Let’s imagine a point in time when the power differential in the world reverses (not as far off as we might imagine, given current revolutions taking place in the world, and efforts of mothers in Guatemala, etc.) And let’s imagine that your country of birth creates a program to repatriate its diaspora, including adoptees. This would include cultural and language education, schooling, housing, work assurance, moving expenses, etc.
For adopters to think about: Given the trope of having “saved” a child, would you be amenable to the country of birth of the child temporarily in your care “saving back/taking back” said child? Why or why not?
For adoptees to answer: Would you go back?
Well, I have gone back, sort of…
I don’t consider myself repatriated, as I haven’t applied for citizenship nor have I relinquished my United States citizenship. I am a psuedo repatriate, in that I’m not just a tourist and in that I reside here, although temporarily – my temporary having been 2.5 years thus far.
It DOES feel as if the power differential in the world is reversing, doesn’t it? The East, China in particular, has taken its cues from the West and is now the dominant force in commerce in Africa, much of the Caribbean, and a serious threat to domestic product in North America. And ominously for America, is a major lender – and once you’ve allowed yourself to be in debt, then the power differential becomes out of your control. What this means for our global social interactions, only time will tell.
However, the power differential on a smaller scale doesn’t change: the haves will always overpower the have-nots. As an adoptee, even if I were a wealthy adoptee, I would be viewed here in Korea as a product of impoverished parents, and all my character-building life experiences would not matter – I would be viewed as not having been raised with a proper cultural/moral/societal compass. I will always be inferior here. However, if I were able to throw my money around, people would be sure to not let that prejudice show.
Some of these programs have begun in Korea. They are part of programs set up to encourage favorable foreign cultural exchange. There is some debate whether or not this welcome is to capitalize on the educations of foreign-raised Korean adoptees, or to eliminate guilt over Korea’s succumbing to allowing International adoption to alleviate them of domestic social welfare programs, by appearing to offer these opportunities as a boobie prize of sorts; as a weak attempt at restitution, out of shame. But it’s also a part of the strange dichotomy that we adoptees are misunderstood and sometimes feared foreigners, while also being counted with the rest of the willingly repatriated Korean diaspora as one of “theirs” due to our shared blood. This is seen by some scholars as a political ploy manifested to increase Korean standing globally in the minds of Koreans who remain nationals. Add that to our reception by individual Koreans, which is colored by their own discomfort with what our presence brings to mind, and returning becomes very complicated.
Whatever the case, I do not feel home here. I always think of that saying, “you can never go home again,” which is a metaphor about how we can’t re-live what we’ve lost because we’ve changed. Only in adoptee terms, it’s much more concrete. We can think of that saying in those terms when applied to our adoptive families after we’ve become adults and left home, but when applied to a loss that we are not allowed to grieve over, over a loss of what should have been and what is everyone else’s privilege, it is especially poignant. Not being able to communicate the simplest needs here due to there being absolutely zero linquistic similarities in languages has been enough to make me crumble in despair on many occasions.
This is not to say that some adoptees can not feel at home in the land of their birth. A lot do come here and enjoy themselves for a spell and it is certainly modern and comfortable and possible to live well here in my foreigner bubble and if I chose to be part of the expat community or ran to the somewhat dysfunctional adoptee community. But for me, personally, I want/need to experience this land as a child, because that’s what my level of comprehension is, and to be nurtured and taught as a child and to be fed my birth culture and language with the same pace, exposure, love and patience that is afforded a child. Nobody can give that lost childhood back to me. Because that was taken from me and can’t be replicated, the Korean experience I encounter now will always be shallow and difficult to access. And because I’m older and people by my age are long since established and this society caters to the young to an exceptional degree, this difficulty trumps the physical comforts and avenues for soothing with other foreigners. Even were I to find my family, they would have to be incredibly generous and be willing to truly parent me like a toddler again. I’d have to re-learn everything I know. Hmm. Sort of like rehabilitating someone who’s limbs have all been cut off.
So to me it’s not about “would you” go back. It’s about “can you” go back. On many levels, you can. You can go there and live. But on the most meaningful level, I think that the answer is no.