A lot of the time, knowing that I am adopted people want to know: “What do you identify as?” As complicated and tiring this question is, I have to admit that is is a good one. How do I identify as an adoptee who has been living in the United States for practically her entire life? And the answer is…
I don’t know. Clue me in, because there is a lot that has gone into my life, and I don’t know how to answer people anymore. Usually I run to the safe answer; I am Korean- American. But that is no longer indicative of who I really am as a person. In reality, everything about me is mixed.
My culture, my family, my friends, my feelings, my mind. Everything is mixed.
From the time that I was brought to the United States, I was bound for a mixed household. My older brother and I being Korean, and my hippie parents raised in the 1950s and 1960s with strict Irish Roman Catholic backgrounds made two. Three years later, my older sister was adopted from China on the cusp of her 7th birthday making three. Add in a brother from Vietnam and you have four cultures simultaneously living in my household. Friends, family friends and friends considered family not included. Add the Puerto Rican culture from my dad’s colleague who was around so much I considered her my grandmother. Don’t forget the neighborhood kids who became so tight that they were often present for family dinners and gatherings.
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, one quickly finds that the minorities will automatically seek each other out and connect in some way. In high school, I was usually friends with the other kids from mixed backgrounds and cultures. The first generation Jamaican American, or the multiracial girl. We all knew each other, and we all related in some way. This was something that changed for me when I went to college.
Now that I am in college most of my friends are from the LGBT community, Latina or they are international students who are studying here in the US or have recently moved here to live. We are all so different, but we get along. My friends here at college have become family, and that is just the way things are. The funny thing is, that my Latina friends tell me all the time, that they see me as Latina more than anything else: “You speak spanish, you love spanish music and you eat spanish food, to me, you are spanish”. In other words, to them I am more Spanish than Korean; more Spanish than White. This is similar to people telling me I am more white than Korean, but this time I really don’t mind.
Let me explain. Most of my life, I have been looking for somewhere that I belonged. Somewhere to fit, and somewhere where I knew that I could support people and feel supported all the same. I finally found it. At the age of 21, I can say that I have had that support and love for the past three years, and I know I will have it for the rest of my life. I don’t mind being called Spanish, because it isn’t meant in a derogatory way, and sometimes the feeling is mutual. The Latino culture is the first culture I loved and I felt loved me back. Whether is is the supportive friends or the culture itself, I honestly cannot say.
I can call myself Korean-American, but I will not feel honest about it. It is like a stir fry trying to call itself steamed vegetables. While you want to give the quickest explanation possible, you know that the process to make that stir fry is longer, more flavorful and more complex than steamed vegetables. So if you ask me how I identify and I call myself Korean-American, I am not being completely honest.