Introduction: “Are You My Mother?”
Introduction to “Are You My Mother” Essay Series
It must have been serendipity. Last year, in early December, I placed a call to Charlene Giannetti. I am a Korean-American adoptee, and I had a story to tell; she is the editor of Woman Around Town, and she is always on the look out for stories to tell. She was also (serendipitously!) the mother of two adopted children, which I discovered when we spoke.
Charlene and I had met several years earlier when she was launching the website. She had written a profile of me as an ultra-distance open water swimmer. In 2008, I had completed the Triple Crown of open water swimming by completing the Catalina Channel swim (the other two legs were the Swim Around Manhattan and the English Channel). She came to my apartment in 2009 to interview me and I became her first Woman Around Town. (See the story.)
Now, I was coming back to Charlene to ask her if she would be willing to listen to my story, not as an open water swimmer, but as a Korean-American adoptee who had gone back to Korea to search for my birth family.
Coincidence, fate, serendipity…whatever you choose to call it…both Charlene and I believe that there is still a need for new and current voices to be heard discussing the adoption experience. She asked me to send her a draft of the story when I was finished. The following essay series is the result of that interaction.
As an adoptee, I feel that the adoption experience is very misunderstood. I find this amazing, given our hyperactive media-driven culture where it seems that every experience and subject has been trotted out, talked about, and trod over to death. But somehow, adoption got buried beneath all the trotting out and trodding over. This, I believe is because most people simply do not know what the adoption experience is or means for the adoptee, the birth parent, or the adoptive parent. And if they don’t know what the experience is or means, then they certainly won’t know how to talk about it.
In some ways, it is ironic that Charlene interviewed me for my Triple Crown swimming achievement. At that time, I was one of 30 people in the world who had accomplished that feat (since then, many more people have gone on to complete it as it is a coveted, but achievable goal—me being proof of that!). However, even though it is a very small group of people who have achieved that goal, I find that pretty much everyone can relate to the experience, even if they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it themselves.
As one of the 200,000-plus Korean adoptees sent away to be raised by another family in another country, I am in the company of a much larger group than the Triple Crown swimmers, a group that continues to grow at a much faster rate. Since my adoption in 1970, there have been hundreds of thousands of other transracial adoptions (in January, Maggie Jones reported in the Sunday New York Times Magazine that over 100,000 Chinese children have been adopted since the late 1990s). And that doesn’t include the many thousands of domestic adoptions that continue to occur. But even though the numbers of this group are far larger than those of the Triple Crown swimmers, I find that hardly anyone can relate to this experience.
This is my story about going back to Korea to search for my birth family. I am just one voice of many, but I hope it illuminates, even if only a little more, the adoption experience.
Erica Moffet’s story will be running each Wednesday on Woman Around Town.