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Thursday, July 18, 2024

‘Mom, tell me the story of my adoption’

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I’ve got to imagine it’s difficult to prepare for this moment as a parent. To be honest, I spent most of my life knowing I was adopted and not thinking twice about it. Growing up in Rensselaer, Indiana, I had a good life, what many would call a “positive adoption experience”; it wasn’t until I reached 30 when I realized what I’d lost as well.

A One-Sided Narrative

My experience as an adoptee isn’t a monolith, nor is it isolated. It’s an important reminder that across the country, thousands of adoptees are navigating a one-sided narrative. Adoption has historically been framed as a beautiful method of family creation. This conveniently leaves out the separation from one’s birth family that occurs. Additionally, for transracial (people adopted by families of another race) and intercountry (people adopted to another country) adoptees, a disconnect from one’s heritage, culture, and identity is created. Until recently, though, these things were left unsaid.

According to the Indiana Department of Child Services, over the last five years, nearly 11,000 children have been adopted across the state. However, as these children age, there’s a lack of community around adoption, leaving many adoptive families left struggling to figure out how to keep their adopted child connected to their whole heritage, culture, and identity. And when those children transition into young adults, many choose to leave Indianapolis in search of a city that has created a community infrastructure that supports their origin identity.

When I look back on my childhood, I know I had so many wonderful memories. And yet, today, I also see someone who spent the entirety of his upbringing rejecting his Asian / Korean identity. I knew I was Asian, but I didn’t identify as Asian, and frankly, I didn’t want to.

A Sudden Epiphany

It wouldn’t be until my wife and I moved back to Indy from Chicago in May 2020 that I would start to unpack my story and begin my journey of reclamation. A confluence of events—the beginning of the pandemic, the rise in violence against Asian bodies because of it, my increased awareness of state violence against Black bodies, and conversations about having kids of our own—all led to a single moment of realization, the moment I would come to consciousness for the first time.

It was a warm June evening, and we were sitting on the couch watching an Asian American rom com called Always Be My Maybe. There’s a flashback scene in the movie where the main characters are cooking in a kitchen, and while I’m not exactly sure what happened, something about this scene flipped a switch in my mind. I paused the movie, turned to my wife and asked, “How am I going to teach our kids to navigate the world as Asian when I don’t know how to do so?”

Talk about a watershed moment. The very next day, I found a podcast called Dear Asian Americans, which led me to sending an email to the first guest on that show, which led me to a study called Too Korean to be White, Too White to be Korean. I wept as I read it, seeing my experiences as “the Asian kid” for the very first time. I knew then that I’d found my purpose, or at least a pathway to it.

Arriving into Full Consciousness

In the years since those transformative realizations, I’ve started two award-winning podcasts: The Janchi Show, with two other Korean adoptees, about the Korean adoptee experience, and Conversation Piece, about the missing pieces of the conversations we’re already having. I’ve traveled back to Korea twice, and I’ve traveled the country attending various Asian American events finding community in both the wider diaspora and the adoptee community specifically.

Most importantly, this journey has led me to self-acceptance, self-love, and the ability to completely embrace my identity. I’ve had the privilege to listen and elevate others’ stories in a way that only strengthens my conviction. And I’ve learned that adoption isn’t the stereotypical, happily ever after narrative that society has been led to believe it to be.

A Community Call to Action

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and it’s an important time for diverse communities to unite around our people. Many of our community leaders, colleagues, friends, and even the friends of our children are impacted by adoption, and yet, they fail to get the community support they need to process, heal, and honor their stories. Which is why I invite you toward action.

This November, through The Janchi Show and Conversation Piece, I’ll be elevating stories and voices that deserve to be heard, amplified, and validated. I’ll also be available to support Indianapolis’ corporate community as they look to properly understand and honor adoption within the workplace. I invite you to tune in, engage with these stories, and lean in to help contribute to a more inclusive, more supportive community. Schedule a conversation with me at https://www.patrickintheworld.me/.

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