I came to Corea hoping for growth. I had thought that growth meant healing—that I would hold myself up to the litmus of my homeland and find the ways to make the contradictions and pain I experienced as a Corean Adoptee in America somehow whole and righteous.
This past weekend it was my birthday, my first birthday experienced in the place I was born. Until coming to Korea, I had never thought about what my birth meant to me. I was greater than that event. I had agency, I was more than someone else’s decision, more than a mother in a society with no room for single mothers, more than a birthplace still divided by war. I wanted to believe that the culmination of everything I had done, the high school grades, the social circles I was accepted into and rejected from, the way I could analyze my identity through a term paper just as well as through a poem, would somehow move me to a place where this one past event could no longer touch me.
Over my last few months here, I have come to understand the legacy that is present in everything. It is in the language I still struggle to speak, the way I cannot help but search for the face of my brother in the men at the bars, the way I cried when a friend told me of his comrades who had fallen at Gwangju.
I came here wanting to move beyond the pain and separation I experienced as a Corean Adoptee. But moments of clarity are never planned; they wake you like a 4am phone call. Unexpectedly, growth has been a return to the pain that has shaped me, a return to legacy. It has been a discovery of the struggle that has occupied much of my life, consciously and subconsciously. I have realized that separation from my birthplace and my(?) people is not something I can or should move past. On bad days, it is paralyzing and enraging. On good days, it is reconciliation with the pain that made me. I have let pain in, greeted it, and asked it how I can continue to understand and shape my conscious self. I believed growth would be the process through which I would conquer and surpass my pain, but it has been the unequivocal acceptance of my legacy of pain that has ultimately allowed me to grow.
There is a way in which everything that is internalized, no matter how deeply it is buried, still impacts everything around you. I have always carried this pain, and I am just now beginning to see it.
Corea has been so wonderfully uncomfortable: host family miscommunications, difficult dialogues with my students about oppression, every question I yearn to shout into the crowded streets yet do not know the words to say. Sometimes it seems I know pain from my removal of this country better than I know the country itself.
I have been thinking about what my friend told me after a day of rich soup and 3 bottles of soju on the farm, emptiness is truth. For a while I thought he meant that to be without desires, attachments, or direction, is to exist honestly, purely. But I think I am beginning to understand emptiness as not a state of being, but rather the process of giving to the world all that you have been given and hold inside. I think the pursuit of truth is when you cast all of your trauma out into the spaces between us all in hopes that it will grow yourself and others—to throw your hands into the seed and soil and ask them to grow you a village. My discomfort is the greatest opportunity for transformation I have been given in this life.
I love my friends like family, and I love my family like a declaration.
Thank you for always supporting this journey, even when you have not understood.