This past weekend I was lucky enough to be a volunteer and panelist at the KAAN (Korean Adoptee and Adoptive Family Network) Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I first came across this event through the Land of Gazillion Adoptees facebook page, however it was looking at the sessions and speakers list that solidified my desire to attend the conference. I was apprehensive about attending because I am not a Korean adoptee, but my fears were unneeded. Though I had to do some extra introduction, distinguishing myself as a Chinese adoptee, everyone was very welcoming and pleased to see me there.
One of my favorite parts of these large adoptee gatherings is, of course, meeting new people. I love engaging with adoptees on their thoughts, perceptions, and experiences around adoption, but also learning about their professional work and interests outside of adoption. It reminds me that we are whole people with so many layers to our identities, and that adoptees are making some really outstanding accomplishments. I am also so hopeful when I see loving parents, partners, and siblings with open minds and hearts attending so they can better understand and support their adoptee loved one. The last group of people I look forward to meeting are all of the strangers who don’t feel strange. Bloggers, scholars, and writers who I follow in the online world come to life through these conferences, and I can see for myself that they are so much more than meaningful words on a screen. They are real! (Adoptee fangirl moments included seeing JaeRan Kim, Sarah Park Dahlen, Rosita Gonzalez, Martha Crawford, and Margie Perscheid among others)
I also love knowing that I will leave the conference with more knowledge than I had at the beginning. My first panel discussed cross country commonalities for adoptees as well as the challenges to uniting adoptees as a whole, including differences in access to records, how we process homeland returns, trauma, birth searches, communities of color, and others. I think the bottom-line take away point from this workshop was that there is no monolithic way of being an [insert type] adoptee, and that we all seek validation of our experiences.
My next discussion was on adoptee scholarship. The speakers were all relatively junior scholars because senior scholars tend to be adoptive parents. It was interesting to hear the questions directed towards adoptees in academia that weren’t asked of adoptive parents like, “are you biased because you’re an adoptee?” I can’t imagine how exhausting it must be to constantly be challenged about their work. These scholars also talked about the obstacles for women of color in higher education and the idea of having to do research on a designated topic but additional research on how women of color are treated in higher education when defending their inevitably lower reviews.
I also went to a session on not finding birth family. This very real possibility is one that I am preparing myself for as I begin a birth parent search. Given China’s circumstances of street abandonment and having no information about my first family at all, I know I need to be realistic. Though I will always remain hopeful, I can find peace in knowing that regardless of the outcome of my search, I will be coming closer to my roots.
The last panel I attended was on the topic of DNA testing. This is something that a few of my friends have considered, but I feel that I need to know more about it before I would do it. Genetic counselors and an adoptee discussed medical and personal factors to consider. While 23&Me, Ancestry.com, and others provide DNA testing for a relatively low price, what happens after receiving the genetic information? How does one process the newfound information when most physicians wouldn’t know how to explain it? And considering how few Koreans (or in my case Chinese) are in the database, how accurate are the results? While I know my genome sequence doesn’t define who I am, it is certainly something that fascinates me. Birth privilege is having a family medical history and having an ancestral lineage, and DNA testing may be able to provide some (but not all) answers.
This conference has been one of the highlights of my summer so far. While there, I felt this profound sense of belonging and community – yet it was a community not quite my own. Sure, we have similar beginnings to our life stories and can relate to the idea of trying to learn to be Asian from non-Asian parents, but the roots of adoption from the respective countries are distinctly separate issues. Additional differences are that I can’t apply to GOA’L for help on my birthparent search, and I’ve never had anyone ask me if I was North Korean. I see so much value in having transnational conversations on adoption and connecting with adoptees from all over, but speaking honestly, being in such an intimate space with a nearly all Korean adoptee presence made me crave and long for an organization of adult Chinese adoptees who are engaged with adoption discourse and thinking critically about our roots.
I am a member of several online communities for Chinese teen/young adult adoptees or families with adoptees from China. These virtual groups can’t alleviate my desire to feel again this inextricable sense of belonging in the same way conferences allow. I know that the Chinese adoptee community is so young and unorganized compared to our older Korean adoptees. I think, however, we can learn much from them in regards to coming together on critical social and political issues, attempting to challenge the mainstream views of adoption, and becoming a support network for each other. I think about the sophistication of Korean adoptee groups including TRACK, KAAN, KoRoot, KUMFA, GOA’L, and ASK, and have faith that rising Chinese adoptees will soon join the adoptee movement.
The theme of this year’s KAAN2014 Conference was: “The time is now.” I believe this message applies to adult Chinese adoptees, as well. Let’s get organized.
More photos from the KAAN Conference: