The “middlemen” of return.

In a previous question [link] I asked whether you as an adoptee would repatriate yourself if your place of birth afforded you some kind of re-entry to the country, language, culture, etc. Girl4708 replied at the time:

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.

I’m coming back to this question because the most recent issue of Le Monde Diplomatique has an article entitled “Capitalist Re-education in South Korea” [link]. It describes the three-month long re-education period that is mandatory for North Koreans who manage to make the perilous journey to the South, usually via China or other neighboring countries.

Referred to as “transfugees”, those returned are basically treated like slave labor, once their repatriation lessons are complete:

Outside, they quickly learn about true capitalism—not that of Hanawon [welcome center]. Working for sub-sub-contractors, they do the dirty work. They work on construction sites, in the chemical industries, or in maintenance, such as in the semi-conductor or automobile industries….

Some “transfugees” have even fled “back” to the North, one (a fisherman) famously in the boat owned by his employer.

I bring this up because it seems that Korean adoptees come “back” predisposed to this acculturation in capitalism, having grown up in the central bastion of it; yet, as Girl4708 says, they still carry the “taint” of their origins. Nonetheless, their value might be ascertained in a different manner, and in such cases they are welcomed back as a “cadre class”, not the plebes of their brethren and sisters to the North.

There’s a lot to say here, especially in terms of my own experience coming “back”, and how I find myself reliving many aspects of an original patrimonial rejection simply by virtue of not accepting the indoctrination that it seems Korea (and Lebanon) implicitly, avowedly, and unashamedly force on those who come back with a different mindset.

That is to say that former colonized countries see great value in, say, teaching the language of Empire, and so the opportunities are there for anyone who wants to teach English or in English. I’ve been doing this for eight years and I hate every minute of it. This makes me suspect.

Branching out, the radio show L’épopée des musiques noires on RFI has, on occasion, featured black American musicians who “go back” to Africa, for example, Dee Dee Bridgewater. She says [link]:

“This red earth has possessed me all my life, and when I got off the plane and saw it in Mali, I knew I had come home,” Bridgewater says. “Everywhere I looked I saw people who looked familiar. The customs that they have are customs that black Americans have today. Ira came to me and said, ‘Dee Dee, it’s answered so many questions about why I think the way I do and why I am the way I am.’ This music is so rich. It’s completed me. I feel like I’ve really found my own voice and I can’t go back and do traditional jazz. We played a cruise for the North Sea Jazz Festival a few months ago with just a trio, and after the gig Ira, Edsel and I were like, ‘That was weird.’ I don’t know that my straightahead career is finished, but I’m already planning the next album in Mali.”

I know there are now many organized tours for Americans to find their “roots” in Africa; similarly, there are group tours for, say, Korean or Chinese adoptees to go back and know their “homeland”. We’ve discussed such return, and the perils thereof, but here I’d like to bring up something that is nagging me about all of this:

What do we think about these “middlemen” of return? Meaning, someone is responsible for our trafficking out of our originating place; now someone is equally profiting in a way from our repatriation, which tends to take on the trappings of our adoptive acculturation, class-wise if not otherwise. Are we any closer to “home” by taking advantage of this?

Furthermore, can you imagine how you might ideally want your return to unfold? What are the advantages/disadvantages you discovered during such trips? If you can imagine a “perfect” repatriation, how would that work?

2 thoughts on “The “middlemen” of return.

  1. My repatriation would be to be invited by the Shawnee or Cherokee to a welcome home ceremony – sadly, it will never happen. MN hold my OBC and won’t release it to me. I have my adoption file, DNA results, everything else. Tribes here require the OBC usually.

    • I hear you. When my lawyer finally succeeded in a) establishing my identity under my orphanage name and b) obtaining a residency visa under my current name, she tried to allay my worries concerning the period of time it would take to merge the two by saying, “Congratulations! You’re Lebanese now!” I broke down in tears. She asked me what was wrong, and despite the absurdity of it as well as knowing better, I said: “I’d like to somehow be welcomed back; I’d like an acknowledgment of my return.”

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