Migook means beautiful land

I grew up in the middle of the UAW midwest, on the outskirts of motor city in a little strip-mall town called Taylor.  Once upon a time, before urban sprawl, it was a little train station outpost called, Hand, but during the 50’s and 60’s it exploded into block after block of post-war subdivisions, fueled by G.I. bill mortgages and big three assembly-line salaries.

It was during these times of prosperity that all across America, to seemingly every remote location, were broadcast little Korean children into the arms of mostly well-meaning, often socially conscientious families with room in their households for more.

And all across America, (actually the whole world, but we’ll concentrate on what I know) these scattered Korean seeds were deposited in similar towns that shared, if not the car culture, at least this post-war feeling of prosperity and generosity.  And prejudice.  Because the rescued children just happened to share the same features as the recent enemy. (and in other countries, their colonies)

And so we were ridiculed, mocked, humiliated, and sometimes assaulted.  Again and again the experience was replicated in each and every remote location of deposit.  With a surprisingly/alarmingly similar dialogue, as if there was a template for hate being distributed without our knowledge.  It was as if it was a backlash against all the frustration that Americans felt for not being able to vent their spleen at the Japs or the Korean commies in times past.  And as I was growing up, it was also a backlash for what was going on in Vietnam.

I was nothing but a stupid gook.  It wasn’t until just recently that I had thought gook was in reference to Vietcong, because I’d always seen them being referred to as gooks in Vietnam war movies.  I was used to being called anything Asian but Korean.

It wasn’t until coming to Korea that I learned Migook was the word for America, and that Migook really means “beautiful land.”  And it wasn’t until this morning from another adoptee that I heard the likely story that Koreans saw American soldiers and said, Migook. And the soldiers thought they were saying “Me (I’m a) gook.”

How did they know it was a beautiful land, I wondered?

My other adoptee friend recalls having a ball thrown at her, while being derisively called Chinese.  By an older boy.  In front of his parents.

I also recall this kind of display of racism.  Proud.   Proud to be racist.  Seeking approval from their parents, who gave it to them.  I recall going to friends homes and listening to their parents swear about God damned Chinks and Japs in front of me.  It was okay because they knew I wasn’t Chinese or Japanese, but to everyone else around me I MUST be Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese, because Koreans didn’t exist as an ethnic group.  Everyone knows we all look the same.  Everyone knows we’re all the same (yellow) and the differing countries were just a geographic technicality.  I was reduced to a slit eyed moon face by people who could mimic Chinese far better than I ever could.

(chant, in sing song voice)

My mother was Chinese,

(pull slit eyes up / buck teeth out)

My father was Japanese,

(pull slit eyes down / buck teeth out)

but I’m just a crazy mixed up kid!

(pull one slit eye up / one slit eye down / contort mouth)

One time the riding was so hard I ran home crying.  My brother interrogated me, went and knocked my best friend’s brother off his bike and told him he better not do it again.

But that was the first and the last time I broke publicly.  Because when you live in car country, and Honda sales mean Uncle Ray got laid off, every day is bash Japs day, and who you gonna cry to?  And if you do, what are they really going to be able to do for you?

Your brother’s not going to get physical again.  Your meek liberal parents are going to talk about love and understanding and ignorance and patience and forgiveness and be self-satisfied and go back to enjoying their white privilege.  The answers can be found in books written by experts, and there’s nothing that a rainbow family can’t overcome.  So it’s a small matter, that will go away as the world gets more educated through open-minded acts of tolerance like making adoptive families.  There’s a reason you’re a poster child for social justice.  It’s your role to educate the planet; to provide comfort – not seek it.

And so it goes, after the Korean war you could hate the North Koreans yet call all Koreans gooks and after Vietnam you could hate the Viet Cong and call all Vietnamese people gooks and you could come home to America and call all Asians gooks.  And when the Japanese produced higher quality cars you could hate the Japanese and call all the Japanese gooks.  And you could bring home their lotus flower daughters and make them your wives or leave them to rot and rescue their half-breed children and call them gooks too.

Beautiful land.  Where our faces mean torture and P.O.W.’s and me love you long time sex and trade quotas and job loss and missing limbs and lost minds.  It’s enough to make you want to punch their face.  Incite a fight. Or rape them. Or make them lick your boots.  Or   here’s    the   b r o o m    c l o s e t,  please   put   the   broom   back   when you are finished.

Adoptive mom and co-worker with her very dark Indian child chats me up to talk about adoption.  She’s wearing all the markers of a socially conscientious Pacific Northwest mom.  The conversation touches on racism.  “Oh I’m not worried at all.  Kids these days are pretty accepting.” I guess she hasn’t read about the middle east lately, or that we’re in a war there.  I’m sure her child will never tell her about being called towel head or hadji or…I mean, what’s the point?  All she sees is a the good she wanted to accomplish, the sacrifices she will make, her own contribution to this child’s more comfortable life and better opportunities.  She will never know what it’s like to be a gook in beautiful land.  But her poor dung-cooking, garbage heap dwelling, barbarian adoptee will.

“Why don’t you go back to your own country?”

I’ve been asked this, rhetorically, of course.  (or maybe not?)  At the time I felt enraged as a multi-cultural American, but in retrospect I never was multi-cultural.  Adoptees are never multi-cultural after assimilation. And (though scary as hell) that unmasked hostility is actually refreshing in its honesty, vs. the dishonesty of color-blindness.

So you do go back, only there’s no place for you here either.  Koreans think you were sent to beautiful land.  They are envious.  You should be grateful.

14 thoughts on “Migook means beautiful land

  1. I want to write a book and title it “My life as an alien.”

    This might sound crazy but I miss being forced to submit a photo with my job applications. I showed up to two summer job interviews last week and was greeted by puzzled looks from secretaries and interviewers. Surprise! Little did you know you weren’t getting an Italian! Then I have to go into my schpeal about how I’m not bilingual and how I “got a name like that.” And of course how I feel about being adopted, because apparently that’s an acceptable question to ask someone on an interview in Rhode Island.

    I’m kind of on an adoption rage these days, because I’m sick of having it thrown into my face.

    I miss you though!

  2. Willie – I feel ya. We are always aliens no matter where we go. My co-teacher expressed some regret that foreigners have to carry alien registration cards. She didn’t think the word “alien” was nice. I told her it was very appropriate. I didn’t tell her it wasn’t enough, that adoptees need a big freaking neon sign over our heads.

    Also feel ya about probing questions. Worse to me is the embarrassment afterward. Good thing they didn’t ask me that question, ’cause after almost five decades of this shit, I’d give them an earful.

    I miss you too! Yesterday was Lenn’s B-day and Clara was there and email me for the scoop on Mark’s latest antics!

    adoptionparadox –


  3. An example of the kind of comments I get on my other blog and why I’ve quit having a discussion and ESPECIALLY don’t argue there:

    Not to try an justify my opinions to a closed-minded individual: I think you may be generalizing a bit too much.

    Also your threats to block out Catherine shows you are an incredibly ignorant person who simply cannot be argued with.

    The post in question I mean, hey! She insinuated I was a racist!

    Personally, I really don’t care about the _obscure_ minority(I.E you) perspectives on such things as they generally speak much but do next to nothing – so take my word or not, I really couldn’t care less.

    Obscure minority Isn’t that rich? When they seek to have an obscure minority of their very own?

    These are the words of people who want to adopt transracially and most likely internationally. Wouldn’t you want them as your parents? And the sad thing is, they’ll probably succeed and some unlucky person will have to swallow their views on a rainbow world or get invalidated like they just did to me.

  4. Oh, your story is so true and similar .. I’ve experienced the same things here in Sweden. The racisim thing I mean not the migook thing. You write from the heart and its honest and uncomplicated and so utterly relatable.

  5. You know the really strange thing?

    Being isolated because you’re perceived to be a native like other people of your ethnic background, but you know internally you’re a foreigner.

    That hurts beyond words.

    I remember feeling that so much in Taiwan.

  6. You need a moderator to sift through the comments for you. There is just no point in reading some of the garbage that people write. I think it’s bad for one’s health. I didn’t even get past comment 1 on the post you just linked to before I felt my blood pressure start to rise. She is our utopian fantasy… America’s looting the world so to make amends we take children… you can’t make this shit up. I love your blogs and I want you to keep writing but sometimes I think you should just close the comments sections (maybe not on this one). Or, alternately, write a statement that deals with all the different ways that racist, unthinking adoptive parents and adoption cheerleaders derail conversations or smugly orate from their towers of privilege. Then when someone posts a comment like that, you can just send them the statement and delete their comment, so you don’t have to engage.

    I can’t believe that that person seriously thinks that being a tourist in Japan is comparable to being an adoptee or gives them some real insight into what transracial adoptees experience. You know I am all about conversations across differences and I really believe in the work that you and others are doing to educate. But on the other hand I worry about you and don’t want you to put too much time or emotional energy into conversations that are met with so much resistance and mostly take a toll on you. It’s not right that the emotional burden, again, falls on you.
    Anyway, great post. I miss you

  7. Good idea! But then again, the act of disengaging might open a door to private harassment through email. I was careful never to PM people on Yahoo back when I tried to educate people through forums there. But I do like the deleting comments thing. Like the one above, it felt good to share its belligerent tone with you, but after I got my use out of it, it did not go up on that blog, as it wasn’t worth honoring with an answer.

    Catherine and one other particularly tenacious guy are the only ones who ever really bugged me. They beat me on sheer energy level. (which is kind of telling in itself – how insecure are they? Don’t they have lovely little adoptlings to mother/father? Good God, imagine how screwed you’d have been if I’d spent so much time on the internet when you needed me!) I mean, this is my side gig, for God’s sake. I am, actually, remarkably free of virulent attacks compared to a lot of other adoption reform adoptees, and I think that’s because I try not to let my voice get snarky and keep it as personal as I can. And I am, also, remarkably free of AP debate because I really DON’T engage with them much. I also have a pretty small readership for the other blogs and this blog in particular was never designed to be FOR anyone except family, friends, and fellow adoptee travelers. If you take a look at other adoptees like Mei Ling, (Hi!) she spends countless hours engaging with them, and the emotional toll on her must be great. But honestly, I don’t care about them or what they think, so I don’t write to them.

    Anyway, don’t worry!

    I’m doing good – working hard, too busy to be lonely, have goals – short term and long term. And I like me even if I sometimes think nobody else does.

    Miss you too and hope your studies are easing up a bit!



  8. Sara – yeah, it can cause a great deal of burnout. Before I started searching, I thought adoption was the best thing since sliced bread. girl4708, joy21, and Dan (not to mention a ton of others) have taught me so much.

    But to try and engage with just one person, and attempt to make them see their own misconceptions within the adoption itself…

    It can take *years* to do that.

    “I can’t believe that that person seriously thinks that being a tourist in Japan is comparable to being an adoptee or gives them some real insight into what transracial adoptees experience.”

    Ahahahaha…. riiiiight… yeah, I read that comment was like “o.o really? Does she *really* think they’re comparable?”

  9. P.S. You mention being sad when you see other adoptees shut down their blogs because of burn out.

    Well, here’s an example of why I’ve burned out:

    http://chinaadoptiontalk.blogspot.com/2011/03/ us-as-sending-country.html

    (Commenter I am referring to is Dee. Seems to be along the same mindset as Catherine to a loose extent.)

  10. Suki, I pray that your written and spoken words make you wealthy soon! It’s time for you to quit your day job. You are our Ambassador and its time for you to really be announced.

  11. Aw, that’s sweet Lisa. I think if I quit my day job I would be very hungry indeed, as the rare put-together piece flows out only after some triggering incident. My hope is to become so calm that I never desire to write again!

  12. Oh boo hoo, brb being a sheltered lefty who acts like being made fun of as a kid is the end of the world. I know for a fact your parents were too nice to you,l because clearly they spoiled you rotten, what an unbelievably toxic attitude you have ,surely it must have been fostered in academia. Enough to “rape them” eh?…nothing like a lil rape fantasizing from a “tolerant” progressive.

  13. MayMay, I’ve spent my entire life being fetishized for being Asian and been literally raped and attempted rape twice and stalked several times. If you think I fantasize about being terrified like this then you are sick.

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