Last night I asked my husband if he thinks I look Korean. Which is kind of a weird question since I am. Well, at least I’m 99.9% sure. And for most things, that’s a pretty satisfying number. After all, that’s nearly a sure bet. And companies market this almost guarantee all the time. Soap that kills 99.9% bacteria. Birth control that prevents pregnancy 99.9% of the time. Curtains that block out 99.9% light. Beauty products that hide 99.9% of you. But what happens when life drops you into that tenth of a percent? Because very few things in life are a true guarantee.

It’s a small number but don’t be fooled. It has the power to present itself with incredible fear. And when that relative guarantee is practically laughing at you, you find yourself falling victim to the uncontrolled panic. My oldest was born out of that tenth of a percent. So I know what it’s like to struggle through that panic and fear. But out of great fear, came great joy. Overcoming the odds with triumph is a marvelous feeling. So now I’m on a path to rise above another disparity.

There was a pretty epic football game on television last night. Well, epic by allegiant Minnesota and Wisconsin fans. I have a pretty indifferent opinion on all things sports but I married a sports enthusiast and gave birth to his like-offspring. So I’m kind of forced to tolerate it since game sounds echo my house on a regular basis. But that’s okay. I usually plant myself in the recliner and spend time writing or reading. And last night was no exception, despite the “big game.” So I spent some time revisiting an old blog. One that captured a handful of my experiences when I lived in South Korea, almost nine years ago. I took a little stroll down memory lane. Memories that seem like such a lifetime ago. But ones that I will be forever grateful for. They helped me grow closer to my identity. The one that I’m 99.9% sure about…

I stared at one particular photo for a little while. It was a picture of myself, my Caucasian {American} roommate and then two other friends I met there {native Korean girls}. Out and about-30Something about it had me gripping that tenth of a percent and wondering if there might be something else about my life that I just won’t ever be guaranteed to know. For all the moments I spent looking at the photo, I was reminded of something my {adoptive} mother once told me. I can’t remember if it was an old friend of hers or a distant relative but nevertheless, a gentleman told her that he didn’t believe I was 100% Korean. After spending time fighting in the Korean War, he felt he was justified in telling her that I don’t look authentically Korean. I’ll never understand why he felt compelled to tell her that. {Or why she even bothered to reveal that to me}. I was born in Pusan/Busan and placed in the foster care system for seven months before I was adopted. I’ve always identified as a Korean-adoptee. I’m actually very proud of where I come from. But the moment I was given reason to believe otherwise, I found myself fearing that tenth of a percent I didn’t even know existed. Unless you’ve been presented with something similar where you’re unsure where you come from or what you come from, you likely can’t empathize what kind of loneliness it can bring. I think for most people who are adopted, there’s always an array of questionable thoughts that come up at some point or another. But when your entire race and ethnicity gets questioned, you’re left with a whole new can of complex worms.

I’m pretty good at suppressing things. It’s a terrible thing to be good at. But it’s my fight or flight response. And I’ve learned how to work through life with it. So for the most part, I don’t let this small fraction define me on a daily basis. But then again, what does define me?? In case you’re wondering what my husband’s response was, he answered with sometimes. I didn’t ask any further questions because 1) I rarely ask deep or thought provoking questions when he’s watching a game that includes a favorite team and 2) he was half sleeping on the couch {which kind of negates the whole watching his favorite team but whatever. Ha}. I can only speculate since I didn’t outright ask him to elaborate on his response. But he’s an avid golfer. Avid is putting it lightly. More like fanatical. Devoted. Borderline obsessed. Yes. All of those. Anyhow, if you’re not in-tune with the PGA then you won’t know this but many of the top LPGA players come from South Korea. They have a huge presence on the tour. And I think much of his answer comes from the large exposure of Korean women that he sees on TV, fairly regularly. I hardly resemble the majority, outside of my petite figure. {Although, I’ve also been told I swing a golf club just like the Korean pros. Which is both weird and neat. I think?} And that begs the question – is it all about nature versus nurture? Is this the reason why I might be observed as not being authentic…because I didn’t actually grow up there? And I’ve outgrown my roots?

During my time over there, I observed much of this dilemma. It didn’t take long for many natives to recognize that I wasn’t Korean-raised. I got intriguing looks all the time but I never once got the apprehension that I didn’t belong there. In fact, it’s the only place in the world where I have ever felt that I belonged. I could walk the streets and feel comfortable in my own skin. Never feeling out of place. Never feeling judged. Never feeling inferior. It was glorious. But then I would stop and talk. And people would nod and smile in a way that said oh yes, now it makes sense. You can believe I learned how to say Korean-American almost before I learned how to say hello. So there I am, trying to identify with one culture, using another culture. It was a bizarre but fascinating experience. And in the back of my mind I’m wondering…can they tell if I’m authentically Korean? Can they validate my concerns? Can they put that man in his place and confirm my existence? And the answer?? No. No one really can. Except my biological parents, of course. But since that’s not on my agenda, I have to just assume what I feel deep inside. I have to be confident with a fearless heart and soul. Korean. Yes, I am 99.9% 100% Korean. And I’m determined not to let anyone else take that away from me. So the next time you come across something that guarantees just 99.9%, pause for a brief moment. Even though the favorable odds aren’t likely to affect you, what if they do? Will you be ready to face them with courage?


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