Transracial Adoption

Reuniting With Me

Reconnecting with my birth family has been one of the most amazing, incredible experiences of my entire life. With it, I definitely had to take a step back and look at my own life. Who was I? Why am I the person that I am today? Am I this way because I was raised this way? If I was raised by a different family, would I still be the same person I turned out to be? Would I believe the same things? Would I have the same job? Would I marry the same person? Would I have the same type of friends, like the same music, wear the same clothes? In general, I had to ask myself, “Was I the person I was meant to be?” and “Am I happy with who I am?” Tough questions if you really think about them and really examine your own life.

In reconnecting with an entire set of family, I had to figure out how I fit in, and how I still kept my individuality. I saw so many similarities, and yet I wasn’t an exact replica of any one person or group of people–even within my bio family. In the months that followed my birth family reunion, my head was spinning with all of these questions. I felt like I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was all over again.

I really took a magnifying glass and examined every area of my life. Through a lot of soul-searching and a lot of time exploring things, I did realize a couple of things. Some things I already knew. Other things I knew but forgot. Others were new entirely. Regardless, I’ve listed a few things that I have discovered about myself at this time in my life. And I am choosing to embrace them all, regardless of who is surrounding me or what others may think of me. This soul searching wasn’t easy, but I know it helped me create more of the life I was meant to live at this moment in time. It jump-started a re-design of my life to help me live life more “on-purpose” rather than to just allow life to happen to me. I do feel like I know so much more about myself and about what I like/dislike– which has been invaluable.

This is Me:

1. I like Pop music.

2. I like to dance.

3. I like red nail polish and red lipstick.

4. I love Marisa Web’s redesign for Banana Republic. Stylish sophisticated with a touch of edge.

5. I like being creative. I like creating things and expressing myself. I like admiring other creative people’s work.

6. I like being innovative– at my job and in my personal life. I like trying new things and being the first one to do something.

7. I love that in my job as a speech pathologist, I get to give people back their lives through two things that are unique to the human experience: eating and speaking.

8. I like having my photo taken (when it looks nice!)

9. I like being autonomous.

10. I am a little bit of a feminist.

11. I like being surrounded by people.

12. I like city life.

13. I love my husband, and still think he is the most wonderful person I know.

14. I am who I am, and that’s okay.

15. I LOVE Guardians of the Galaxy. (It is my new favorite movie!)

16. I am a Baltimore native. I forgot how much this city contributed to my childhood.

17. I know how to make sauerkraut and kielbasa, probably better than any other Korean girl I know.

18. I like dance music, yoga, and aerial dancing

19. I love to travel.

20. I love to try new restaurants with friends.

21. I like to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. (And usually that’s as soon as possible!)

22. I don’t like to be owned, controlled, or manipulated.

And I am still learning…

Korean Dramas

Watching K-dramas has given me a window into Korean culture that I never had as a transracial adoptee. It’s really neat to be able to learn about Korea and hear the language as an observer through watching these shows. Growing up, I never saw a lot of Koreans on tv or in person. I’ve really loved seeing really attractive, talented, and successful Korean actresses and actors on the shows.

Growing up, I was told was that my biological mom was cut off from her family because she married someone against her parent’s wishes. In American culture, adults generally don’t disown their children. So, it was hard for me to comprehend how this could even happen. Because of this story, I imagined Koreans to be cold and stoic, emotionless. I had no other frame of reference. Last year when I began watching Korean dramas on Netflix, my understanding of Korean people changed. I can honestly say that watching these dramas made me realize that Koreans probably cut off family members because they were actually TOO emotional. Every single Korean drama that I have watched featured some of the most emotional television characters I have ever seen. And it’s not just your typical emotions. These are deep, heavy– cry your eyes out emotions. It’s so interesting to find this out about Koreans. And it’s neat, in a sense, because having the capacity for deep, heavy emotions is definitely a personality trait that I share. Interesting to think that perhaps genes have contributed to this element of my personality.

If you haven’t yet, check out some K dramas. It’s a neat window into K culture! Just have the tissues handy :)

“Somewhere Between”

Recently I saw a documentary entitled, “Somewhere Between” which told the stories of four Chinese girls who were adopted by white American families. I was so touched by their stories. I could relate to being somewhere between two cultures. Growing up I felt more German-Polish American than I felt Korean-American. I didn’t know the first thing about Korean culture, Korean food, or Korean people. The ironic thing was that I looked 100% Korean. And it seemed like every Korean person we met on the street knew it because they all assumed I spoke Korean. It was always a little awkward for me to explain why I didn’t speak Korean because I was always met with a look of disappointment or pain in their eyes. Looking back, I think these people were probably just sad to hear my story. However, in that moment I always felt ashamed that I didn’t know Korean. Like I had let these Korean people down somehow. There was definitely no reason for me to feel ashamed, and most of the time I knew that. The other hard scenario as a kid was responding to that disgruntled older Korean American adult about how “[I] should’ve really learned Korean growing up from my parents,” and “that it was a shame that kids don’t these days.” They usually stopped in their tracks as soon as I told them I was adopted by a white family.

Growing up, I’ve had a few Korean classmates in school, but I never really felt like I truly fit in with them. I didn’t know Korean. I didn’t know anything about being Korean. And I never got the memo about how being a Korean girl meant you were quiet, and soft-spoken, and when you laughed, you were supposed to cover your mouth with your hand as if that was more lady-like. Crazy enough at the same time, by the looks of me, no one could deny I was Korean. But I wasn’t really Korean. But I wasn’t really white. I was just somewhere in-between.

Check out the documentary that totally rocked my world at http://www.somewherebetweenmovie.com/

Working Out My Differences

I always knew that I looked different than my family, but I never felt like I didn’t belong. In fact, I always felt like I took after my mom in a lot of ways, including her tendency to over-think everything as well as her unwavering generosity towards those she cared about. My mom’s unconditional love always provided me with a sense of grounding and a strong sense of acceptance. Even though we didn’t look alike, there was never a question that I was her daughter, and she was my mom.

I was raised in a primarily white neighborhood of east Baltimore in a largely Polish-German part of town, a few blocks away from Patterson Park. I have really fond memories of my grandma’s brick rowhome where we spent a lot of our holidays making sauerkraut and kielbasa in her summer kitchen. I also have a lot of really tough memories of cruel white kids in the neighborhood pulling their eyes back, speaking jibberish to me and ignorantly calling me “Chinese.”

Generally, I really valued being different despite the tough experiences. It made me super-independent and free-thinking, which was a good thing. It made me a stronger person. I was really self-aware and able to share my adoption story at the drop of a hat. (And it seemed like mom and I couldn’t even leave a grocery store without having to tell it at least once!) On the flip side, there were times where I felt isolated because of how independent I was.  People can be intimidated by independent people.

Looking back, I see that I had my own contributions to being isolated. I was a little too independent and too strong at times. Maybe because it was easier to put up guards to protect myself so that people couldn’t get close enough to hurt me. Since realizing how isolating being uber-independent could be, I’ve actually spent a lot of my adult life learning how and when to allow these walls to crumble. It’s a work in progress.

 

A New Start

At nine months old, my new family embraced me as their own. My mom Doris has always made me feel like I was the best thing that ever happened to her and that being adopted was something really special. It was never a surprise to find out that I was adopted because my dark Asian features were always a stark contrast to her blonde hair and blue eyes, and being adopted was something we weren’t shy about sharing as our story. Being adopted was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I always felt so lucky to be placed into such an amazingly loving family.

My Story

It’s hard to know where to begin a story that has taken a lifetime to unfold. And even harder is to try to convey a story that isn’t completely finished unfolding. However, I think it is the right time for me to share, so I’m going to try my best. My story begins 28 years ago, where I was born into a series of tragedies– as most adoption stories begin. My adoptive mom (Doris) was unable to have children of her own–and desperately wanted to start a family! So, she started looking into adoption. She knew a woman who took care of children in foster care, and her name was Ms. Pat.

One day a frantic Korean woman by the name of Ms. Young dropped off a baby onto Ms. Pat’s doorstep, saying, “You keep, you keep… the baby.” Ms. Pat was stunned and unsure where this baby came from. She knew this Korean woman from a previous incident where she watched her son in foster care for about 6 months. But taking on child to “keep” was a whole different story.

As things unfolded, it was clear that this baby needed a home. And she knew the perfect woman– my mom, Doris. Ms. Young was reluctant to give any specific information about my biological family, and acted as a liason between social services and my biological family through my adoption. When I was approximately 9 months old, Doris became my legal guardian– and my mom forever.

Ms. Young shared the story that my birth mother married my birth father against her parent’s wishes– when she was a US citizen, and he wasn’t. And in Korean culture, if one doesn’t obey her parents, she is dishonoring them, and she can be shunned from her family. So, when she married him, she was cut off from her family. Then, she tragically died when I was about 3 months old. Still grieving, my birth father felt it would be best for me to be raised by another family.

My mom (Doris) briefly met my birth father at a lawyer’s office to sign the needed documentation. At that time, she said he was very sincere in saying, “I want her to be part of a whole family. Please take good care of her.” He was also worried that he wouldn’t be able to stay in the US, without being a citizen.

After this moment, my life took a completely different turn. I was no longer part of a Korean family. I was no longer surrounded by Korean faces, hearing Korean voices, or smelling Korean food. It was then that my name was changed from Sherry Lee to what it is today– Rachel.