Many of the 179 Korean adoptees with two Caucasian parents who took part in the survey said they began to think of themselves more as Korean when they attended college or moved to ethnically diverse neighborhoods as adults. And this surprising finding caught my eye:
An unexpected finding was that a high percentage (49%) of the Korean adoptees had searched as well and 30 percent had experienced contact with birth relatives, despite the common assumption that those adopted from Korea have little access to information about their families of origin.Also from the report:
While most Korean adopted respondents reported achieving some level of comfort with their race/ethnicity as adults, a significant minority (34%) remained uncomfortable or only somewhat comfortable. Two factors were significant predictors of their comfort with racial/ethnic identity: self-esteem (those having higher self-esteem felt more comfortable with their race) and their scores on the MEIM (stronger ethnic identification predicted greater comfort with their race/ethnicity). Also, experiencing less racial discrimination and having higher life satisfaction were associated with greater comfort with their racial/ethnic identity. For Koreans, experiences of racial teasing - which were prevalent - also were associated with lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem.While the report goes on to recommend that adopting parents become better prepared to deal with cross-cultural issues, and we heartily agree with that, we also think that that is like making sure that the ambulance is at the bottom of the cliff. Instead of telling adopting parents how to deal with their children, we believe in helping women in poor countries keep their children, so that they do not have to deal with the grief and sorrow that invariably follows giving up a child, even if it seems as if it is to give that individual a better life. In a previous post, we talked about efforts being made to give support to single women in South Korea who keep their children, but it is not an easy road.
In reading the New York Times account of the report today (11/09/09) I was struck by the common refrain of fear of hurting the adoptive parents. From Joel Ballentyne, a Korean adoptee and teacher in Fort Lauderdale:
“This offers proof that we’re not crazy or just being ungrateful to our adoptive parents when we talk about our experiences,” said Mr. Ballantyne, 35, who was adopted at age 3 and who grew up in Alabama, Texas and, finally, California.
Jennifer Town, 33, agreed.
“A lot of adoptees have problems talking about these issues with their adoptive families,” she said. “They take it as some kind of rejection of them when we’re just trying to figure out who we are.” Ms. Towns, who was adopted in 1979 and raised in a small town in Minnesota, recalled that during college, when she announced that she was going to Korea to find out more about her past, her parents “freaked out.”Quite frankly, this gives us a headache. We also recall that about a year ago we posted the story of a woman searching in South Korea, and posted the photograph and referred to the story in the Korean newspaper. The adoptee saw our post and freaked out because she was afraid that her adoptive mother would see the story. How can adoptees get across to their adoptive parents that searching for their identities before they were adopted is, quite often, totally separate from their feelings--good or bad--towards their adoptive parents?
“They saw it as a rejection,” she said. “My adoptive mother is really into genealogy, tracing her family to Sweden, and she was upset with me because I wanted to find out who I was.”
After all the years we have been involved in adoption reform, after all the television shows and interviews in the media about search and reunion, after the movies and television dramas showcasing reunion, why must adoptive parents still look upon this search for roots as a rejection? That is where the education needs to be: adoptive parents need to understand that in adopting a child they are not taking in a blank slate, a tabua rasa--an erased mind--but a fully formed individual with a mother and a father who bore them, no matter how, and whose DNA they carry, no matter what; dozens, hundreds, nay, thousands of relatives and ancestors, and a rich history that goes back through the ages. We must make adopting parents understand that the need to feel connected to that identity and culture is normal and natural. To not be interested in one's own roots is the unnatural, is the killing of curiosity--always seen as a sign of intelligence in any other realm--and signifies a cutting off of oneself from the tree of life in the most basic way.
Given that the comments we see all the time that amount to--I'm afraid to let my adoptive parents know I'm searching--we have our work cut out for us.