I’ve recently read quite a few memoirs. One was a Korean adoptee memoir, while the others have been memoirs from Korean-American recounting their family histories. In an attempt to reclaim the cultural losses incurred as a transracial adoptee, reading stories of elders has given me a newfound solace. It’s quite an odd feeling to find comfort from elder stories that aren’t your own. Regardless, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to read about the strength and determination of many Korean women and men.
While I have no visceral connection to my elders or my family history, I know it’s there. It lives within me because I live and exist.
Elder Familial Histories Lost in Translation
Previously I’ve discussed the loss and erasure of culture as a transracial adoptee. On a superficial level, the loss seems obvious. My American name betrays my Korean face. As I’ve slowly been more open to exploring Korean history, the gravity of the loss continues to impact my point-of-view.
Through a mudang, I have connected with my elders/ancestors. It is a connection I value and one that seems to grow as I age. While it certainly does not replace familial elder stories, it is also a reminder that my family history isn’t solely about a connection with my birth parents.
My lineage goes through them, but they are not the beginning or the end of my existence.
Tracing a Family History through Historical Events
Without oral or written documentation, I’m left learning about Korean culture and history through significant events. It’s not ideal, however, it also connects me to a country and culture I’ve been detached from since my adoption.
Although I have just started to immerse myself in Korean history, a sadness extends upon my learning. Perhaps it is the pain suffered through lifetimes before mine that I can feel while I read. Perhaps it is knowing there are histories I am connected to that remain untold and kept from me.
Redefining What it Means to Be Korean
I’ve always been willful and considerably stronger than I appear to be. While some may say that is how I was raised, it’s much more than anything that could have been nurtured.
So much of who I am is tied into being Korean. Being Korean in a way that I know is not how most would define it. I now realize how much it has influenced me, despite the effects of transracial adoption. How I define it, how I relate to it is mine. There’s something poetic and beautiful about that, even if the path to this enlightenment has been somewhat harrowing.