I had a wonderful time at KAAN 2015; it was easily the most rewarding gathering I’ve attended this year. I’d like to express my gratitude to Stacy Schroeder, Kimberly McKee, and the rest of the KAAN advisory board for putting together such a wonderful conference. One could write about the KAAN experience and capture how welcoming, respectful, challenging, and humbling the environment is, but it’s difficult to convey what makes the experience so special. It brings together people from disparate places and backgrounds, and lays bare facets of people’s lives, adoptees in particular, that are too complicated to explain to others in their everyday lives. It creates a sense of normality that isn’t apparent until you reflect on what you’re usually not able to talk about, a liberating feeling that you’re among ‘your own’, that you can fully let your guard down. I truly appreciate KAAN because it gives Korean adoptees the opportunity to be themselves as dignified, nuanced individuals, not their race or adoptive status. The KAAN experience allows us to be who we want to be, to show us what is possible for our relationships, and it exhibits what I love about our community.
When we’re able to engage on complicated topics like the #BlackLivesMatter movement, white privilege, the hypersexualization of Asian women, just to name a few from this year’s conference, and have a frank conversation among open-minded participants that are eager to learn, our whole community benefits. When put out in the open, the experiences that tend to isolate the people they affect are connected to personal stories that move others, and convert former bystanders into allies. A notable example that comes to mind was hearing accounts from the white spouses of Korean adoptees who developed a new appreciation for their partners and have a much more nuanced perspective of American social life since learning about white privilege at KAAN. These sorts of conversations bridge understandings and create a larger, more diverse community where everyone’s experiences and perspectives are appreciated. Serious moments like these allow us to reflect upon and perhaps even tend to wounds that have been present for years. The sort of honesty, camaraderie, and vulnerability displayed at KAAN helps to vanquish shame and make participants more content.
But it’s not just the serious moments that resonate. Hanging out with the Lost Daughters slugged out on a large couch, and having the hotel staff ask us politely to take our whiskey and vodka handles back to wherever we’d brought it from had me laughing. Piecing together hazy memories of the night before at a waffle house had me laughing even harder. Stories of college frugality in which stems were removed from cherries to shave off a few cents of weight reminded me of the ridiculous things I used to do as an impoverished student. All of these lighthearted experiences hold weight, as they are times in which we’re all keenly aware of somehow being connected to a collective Korean adoptee experience, but it brings participants closer, rather than serving as a collection of experiences that create distance with the people that usually surround us.
Great communities are very skilled at communicating the message, “You are welcome and you are not alone,” and in this respect, KAAN is very successful. I was able to have some face-to-face conversations that I haven’t been able to have in a long time. No one had to worry about having to answer abrupt, othering questions about where they were ‘really’ from, or responding to asinine comments about other Orientals met in years past.
Everyone needs to have an experience like KAAN, everyone needs to feel like a part of a community, and LGA is inspired by uniting experiences like these. The reassurance of community rapport and mutual respect is liberating, and allows people to be at their uninhibited best. Living as a person of color in America is complicated. Living as an adoptee is complicated. However, having experiences like KAAN allow us to have the empowering ability to embrace ambiguity, but still feel ‘normal’ and a part of something bigger than ourselves. And to be a part of a community when you’re used to fundamental aspects of yourself being isolating, it is the best feeling in the world.
I love our community, the conversations we’re able to have, and the relationships we’re able to create. Let’s continue to grow together.