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The Janchi Show hosts pose together for a photo. Patrick (middle) has his arms around KJ (left) and Nathan (right).

Representation & Visibility: Reflections on a weekend at KAAN


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This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at KAAN, an adoptee conference, in Chicago, Illinois. The theme of the year was “Representation and Visibility,” and my session was named “Speaking With(Out) Words.”

This was my first time at KAAN, and it was my first time in a group of adoptees that numbered over 30 (KAAN was sold out this year, with 350 attendees). I usually approach large groups of intergenerational adoptees with…caution…so I was a bit nervous going into the weekend. Being a speaker felt like a safe way to approach. Given my past history of speaking on stage, it was something familiar enough to retreat into.

My Breakout Session

I was a co-host with previous guest of the Janchi Show (and all-around good guy), Jon Hurley. Our session’s full title was “Speaking With(Out) Words: Adoptees & Creative Expression.” The goal of our session was twofold:

  • Come away with tools and experience digging into our emotions and communicating effectively with others.
  • Using our own vocabulary, we’ll move past the language of the “fog” and into moments that spark creativity in ourselves and others to see better stories/art/work that give our community cathartic reflection.

For the first time ever, I told my story through the lens of the adoptee consciousness model. It was awesome and empowering; it broke me out of the tired rhythm of “I was adopted from Daegu, South Korea at 6 months old and grew up in Texas….”

Jon told his story in the more classic method (you can hear his full story on his podcast episode), and in feedback given after the session, hearing two, very different stories told two ways was a great way to set up the work of the session.

KJ (left) and Jon (right) pose together.

Practice Makes….Practice

After we told our stories, I encouraged our attendees to explore and share their own stories, focusing on one particular touchstone of the adoptee consciousness model to find a moment that sparked curiosity or a moment to stay and dig deeper into the language of that moment/experience. For example, the touchstone “Rupture” is often associated with the language of “coming out of the fog,” or in my own language, rupture was the moment of my adoption apocalypse.

By considering our journeys through the language of the adoptee consciousness model, we find moments to sit in emotions and an overarching idea/narrative/framework to house those emotions in. When I wrote my song To The Dawn, even though I didn’t have this language, it speaks to the movement through Rupture to Expansiveness (among other things).

After we called the attendees back from their breakout discussions, Jon and I listened to what they talked about and made some music to reflect what was said, and then asked the rest of the group for immediate feedback on what was created to see how it felt.

How it went

Overall, the feedback we got from attendees seemed positive, and I think that if anyone had negative feedback, they didn’t feel the need to say it to our faces. People seemed to enjoy the music Jon and I made, which is fine, and I wish they had said more about feeling empowered to speak up or speak out about adoptee story lines and art in the future. Notes for next time, I guess.

Standout Moments

An unordered collection of wonderful moments, or moments that made me reflect.

Friday Night Dinner

Some friends and I ditched the adoptee dinner and met up with Patrick Armstrong and his family. It was a great opportunity to hang with him, his wife and his new son. We ate at a Perilla, a (delicious) Korean American joint, and I felt my body relax. It was a privilege to simply be with friends and loved ones who understand the intersection of Asian American and adoptee, and to also not have to talk about adoptee stuff.

Posing for Photos & Queer Joy

Queer! Queer! Queer! Queer!”

Saturday night was a gala dinner and photo time. I got teary watching the LGBTQIA+ group gather for a photo, chanting “Queer!” with vibrant enthusiasm. My word for the year is embodiment, and as their photo was taken I wondered if I would ever love myself and my body as loudly and proudly as they did in that moment.

It was also the first moment I stood amongst a group of disabled adoptees for a photo to be taken, and it was a powerful moment for me. I’ve never been a part of a group that so closely matched my many points of identity intersection: disabled, adoptee, Asian American, post-religious. To be seen and to be visible in this way was truly wonderful.

“Where are you from?”

I met Adam King, the founder of 1587 Sneakers and got to know him a bit over the few days. In my head he was Korean, but as we got to talking and he shared his family’s story about how they got their last name immigrating to the U.S., I realized I was wrong. I then proceeded to ask, “Where are you from?


He’s a great guy and we laughed it off—it’s clear I didn’t mean it in the same way we’ve always heard it—however, I clearly have a long way to go working out the internalized racist language and vocabulary I’ve been given.

Expressive (Body) Language

KAAN is dedicated to creating equitable and accessible spaces for all, and this was made clear by the number of signers present in sessions and the Deaf community members there. As I watched ASL interpreters, further compounding my awe of translators’ abilities, I also noticed how they moved their bodies. There was so much more personality conveyed through body movements (beyond the hands/arms/face), and again I found myself looking inwards, noting that the only time I moved like that (and enjoyed it) was when dancing.

In one session, as an interpreter translated for an attendee, I noticed the speech patterns they used. There were “ums” and moments of hesitation that, of course, would be obvious if I were able to sign/understand ASL natively, but for some reason, I thought translators would edit more. The fact that they didn’t was powerful and challenged my perception of speech, language and the editing process.

Closing Thoughts

I don’t really have a summary of thoughts, so I guess I’ll leave it at another, shorter list of points in no particular order.

  • I engage with intergenerational transracial adoptee groups with caution, and I am grateful to KAAN for the safe space they build and encourage.
  • It is wonderful to be able to finally stop code-switching and to simply be among my people.
  • It is wonderful to have a group that I call “my people” with no imposter syndrome baggage.
  • I met a lot of really wonderful people, I’m excited to see how our relationship grows, and I’m grateful to live in the digital age where that is both possible and easy.
  • I am glad I went, and I’m not sure if I’ll go again (though I’m certainly open to it).
  • I was given a lot of stuff to write and think about, and I’m optimistic about creating more music in the future.
  • As always, I am grateful the for The Janchi Show and the way it (and my cohosts) have changed my life.


One response to “Representation & Visibility: Reflections on a weekend at KAAN”

  1. Sally Verstraete Avatar
    Sally Verstraete

    Thank you for the meaningful session you led with Jon. Witnessing you use the Adoptee Consciousness Model and your guitar to tell your story was inspiring to me to think of different ways in which I can tell and express my stories, as well as ways to encourage others to express themselves. It does also inspire me to support other Adoptees who use creative arts. Also, thank you for sharing your experiences of the conference here. Someone said that writing can convey empathy for the reader and writer, which is what I felt here. I also love listening to the Janchi Show. Thank you for everything that you do for our community.

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