What does your refound culture say about adoption?

Let’s forget about falafel, and kimchee, and dumplings, etc.; let’s forget about lamps, and dragons, and carpets and I don’t know what else; all the other superficial aspects that the “West” sees as “culture” from abroad. What instead have you learned from the culture of your place of birth that contradicts what we now refer to as “adoption”?

6 thoughts on “What does your refound culture say about adoption?

  1. A local proverb states:

    يا مربي غير ولدك، يا باني في غير بلدك (أرضك)

    (yaa mirabbi ghayr waladak, yaa baani fii ghayr baladak [ardak])

    You raising a child not your own, are as [the inhabitant in a town/the son of a country/the one on land] not his own.

    This proverb resonates the meaning found in “inhabitant” which comes from the same root for “son/daughter”, as well as the verb “to adopt”.

    Similarly, the word for “town” also resonates “country”; one is a “son/daughter” of one’s family, but also of one’s place of origin. The proverb optionally uses the word for “earth”.

    It implies building or constructing something [falsely] on disconnected ground and faults the pretensions of the one so building.

    It ties back into the Qur’anic invocation that orphans know their filiation, their extended family, their community, their place.

  2. What? We can’t talk about orientalism when talking about culture + adoption? Is that even possible ?

    I mean, I sit at home and watch a lot of Western design t.v. shows from my apartment in Korea. I watch spacious perfect homes get remodeled with “oriental” (their description, not mine) motifs and collectibles I could never afford here in Korea and I get this really eerie feeling of parallax, because I know Koreans are watching the same show and probably thinking nothing of the idealized objects of desire placed artfully in those Western homes. They are thinking how good it looks and how they want a home like that, not if it is accurate or objectifies their imagined lives in any way. Probably an adoptee sitting in Addis Ababa could say the same thing about safari decor, if they have cable t.v. there…It’s as if the whole world’s perspective gets warped by what the West wants. And of course, it isn’t a great stretch to see adoptees as one of those cultural things to acquire to complete a perfect home.

    And I think that orientalism is not just about the West wanting an idealized East, but about the East wanting to be in that picture. I think we adoptees were not only coveted by the West to fill empty nests, but also imagined in that picture by our first parents who first imagined themselves (and by extension their inconvenient offspring) being placed in a supposedly more perfect Western world. And who gave them that warped view? Why is their self-esteem so low?

    Obviously, those are complicated questions. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is colonialism in regards to my country, Korea, exactly; though it might result in similar mind f**ks — and Korean history is a never ending string of colonization after colonization anyway — I think it is some weird dynamic (similar to the adopted with those who adopted them) with their liberators. There are feelings of gratitude and euww ick feelings of exploitation and feelings of envy and feelings of anger because the liberation occupation has no end date, which totally strains the romance. It pulled the rug out from under traditional culture, so that it no longer works as a social system, which it did for centuries under and despite colonization. (It was harsh and cruel, but it worked in its own way) So I think international adoption is largely a result of the break down of traditional culture, and like I’ve said dozens of other places, it was not Korean culture to throw away their children. And what broke down traditional culture? It was liberation by the West. What gave Koreans the notion that sending their offspring away was an answer to anything? It was the presence of adoption agencies which became the catalyst to do so.

    “Uri” (our) is the linguistic way in which Koreans refer to nation, town, mother, father, aunt, sisters, brothers, friends. All these reference a community view of relationships. Every person in society has a title and a place. For instance, a Korean will talk about their friends being mean to them. They aren’t talking about real friends as we know it in the west. They are talking about the social strata that they belong to: their peers. They may have a friend who is older, but they won’t call them friend, but “senior.” Everything in that system is about social strata. Class was preserved through marriage and could only be climbed through civil service exams. People within the same class took care of each other. The American model of upward mobility through the acquisition of money, however, undermined that order. After its introduction, everyone hoped to climb classes and image became everything as the two culture’s values merged into one competitive awful monster. To strive for what someone else has can increase feelings of inferiority. The West’s orientalism has had that affect on Korea. The social systems remain and yet their larger implications of community have been usurped by individual greed.

    Okay, so now that I’ve got my protest finished, I’ll attempt to return to the question as framed…What was the question again?

    Oh yeah. “What instead have you learned from the culture of your place of birth that contradicts what we now refer to as “adoption”?”

    I have learned, since living here, that culture is less something visible you can acquire and more something that must be heard to be experienced and felt. Westerners can live here for years and never have a grasp of the mechanisms employed to regulate society or how Western intervention negatively amplifies and affects the centuries-old culture it impacts because we are deaf to them so we can’t feel them. We Westerners tend to think of culture as artifacts and not as a living organism. We cavalierly strut our freedoms and admonish the world to act like us, yet provide no means towards that end. We are privileged to not feel the social impacts.

    I have heard Koreans my age and older bemoan their memories of how Koreans used to care about each other. I have met living examples of this. At the same time, I know it is the generation of my parents and grandparents (the first to feel Western envy) who sent us abroad for a better life, and that current parents send their children away to keep up the family’s appearance so their chances at social/class success/climbing are not ruined. I used to say that the solution to the issue of children being thrown away was for all the old people to die. But now I think it would have been better had our great grandparents been brought back from the dead to ask the country, “What are you doing to uri people?”

    But it’s too late for that now, as the damage has been done. Don’t I know it. Now, the best I can hope for is that Koreans can somehow figure out how to balance the opportunities of Western aspirations with the cost, while learning that their personal lives and families don’t need to be the price.

    The continued presence of international adoption agencies really does retard Korea’s ability to come up with solutions and only complicates the situation by further rupturing the existing social fabric.

  3. I love your answer, girl4708!

    “competitive awful monster”….

    Perhaps you are lucky; in talking about the revolutions going on in this part of the world with my students—who complain that nothing like that seems possible here—I explain that other countries have a political memory of other political systems, whether Nassar’s pan-Arab socialism, or Syria’s past relationship with the former Soviet Union….there’s a knowledge that something else is at least possible. Unlike Korea, Lebanon’s very founding was based on creating a “competitive awful monster” to begin with, going right from the feudal into the capitalist realm with no safety net whatsoever….it’s a nightmare on this level.

    There are, like you are saying, HUGE moments of cognitive dissonance here. The design shows from the Gulf, featuring designers speaking in English (and badly at that) who were educated in the West or in Western schools, and who reformulate “Arab” art, calligraphy, etc. into horrifying dereferenced manifestations of kitsch that are embarrassing, no other way to describe it. It’s like the jars of experimental DNA crossings in the third movie of the Alien series; so much monstrosity produced before maybe lucking out. There’s a whole other contingent here who refer to themselves as “hybrids” along these lines….To me the word “hybrid” represents something artificial, that cannot reproduce, is often monstrous, and basically is parasitic. Which describes these people to a T.

    Then you have globalized bizarre media product such as the Japanese Sho-gun soap opera shown on Sudanese television piped here via satellite and dubbed into classical Arabic which no one actually speaks anymore.

    And so it goes.

    I like my book of proverbs because it reveals more about underpinnings of the culture than is possible to get otherwise. I do appreciate too that the language still uses these proverbs a great deal; the language still maintains this connection despite everything.

    So I read and wait for the revolution to trickle down….

    • Trickle down… ha ha!

      Actually, (I’m the farthest thing from an expert on Korean politics ever) but I would characterize Korea as being almost fuedal (at least class wise) prior to the Korean “conflict.” Most everyone were peasants and then you had a ruling class. There was no such thing as upward mobility. Then, there was dictated industry and Western capitalism overnight.

      Sorry you must deal with so many “hybrids.” There’s really nothing more dreadful than new money that has sold its soul.

      I think our readers are probably confused about now, but really, the false promises/hopes given when people are down and out very much has to do with why we were turned into orphans.

  4. I came across another Lebanese proverb:

    .إلي ما بيربى ع سفرة أبوه ما بيشبع

    Translation: “He who is not brought up at his father’s table shall not be satisfied.”

    Note: Reference to the hard life which orphans and adopted children often meet with.

    Source: A Dictionary of Modern Lebanese Proverbs; Anis Freyha. Librairie du Liban, 1974.

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