I was involved deeply with the Korean American church all the time, and a lot of my close friends are Korean American. I’ve always identified myself as Korean American. In fact, that’s kind of an interesting thing, too — my parents could never understand why I only date Korean Americans, or Asians, and why I decided to choose a Korean American church. That’s because they can never truly understand that racial difference, what it feels to be racially different, and why it might be attractive to me to superficially “fit in.” And how the hard work of actually feeling like you fit in was something I had to force myself to do. But they couldn’t figure out why I would want to in the first place. Since I had gone to Caucasian American churches all my life, for example.
It’s kind of interesting because now the tables are reversed. For example, there were a few times when my family and my husband’s family had holidays together. Phil’s family lived in Chicago before they went to Mexico on their long-term mission, and we would get together. You know, it’s just my dad, my mom and me, and then all of his family — he has a big family, several siblings, his mom and dad, and whoever—and suddenly my family were outnumbered. They responded very negatively. We no longer ever have any crossover between the families, because of them. Because they feel so different and they feel…kind of the classic white suspicion of people speaking a different language. They feel it’s rude and they can’t understand why Phil’s mom would speak only Korean. And when I explain she does that to everyone — “Not just you! Me, too!” ‐ they still take it personally.
Religious faith is a very big part of my life. I feel like that is what kept me on course growing up in my very difficult home situation. It’s because of my faith in God, and that I think God really protected me all those years from succumbing to the terrible dysfunction of my family. I’m thankful for God helping me to find the right people who would help me through my situation — I think I could have spent a lot of my life as a highly dysfunctional person who would be unable to have any sort of relationship with anyone if it wasn’t for the grace of God that pulled me through. And for different people who have gone out of their way to help me as I grew up, who were there for me as role models or who were there to encourage me. My first college pastor was very influential in my life. I feel like he was the first person that really knew anything of import about my family situation and was able to help me in that way. I also feel like my first boyfriend, even though things didn’t work out, he was someone I clung to as I went through so much difficulty with my family. I believe that God brought these different people, including my husband, into my life, so that I could have a better life than the one that I experienced with my family.
For me, I think the true power of becoming Christian, or being Christian, is in seeing the changed lives that can emerge from people who really do believe in God. And who have made a decision to lead a different sort of life. I think that’s the center of my faith, that God can change people and can take terrible circumstances and let good come from them. I feel that’s definitely what has happened for me. I’ve always felt that my husband, and his family, and our children are a huge blessing from God.
My two children are just amazing. I always knew that I would probably become a stay-at-home mom when we started a family. I taught at Minnetonka for seven years as a middle-school English teacher, and I immensely enjoyed it, but I definitely walked away without a second glance once we started having children. I’m sure, in many ways, it was because of my experiences as an adoptee. Not only with my own dysfunctional family, but because if I was going to have children I didn’t want to screw it up, nor did I want to leave it to other people. I wanted to be involved in their growingup process; I just saw my classroom shrink to two instead of 30 and I’m happy to have that happen. I would rather embrace these different seasons of my life than always wish for something different — wish I was still teaching, wish the kids were out of diapers, wish the kids were walking, this and that. It’s all just a season, or just a stage. It’s not like I’ll never work again, it’s just that right now I’m staying home with them because I want them to be… I want them to know that we love them, and that they are very important to us. And I’m not going to leave that task to someone else. At least during the week. And I think a lot of that really does stem from my feelings that motherhood is really important, and that if I was going to have children, I wanted to really give that my highest priority.
I thought about my adoption much more when I had both of my children, going through the experience of birth and then thinking “This is the moment that my birth mother gave me up for adoption.” That was very difficult to fathom. My daughter’s birthday is one week from mine, so being pregnant at the same time, 30 years apart from my mom, was a very strange occurrence. A strange thought process for me to go through, thinking that we were walking parallel lives 30 years apart. It was sad to think that. But, again, having no desire to look her up. At the same time, you know, it does provoke a lot of thought. And that’s the thing about being an adoptee: every time you think you have your issues worked out, you have another experience which brings something up, a new facet of yourself that you never thought to discover. And then suddenly the issues are there again. I never expected to have these thoughts, or to feel this kind of . . . random bitterness, or kind of . . . not anger, exactly, but just contempt, maybe, for her decision. But I did, when I had my children, because at that moment I couldn’t understand. Of course, you can think there are many reasons why you would have to put a child up for adoption. But, at that moment, irrational as it may have been, I definitely had different feelings about it.
Overall in my life, though I came from a difficult family situation, I believe it did serve a purpose. The person I am today, even though a lot of it maybe is a result of doing things that were opposite of what my parents did, those challenges and those experiences really did shape who I am. I do believe my character was built through persevering through some of that adversity and, like I said earlier, through the grace of God. I’m very happy with my life, I’m very happy with who I am, that I am adopted, that I have two beautiful children, that I’ve made the decisions that I have. I guess I’m unapologetic — I don’t feel that I have to justify why I don’t want to do a birth search or why I married someone Korean American. Because that’s who I am and that’s what I wanted to do and I’ve tried to live my life in that way.
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.