I believe that adoptee identity is not static, but that it is elastic and stretches and contracts on a regular basis and takes a lifetime to explore. Every identity is unique and every exploration takes place on its own timeline.
LGA was delighted to talk with writer Amy Lee Scott. An adoptee who may be late to the party, but is able to express herself so beautifully, we will all be glad she made it.
LGA: You describe yourself as “late to the adoptee party”. In a nutshell, what’s your adoptee story? What motivated you to seek out the adoptee community?
AMY: I was adopted as a baby in 1984 and raised in a family of seven children (three of us were adopted from South Korea). Since it was obvious to my family that I was not white, my Korean-ness was not really an issue. Though my parents encouraged me to attend Korean school, I refused because it seemed way too weird. Still, I reveled in being the token Asian in my white community but essentially ignored everything about my biological roots. I avoided Asian kids at school for fear of being labeled as one of Them—FOB math whizzes who ate stinky seaweed at lunch. Even as a kid, I could stereotype like nobody’s business. I do not think I am alone here when I say that I did not identify as Asian, or as an adoptee. I was white. I ate white food and had white friends and went to white church.
Race was a non-issue because I made it so. But by whitewashing every aspect of my life, I missed out on potentially enriching experiences that would have deepened my understanding of the racial plurality that was my existence. At college I met fellow Token Asians. When we compared notes from growing up, I realized that I wasn’t a total freak after all. At that point I began learning about my Korean heritage, little by little. It was overwhelming and I often avoided digging deeper. Then I enrolled in a graduate creative writing program where I seriously began to seek answers to the losses I felt so deeply: Why was I adopted? What was South Korea’s history with transnational adoption? Who were my biological parents? I sent out birth parent search forms to no avail. I trolled adoptee websites and began to get a clearer picture of the collective grief many adoptees feel. Guilt, too. Through these online communities, I discovered writers like Jane Jeong Trenka and Sun Ying Shin. I felt at home in their writing. The adoptee community is so rich with talent. We may only be bound by a single trait—adoption—but it is thrilling to find people who actually understand, in a small part, where I have been.
LGA: You’re a writer. What got you interested in writing? What are you favorite things to write about?
AMY: Growing up I was incredibly shy. I rarely spoke to anyone outside of my family or close circle of friends. Instead of talking, I escaped into a world of words. I read ravenously and ceaselessly—if I could not read a book at the table, I read every bit of writing on the cereal boxes. Reading allowed me to disappear into other people’s lives. Writing naturally followed. I began imitating my favorite authors, folks like Roald Dahl and Lois Lowry. These writers knew what childhood was really like. Childhood could be terrifying and tragic. Adults disappeared or retreated from view and children had to battle life on their own. My mother died when I was seven and my father, in his grief, mentally checked out. I was effectively orphaned once again.
Reading and writing allowed me to form characters strong enough to deal with this pain. As I grew, I felt the loss of my two mothers—one Korean and one American—more deeply. My writing naturally moved towards exploring these losses. One of my favorite writers, Jonathan Safran Foer, once wrote that “absence inspires creation.” That, in a nutshell, is my writing creed. I write from the things that scare me. I write from what I do not know. And in regards to my adoption, that is a whole lot.
LGA: Do you feel like your experience as an adoptee influences your writing or does your writing influence you to explore your adoption story?
AMY: I think loss as a whole has influenced my writing. When I write about adoption I think about the things that I will never experience—growing up in Korea, knowing my biological parents, being Korean. These are impossible losses because they only happen in the imaginary land of What If… As my husband and I discuss starting a family, I think about the losses that will inform me as a mother. Incredible women have befriended me over the years but it is not quite the same as having an actual mother. When I think about becoming a mother, there are two questions that hound me: What is it that makes a woman relinquish her child? Is it within me to do the same? My writing lately has addressed these questions, particularly from the perspectives of my two lost mothers. Writing from my Korean mother’s point of view is heartbreaking, especially when I consider the many children I love—nieces, nephews, friends’ children. Could I have done the same thing? It must have been devastating for my mother to sever her maternal rights. And it must have also been a terrible relief. As a child I could not imagine why she would make that sort of decision. I probably never will. But writing allows me to access empathy, an important quality for everyone, nonfiction writers in particular. It is too easy to demonize.
LGA: So, what’s your dream writing job?
I suppose my dream writing job would be one that I’ve had but only in an adjunct role. Someday I would love to be a tenured writing professor. Dream big, right? For someone who was cripplingly shy as a kid, it is strange how much I love working in a college classroom. It is where I am happiest. I love seeing a student’s mind being blown. That ignition of surprise when someone learns something entirely new. I live for that moment.
Some of Amy’s work:
Amy Lee Scott was adopted from South Korea and raised in Los Angeles. In 2011, she received an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. There, among other things, she learned how to pop corn the right way–in a heavy pot over medium heat. She and her husband live in Dearborn, Michigan where she is working on a collection of essays about loss, memory, and adoption. Her writing and mounting obsession with roadside oddities can be found at: http://clubnarwhal.blogspot.com/.