freedom is a state of mind

From the first time I heard this fascinating interview with my friend Daniel Eysseric on Canaries in the Motherland, I have been impressed with this man’s analysis of the true position of adoptees in Korea. He understands the limitations of activism by foreigners and what Korean people will actually do vs. what they will give lip service to.  He doesn’t see what he wants to see, he works with what is at hand and makes the best of it. A busy businessman, a self-made man and master strategist, he’s honed his skills to focus on results, and that requires cost/benefit analysis that are meaningful to Koreans, (or whoever in the world he’s dealing with wherever in the world he happens to be doing business) and THAT is based on THEIR concerns and THEIR needs TODAY, and NOT on rectifying the past.

What is this? Socialist Suki admiring a capitalist? Yes most definitely. Because he’s also a man who appreciates simple things and because he understands that happiness is what we make of it.  You know, it’s weird – I don’t always get his sense of humor nor he mine, but we’re kind of the same anyway.  He takes a no-nonsense view of what needs to be done, helps out where he can, doesn’t take the work personally and doesn’t expect anything in return for his work or his time. He’s a pragmatist and a realist.

I, also, am the same way.  While I understand the romance of instigating social change and the wish to be a part of movements to better society, (dreams of Patti Hearst seeing the light and Angela Davis black power of my childhood) but there are other ways to accomplish this without alienating those you are appealing to.  And ultimately, it takes whole (as in not broken) people to have the authority to suggest they know a better way, so being a good activator and role model requires composure and self security.  So we can’t affect real change without having a good sense of ourselves, which most adoptees don’t.  We have to put as much energy into taking care of ourselves as we do our social justice work – that’s the only sustainable way.  And adoptees are NOT living sustainably.

If Koreans are going to change anything in favor of adoptees or unwed moms, etc., it’s going to be only if they see some benefit for themselves in it.  So the real activist work is systemic work, but we all know that entitlements are hard to get rid of and systems take a long time to overhaul.  TRACK/Jane introducing the law was a great practical move and I hope some of their law is incorporated, and I respect and honor all the work that went into that:  It’s a remarkable achievement, but we have to manage our expectations.  And if the law doesn’t pass in its entirety I don’t see it as the end of the world, but as some progress and a victory in itself.

My views on adoptee activism (and activism itself in general) have been shifting for quite some time now.  While I do acknowledge that it is important for academics to record and document our place in history and to politically understand how this travesty took place so it isn’t replicated, I do question adoptee activism’s essential motivations and methods.  In many ways, the adoptee activist is asking, “What’s the point of my existence?” And if that question doesn’t get acknowledged, it turns into, “What’s the point of existing?” And you know what?  There’s never going to be a satisfactory answer to that question.  There’s never going to be any validation from Korea.  It HAS to come from within.

I just fundamentally have a difference of opinion with the organization’s mission.  And, as privy to the inner circle, I also have a difference of opinion about methods and structure.  This has been a long time fomenting but I continued to work because I liked the opportunity to help Korea grow a more positive image about single moms.  But I think there are other, better ways to do that, and I think it has to come from Korean citizens.

The hard truth of the matter is that we are just one small fish in a huge ocean of hurt that is Korea, and nobody feels they owe us any special favors.  It’s a nice dream, but that’s all it is.

Where does that leave adoptees, pinning our hopes on acknowledgment or justice?  It leaves us with ourselves, that’s what.  Because at the end of the day, even if we win, we still lose if we can’t stand up on our own.  This is no reproach to “quit whining.”  This is beyond raising our voices and trying to be understood, because that’s really not possible  for others.  This is about not merely surviving, but taking back our own lives and being free of this millstone called adoption.

ADDED:  So  if you haven’t inferred it already, I resigned from TRACK.  All the reasons above contributed, but I was still ready to work towards anything to improve the image of single moms in Korea, so despite differences I would have worked until I’d left Korea.  No. I resigned specifically  because the organization and its leader are one in the same and that’s not healthy for either.

2 thoughts on “freedom is a state of mind

  1. thank you for posting Canaries in the Motherland. what a great collection of different interviews from koreans with various background.

  2. Yes – and not all adoptees! I wish there were more older people’s perspectives from people my age, but the diverse backgrounds are certainly very interesting! The show gives you a good sense of what being a foreigner means in Seoul.

    It would be interesting to interview them again 7 years later, like that 7-up documentary.

    I don’t think Americans can fathom (at least I couldn’t) what it’s like to see three vastly different foreign populations dancing around each other: mostly white westerners who get treated special, Korean foreigners who are judged constantly, and non-white foreign immigrants who are badly marginalized.

    It’s not a melting pot, and it’s not total segregation. It’s just really bizarre. More layers to maneuver through, as each of those populations view their Korean welcome totally differently.

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