Unless I Truly Try

Persistence really does make all the difference in some situations. On Sunday night, my family had a lesson in persistence. We’ve been playing Scrabble on Sunday nights and are finding while it causes our night to run late, the whole family becomes engaged and some of the problematic issues we were encountering trying to watch videos as a family are now gone. We’ve been playing with the tiny board with lock in pieces meant for traveling rather than the large, more traditional board. That small footprint works out well on our cluttered dining room table.

But on Sunday night, my youngest son dropped his piece holder. Most of the pieces stayed on the floor but improbably one piece went bouncing down the stairs to the basement. We looked forever, everywhere, and discussed giving up and playing with one piece missing. However, my son could not accept that. He suggested sending another piece down the stairs to try and determine what happened with the missing piece. I thought for certain we’d end up with two pieces missing. We didn’t lose the second piece but it did show us the missing piece probably didn’t go very far from the stairs. It was then my youngest son, who was definitely the cause of this crazy situation and very upset by knowing that, saw the piece on the floor right under the lowest stair. How we all missed that is something to wonder at. His persistence made all the difference. That word has been on my mind as a writer and I even have a book in our library with that title that I haven’t read.

Today’s story involves the persistent effort of a transracial, internationally sourced adoptee.

I have paperwork from my closed international adoption. The thing is, for many of us, we don’t know how accurate or truthful our information is. I have names of both birth parents and in 2017, I searched my birth mom’s name on Facebook out of curiosity. It was a little tricky because her name is in English but I needed to translate and search it in Hangul. A couple profiles popped up and one of them had pictures. The woman and I share so many physical similarities. So I debated and agonized over whether or not I message or friend request her. I did both. Nothing.

4 years later, I decide to try again. I messaged her this time in Hangul hoping it would help. I’ve been learning Korean since February this year in hopes of being able to communicate. I also changed my profile name to include my Korean birth name in Hangul. This was in March, still nothing. I don’t have the option to friend request her again. I know I can go through other channels to find my birth mom but I’m so discouraged already. It takes so much out of me just to even make the choice to take action. Plus, if this woman is my birth mom and I contact her through other channels, she may deny me anyway.

I know I’ll never know unless I truly try. I know I can’t and shouldn’t assume anything. I know it’ll eat away at me if I don’t eventually do this. I just wish it wasn’t this hard, scary, expensive, confusing, terrifying, and frustrating. My reality is that right now, I wish I wasn’t adopted.

One very good suggestion was this – Have you joined any Facebook groups for ex-pats in Korea? I live in Korea right now and I see people posting in the ex-pat groups looking for information about original families or unknown fathers, there’s enough people in those groups that maybe some information can turn up.

I know that in my own adoption search efforts (both parents were adopted) it did take some degree of persistence and I did not have the international complications to deal with. However, my paternal grandmother was unwed and went to a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers to give birth to my dad. His original birth certificate does not name the father. Thankfully, my grandmother left me breadcrumbs – both in the name she gave my dad and in a little headshot photo with his father’s name on the back. And I did go into some dead ends. My breakthrough came through Find A Grave and his second marriage step-daughter. She confirmed the headshot was the man she knew.

Then, DNA matching really completed the task, even connecting me to Danish relatives still living in that country who had no idea my paternal grandfather had any children. So, a task that seemed unlikely to succeed at first, eventually brought me knowledge of all 4 original grandparents – even against what seemed like daunting odds at first.

Cultural Displacement

I was over the age of 60 when I began to learn about my own genetic/cultural heritage. I have a lot of Danish, some Scottish, a lot of English and some Irish. I got excited when my husband showed a piece of woven textile to me that was odd in shape. He had picked it up long before he met me at a second hand shop when he was living briefly in Denmark at a Peace College. Of course, I fell in love with it and claimed it as my own and guessed and then with google images proved it is a shawl. Probably homemade but someone who wasn’t wealthy. As I draped it over my shoulders, I did feel warmer.

I learned about my Scottish heritage all the way back to an incident with the King of England who was saved from an aggressive animal attack and so named the family Stark. Christmas two years ago, my husband gave me a Pendleton Black Watch plaid wood shirt. I love that it connects me to my roots. My dad’s maternal great-grandmother was full blooded Irish. He was born one day off St Patrick’s Day. His natural mother didn’t name him Patrick but his adoptive mother did and he really did love beer.

When someone has NOT been robbed of their genetic/cultural heritage by adoption, they struggle to understand why it matters so much to one who has. I used to tell people I was an albino African because who could prove differently ? including my own self. I once did the National Genographic DNA test for my maternal line and sure enough we originated in African – actually because ALL human beings did. Our appearance and various genetic characteristics developed over time due to environmental factors.

Today, in my all things adoption group, I read this –

I’m part of a couple DNA test related groups, and there is a pretty outspoken group of people who think that if you’re only learning about your genetic heritage as an adult, and weren’t raised in it, you don’t get to claim it. Basically, the thought process is that if you weren’t raised in a culture, then trying to join it later in life is similar to appropriation.

I’m usually the only displaced adoptee/former foster care youth in these conversations and generally get ignored. I don’t consider myself a person of color on account of being very white, but I’m half Iranian, and was hidden from my birth father because my birth mother was convinced he would steal me and “go back to his country”, so a lot of my experiences are very much based in racism.

So, in my case I get “well you weren’t raised Iranian so what makes you think that you can claim it as your culture”. And on one hand I get it, because it’s not like I grew up with immigrant parents like I would have had I been raised by my birth father. I didn’t grow up speaking Farsi or experiencing any of it. So my ‘claim’ to any of it will always be bastardized because I’m only able to absorb what I can and integrate it into my life. But it feeds into an imposter syndrome that adoptees already deal with.

An adoptive father who is white replied – in general culture is more complicated than this. Heritage still makes up part of who you are, whether you know about it or not. As does DNA.

Someone else wrote – I have found similar issues in some (not all) groups on anti-racism and cultural appropriation. Some people have a huge lack of knowledge about the experience of transracial or transethnic adoptees or others with unknown or misattributed parentage (I am donor conceived and am half of a completely different ethnicity than I thought).

Then there is this heart-felt account –  I still struggle with this. I’m half black and I have the worst imposter syndrome because I was raised by white people and I pass relatively well (I’ll get clocked as mixed or not quite white often, but I would never be seen as straight up black). I think how you claim culture depends on if it’s… ok? For lack of a better word? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to claim your culture that was taken from you, and it’s not fair to claim otherwise. But on the other hand if you’re not going to respect the culture and engage in it in a meaningful respectful way, I could see why people would be upset about that. But in reality I think they’re talking more about people who found out they’re 5% Native American, who have white biological parents and who want to start claiming Native status, than they are about people like us. I still call myself mixed instead of black because I don’t present as black (even though all of my black friends and family say it’s fine and that I AM black and I SHOULD claim it since it’s a part of me). It’s a really difficult conversation though, with a lot of nuance and in this case, I feel like adoptees should be able to claim whatever heritage feels like the best fit and this applies especially to trans-racial adoptees.

I 100% agree with this perspective based on my own experiences shared above – There’s a difference between stealing something and taking back something that was stolen from you.

And yet another perspective – I’m not adopted, but I found out as an adult I’m a lot more Jewish than I was told, and much to the identity crisis of my brothers, we aren’t as Italian as we thought. For me, I use it as a bonding thing with my stepfather and a few Jewish friends that I participate with in some cultural activities, but I don’t feel I can claim ownership of it because I’m so far removed from the family that was Jewish (they are all long passed away). Everyone I’ve opened up to about my DNA test has been welcoming, and I want to learn and respect the culture, but I doubt I’ll ever confidently claim it as my own.

To which this response was received – Someone with a maternal Jewish line is as much Jewish as any other, whether he was raised Jewish or found out after retirement (it happens!).

Another sad experience was this one – I struggle with my identity a lot, both race & ethnicity. But, fuck them! I was raised in a white family. My adoptive parents did their best to raise me around my culture (I’m Paraguayan). But racist fucks (my adoptive brothers included) helped to push me away from my culture and make me feel very unwelcome in this country. It’s definitely not appropriation to reconnect with a culture you were TAKEN from without your consent.

Though my own experiences are far different, I can seriously relate to this one !! I grew up White on the Mexican border. A true minority there.

I’m a half-adoptee, daughter of a fatherless woman, granddaughter of a fatherless woman, great granddaughter of an adoptee. My whole maternal line is very fractured and we have no idea who or what we are. Until recently, when my mom DNA tested and came back with significant percentages (like, 20ish) of Black and “Eastern European”. My grandmother responded to this news with “oh, he told me he was Black and Gypsy but I thought he was kidding, he just looked Indian.” My mother has an unusual hair texture and features for a White woman, as well as the pigment condition vitiligo. Being part Black and Romani answered so much for us. As to me: I reconnected with my genetic father at 23. Apparently his mother was an enrolled Choctaw woman! So now, I’m a few shades of White, Black, Romani and American Indigenous. Nearly 50% of me is nonwhite. I have never in my life felt a part of Whiteness, nor have I felt like Whiteness wanted me. The culture, the appearances, never. I got bullied for being “ugly” most of my life, I’m pale as snow but I don’t look like other White people. I can see now that the reason I was bullied by White, Black, and Brown folks all the same pretty much came down to “Well you don’t look like us, but you don’t look like them either”. So now I’m adrift, a mixed breed without enough claim to anything to belong anywhere. My only mirror is my mother and grandmothers.

This is also how it feels to be an adoptee with DNA testing now so inexpensive and accessible – I have found out recently (I’m 67) that I’m 52% Italian. Funny thing is I’ve always been enamored with the Italian ethnicity. If someone said to me that I have appropriated any culture, I would tell them to fuck off. All my life I had to pretend I was someone, something else. I’ll be damned but I’m not taking any shit from anyone about cultural appropriation. I had to live in a culture that was not mine from the beginning.

Another one – It isn’t cultural appropriation to connect back with what you were taken from. Slaves were taken from their country to this one. Then they had kids here and sold off and forced into American/Western customs. Them wanting to explore their ancestry and know where they came from and reverse the damage of colonizers isn’t appropriation. It’s normal to want to undo the brainwashing.

I have a good friend who recently discovered her father wasn’t who she had been told all of her life he was and that she is half-Puerto Rican. As I read this next one, I thought of my friend –

There’s a difference between race and ethnicity. Race has more to do with if you’re white passing or not. You can’t claim to be a race you aren’t. Your ethnicity is something that can’t be seen unless you get a test done. For example, also displaced and white. My biological father is Puerto Rican and Spanish but I’m white, just with a Latino background. I absolutely think being connected to your roots will bring you healing. I was disconnected from them and am currently trying to get in touch. It’s very hard and I know for me, I always felt like there were missing pieces. I’m in the same boat as you. I don’t think it’s appropriation.