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“First Namesake”: My Conversation With Hei Kyong Kim

We here in Minnesota are very fortunate to have so many intelligent, motivated, caring, and accomplished adoptees living in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again: Listen up, MN Adoptive parents, if you’re looking for role models for your sons and daughters, simply reach out to the adult adoptee community and you’ll find individuals like Hei Kyong Kim.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Would you mind sharing where you work and how you got there?

Hei Kyong: I actually grew up wanting to be a writer. I have been writing since I was ten years old. I was a quiet child who had difficulty expressing my true thoughts and feelings about my identity and experiences as an adopted Korean female, but writing gave me this incredible freedom that helped with insight, reflection, healing, and resiliency. Even if no one read my work, it was okay, because writing was like breathing for me.

I guess I have always had a love for both writing and psychology, which made the merger inevitable.  So, after I received my B.A. in English with a creative writing emphasis, I then decided that I would pursue my interest in psychology and worked toward my M.A. in Counseling Psychology and then my Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology; I needed to help support my large family but wanted to make sure that it was something I loved just as much as writing. Because of my belief of the intersection of writing and healing and narrative in our community, in many communities, the shift seemed very natural. I went into psychology wanting to help explore our experiences—the way adoptees can be ignored or are invisible; how adoptive parents and Korean (non adoptees) people talk for us and about us; to help others express their feelings and experiences without feeling pathologized and shamed; and to understand ourselves in context to history, oppression and historical trauma, systems, the collective, and the individual/ personal.

I currently work at Indian Health Board. I actually became connected with them when I did my therapy practicum at their clinic during graduate school. I was interested in adoption and foster care issues in relation to mental health, loss, and attachment. I soon discovered that Indian Health Board was a good match for me—urban clinic, multicultural/grassroots approach to mental health, and it enhanced my interests/specialties (Multicultural counseling, Complex Posttraumatic stress Disorder, bereavement, Reactive-Attachment Disorder, adoption/foster care issues, Developmental Trauma Disorder) in a diverse setting (does not only serve Native American communities). Even though there are not a lot of international adoptees that come to the clinic (we do have some), many of the adults and children clients have been adopted (transracially or same-race) or have been in the foster care system, which has been helpful in making connections between the similarities and differences in different racial and cultural adoptive and foster care communities in their mental health and how they cope with their difficulties.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: What advice would you give to younger adoptees who are considering a career in the social service field?

Hei Kyong: I might suggest looking toward yourself before really getting into the field because the more one knows about themselves and their motivations when going into the field, the less one will project onto others—both as the rescuer or to work out their own issues. There are a lot of people who think it won’t happen to them, but it does—maybe unconsciously—and it hinders them as therapists/helpers; they become biased and narcissistic and then aren’t being of any service to anyone.

One must also be flexible to new information and experiences that will foster growth and learning on a personal level. Always be prepared to be surprised at what you do not know and be willing to be humbled by clients and their narratives. There is really no room for those who come into the profession defensive, rigid, judgmental, dogmatic, and wanting to teach or give advice to people about how they should exist or live better.  They must be willing to look at humans as complex beings with complex experiences and not judge that as bad or good. It is about our profession giving people voice to their hardships and struggles and helping them find their own ways through the mazes. They must also be patient with the different places people are at, accept them unconditionally, and help foster what works for them so they can feel better.

But most of all, I would tell the young people to try not to eat, breathe, and sleep adoption/identity/ mental health issues/social service issues. Don’t take your work home.  Enjoy the connections in your life and have conversations that are not always related to intense service area topics. Get out and do fun things, be silly, relax and find hobbies. Otherwise, “burnout” will creep up on you and it is hard to stay passionate about your work. I know it is a cliché, but maintaining balance is really the main secret in our field (and in life).  But whatever you do, do not let people (friends, family, strangers on airplanes that ask what you do for a living) suck you into being their therapist.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’re also a writer, right? Am I making that up? Weren’t you in an anthology or something?

Hei Kyong: Ha…no, you are not making it up. I am a writer too.  I actually started off in creative writing and have been published in anthologies and journals, mainly back when I was Beth Kyong Lo.  I have had poems, essays, and short stories published in Outsiders Within, Seeds from a Silent Tree, Paj Ntaub Voice, Journal of Asian American Renaissance, and New Truths: Writing in the 21st Century by Korean Adoptees.  As you can imagine, being a mother of six and then getting myself through years of graduate school, has kind of put my writing to a halt. However, I am happy to say that I am getting back to my roots and hope to contribute to the AAPI and transracial adoptee writing community once again.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Your significant other is a bit of a dork, isn’t he?

Hei Kyong: Although I’m inclined to say “No comment,” I believe he would want me to say, “Dork? My man is awesome and is one handsome, fun, loving, intellectual, racially conscientious, proud member of the AAPI community.”

Land of Gazillion Adoptees: Word…  And I’ll give you the last word here.

First Namesake
Hei Kyong Kim

Drawn into chaos, I am suctioned out from the darkness and thrown through cold glass
doors that shatter into a million pieces, voices whisper my creation story—

You fell from the sky before your time, a ball of sadness that did not grow into any particular form, just an unwanted lump of clay. That is how you came to be.

Omma tiptoes from the police station with tight leaking breasts, slowly picking up
her pace before the ajumas hit her for crying and holding her e
ars as the officer declares the new name of her daughter:

            Kim, surname

                         Hei, wisdom

                                      Kyong, respect

No longer hers, I accept the name, my lips rutting in hunger—
in search of mother and her sticky sweet colostrum. I grieve
when cotton uniform replaces her soft flesh. The smell of salt
and sweat of July’s heat disappoints me into silence, withdrawal,
the eventual relinquishment of who I was born to be.

Hei Kyong,
the Marys and Sarahs of Korea, I was told;
nothing special,
has no meaning
beyond a conveyer belt object in need of a name.
What is a product if you can’t identify it?

Kim Hye Kyong to Hei Kyong Kim to Hi Kee-young Kim,
American tongues mispronounce; there is no translation
for a massacred language, nor should there be—anything other
than native tongue    pollutes the language      the air.

But then again,
I have no tongue.

1 Comment on “First Namesake”: My Conversation With Hei Kyong Kim

  1. tuely inspirational as a person, an aspirant of the graces from the homleland.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. I think adoptees are just humoring me, Part 1: Dr. Hei Kyong Kim is on the cover of the Asian American Press | Land of Gazillion Adoptees

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