By Cathi Ring
My name is Jae Yung. I was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1973. Or in 1972. Or even possibly in 1971. I don’t know exactly when I was born. I don’t know who my parents are. I don’t know why I was abandoned at the young age that I was. I do know that I was in two orphanages while I lived in Korea. I remember this part of my life. I remember playing on the swing set in front of the orphanage with the other children. We slept on mats on the floor. I used to sneak behind the orphanage to steal fistfuls of the little smoked fish that were kept in barrels and sit on the side of the building to eat them. I remember visiting the doctor and being scared that I would get a shot and that it would hurt! I got a little “sugar” cube to eat instead. One day, I got on a plane and the man asked where I was going. I didn’t know but it was interesting–something new and fun. I remember the different people I sat with on the plane. I remember being led to a strange family and being left there with them. That was in October of 1976.
My parents knew they wanted to adopt me before they had given birth to any of their own children. My father had met someone who had adopted a three year old girl from Korea and thought that was pretty neat. They were married twelve years and had given birth to two boys and a girl by the time I arrived. I grew up in a small community in Upstate New York. International adoption was not very common yet, so I didn’t see other Asian adoptees, especially in the town where I lived. I grew up thinking that I was a freak of nature and that there was no one else like me. Children will point out and make fun of the most obvious differences in other children. For me it was my slanted eyes and my flat face. I first came across being teased in either kindergarten or first grade, and that is probably also when I started to hate being Korean. My family is Swedish, German, and English: blue eyes, green eyes, and light colored hair. I wanted so much to have blond hair and blue eyes like them and everyone else. I didn’t like being different. I started to resent the way I looked.
I was angry at my new family. Who were they to take me away from my family in Korea? Why did they have to bring me here where people made fun of me? I didn’t want to be a part of their family. I certainly did not want to be adopted. I didn’t like my family, and so I often picked fights with my siblings and with my parents. I remember thinking that my parents couldn’t possibly love me as much as they loved their own kids. I fantasized about my biological mother. She was of course rich and beautiful. She was undoubtedly famous-a queen or someone equally wonderful. In the movie Annie, little orphan Annie sings about when her mother will come back for her. I too, thought about this.
As much as I fantasized about my biological mother, I also was very bitter and very resentful. My feelings were very mixed. Why did she have me? Didn’t she love me? How could she not? I was her daughter. She left me and it was because of her that I was in this family that I hated. It was because of her that I was in America where I got teased and made fun of because of the way I looked. How could she do that to me? I hated who I was. I blamed everything on the fact that I was Korean and adopted. I looked different, so I was ugly. I matured physically much faster than most kids my age and even those who where 1, 2, and 3 years older than me, so I was fat. If I was a blond, blue eyed American, I would be pretty. My parents didn’t really love me…so why did they adopt me? I grew up resenting them and my brothers and sister. I wanted to hurt them and everyone around me before they hurt me again, like my birth mother had by leaving me. I took my anger and bitterness out on my family. I said hateful things to them to hurt them. I wanted to make sure that they remembered they weren’t my real Mom and Dad.
I became very depressed. I felt very unloved and very alone. I would never be good enough. If I was, then my birth mother would have never left me. She would still love me and want me. As I grew older, I fought constantly with my family. I rebelled against everything they said and did. I kept wishing that someone would take me away. I wished regularly for my mom or dad to die. Because then maybe I would get to be with another family who was better. As awful as that sounds, that’s how unhappy I was. My feelings of inadequacy continued to grow. My mind trained my eyes to see myself negatively. I was fat, ugly, and nothing I did would ever be good enough. I was obsessed with food and my weight. I schemed out ways to kill myself. I was sure that no one loved me and that my life would never get any better.
Then the summer between junior and senior high school, my life started to change. My sister and brother were going to camp; I wanted to go somewhere too! The camp I chose was one sponsored by my adoption agency called Heritage Camp. It was a camp for Asian adopted kids in New Jersey. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go, but since my brother and sister were going somewhere, I had to go somewhere, too. I can remember driving down into camp and seeing over 100 kids-all Korean, all adopted. I had never seen so many Koreans in one spot. I didn’t know whether to be scared or excited. Camp was special. We did cultural things like Korean cooking class and tae kwon do lessons. The counselors shared their experiences of being adopted. All of a sudden I was no longer alone. Other people were going through and feeling the same things as I was! Racism. Prejudice. Being a minority. They were all happy and liked being different.
Camp did not change my life in that one week, but my feelings started to change. I still had problems. I started drinking heavily, I smoked cigarettes and marijuana as often as I could. Fighting with my parents got worse. I rebelled against everything they said and did. By the time I turned 19, they kicked me out of the house. I was convinced that this was the ultimate proof that they didn’t really love me. I promised myself to never talk to them again and to never go to them for anything. I had no money and no car. Eventually I had to ask my Dad to co-sign a car loan. That’s probably when we started to talk, really talk.
I am now 24 years old and completely independent. I have a very close relationship with my parents. I talk to my mother on a daily basis and consider her to be one of my best friends. How things have changed! All of this did not happen overnight. All my feelings have not been completely resolved. I continued to go to Heritage Camp as a camper then as a counselor. It wasn’t until I was a counselor that I really started to believe that being Korean and being adopted was not a bad thing. Now, I like being different. I want other adoptees who are growing up to realize that much earlier than I had. I want them to like who they are, and not to be ashamed. Being a counselor proved to be one way that I could do this. We were taught as counselors to be positive about our experiences and to portray adoption positively. I agreed to a point. I agree that as counselors, we are supposed to be a positive role model for the kids we counsel, but in a way that they could relate to. I had a very emotional and angry adolesence, and if I felt the way I did, then I wasn’t the only one. I told my campers about the way I had felt. I told them about my poor relationships with my family. I told them about the way I feel now. I want them to see that even though I had had problems, I have resolved them. I am proud of who I am.
Because I grew up with no role models or other peers like myself, I feel very strongly now that children who are adopted interracially need that kind of support as they grow up. I grew up feeling ashamed of myself, resenting who I was, and knowing very little about my culture. You can’t change what race you are, but if you are exposed to your culture, and are around people who you can relate to, than at least if you choose not to accept it, you will know that you are not alone, that you are not a freak of nature.