Who Do You Think You Are?

So lately I’ve been following a thread on a discussion board titled “When adoptive parenting becomes psychological abuse,” which is a discussion of a blog post written by Third Mom. You can read her original post here: http://thirdmom.blogspot.com/2012/02/when-adoptive-parenting-becomes.html. Some of these discussion thread responses prompted my Doing Culture posts last week. Then last night another concept came up–about what really contributes to who we are–which was something I’d already been thinking about for months.

The concept that was introduced was this: that who we are inside is a result of where we grow up, regardless of where we were born. While I agree with some of what this parent says about our children–that they can overcome the hurts of the past–I disagree with the main premise of the argument, and not just for adoptees. [An aside here in case you go read the post. This parent also says that at some point our children should be taught to not dwell on the past (which I agree with) but instead to be “thankful for the life that they have” and look to the future and what it holds for them. While I want my son to be thankful for all GOD has given him, I’ll never teach him that he has to be thankful for me and the life we’ve given him. That life came with a lot of loss and however he chooses to feel about it is OK. Likely his whole life will be a mixture of gratitude for what he has, sorrow for what he lost, and questions about what might have been.]

This statement that it’s where you grow up that makes you who you are made me think of the show on TV right now “Who Do You Think You Are?”, in which celebrities delve into their genealogy and the various family lines. During the intro the narrator says, “You can’t really know who you are, if not you don’t know where you came from.” I’m attracted to this show for so many reasons. I’ve loved genealogy for years and I’m fascinated by the historical context of the show.

But something strikes me in almost every episode. In each one of these episodes the celebrities feel they are changed by what they find out. Most have feelings or interests or personality traits verified for them. This show isn’t about where they grew up, but the DNA that is part of them. It’s about the lineage that is part of making them who they are.

I once saw an interview with Chris Rock, the comedian, after he’d done a similar search on a PBS show called “African American Lives.” Rock found out that his ancestors before Civil Rights included a state legislator, land owners, and a Civil War soldier. Rock said he felt that if he’d known that while he was growing up, it would have changed what he thought about himself and what he felt he could accomplish.

The place where Rock grew up left him feeling that he had little options for success. But his lineage showed him the strength and perseverance that populated his family tree and helped him understand himself better.

To me that emphasized that where we are born and the family we’re born into makes a huge impact on who were are. As I’ve watched our son grown, I’ve determined that neither nature or nurture is more important–instead they are equally a part of who our son is.

He’s very interested in Korea. Is that only because we’ve exposed him to it? Or is it because that’s part of who he is and we’ve nurtured that part of him? I’ll never know for sure. But I do know that for our son, being Korean is already a big part of who he thinks he is.

Watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” also makes me sad. Most adoptees will never have the information needed to pursue these types of searches into their biological families. Given that we have some contact with our son’s birth family, maybe he’ll have some of those opportunities in the future but right now I can’t give him specifics about his birth lineage.

Instead what I can give him is general information. I can help him know what it means to be Korean–to know things almost every Korean knows (songs, language, culture, food, customs), and to have role models who have walked the path before him and can help guide him as he figures out what it means to be Korean-American.

Ultimately it’s not my choice to decide who our son is and what’s important to him. But I honestly feel that for him to make informed decisions along those lines as he grows, he must have some knowledge of where he comes from. Only when he knows everything that he is can he truly know and embrace his past, present, and future.

1 Response to “Who Do You Think You Are?”

  1. 1 Kim
    March 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    We totally agree. I just found your post after posting my own about searching for our boys’ birth family. We’re on the same page with ya! 🙂

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My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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Be Strong, Geum-Soon
Please Teach Me English
Spy Girl
Tae Gu Ki
2009 Lost Memories

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