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PBS Made Me Cry

When Parenting As Adoptees was released, it reminded me of a piece I had written for The Adoption Constellation magazine, published by Adoption Mosaic.

I’ve finally found the original piece, made some modifications, and want to share it with my LGA family. Thanks for reading!


One Saturday afternoon, I decided to relax in front of the television and watch the PBS special, Faces of America. Faces of America has two questions at its center “What made America? What makes us?” Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., uses genealogy and genetics to explore the family histories of famous Americans like actress Meryl Streep, comedian Stephen Colbert, cellist Yo Yo Ma and Chef Mario Batali. I happened to catch episode 3, “Making America”, which aired in 2011. The series or some version thereof is still running on PBS, but is now called Finding Your Roots.

At first, the show seemed interesting and exciting, but as the program continued, a sense of deep sadness overcame me as I realized that I was watching something that could never happen to me; even if I wanted it to. All of the people in that show had access to their pasts, and while they were discovering things they did not know about their ancestors, still, they had what they needed to be able to make those discoveries. My shoulders slumped when Meryl Streep murmured, “We are the sum of the all the people who have come before us.” They slumped even further as Yo Yo Ma marveled at his wonderfully preserved family records from thousands of years ago.

After the program ended, I cried. I cried at the pain of not knowing my people; the sum of which is who I am. I cried because it wasn’t until that moment that I was aware enough of my own sadness to cry about it. I cried because I had waited so long to allow myself to mourn my losses. I cried because I may never find anyone who can even tell me about those who came before me. I cried because I didn’t know what I’ll have to pass on to my own children and I cried because I had to finally let go of the notion that my parents’ people, the German, Scandinavian, Norwegians, that make my dad and sister’s eyes such a brilliant blue, are only borrowed. They can be denied to me by sight alone.

When I was younger, I accepted my adoptive family’s heritage as my own because it was all I had. Thinking of me as coming from the same place as my parents and siblings was a way for me to feel connected to my family and community. I participated in and assimilated into my adoptive cultural traditions because I didn’t really know what else to do. My alternative was to have nothing. Admitting that I had some other people to connect to meant that I would have to admit I was very, very different than my family.

However, when you commit to trying to feel like you’re the same as everyone around you, you have to sacrifice your difference. You don’t get to think about it, you don’t get to talk about it, and you don’t get to go looking for it unless you want to be accused of being ungrateful. You shelve it and bury it and try to forget that it even exists. You can feel very successful at your own denial easily avoiding the true meaning of your sadness and anger – symptoms of rootlessness and separation. Then one day, you end up crying to your husband about a PBS program that you thought was just going to be interesting.

My people are still unknown to me, but at least now I am able to acknowledge that I have a people and I have a place in Korea. It belongs to only me and cannot be granted or denied by anyone else. I can also accept that there is room in my life to be rooted in the place I was born and thrive in the place where I was raised.

When I watch that PBS show, I still feel a pang in my heart over my losses as an adoptee, but I can also feel the stability of having learned how to come from one place and how to live in another.

4 Comments on PBS Made Me Cry

  1. lara harlow-hentz // October 18, 2012 at 11:28 am // Reply

    Reblogged this on lara harlow-hentz and commented:
    The rootless life of adoptees “PBS made me cry”

  2. Mary A. Coyle // October 18, 2012 at 5:21 pm // Reply

    Keum Mee: You have echoed my thoughts which I’ve had for many, many years. But I am an adoptive mom. An similar experience like yours hit me when I went home for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. My sister had requested that we all send in pictures of ourselves and our kids with our parents. So I did that. When I arrived at the restaurant, there was the picture board right in front. Then I noticed that my children’s photos stood out — very, very much. It was such a surprise to me, and it hit me like a brick wall. I went into the bathroom and cried for the very same reasons. That my children may not feel like they fit into our family, that they would always feels different and family functions, and that they may never feel comfortable around extended family. In the years since, we have strived to make Korea and its people and history more real for them. And, if they didn’t feel like going to a family function, we didn’t go. Thank you Keum Mee.

  3. I’m also an adoptive mom. I echo Mary’s comment. Thank you. Excellent post Keum Mee.

  4. Reblogged this on International Adoption Reader und kommentierte:
    A post from “Land of Gazillion Adoptees”

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  1. My People « Land of Gazillion Adoptees

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