I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what exactly the sum of my experience might mean. When I look at it all spread out, in those times–in those originally rare but increasingly possible times I can begin to denude my understanding of my experience from what other people told me I was experiencing–my story appears to me as an anthology rather than a singular narrative. In many ways being a transracial adoptee from another continent breaks the conventional definition of appropriation, as it breaks the meaning of so many other words.
I’ve wondered who I am trying to be when I get dressed, buy food, choose which book I’ll read, for years that turned into decades. When I learned about appropriation, I wondered if there was a culture I could identify with that I wouldn’t feel I was just emptily aping. I searched for meaning and symbolism and found them in abundance but my knowledge did nothing to cure the familiar feelings of placelessness.
I did not feel Korean so much as I felt sorted into a “Korean” category by those with a surer sense of their world. I felt American until peers, teachers, and strangers complimented me on my English or asked me to translate something from Japanese. I began to feel kindred with punk until I realized that my suburban, non-Aryan background necessitated a fearlessness I didn’t have the energy to summon. I opened myself to outsiders with a guilelessness that suggested no understanding of the normal emotional and sexual abuses that come with residing in an othered body in a racialized, sexualized, oppressive hierarchy. And then I became very selective.
Eventually, painfully, I started to become strong.