An idea that is often lost among the list of cultural differences between Korea and America is the importance of lineage. America is very individual-focused and therefore a person is often seen as distinctly separate from their bloodline, family name, family unit, etc. It is not a defining characteristic. Just because your father was a doctor, teacher, locksmith, etc. does not mean you have to follow him into that profession.
This is not necessarily so in Korea. It is very collective. You should always think of and do what is best for the group. For your family. Consider how your actions reflect on the family name. You cannot selfishly choose whatever you want to do or be. You must always see things in light of the welfare of the family.
I have thought a lot about this lately. Of course, it has always been a consideration in the back of my mind since my birth family reunion six years ago. How my family “explained me” to their friends, neighbors, or even strangers. The long-lost daughter come home. But why couldn’t I speak Korean? Where had I been all these years?
I have more been thinking lately of what this whole family story has meant to my brothers, specifically my Seong-bae Oppa 성배오빠. It really hit me on our recent visit back to Seoul for his wedding. The whole event was a big to-do, more for the parents than for anyone else, bride and groom included. A very big production, a show for the guests, many of whom were business associates, attending as part of the cultural compulsion to pay respects to the happy couple on their special day. I asked a lot of questions the whole time and tried to wrap my head around the thing, as it was so different from what I was used to back home in the States.
Omma 엄마 and Appa 아빠 talked a lot about the bride. Of her profession, the university she went to, her family, her father’s occupation, and on and on and on. Things that I would think, “Who cares?!” but were obviously very important to them. They were proud to join our families together with hers. They would reflect well on us and vice versa. It wasn’t just a day about love; it sort of felt like a business transaction. (Though Seong-bae 성배and Unni 언니 are obviously very much in love!)
So I began to think, “If this is how they are considering her family, how much more is the groom’s family being scrutinized?” I began to think as a Korean, measuring “us” against “them.” (I feel so dirty even putting it that way!) I was feeling pretty good about us 전 Jeons until I remembered something. I gasped and felt suddenly very ashamed. Were the bride’s parents considering me? The family secret? The daughter who had been given away?
I wrestled a long time with this idea. I have talked before of how my utmost concern in birth family reunion was how it would affect my brothers. I wish only the absolute best for them and would never want to cause any issue for either of them. So the thought of being a “dirty mark” on my brother’s scorecard was devastating. Was the whole community judging my family because they had sent me away?
I have not been able to talk with my brother about this. I really hope to one day, along with his wife. I don’t know how honest they will be with me; of course, they won’t want me to feel bad. But I really wonder about those conversations that were held behind closed doors. Did her parents not want her to marry Seong-bae 성배? Did they consider my family to be bad people because they had not been able to take care of me 30 years ago? At what point did they find out about me? When did Seong-bae 성배 tell her about me? When they were dating? Engaged?
This is not meant to sound self-centered, but I just know enough of Korean culture to know that these things reflect back on a family. The point is not about me – it is about how my existence affects them. And if I were ever to put them, especially my beloved Oppa 오빠, in a bad spot, how devastated I would be.
Have other adoptees ever considered this type of situation when talking about cultural differences? Sound off in the comments!
Have you connected with us? Find us on these social media outlets and get to know us better!
© We the Lees, 2016. All Rights Reserved