Here's the story of AKAP board member, Erin Andy.
Unlike many adoptees, I knew my beginning. I was the second born child to my Korean parents. I knew my name, Hyun-Jung. Jee Hyun-Jung. I knew from my earliest memories that my Korean Mother loved and cherished me. I felt it in the way she cared for me. And even though I can’t recall memories of his face, I knew my Korean Father’s presence. I knew I had a big brother who wouldn’t let me play with his Gundam toys, but would soothe my fears when the power went out. I knew I had a family. But…
I didn’t know why I was being given up at the age of five years old.
Why was I given up even if they loved me? I guess the answer is that love is not enough to help a disabled child with Cerebral Palsy. Especially in Korea. So, I was relinquished and placed into Holt Adoption Services, where for a time I stayed in a foster home with other children. Some were around my age, while one was a toddler with a cleft lip. The memories I have of this time seem like a few key defining moments; trying to open a capsule pill with my teeth and tasting the bitter powder, sitting in the corner to have support from falling side to side and moving around the floor on my back since I couldn’t walk.
By the time I was nearly six years old, I was introduced to a woman with features vastly different than my own. She came with gifts; a Sesame Street sound book, a brightly colored turquoise watch with toucans printed on the face and band as well as a walkman with bright yellow foam on the headset. To my young self, these were amazing! And while I stared in fascination at the odd contraption on my wrist, I was asked by the interpreter if I wanted to go to America and live with the lady. I said yes, not understanding the full impact or the direction my life would take.
The last memory of my life in Korea was the day we were heading to the airport.
I had become quite attached to my foster mother, and upon entering the van, I looked out the window and saw her standing by the brick building. She was holding back her tears and I began to cry. I soon felt a warm hand on my back. It was the lady who I would be living with. She held me as I wept. The doors closed, and we began the trip to the airport.
The first time I landed in Portland, Oregon I was sleepy. I recall waking up with my now Mom holding me in her arms and carrying me. I had no idea where I was, but it was quite overwhelming. She walked over with me and stopped in front of a large group. I didn’t know who they were but I felt many eyes peering at me. Then, I was handed over to a tall man in a suit and tie. He held me like I weighed nothing, and I felt an odd sense of security. The group, consisting of 6 other children ranging from four to fifteen as well as a few adults, began walking towards the exit. We stopped at a church along the way, though I had no idea why. Everything was strange to me. All I recall was my now Dad holding me and bowing his head in prayer.
This was truly the start of my new life.
There was so much I didn’t know, but within months started learning about my new family, my new language, as well as my new identity. I also began to learn how to drive a wheelchair, with my head no less. But, even though I had many things occupying my attention, there were times I missed my family in Korea. I’d stare at the small brass framed photos sitting on the piano and wondered if they thought of me. I would blow dandelion flowers in the hopes of one finding its way to Korea. I would write letters accompanied by drawings to share how I was doing with them. And for a time, a few letters were exchanged. But, gradually it stopped.
I became conflicted with my identity.
The more English I spoke, the less my mind thought in Korean. The more I was called “Erin”, the less I heard “Hyun-Jung”. Even though I grew up in a multicultural family and had a fairly normal childhood, there was a part of me which struggled with feeling attached. I knew I didn’t have as strong of a bond with my Mom growing up. I always attributed it to being adopted at an older age. I didn’t realize just how bad things would become as I grew up.
The older I got, the more stubborn and angry I became. I was angry at my Korean parents for giving me up. I was angry at my parents for wanting me to move forward and leave the past behind. I was angry at God for giving me a physical disability. And I was angriest at myself for not meeting everyone’s expectations and letting myself become embittered. I began having suicidal thoughts, and I struggled with my self esteem. I didn’t know who I was or why I existed. I can say those years were some of the hardest for me emotionally.
To say I left my problems behind once I became an adult would be a lie.
An adoptee’s journey is full of twists and turns, with many roads leading to disappointment, anger, grief and despair with only a few turns of joy and happiness in their life.
Adult to Now
Like some, I reunited with my Korean Mother. But over two decades away from her and my older brother made it a bittersweet reunion. It felt familiar yet strange. She spoke of a time long since passed when reminiscing. She was no longer the young woman in the photo nor was I the young child she remembered. Everything had changed. I barely understood what she was saying and had to look to the translator for help. Deep down, I felt a sense of loss. How could we go back to the way things used to be? My Korean Father had long since passed, and the fantasy of having a perfect family reunion was shattered. I later grieved in silence while I heard other adoptees excitedly talking about their reunion with all their family members.
While on my trip to Korea, I hardly saw anyone in a wheelchair. It was only when I visited an orphanage that I was made aware of the way people with disabilities were treated as outcasts and second class citizens. I began to understand the life I might have led. It would have been in isolation or shame. To think of such a life where I could not thrive made me shudder.
Korea was my homeland, but it didn’t feel like I belonged. For the first time, I felt more American than Korean.
And while I may have been overjoyed to see a sea of Korean faces, I was still the odd one out. Part of me dreaded going home to Oregon when I had finally come back to my roots, but the other part was glad to return to my family and friends where wheelchair users were more commonly seen and accepted; where I could be seen and accepted. The fantasy I imagined about Korea was nothing like the reality thrusted before me.
While my adoption has never been all rainbows and roses, I am able to lead my own life, have some independence in my wheelchair, marry the man I love and have my own home. I still have moments where I feel my identity shifting and creating new space for new aspects of the human being residing in this body. It’s a never ending process of self reflection and growth. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it's that one foot will always be in the past, while the other foot is in the present. I can be happy to live a better life and still mourn the loss of my old one.
My past created me. My adoption molded me. My experiences evolve me.
Sharing your story
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