3 years ago, I celebrated Chuseok (추석) for the first time in my life. I was 27, and my wife was the only family I had near me.
Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving Day, is one of the most important and festive holidays of the year….Traditionally, Koreans return to their ancestral hometowns to celebrate with their families, causing one of the biggest traffic jams of the year as people often take to the road to reach the provinces outside of Seoul.Asia Society
At the time, we braved the unknown of COVID to sit outside and eat bibimbap from a dolsot (hot stone bowl). We figured it was safe enough to sit outside and eat, but this was far from normal given the circumstances of 2020. I chose bibimbap because I had read Chuseok was about tradition, and even though I had no tradition, bibimbap was the most traditional food on the menu.
Chuseok, as many websites will point out, is “a time when families gather together to give thanks to their ancestors for an abundant autumn harvest” (90 Day Korean). For transnational Korean adoptees, we’ve been removed from our birth family trees in Korea; in other words, in the eyes of the Korean government, we have no (Korean) family.
Former social workers Kim and Hong (not their real names) openly admit that they created “orphan hojuks”, official family records that severed children from their biological family trees. The two, now in their 70s, spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing criticism from their former colleagues.
“We had to make the orphan hojuks,” Kim says. “That was the only way to get the children their visas so they could be adopted.”‘Korea is hiding our past’: the adoptees searching for their families – and the truth, The Guardian
Our adoptive families may or may not know / have known about Chuseok, and so any sense of tradition around this “most important” holiday is non-existent.
I’m grateful beyond words for my wife who adventures into Korean traditions with me as we discover what it means to be in an interracial marriage. She’s accepting (encouraging, even) and gracious with my fumbling around, because she sees how important it is to me to try and find some bit of my Korean identity and make it reconcile with who I am as an Asian American and an adoptee.
Three years later, I had the privilege of celebrating Chuseok again—this time with a much larger family. A group of Korean and Chinese adoptees located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area gathered and celebrated our respective harvest moon holidays. There was songpyeon and mooncakes and kimchi and japchae and soju and mandu and bulgogi. There was Sprite and lemon bars and Mac and cheese. There were Korean and Chinese and Indian and White Americans. There was no time of honoring our ancestors, no travel to our ancestral home. It was a simple potluck, a mixture of homemade and store-bought goods.
For me, it was perfect.
Autumn festivals are celebrated around the world, and I found people in my corner of it to celebrate with. My adoptee friends and our loved ones have made space to fumble around, get right (and wrong), and be okay with not knowing. We are, to varying degrees, embracing who we are as adoptees, as Asian Americans, and as friends.
In the end, the true meaning of Chuseok was the friends we made along the way.