I had one of my thrice-weekly conversations with my sister, again. There is a lot I want to say to Korean society after I have my talks with her. I’m not writing this in Korean now, so I guess I’m just putting this here for myself. But I wish Korean people could read it.
I’m an overseas adoptee. Yeah, I’m originally Korean. KOREAN. I said I’m KOREAN. Yes, I’m adopted. It doesn’t matter where I grew up. What matters is that I live in Korea now. I speak English well, you got that right. Yes, I found my mother. She died. My dad is dead too.
I work in a company. Yes, it can be tiring, but overall I like it. I like living in Korea. Oh, you’ve been overseas too?
No, I don’t want to go back to America. Because I like living here better. Yeah, I know Korea is expensive. I live in a little 10-pyeong room. It’s so small I’m ashamed to show my family because I know they’ll say it’s dap-dap hae and they’ll worry about me.
Yeah, it’s crazy isn’t it? Droves of Koreans trying to get out of the country as fast as they can, and all these adoptees coming back and living in tiny rooms just to live in Korea and eat triangle kimbab out of GS25 for a month. Just to live in Korea and breathe the Seoul air that you complain about.
I can eat spicy food. Sure I can eat the kimchi. I don’t have a favorite Korean food, but I don’t see that as an affront to my Korean-ness. Though I never take Korean-ness for granted. Or having a Korean family — I certainly never take that for granted.
You wonder why I like Korea so much. But I wonder why you hate Korea so much.
Oh, because you think Korean people are greedy and selfish? Because people care only about their own families? Because the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer? Because the place is corrupt and everything is too expensive?
Sure, I suppose if you really think that Koreans are completely without ethics, compassion, and humanity, I can see why you want to leave here.
I could see why you hate this place so much if you think the people around you are completely hopeless.
But I don’t hate this place. I don’t hate you. I don’t hate me.
So why am I so angry?
Because I know we can do better than we are right now.
I know that we are human beings who have the capability to care about one another. I believe that we can and we should, and I will hold my expectations of you and this country so high that you will never again be ashamed to say that you’re Korean when you go overseas.
What I mean by that is, I know you’re worried about your safety if you live overseas, like you want to, because you know that other people think you’re greedy and selfish and closed too. So maybe there’s a reason for that, but I don’t think we have to conceptualize ourselves like that forever. So before we start spreading that around overseas, why don’t we tend to our own nest at home? I think those of us adoptees who feel perpetually homeless know how important having a home is.
Maybe you feel hopeless, like Korea can’t be fixed, but I don’t believe that. I have great faith in what this country can do. Just look at how much you’ve already achieved. I’m proud of you. And for that reason, I will always challenge you to be as great as you can be.
You want to flee and I am going to dig my heels in and ask you to stay here and fight with me. We all deserve better. We all deserve to believe in the best parts of ourselves — sharing, truth, dignity, taking care of each other. We deserve to feel like humans and not greedy animals just scraping and digging for ourselves. We deserve to feel like a part of a community and a country. We all deserve a home to come back to so we can rest.
I know Korea is the land of bribes but we adoptees haven’t anything to bribe you with. As for me, I’m living in student housing at the age of 36, pretty much any gyopo has better Korean language skills and cross-cultural skills than I do, I went to a college you’ve never heard of, and I was raised by a factory worker and his wife. In 8th grade I realized I was never going to go to college unless I found my own way, so I studied hard and scholarshipped my way through my education 100%. I have used food stamps, and I was on public medical assistance while I worked my way through college to pay the rent. I know that’s not what you think adoption is supposed to get people, that’s my non-Ivy League, blue collar American reality. (I don’t know what they told you about adoption, but it seems like you’re surprised.)
So the only thing I have for you is my belief — in the very core of my being — that Korea can be a better place. I believe that Korean people can step up to the challenge. I believe Korean men can take responsibility for their children, and I believe that no matter how selfish and stingy you think your own countrymen are, there are enough caring people who can change Korea so you can hold your head high and be just as proud to be Korean as I am, no matter where you go in the world.
Maybe it is blind stupid optimism or naivete, but I’ve heard love is like that.
Please don’t tell me that Korea is not ready to change its social system, because it already is. Please don’t limit your imagination to self-Orientalizing stereotypes. Maybe you’d love to be a Westerner or even be white, but if adoptees can’t be white, you certainly can’t either. Believe me, I’ve been trained in whiteness. But I think it’s good enough to be Korean — especially if you take the steps to turn Korea into the place that you want to live.
I am the lowest of the low in Korean society. My body was bought on a sliding scale for between $400-$800. Being sold will probably steal your humanity away from you faster than anything. But although this happened to me, and although I am sometimes treated like a monster in Korea, I believe in my own humanity. And I believe in your humanity.
Despite having been sent away from Korea, I can see what is good and noble in about it. I can see what is generous and innovative in you. I saw parts shining so clearly and brightly that I came all this way to join you again. I see that we can build a bright future together. I can see the best part of you. I hope you’ll see that too. The mirror that is reflecting your image back to you, through my heart, is all I have to offer.