Korean Adoptees are aliens. Not in the “immigrant” sense, but actually in the sense of a being from another planet.

By the time you are a few months old, you know everyone in your family, especially your mama.  Within a few years, you have a very clear understanding of your world and what is “normal”.

Right in the middle of all that, you are snatched to another universe where nothing makes sense.   The words you hear mean nothing.  The people you knew and trusted simply disappear, replaced by strangers.  The cultural touchstones that comforted you are gone.  For all you know, this is another planet.  You are in an alien world.

Except that YOU are the alien.

The will to live prevails, even if you are not capable of conscious awareness of it.  You hide yourself by blending in, an act of survival that requires the surgery of self-erasure.  You do not drip slime or bleed acid, so you make yourself pretty to the new race as much as possible, for as long as possible.  It is your only defense.

You might not meet anyone from your previous world for years or decades.  By the time you do, you might have forgotten and not recognize them anymore.  They are alien.

In 2004, the first adoptee gathering in Korea included an artistic exhibition titled “Our Adoptee, Our Alien”.  It is a clever title in many ways*, but the “Alien” aspect seems like a joke, until you take it seriously.

Regardless of the success of our adoption (and i cannot call mine anything but successful), at some point, we remember our alien selves.  Regardless of one’s happiness, it might emerge in slow motion, like a haunting materialized, or in a sudden burst.  Once that happens, there is no way to un-remember.

When I first came to the US as a 2 year old, I wandered my house begging, “업어줘” (uh-buh-joh).  I said it so much, my adoptive mom found out what it meant: “please carry me” (in the Korean way, on the back).  Eventually it became obvious that no one was going to, so i stopped asking.  I re-learned that phrase 18 years later when i re-learned how to speak in Korean, when Korean words meant nothing to me. A couple years after that, I learned how to say “Adoptee” in Korean – finally, re-introducing me to myself.

 

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*  i highly recommend the book Adopted Territory by Eleana Kim.  Great insight into the adoptee self-organized movement, including interesting discussion of the clever title of the art exhibit (read here, if this link works): https://books.google.com/books?id=_j6ds5A8ZfAC&pg=PA176&dq=ibyangin,+ibangin&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj454-30-nNAhXDeT4KHXN0CY0Q6AEIHjAA#v=onepage&q=ibyangin%2C%20ibangin&f=false

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