Archive for August, 2014

Baby’s mom

When  I was newly adopted, my parents introduced me to one of their employees named Neva (or something similar like Niva, Nova, Nevaeh, etc.) who had a few month-old baby whose picture is below.


Instead of calling her by her name, I called her “Baby Mommy” which would make everyone laugh or smile and say, “she’s so cute.”

If they had known about Korean culture, they would have known that it would have been very rude and even unthinkable for me to call an adult by her name; they would have known that “baby mommy” was not a child’s cute way, but a Korean way to call a mother of a baby.

“Baby mommy”  was my way of translating directly the Korean expression 아기 엄마 (agi eomma) which means “baby’s mom”  with the “s” ommited (as the 의 of 아기 의 엄마 is ommited).

“아기 엄마 ( Baby’s mom)”. That’s how Koreans call a baby’s mother.  That’s how I called a baby’s mother while growing up in Korea.

If I had known Neva’s baby’s name, I may have called Neva “[the name of baby]’s mom”.  But I didn’t retain the baby’s name, it was a too difficult name for a Korean girl to say or remember.

 Unbeknownst to me  I was recycled to an all American girl (and later to a Québécoise de souche) within a short time, I stopped callling Neva “baby mommy”and I started addressing her and other adults by their names.

“Someone’s mother; someone’s father”

In 2001, a Korean friend (who then lived in Montreal) invited me to go to Korea. At the last moment she learned I couldn’t stay at her parents’ house, so she found me a family to stay with during my trip in Korea to search my family.   All I had to do, in exchange for my accomodation, was to speak in English or read an English book  with a seven year-old girl, the only child of the family. Her sister, who was the private English teacher of the girl, needed to take vacations, so I would be like her substitute. I told her that my spoken English was aweful but she assured me that it didn’t matter to the mother of the girl.

Before meeting the family, my friend introduced me to her sister to talk about the child, Sue Young…  “And what’s the name of the lady?” I asked at the end. A brief silence that followed made me feel like I had asked a wrong question. “You don’t need to know her name. Call her Sue-Young eomma, it means Sue-Young’s mom,” she said. While she was explaining me that’s how they do in Korea, I felt awkward and I felt like I wanted to scream, ” Why can’t I know the name of a person whom I’m going to live with for five weeks!!? How am I going to endure THIS for that long?!!!!” My whole body ached, but I kept quiet…

The language I don’t speak was once my mother tongue and the culture I find weird was once my culture. I don’t remember the language but I remember the culture. Yes, I REMEMBER  the Korean culture as if I had learned it from a book or from white adoptive parents (except that I didn’t learn it from something or someone stranger to the culture, I had lived it naturally with my natural parents and my people; I didn’t know yet anything about the word “culture” yet I was part of the culture and the culture was a natural part of me). And everytime I think of my Korean life with my  mind of Quebecer, my whole body hurts, it hurts so much I wish to die.

In Korea, parents are referred to as someone’s mother/mom or father/dad. For example, my teacher would address my father as 명숙(의) 아버지 which means “Myung-Sook’s father”; the teacher of my brother Dae-Yeol would address our mother as “Dae-Yeol’s mother”; My sister Marie’s friends would refer to our mother as “Marie’s mom”, etc.

Husband and wife may also call each other “[their child’s name]’s father” or “[their child’s name]’s mother”. For example, Sue-Young’s mom would call her husband, “Sue-Young appa” which means “Sue-Young’s dad”.

Myung-Sook’s father

As I remember this part of culture (referring parents to as someone’s mother/mom or someone’s  father/dad), my heart aches for my father. When I  lived in Suwon, my father was  referred to solely as  “Myung-Sook’s father” as all  my siblings had left home. I can only imagine how it hurt him to be referred as “Myung-Sook’s father” by the neighbors after I was gone.  I can only imagine how he suffered after losing me. I can only imagine how he felt every time he entered the empty house/room that was lent to us by our generous landlady.  I can only imagine the overwhelming loneliness and grief  that made him drink to death . [link] There was no other way for Myung-Sook’s father to escpape from such loneliness and grief after losing Myung-Sook (to the industry of adoption).

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The picture  below was taken in 2001 when I was reunited with my family after being separated (by adoption) for 27 years. It shows the back of my parents’ tombstone which was erected at the death of my mother in 1972. My name appears the last on the left (traditional Chinese was written from up to down and right to left). Before my name are the names of my brother, my brother-in-law, my elder sister and my older sister.

pierre tombale2

My brother-in-law who took the picture read me the names that were engraved on it.  I would have liked to tell him that I remembered he had read the names 29 years ago, but I couldn’t  because my mother tongue became a foreign language.

I was six years old when my mother died. I remember clearly the day she died and the day of her funeral. We put  food and pour wine on her tomb. Someone (probably my uncle) explained me it was to feed the dead. Adults followed by older children bowed down in front of her tomb. When came my cousin’s turn, she refused because she was too shy. I  was shy too but I courageously accepted to pay respect to my mother. While bowing down I heard my father speaking of me to a man, “…and she’s my youngest daughter, my baby.” His voice trembled and broke as he added,”Poor girl, she has no mother now.” At the end of the funeral  someone (the same person who explained me about feeding the dead) explained me that my mother wouldn’t come back with us, but she would stay in the mountain. For the first time that day I feared being abandoned. Each time I thought I was abandoned, it turned out I was not and I was very much loved.

My father was burried next to my mother five years later. I was 11 years old. I didn’t bow in front of his tomb. I didn’t  attend his funeral. I didn’t know  when he was dying and when he died. I was adopted since two years when he died. 

I learned of his death while I was aired on TV to search him and my siblings after twenty seven years apart. He died of liver disease in loneliess three years after losing me. My siblings and my brother-in-law thought of me in front of his tomb; they wondered what had happened to their missing little sister; they wondered if I was dead or alive; they would have never imagined I was sent to America for adoption.

My poor dad. While he was searching for me, I was  kept in an aweful orphange. While he was grieving for the loss of his favorite daughter, my identity was changed and I was processed for adoption. While he was drinking to drown his sorrows, I was calling a stranger “dad”.  [link, link and link] While he was dying in loneliness, I was dying as a Korean girl and being born as a Quebecoise girl. Adoption killed my father.

I was in front of his tombstone only twenty five years after his death. I didn’t bow down. I’ve become too “Québécoise pure laine” to do such “weird gestures”. I just watched my brother-in-law bowing down while  remembering of my mother’s funeral.  When he gave me a glass of wine (to pour on the tomb), I refused thinking he wanted me to drink it. He had to hold my hand tight around  the glass to pour the wine on the tomb. 

I may have lost my mother tongue and my culture, I may be legally the daugther of two Quebecers, I may have been recycled to a Québécoise de souche,  I am still the daugther of my only parents whose tombstone have my name and my siblings’ names on it.











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This is my personal experience as a Korean adoptee in Quebec, the only Canadian province that has prodominantly French-speaking population. For English version please see below.

Ceci est une liste (non ordonnée) de certains des moments où je sais (savais) que je n’appartiens (n’appartenais) nulle part dans le pays où je vis (partie A) et dans le pays d’où je viens (partie B). C’est en somme mon expérience personnelle en tant qu’adoptée coréenne au Québec.

Partie A) Tu sais que tu n’appartiens nulle part quand …

1. des inconnus  te demandent d’où tu viens ou ta nationalité.

2.a) ta réponse à la question “D’où tu viens?/D’où vous venez?” est suivie d’autres questions ou commentaires tels que “D’où tu viens pour de vrai?” – “Je veux dire c’est quoi ton pays d’origine?”, “Je voulais dire où vous êtes née?” – “Je veux dire quelle est  votre nationalité?”, “C’est drôle, je croyais que vous veniez de la Chine.” – “On se le demandait parce que ça se voit que vous n’êtes pas d’ici.” – “Je me le demandais parce que j’ai un collègue qui vient du Vietnam.” – “… parce que je m’en vais en voyage en Thaïlande dans deux semaines”, etc.

b) ta réponse à la question “quelle est ta nationalité?” est suivie d’autres questions ou commentaires tels que “je veux dire ta vraie nationalité” -“je veux dire la nationalité de tes parents?”- “c’était quoi ta nationalité avant de devenir Canadienne?” – etc.

3. des inconnus te demandent ton ethnie ou plus précisément ils demandent si tu es Chinoise, Vietnamienne ou Japonaise.

4. a)  tu es avec tes parents et les gens te parlent en anglais alors qu’ils parlent à tes parents en français,  même vous leur avez dit que tu parles français.

b) les Québécois  blancs  te disent que tu parles bien le français ou ils te félicitent de si bien parler le français.

c) ils te parlent très tranquillement (en français) pour être sûr que tu les comprennes.

5. on te menace de te faire du mal ou on te fait du mal (verbalement ou physiquement) parce que tu as une face de Chinoise.

6. tu entends une enfant demander pourquoi tu es différente puis sa mère lui répondre (touchant la partie du nez de l’enfant où la tienne est plate) : “C’est parce que gens-là, ils n’ont pas ceci.”

7. tes parents t’emmènent à une église de communauté coréenne (car  tu ne parles pas leur langue et tes parents sont différents des autres parents et tu te sens seule, rejetée et différente autant que quand tu es à l’école ).

8. a) des inconnus ou voisins t’appellent “la maudite Chinoise” ou “la p’tite Chinoise”.

b) un(e) enfant crie en te pointant du doigt, “Regarde maman, une Chinoise!”

c) un(e)/des enfant(s) te fixent des yeux (manifestement à cause de tes yeux bridés ou quand des adultes te regardent (manifestement parce que tu as une apparence d’étrangère) .

9.  au lendemain du jour de ton premier vote, une collègue de classe en colère sous-entends que tu n’es qu’une immigrante qui ne devrait pas avoir le droit de voter.

10. ton vote au référendum s’appelle “un vote ethnique”, alors que les votes de tes parents s’appellent “liberté de choix”.

11.  a) on te dit que tu n’as qu’à retourner dans ton pays si tu n’es pas contente.

b) tu es anxieuse à chaque fois que tu entends un(e) Québécois(e) blanc(he) dire: “qu’ils retournent dans leurs pays s’ils sont pas contents.”

12. ta collègue de classe dit que son chum hait les immigrés, puis elle te regarde et  te dit: “oups, je m’excuse, mais c’est ça, j’y peux rien.” (Sachant que ta collègue est d’origine italienne, tu te dis alors que si seulement tu avais la peau de tes parents, personne ne te rejetterait.)

13. a) au moment où tu es devant la porte de ton appartement (à Montréal),  tu entends une femme qui visite l’immeuble demander au concierge: “Y en-as-tu ben gros des gens comme elle, ici?” et tu entends le concierge lui répondre à voix basse qu’il n’y a pas trop de gens comme toi.

b) ta mère te fait remarquer que dans l’immeuble de son condo en Floride, il n’y a pas de Noirs (parce que selon un règlement de condo tout acheteur doit être référé par un propriétaire de condo et être approuvé  pas tous les membres du conseil d’administration. “C’est raciste”, te dit-elle, “mais  la présence des Noirs dévalueraient les prix des condos”) et tu remarques qu’il n’y a pas non plus d’Asiatiques (très probablement pour la même raison) et tu te rappelles ce jour où une femme blanche a dit en parlant de toi, “Y en-as-tu ben gros des gens comme elle ici?”

c) tu visites des maisons et ta tante qui t’accompagne pour t’aider dans le choix d’une maison te dit, “N’achète pas ici, c’est pas bon. Il y en a trop de ces gens-là (des familles musulmanes); toutes ces voiles (femmes musulmanes) vont faire dévaluer ta maison et plus tard tu n’arriveras jamais à la revendre à un bon prix… ” et tu ne peux t’empêcher de penser que d’autres ne veulent pas louer un appartement  ou acheter une maison où il y a trop de gens comme toi.

14. a) les immigrés te disent que tu n’es pas une immigrée mais une vraie Québécoise.

b) les “gens comme toi” disent que tu n’es pas comme eux, mais que tu es une vraie Québécoise.

15. a)   une preuve de résidence est  requise  pour t’inscrire à un cours hors programme (parce que tu n’es pas née ici), alors que tu es étudiante graduée à temps plein dans la même université où est donné le cours.

b) une preuve de résidence est  requise pour t’inscrire à un cours universitaire recommandé pour ton emploi (parce que tu n’es pas née ici), alors que tu es enseignante à temps plein dans le même lieu où est donné le cours.

c) une secrétaire te dit: ” Je connais un prof qui est né en Ontario et qui devait prouver sa résidence au Québec. C’est encore pire pour lui.” Puis, elle te redit de différentes manières afin que tu comprennes que ce qui est exigé de toi est tout à fait normal puisque tu es née à l’extérieur du pays, alors que c’est injuste pour une personne née au Canada.

16.  les compliments sont accompagnés du message que tu ne fais pas partie des leurs, mais d’un autre peuple, par exemple: “Vous autres, les Asiatiques, vous avez de si beaux cheveux” – “Ces gens-là ont de si beaux cheveux.” – “Vous êtes si mince. Je suis curieuse. Est-ce parce que vous vous nourrissez si bien, les Asiatiques, ou parce que vous faites attention à votre ligne?” – “Vous autres, vous êtes bons en maths.” – “Ces peuples-là sont des gens très travaillants.”

17. tes propres parents blâment l’hérédité ou la génétique pour tes défauts.

18. les autres enfants de ton père prennent des photos de famille et disent: “on va prendre une photo de papa avec les enfants”, puis “on va prendre une photo de papa avec la fille et la belle-fille” et tu ne fais pas partie des photos famille.

19. ton chum dit en blague qu’il travaille à l’immigration, qu’il t’a trouvée à l’immigration ou que tu serais une bonne geisha et sa famille et tes “amis” d’église rient de ses blagues.

20. a) l’enfant de ton chum rit de tes yeux bridés et ton chum le laisse faire.

b) les petits-enfants de ton amie d’église font des blagues à propos de Japonaises en tirant les paupières devant toi et ton amie rit avec eux.

b) la mère de ton chum te téléphone pour que tu acceptes l’invitation de son fils à aller dans sa famille, mais elle dit incessamment qu’elle ne veut plus de petits-enfants et qu’elle en a bien assez de petits-enfants; et le jour qu’elle devient ta belle-mère, elle dit à la réception de ton mariage qu’elle ne veut pas avoir de petits-enfants (venant de toi).

21. ta tante te demande si tu peux différencier un Chinois d’un Coréen ou d’un Japonais parce que tous les Asiatiques sont pareils selon elle, “mais toi qui es Coréenne, tu devrais pouvoir les différencier”; tu lui a déjà répondu (que tu ne pouvais pas car tu es une Blanche avec les perceptions des Blancs, mais elle continue de ramener cette question à chaque fois que tu la vois.

22. ta tante te dit: “on a acheté une belle p’tite auto coréenne, es-tu contente? Elle vient de la Corée comme toi.”

23. a) lors d’une fête (jour de l’an, Noël, etc), quelqu’un te demande comment on célèbre cette fête dans ton pays.

b) des gens te posent des questions sur la culture de ton pays (de naissance) ou ta langue (maternelle).

24.  tu lis sur le site web de la Fédération des Québécois de souche que tu n’appartiens pas au peuple dont fait partie ta famille à cause de ton sang.

25. tu te joins au groupe de Meetup, Montreal Korean Language & Culture Centre, pour  réapprendre ta “langue maternelle” qui est devenue une langue étrangère (car tu n’appartiens pas au groupe de Coréens à cause de ta langue et ta culture québécoise, et tu n’appartiens pas non plus au groupe des non-Coréens à cause de ton physique).

26. tu songes à retourner vivre dans le pays d’où tu viens et tu apprends que tu n’as pas la citoyenneté de ton pays de naissance.

Partie B) Tu sais que tu n’appartiens nulle part quand…

1. tu es en voyage dans le pays d’où tu viens.

2.  les questions qui te sont posées par des inconnus dans le pays où tu vis te sont posées dans le pays d’où tu viens, à savoir “d’où tu viens?”, “es-tu Chinoise? Japonaise?”, suivies de “alors, comment se fait-il que tu ne parles notre langue?”

3. un adopté de ton groupe de voyage se fait attaquer par des jeunes parce qu’il est n’est pas Coréen, mais un Américain.

4. des inconnus t’abordent dans les rues ou  tu veux les aborder (mais tu ne comprends pas leur langue).

5. tu poses une question à tes amis (“pourquoi la Corée envoie encore ses enfants en adoption alors qu’elle est si riche maintenant?”) et l’un d’eux te répond en colère: “YOU, you say “you” to your fathers, you speak to your fathers the same way you speak to your dogs, but we don’t criticize you, so don’t criticize US!!!!” [VOUS, vous dites “tu” à vos pères,  vous parlez à vos pères de la même façon que vous parlez à vos  chiens, mais nous ne vous critiquons pas, alors ne NOUS critique pas!!!”]

6. tu te retrouves avec ta famille qui a le même sang que toi (car tu ne comprends pas leur langue et tu es de culture québécoise et eux sont de culture coréenne).

This is a list (not ordered) of some of the moments when I know (knew) that I don’t belong (didn’t belong) anywhere in the country where I live (Part A) and in the country where I came from (Part B). It is basically my own personal experience as a Korean adopted to Quebec.

Part A) You know you don’t belong anywhere when…

1. strangers ask you where you’re from or your nationality.

2. a) your answer to the question “Where are you from?” is followed by more questions or comments such as “Where are you really from?”- “I mean what’s your country of origin?”- “I meant where you were born?” -“I mean what’s your nationality?” – “Funny, I thought you were from China” – “We were wondering because it’s obvious you’re not from here”- “I was wondering because I have a colleague from Vietnam.” “… because I’m going on a trip to Thailand in two weeks,”etc.

b) your answer to the question “what is your nationality?” is followed by more questions or comments such as I mean your real nationality” – “I mean the nationality of your parents?” – “What was your nationality before becoming Canadian?” etc.

3.  strangers ask you your ethnicity, or more precisely they ask you if you’re Chinese, Vietnamese or Japanese.

4 a) you’re with your parents and people speak to you in English while they speak to your parents in French, even if you told them that you speak French.

b) white born Quebecers tell you that you speak French well or they congratulate you for speaking their language so well.

c) they speak  to you very slowly (in French) to be sure you understand them.

5. you’re threatened (verbally or physically) because you have a Chinese face.

6. you hear a child asking how you’re different and her mother replying (touching the part of the child’s nose where yours is flat): “It is because these people don’t have this. ”

7. your parents bring you to a Korean community church and you realize you don’t speak their language and your parents are different than other parents and you feel alone, rejected and different as much as when you’re at school.

8 a) strangers or neighbors call you “”Lil’ Chinese” or “damned Chinese””

b) a child says pointing at you, “Look mom, a Chinese!”

c) a child/children stare at you (obviously because of your slant eyes), or adults look at you (obviously because you have a foreign appearance).

9. the day after your first vote, a classmate in anger implies that you’re an immigrant who shouldn’t have the right to vote.

10. your vote in the referendum is called “ethnic vote”, while the votes of your parents are called “freedom of choice”.

11. a) you’re told to go back to your country if you’re not happy.

b) you’re anxious every time you hear a white Quebecer saying, “they can go back to their country if they’re not happy.”

12. your classmate says her boyfriend hates immigrants, then she looks at you and says, “oops, I’m sorry, but that’s it, I can’t do anything.” (Knowing that your colleague is of Italian descent, you say yourself that if only you had the skin of your (adoptive) parents , no one would ever reject you.)

13. a) while  you’re in front of your apartment door (in Montreal), you hear a woman who visits the building asking the janitor, “Are they many people like her, here?” and you hear the janitor replying her in a whisper that there are not too many people like you.

b) your mother points out to you that in her condo building in Florida, there are no black people (because according to a condo rule, any buyer has to be referred by a condo owner and has to be approved by all the board members. “It’s racist,” she says to you, “but the presence of blacks would devaluate the condos”) and you notice that there are no Asian either (most likely for the same reason), and you remember that day when a white Quebecer said of you, “Are they many people like her?”

c) you’re visiting houses and your aunt who accompanies you to help you in choosing a house tells you, “Don’t buy here, it won’t be good. There are too many of these people (Muslim families); all these veils (muslim women) will devalue your house and later you’ll never get to sell it at a good price … ” and you can not help but to think that people don’t want to rent an apartment or buy a house where there are too many people like you either.

14. a) immigrants say you’re not an immigrant, but you are a real Quebecer.

b) “people like you” say you’re not like them, but you’re a real Quebecer”

15 a) proof of residency is required to enroll to an extracurricular course (because you were not born here), while you’re full-time graduate student at the same university where the course is given.

b) proof of residency is required to enroll to a recommended course for your job (because you’re not born here) while you’re a full-time teacher in the same place where the course is given.

c) a secretary tells you,”I know a teacher who was born in Ontario and yet he had to prove residence in Quebec. It’s even worse for him.”  Then she repeats you in different ways so that you understand what is required of you is quite normal since you were born outside the country, but it’s unjust for a person born in Canada.

16. a) compliments come with the message that you are not part of them, but part of another people.  For example: “You, Asians, you have such beautiful hair” – “These people have such beautiful hair .” – “You’re so thin. Is it because you Asian people eat so well or  because you  watch your figure?” – “You guys are good at math.” – “These people are hard working people.”

17. your own parents blame heredity or genetics for your faults.

18. the other children of your father take family pictures and say “lets take a picture of dad with the kids,” and then “lets a picture of dad with the daughter and daughter-in-law,” and you ‘re not in their family pictures.

19. a) your boyfriend jokingly says he works for the immigration, that he found you at the immigration or that you’d be a good geisha and his family and your “friends” of churh laugh at his jokes.

b) the grandchildren of your church friend say bad jokes about Japanese women pulling their eyelids at you and your friend laughs with them.

20. a) the child of your boyfriends laughs at your slant eyes and your boyfriend lets him do.

b) the mother of your boyfriend calls you on the phone to beg you to come to their family party, but she says incessantly that she doesn’t want any more grandchildren or that she has enough of grandchildren; and again the day she becomes your mother-in-law, at the reception of your marriage, she tells everyone that she doesn’t want any grandchild from you.

21. your aunt asks you if you can differentiate a Korean from Chinese or Japanese because  Asians are all alike according to her, “but you who are Korean, you should be able to differentiate”; you already answered her (that you can’t because you’re a white person with the perception of white person), but she continues to bring this issue every time you see her.

22. your aunt tells you, “we bought a nice Korean car, are you happy? It comes from Korea just like you.”

23. a) during a party (Christmas, New Year Day, etc), someone asks you how they celebrate it in your country?

b) people  ask questions about your culture or your mother tongue.

24.  you read on the website of the Fédération des Québécois de souche that you don’t belong to the people  which your family belongs to.

25. you join the Meetup group, Montreal Korean Language & Culture Centre, to relearn your “mother tongue” which became a foreign language (because you don’t belong neither to the group of Koreans because of your language and your Quebec culture, nor the group of non-Koreans because of your body.

26. you’re thinking of returning to the country where you come from and you learn that you don’t have the citizenship and you would need to do the same steps that a foreign born person to recover your citizenship.

Part B) You know you don’t belong anywhere when…

1. you’re in the country where you came from.

2. the questions asked to you by strangers in the country where you live are asked to you by strangers in the  country where you come from, namely “where are you from?”, “Are you Chinese? Japanese?” followed by “so how is it that you do not speak our language?”

3. an adoptee of your group is attacked  because he’s not a Korean, but he’s an American.

4. strangers speak to you or you want  to ask question to them because you don’t neither speak nor understand their language.

5. you ask a question to your friends (“why Korea still sends her children for adoption when it is so rich now?”) And one of them responds angrily: “YOU, you say “you” to your fathers; you speak to your fathers the same way you speak to your dogs, but we don’t criticize you, so don’t criticize US !!!!”

6. you find yourself with your family who has the same blood as you (because you do not understand their language and Quebec culture you are and they are Korean culture).

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