Looking around the room at the adult adoptee panel discussion, I'd say it was easily the best-attended of the adult sessions. It was good to see so many adoptive parents wanting to learn.
As I mentioned before the panel consisted of 3 sisters from the same family, and they also had 3 brothers. There were two sets of sibling groups of two among the six. Five of the six were adopted from Korea, and the sixth was half Asian, half Hispanic, and a domestic adoptee. They all grew up in Tulsa, OK.
All three who spoke to us were in their 30s, beautiful, well-spoken, and seemed very happy and successful.
The domestic adoptee said she had had non-identifying information about her birth family for as long as she could remember, and she wasn't at all interested in finding out who her birth parents were. Some of that reluctance came from the circumstances -- her birth father was 55 and her birth mother 16, and worked for him. The one who was adopted from Korea at age 5 also had a brother adopted with her at 9 months of age. She said she had always wanted to find her birth parents, and was successful in doing so. She said she felt like there was an empty space inside her until she returned to Korea and met her birth family.
The third, adopted from Korea at 18 months old, said she had no information since she was found abandoned at a police station with no identifying information. She said she had no interest at all in finding her birth family, but said maybe that was because she knew it would be impossible to do so. [Afterwards, I mentioned to her that many Korean adoptees were given that same story of abandonment but then found that the adoption agency had made it up "to protect the unwed mother." I suggested that if she was interested she might contact the adoption agency. . . .] Though she said she wasn't really interested in her birth parents, because her adoptive mom and dad were her "mom and dad," she said it was really meaningful for her to have children who were biologically related to her -- it was the first time she saw someone who looked like her.
Two of the three said that they had experienced racial teasing as children -- the eye-pulling gesture and ching-chong speech. They didn't tell their parents about it. One said that such teasing made them stronger. Of the six siblings who are married, they are all married to Caucasian spouses. The sister who had actually traveled to Korea talked about feeling more comfortable with Caucasians, and feeling out of place in groups of Koreans. Another sister said she considered herself an Okie (not a derogatory term when used by an Oklahoman, I understand!) and a proud American.
One adoptive parent asked what their favorite foods were (?), and all answered with American favorites like Mom's Spaghetti and PB & banana sandwiches. The sister who had traveled to Korea said Korean foods were her favorite
They all said that their parents had offered cultural opportunities, and that their parents had always been supportive of any interest they had in searching for birth parents. Their parents had shared with them the information they had about their life before adoption. All praised their parents for what a good job they had done raising them. And all said they felt blessed to have been adopted.
I think that adoptive parents who were looking to ignore anything negative they had heard from adopted adults were pretty satisfied by the presentation. There were, however, some troubling things: the fact that they didn't tell their parents about racial teasing and their discomfort in being among Koreans, for example. This is pretty typical for Korean adoptees of that era, I think. Adoptive parents were told to raise them as [white] Americans, so many have not formed any racial identity that matches their ethnicity. I hope that my kids can feel comfortable in both cultures, though that is going to be a tall order, and probably not completely doable, Still, we'll try!
I also thought it was telling that the sister who expressed no interest in meeting biological relatives nonetheless expressed wonder at seeing her children for the first time. Perhaps she is more interested than she thinks!
The women were so gracious to come talk to us, and I learned a lot hearing about their experiences and attitudes. We always say that adoptees have a variety of attitudes toward adoption, that no one can claim to speak for all adoptees, and we had the perfect illustration of that fact in these three sisters.
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