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recently, i caught up with an old friend from college and we went out for smoothies. so the cashier took our order (she was buying) and asked for her name
oh, you’re middle eastern right?
it’s a beautiful name.
i’m standing there awkwardly witnessing this interaction. maybe he was trying to hit on her, maybe he was just being nice. that’s not what this post is about. but in my mind, i’m like you’re not from the middle east. you are pakistani. and those are two very different identities. why wouldn’t you just correct him? (granted fatima is a popular name not only in south asia and the middle east, but also in latin america). but, then we walk to a table and start catching up as best we can on the almost 2 years since we’ve seen each other.
and i’ve been thinking a lot about that day, that awkward interaction. i’ve been thinking about how i do the exact same thing she did in that instance. i don’t always correct people. most of the time i let them believe their racial/ethnic assumption of me whether it be indian, latina, middle eastern, black or whatever. some of the time this comes from me not feeling like/wanting to explain myself to some random stranger, just tell me i’m pretty and be on your way. and part of it is how do i even explain to someone what it means to be multi-ethnic? how do i let them know about all the parts of me? how do i tell you that i was born here and i’m dominican, but my dad is cuban, and my maternal great-grandfather is from lebanon and mi tatarabuelo was an orphan from india but adopted by a french family so my last name is Bourget. how can i explain that i am many things yet nothing at the same time?
we as POC are constantly forced to navigate our identities in our daily lives. and in navigating these identities we sometimes erase them in the process by trying to make ourselves readily available for public consumption. we boil down our very complex selves into tangible pieces that most everyone can understand… but what does that mean?
it means that every time i get those questions: what’s your ethnicity/ethnic background? where are you from? no, where are you really from? or the worst, what are you? it means you are asking me to explain to you my humanity. explaining yourself to someone who is probably terrible at geography and ignorant about most cultures is just exhausting. just existing is terribly exhausting sometimes.
there is a phantom language in my mouth
a tongue beneath my tongue
will i ever
i sound like
will i ever come home.
- african american, nayyirah waheed
I was 15 years old when I landed my first job as the new sales girl at Mandee, a local women’s clothing store. My first taste of independence. It was the happiest day of my little life.
That is until I told my father the good news. His response: “oh sh@#.” Turned out not only did my parents misplace any official proof of my existence, but they also forgot that they did not complete my naturalization application when they adopted me nearly 14 years earlier. They also failed to inform me of any of this. Needless to say without legitimate identification I was unable to work and lost my first job as well as my dignity.
Eventually I was able to get a replacement social security card, a new passport, which was Korean, and a shiny new alien card. I learned that although I was an alien, I was not an illegal alien. I was a permanent resident. This satisfied my parents and me for a while. It took me nearly 10 years to go through with the naturalization process - English proficiency test and all - and become a full-fledged American citizen. My identity woes were over as I knew it.
That is until I went to South Korea to live and work for a year. At this time I still had a valid Korean passport and my new US passport. Traveling to Korea I thought nothing of using my Korean passport to enter the country and had no trouble doing so.
That is until about six months later when I was at airport customs on my way from Seoul to Beijing. My Korean passport had expired by then and so I used my US passport. Without explanation, two intimidating officers escorted me to a private room marked Office of National Security. After what seemed like hours of back and forth attempts of broken English, Korean and charades I came to understand that dual citizenship in Korea was illegal. Using my Korean passport to enter the country and a US passport to exit was finable up to tens of thousands of dollars and I could be deported. After another bout of charades and hysterical tears (mine), I explained that I was adopted as a baby and had no idea that what I had done was illegal. They agreed to not charge me and let me go with a warning.
However, I had to choose at that very moment: Was my loyalty to the country that birthed me or to the country that raised me? I’m still trying to figure that one out.
I really hate that most of life seems to be balanced on the idea of having a single identity.
No. I have almost always been multiple. Almost always filling the other roles and wearing the other names people gave me.
I have more than one legal name.
That was not my fault or my choosing.
Stop acting like I’m weird for it.
None of that was my fault.
Oh, gentle heart. I’ve pretty much given up trying to explain even a fraction of my identity to perpetually confused bio spawn. Truth is precious, and it’s abundantly clear that not everyone deserves it, much less capable of believing or accepting it.
Class Bastard pronouns are so often “they” because of gender but also because we literally cannot be narrowed down to one person. However important the personal ramifications may be, they’re often trampled by the political… multiple names, birth certificates, social security numbers, passports. “They” encompasses possibility but also remembrance of our commodification and erasure.
As powerful as the international adoption industry is, it makes for some absurdly fragile and contradictory constructs.
How can one ever have a single identity if one’s personhood even by the most coldly official standards is made in so many places yet nonexistent at the same time?
So while it seems important that the kids have their own stories, these stories had to begin with the stories of their birth mothers.
Next time you wonder why many adoptees search for their birth families and wish to to learn information about these families, remember that you are who you are because you have your own story. They are only searching for part of their story, a story that is important to their very identity."
Even though the author isn’t an adoptee, that’s a great way to put it
It’s good that whatshirface didn’t cop the typical bio spawn routes of “omg family is family not defined by blood!!!1 you’re just emotional” OR the equally oppressive and ableist bullshit that adoptees who don’t find our birth family are doomed to be “primally wounded” and more inclined to “craziness” and mass murder
The search is about reclaiming identity of which we were systemically robbed and decolonizing our selves. Simple and endlessly complex as that.
There are still 5 days before my birthday, but I have to get this off my chest.
I hate my birthday.
Most of you guys are probably wondering what the fuck is wrong with me, so I will explain the best I can.
There are so many reasons why I have hate for this day, but I am only going to talk about one reason….
The main reason why I hate my birthday is because it is kind of like a big slap in the face, or a neon sign saying, “You are a year older and you still have not heard from your birth mother/this is the last day you were with your birth mother”
My birth mother has access to my contact information at the agency in Korea, but who am I kidding? It has been almost 16 years and she probably hasn’t even thought of reaching me.
Doesn’t she remember that I’m her baby girl? How could she push me out of her world, lying to her flesh and blood….
Why should we even be celebrating the day I was born?
I was a mistake, I shouldn’t be here. A fucking mistake.
I know a lot of people say that, but I was legitimately a mistake. I was an accident, I wasn’t suppose to be on this Earth… That is why I got sent to a foster home and put up for adoption, I wasn’t suppose to happen.
My birth mother would be a single mother, meaning she would get shunned by the society and we would be broke if she kept me. So everyone tells me it was for the best, and I am trying my best to understand and not hate her… but I am so close to just giving into the hate.
I feel like my birthday should just not exist, just like how I was supposed to be. Non-existent.
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