Every few days or so when I'm not paying attention, I'll trudge into the bathroom half asleep, or distracted. Not thinking, I'll look into the mirror and I will suddenly get very startled at the stranger staring back at me. And then, that resigned realization nudges me into reality. It's just who you are. Often, I then do a quick day dream of what it would be like if I called 911 to report an intruder in our home. "Come on, Derek, we've gone through this before," sighs Wanda, the exasperated and underpaid operator. "But he's not welcome here, Wanda!" I'll shout. "I really need to start that nursing school program," mutters Wanda. "Hurry up, I think this guy knows karate!" I scream in a total tizzy. Or, I'll say "He might be a Yakuza hitman!" It really depends on my mood. Sometimes, I'll look at my phone and be tempted to actually call to see how close it is to my dreams. I have a sneaking suspicion that explaining this to the judge at my hearing will be bonus content as it wasn't featured in my day dream. And no, I definitely don't know karate. I'm not a Yakuza hit man either, although I am considering making some career changes in the near future. Unfortunately, being a Yakuza hit man probably has a prerequisite of knowing karate, so I'm kinda fucked by that job posting. I'll go ask my academic advisor at Penn State what my options are.
Remember the phenomenal movie, Hear No Evil, See No Evil? My favorite part of the movie is when Wally, played by the great Richard Pryor, is having this conversation:
Adele: Why do you feel you have to pass for someone with 20/20 vision when you're blind as a bat?
Wally: I don't feel I have to pass.
Adele: Yes, you do. It's a sickness in your brain, just like if you were trying to pass for white.
Wally: You mean I'm not white?!?!
Welcome to the distorted reality for a transracial international adoptee. "You mean I'm not white?" That sentence has rattled in my brain literally hundreds of thousands of times. My full legal name is Whitey Waspus McCrackerton IV. My legal family background history is of German and English descent. All the way back to the Bavarian kings of Hohenstaffe and the first English guy to have shitty teeth. I own a pair of plaid pants. I've summered in the Hamptons and I can't dance to save my life. My mom has blonde hair and blue eyes. When people continue to dig about my background and persist on asking about my parent's ethnicities, I will pretend to be contemplative and then say, "But come to think of it, the mailman was Chinese...." This makes my mom a very faithful adulteress to the same imaginary Chinese mailman as all three of her children are Korean. So even in my made-up story, my mom has pretty good values...for a cheating ho.
I know what people want to hear when they ask these questions. But before February, I really couldn't speak to anything about modern day Korea. I do speak another language. You know what it is? Spanish. I do have an authentic accent. Wanna hear it? And the Ulster brogue still comes out when I get a wee bit angry, or have had too much to drink. My Wonder Bread Level White wife speaks better Korean than I do. So, many times people desperately search to find something conforming with their standard of what I should be. Instead of accepting I am not the "normal" they are used to, they strive even harder to find ANYTHING that can put them back into their discriminatory comfort zones. "Ha! You're smart, of course you are! You people are always good at stuff like that!" All joking aside, normally when I get that comment is when I'm discussing politics with a hard-right wing conservative claiming to love the Constitution, who then gets shut down hard by my knowledge of the actual document instead of just stupidly saying the word "Constitution." Do you want to know who is EXACTLY in line with loving the Constitution, but not knowing shit about it? My biological brother, who got adopted with me. He takes believing we're white to elevated heights. His hateful rhetoric and twisted beliefs make him sound like an oberstleutnant in the Hitler Youth Brigade. Constant erroneous quoting of Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly. If it weren't so disturbing, it would be just sad. Instead, it's terrifyingly alarming. That's why it is much more enjoyable to not have him in my life anymore. Eight years free of family hate!
Since my trip back to Korea, these moments of alarm at my image in the mirror have not subsided. I had hoped they would. Now I don't know if they ever will. Growing up in a community of such sparse diversity and an obsession of trying to fit in has permanently stunted a healthy sense of self. Many people who are unfamiliar with what it's like will say to the future generations, "Just be yourself!" or "Don't worry about what other people think of you!" It's laughable in its misguided ignorance. If I had been myself, I would have been picked on even more. More guys would have tried to beat the shit out of me. Fitting in wasn't a matter of caving in to public perceptions, it was a critical matter of physical safety. Having four guys trying to cram you into a very small locker on a few occasions is bad enough. Preventing it from becoming a daily occurrence makes it priority number one as a youth.
You want to see something sadly hilarious? Get a group of Korean American adoptees to a Korean BBQ restaurant and watch them try to navigate chopsticks. I've actually seen this happen. It's just a surreal sight. It just is jarring to the perception of what a large group of Asians should be capable of. The skillful manipulation of “Satan's Forks,” as I like to call them, simply doesn't run in the blood. So, it definitely is a textbook definition of anachronous. I imagine it would be like trying to teach a dog how to lick its own ass. It's just something they do!
I had a terrific conversation with someone very versed in the Korean American Adoptee (KAD) community. She said a glaring observation is the KAD community is terrible at supporting one another. We joked around a little about the craziness that is abundant in our people group. But, I've been thinking about it solidly for two days. It's disrupted my writing. The question I have is: How can we possibly offer support to others when we cannot even truly support ourselves? There will always be moments where my native ethnicity will be a startling stranger looking back at me. Karen, it's not the answer I want to give. You did tell me to speak the truth. That is about as honest as I can get. Hopefully, I will be able to look at this stranger, take the first steps in getting to know him better, and begin accepting him into my life. I really don't have a choice. What if he knows Kung Fu?