Sanjana, with her grandfather
“As a Korean adoptee who grew up in a very non-diverse community (Des Moines, Iowa), I had always struggled with my identity. I never felt uncomfortable, but always knew I didn’t really fit in either.
In 5th grade, I went to Japan for two weeks as an exchange student. For the first time, I felt like I fit in. Almost everyone “looked” like me, which at the time gave me comfort. This is the first time I remember having a heightened sense of being Asian and wanting to experience this familiar at the core, yet foreign culture. A few years later, my family moved to a larger city (St Paul, MN) with a lot more diversity, and I went to high school with a fair amount of Hmong students. Oddly enough, my physical appearance was not out of place, but once again, I found myself not quite fitting in. I wasn’t Asian enough culturally or by way of language, to fit in with the Asian crowd, yet I still didn’t feel like I fit in with my mainly Caucasian friends.
Upon entering college, (ironically back in the city where I grew up) I met a few other Korean adoptees who became very close friends, one of them my wife to this day. I found comfort in the connection, shallow as it may seem, that we were all Korean adoptees. This was a strong bond I felt with my friends. Unspoken as it may have been, it was a bond for me. A few years after graduation, I moved to Los Angeles. I love LA for many reasons, but the diversity and culture are at the top. Diversity, by definition, is inclusive of all races, ethnicities, religions, political views, gender, sexual orientations, age, socio-economic status, etc. etc. I used to work in an industry as a sales representative for a Japanese product. I found my way back to Japan, visiting the factory of the product I represented. As an adult, this was a meaningful return to the place where I first became aware of being Asian and how I “fit in”. Most will understand visiting a place as an adult is very different than when you were a child. The experiences are different but just as meaningful. Japan was still a place of comfort and happiness for me.
It’s 2019, and my wife and I are finally ready to visit our homeland. This will be our first time back to Korea since we were adopted at six months old. It was not a journey to reconnect with unknown family. Perhaps that will be for another visit. We just wanted to see and experience everything Korea that we could fit in a week. I felt connected in a way I hadn’t felt before. I was home; I looked like everyone else. I was happy. But I didn’t speak enough of the language to fit in seamlessly. Once again, I was accepted, but not really. Upon my return back to LA, I was able to reflect upon my time in Korea. Being Korean had new meaning to me. In my mind, the time and experiences I had in Korea made me feel more qualified to say I’m Korean. I still long for anything “Asian culture”, and struggle with the desire to be accepted within the “Asian” community from time to time. But when I struggle with this, all I have to do is remember my visit to Korea. I AM KOREAN, and that’s all I need to know to feel accepted. It took a long time to discover, that for me, validation comes from within, not from the outside. I hope other adoptees can relate in some way or another to my story and find comfort in knowing that acceptance comes from within first and foremost.” (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Michael is living in Los Angeles. Keep up with him and his journey on Facebook @ Michael Chan Williamson.