Home truths: Adoptees are opening up

The narrative about adoption was once controlled by parents and agencies. Now adoptees are weaving a more nuanced – and angry – story

The first generation of children adopted from South Korea to Denmark have become adults. They are now sharing their stories of growing up in mixed families in the Denmark of the 1980s and 1990s – a society that was still on its way to becoming multicultural.

These complex narratives of transnational adoption, which are starting to appear in Danish newspapers, deal with understanding both the authors’ place between their country of birth and their adopted home, and the link between their biology and ethnicity.

My brother and I are South Korean adoptees, brought up by our Danish parents in south Jutland. But as adoptees, our heritage was hardly ever discussed outside of a few events we attended with Adoption & Samfund (an organisation for adopted children and their families). Before I even understood the concept of race, we were taught that we should feel overwhelmingly Danish. This form of ‘super integration’, which alienated us from our roots, is present in many of the stories I have read, including those by Maja Lee Langvad and Patrick Lundberg.

A complex existence
Our voices are starting to break through the dominant narratives concerning transnational adoption, which so far have come from adoption agencies and parents of adopted children. On the subject of super integration, we are generally opposed. But what is the alternative? Is it possible to assume some Korean identity, without it looking like a partial rejection of Denmark? How can we make this balance work?

We don’t know, but that’s not what’s most important. Ultimately, it is liberating that we have finally become adults and are reflecting on our position in society. But our voices can be divisive. I have tried to explain to my Danish parents that, no matter how much they have loved me and my brother as their own, they will never understand the feeling of being a member of a minority and of bearing the brunt of endless pathetic condescension.

The complexity of being adopted lies in the mix of ethnicity and insight. I was brought up as a Dane with a Korean background, which puts me in the privileged position of seeing society from two different vantage points. I can merge my native understanding of Danish culture with my experience as a minority to ask new questions about the society in which I live.

As we put words to our experiences, we do so to shape an understanding of how our existence differs from that of the majority. We take both our stories – about journeys back to countries where we were born, and journeys to the countries that accepted us – and assert our right to bear both at the same time. The right to be proud of who we are, no matter what.

Family pride
My parents were hurt when I described the differences that separated us. My mother responded angrily when I pointed out that I was alone with my suffering as a child, when I experienced alienation and prejudice. She felt like I was attacking her parenting, after she and my father had treated me and my brother like their own flesh and blood. A few weeks later, she said she wasn’t angry, but sad – sad that she wasn’t enough for us, and also frustrated that her own society had sometimes turned its back on us.

My parents know that I don’t share my experiences to attack them, but in order to give them insight. In a family, like in society, there is a need for objectivity without judgment, and admissions of misunderstanding without the need to blame.

A new narrative about transnational adoption needs to include both our voices. In my case, my identity stretches beyond Denmark to the country I came from. I am allowed to be proud of who I am, regardless of who I choose to be. My parents’ story is complex too. It hurts them to the bone when the rest of the world can’t look at us through their eyes, which see us as beautiful and equal.

A better debate
Both these stories need to be integrated into a more complete and complex narrative about transnational adoption, because until now, such adoptions were generally regarded as the ultimate example of tolerance, inclusion and openness.

But the story doesn’t always turn out this way. More often it is a story of existential pain – a story of coming from a country that still lacks equality, discriminates based on gender, or lacks basic human rights.

I hope this debate develops constructively, so that we can work against adoption when it becomes a cynical exploitation of the child’s country of origin, and that we properly attempt to understand these other cultures and worldviews without judgement. We who have lived the experience with our bodies and souls need to enter the debate and shape our own story as first-generation adoptees. We must face up to its truths, regardless of how ugly or hurtful they are, otherwise adoption will become something neither party deserves. M


By Mija Bjung

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