Today marks the beginning of the Year of the Snake. You wouldn’t think that Lunar New Year means anything to a woman of English, French, German, Irish, Italian, and Jewish descent, but it does. I adopted two children from South Korea. While I don’t believe that blood makes a family, I do recognize that the world is not going to see my kids as recipients of my whiteness because of the shape of their eyes and the color of their skin. So it is important to me that I make sure that they are familiar with the culture that everyone else will associate with them.
Part of how my husband and I keep the kids in touch with their birth culture is by incorporating bits of Korean culture into our family mix. For example, the kids celebrated the Korean version of Lunar New Year, Seollal, last weekend. They watched a dance troupe perform, they tried on traditional hanbok, they ate bulgogi and mandu, they sae-bae bowed and were rewarded with New Years’ cash. This event was put on by a lovely group of first generation Korean-American teenagers and their parents who want to teach Korean-ness to adoptees.
And I was not there because I was off learning how to hunt down my Canadian ancestors on the internet.
It had been a hard call to spend the day seeking dead relatives rather spend it affirming my kids’ identity. And when my phone beeped, I half-expected an emergency – because that is always what I expect when I am separated from my kids. So I checked my phone…. And no, a crisis didn’t materialize. Instead it was my husband sharing a few pictures of the kids in hanboks and letting me know that everyone was having a good time. And I was so pleased and relieved that I shared the photos with the small group of folks that I was gathered with.
I know, I know. It was incredibly rude to disturb the group with my phone. But everyone was so supportive; they cooed over the kids and their cuteness. And then the juxtaposition of my clearly adopted children and the genealogical setting overwhelmed one of my groupmates who blurted out: Too bad that all the work you are doing on your genealogy will be meaningless to your kids. And our companion, whose beloved niece adopted a daughter from China, nodded her head.
And I get it. I had been wondering what my adoptive kids would make of my passion for genealogy too. But in the moment I was gob smacked by this new variation on the “adoptive families aren’t real” theme. That in the end, blood is all that matters. And maybe blood is all that matters to genealogists.
In South Korea, Lunar New Year is celebrated over three days. Families gather and pay respect to both dead and living elders. They feast on traditional foods. They play traditional games and watch tv together. The important part being that families are together – usually at the house of the oldest patriarch or his eldest son. Blood matters to Koreans. Lunar New Year is an opportunity to celebrate it.
But in my heart of hearts, I can’t believe that blood is everything. So in the end this is how I responded to my fellow ancestor enthusiasts (and my own) doubts: No, this family tree will mean a lot to my kids. It is the story of their cultural heritage, the many ways that their family arrived in the U.S. This cultural heritage shapes them just as sure as their Korean roots are reshaping me. And some day, I hope to add their family’s stories to the tree.