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Tracing my story through the adoptee consciousness model

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As I prepare to speak at KAAN 2024, I’ve been working through the adoptee consciousness model developed by JaeRan Kim, Susan F. Branco, Grace Newton, Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, and Paula O’Loughlin. Dr. Branco, Grace Newton and Dr. Kim have all graciously posted the paper on their sites so that adoptees and others can read it without the paywall.

The five of us wanted to post this as an open-access article because we want our own adoptee community to be able to access it. Peer-review journal articles are paywalled if you do not have university library access. Furthermore, Susan, Grace, and I are all posting the paper on our respective websites.

JaeRan Kim, Harlows-monkey.com

In this post, I’d like to share my own notes as I prepare to speak at KAAN this year.

Background

The adoptee consciousness model is a way to help adoptees expand the conversation of their experience beyond the phrase “out of the fog” and into an exploration of what comes next. For my part, I’ve written about exiting the fog as a moment of apocalypse, and I’ve realized that the moment I call “an apocalypse” could also be categorized as a return to the “dissonance” portion of the model.

So, although I’ve covered parts of my experience in other places (linked throughout), here is a more expansive recounting of my life as an adoptee through the lens of the adoptee consciousness model.


Status Quo

Definition: Believing the dominant narrative of adoption which employs only affirmative or asset-based perspectives about adoption. Does not or will not question individual or structural factors leading to adoption.

Table 1, p. 12, Out of the Fog and into Consciousness: A Model of Adoptee Awareness by Susan F. Branco, JaeRan Kim, Grace Newton, Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, and Paula O’Loughlin

My status quo was accepting that my adoption was most likely due to my being born disabled. Though I wasn’t “grateful” in the sense of “being rescued,” I certainly accepted that my adoption was most likely a necessity due to socio-economic factors. I did not think critically about why other children were put up for adoption, and simply assumed that it was for related reasons—namely, the parents’ ability to give adequate care for their child.

Dissonance

Definition: The tension or contradiction between what seems to be opposing beliefs or truths. Adoptees experiencing dissonance may feel emotional pain, anguish, anger, angst, or dysregulation from the awareness brought to light during the rupture.

Table 1, p. 13, Out of the Fog and into Consciousness: A Model of Adoptee Awareness by Susan F. Branco, JaeRan Kim, Grace Newton, Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, and Paula O’Loughlin

Growing up, I knew I was Korean. In fact, my parents helped me celebrate my ethnic heritage: I was given books by Korean American author Linda Sue Park, and my parents never shied away from my searching out anything of East Asian culture (usually, Chinese). I don’t think it bothered me—being Korean with a white family—because my sister was adopted from Russia and my parents never made race a big deal. In fact, we never talked about race at all, except for one time when my black science fair partner was at my house and my dad remarked “this never would’ve happened when I was your age.” When I asked him what he meant, he simply explained that Black and White people weren’t allowed to co-mingle.

In my early years, I continually sought out Asian things to feel connected to the country I left, but Korean culture was much harder to come by in the early 2000s than it is now. I didn’t like feeling so disconnected from who I was, so anything even slightly East Asian that I stumbled upon became a part of my identity for a time. I went back to Korea the summer after my seventh grade year on a homeland tour with my adoption agency. With my growing Christian faith becoming a larger part of my identity, my desire to reconnect with Korean culture waned. I still wanted to try and “be Korean,” but I fell short so often I gave up the dream. I told myself that it was enough to “die to myself” (Luke 9:23–26)—to be a good Christian and a good Roelke, a phrase which I now understand as code for “an honorary White person.”

From this point until 2020, I fell back into “status quo.”

Rupture

Encountering information or experiencing an incident or event that disrupts the status quo. Discovers own or others’ adoption information is inaccurate, false, unethical, and/or illegal. For transracial adoptees, they may realize they are seen as BIPOC despite internal identification as White.

Table 1, p. 12-13, Out of the Fog and into Consciousness: A Model of Adoptee Awareness by Susan F. Branco, JaeRan Kim, Grace Newton, Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, and Paula O’Loughlin

When quarantine (due to COVID-19) was first enacted in March 2020 and the negative rhetoric from the President of the United States pointed the blame at China and Chinese people, some part of my brain remembered Japanese internment. I saw violence enacted against Asian Americans on the coasts, and the day six women were killed in Atlanta spa shootings I was on a “fun” staff retreat with my White coworkers who were either oblivious to the shooting or oblivious to what it meant to me. To be fair, I didn’t know that I would be so affected until I read more from other Asian American accounts online and had my Japanese American friend and I could talk and debrief the day’s events. That was the moment I “self-racialized” (a term I learned from Glenn Morey) as Asian American—the early “status quo” part of me died and I no longer thought of myself as “just a Roelke.” I had become fully Asian American.

Dissonance (#2) and Expansiveness

Definition: Sitting in the paradox, adoptees are able to see multiple perspectives and be mindful and thoughtful of those who do not share their perspective. Adoptees at this touchstone are learning to tolerate the discomfort the paradox may initially create. This is a time of re-invention and/or re-incorporation of their multiple selves, seeing themselves intersectionally rather than being forced into one identity.

Table 1, p. 13 Out of the Fog and into Consciousness: A Model of Adoptee Awareness by Susan F. Branco, JaeRan Kim, Grace Newton, Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, and Paula O’Loughlin

I had become fully Asian American, but I hadn’t really lived into what that meant. I was learning a lot, but I still wrestled with imposter syndrome (hence the dissonance). The Janchi Show was in full swing, and I felt like I was learning a lot about what it meant to be an adoptee. I was introduced to the complexity of transnational/transracial adoption in a number of different mediums—podcasts, audio-chatrooms (e.g. Clubhouse), social media accounts—and all I knew was that I wanted to celebrate who I was. I didn’t want to wade into these other issues because my brain wasn’t ready for that.

Over time, continuing to learn and reclaim my heritage as a Korean, Asian American and adoptee (amongst other identities), I grew more comfortable in each space I inhabited. I felt a little more prepared to ease into the activism space other adoptees were in.

Forgiveness & Activism

Definition: Extrapolating beyond oneself; noting systemic oppression in adoption practices and history. The individual begins the process of forgiveness when needed and commits to challenging the dominant narrative.

Table 1, p. 13–14 Out of the Fog and into Consciousness: A Model of Adoptee Awareness by Susan F. Branco, JaeRan Kim, Grace Newton, Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, and Paula O’Loughlin

For a while, my co-host Patrick Armstrong was very active in the “adoptee activism” space (not that he isn’t still, the balance of his time has just shifted some). I wasn’t prepared to be as loud or as time-committed as he was. Michelle Li, fellow adoptee and Asian American activist started the Very Asian Foundation, and while it was awesome to have her on the show, that wasn’t an avenue I felt I could pursue either.

I’m certainly more aware these days of the systems at play regarding adoption and its outcomes, and I’m working on allowing myself to be an activist in a healthy, sustainable way without endangering my key relationships or personal health.

These days, I look to support what my friends are doing—notably, what Stephanie Drenka & co. are doing with the Dallas Asian American Historical Society—and continue to learn and explore what further activism looks like.

Perhaps where I am is moving through this touchstone and fading into Expansiveness again. Right now, I am content with the pace and flow of my journey and am trying to gracefully accept each moment as it comes.


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