you know what? I’m happy, I got a great, great family support system, great friends. I’m content, I don’t really need to feel complete. I flew 10,000 miles, I’ll make a phone call. But after that — that was it.
The only thing is, I would like to know . . . my personality. My [adopted] brother and sister, they’re real quiet, and pretty conservative. And I’m the exact opposite: I’m Type A, I’m aggressive, I’m a go-getter, I talk fast. I’m loud, obnoxious. I say stuff that sometimes I shouldn’t. So I’m like, “Where?” I didn’t get it from my mom and dad, because they don’t talk, and my brother and sister, they don’t talk, so it’s just one thing. How I did get my personality? It’s kind of funny. But it’s just kind of a what — if, or a daydream kind of thing. So that’s the only thing. Oh, and maybe a health history. Looking back to that incident in the lunch line, it’s just one of those things that stands out, you know, about who I was back then, and who I am now. There’s a reason why things happen, and that kind of got me out of my shell and made me reassess where I’m at in my life. It made me think, “Well, let’s start exploring this.” I always wanted to go to Korea, and now I’m not shy or embarrassed of what my friends will say.
These oral histories and photographs from Here: A Visual History of Adopted Koreans in Minnesota by Kim Jackson and Heewon Lee appear with permission from Yeong and Yeong Books, St. Paul, Minnesota.