Local Colors Festival 2021, Roanoke, VA.
When I first came to Roanoke seven years ago, I reached out the Local Colors organization to network. Not much came from my introductions, but I happened to run into Pearl Fu, the founder, at the Opera during an intermission. We did as many new acquaintances do, promised to connect, and then never followed up.
As a Chinese American, Pearl Fu came to the Roanoke Valley and created a cultural organization for a community with bits and spots of ethnic communities. Every year she would plan the Local Colors festival with vendors and representation from the variety of immigrants from around the globe that had landed in the valley. The first festival in 1991 showcased tents from Kenya, Russia, South Korea, and China. As with many festivals each country is represented by a tent that may sell cultural trinkets, folk arts, commercial clothing made here or imported, and food.
This year I hosted a tent. Upon entering the tent, I would welcome visitors by saying, “This is not the house of Korea. This is the house of an Asian American.” The culture on display was my culture, as a Korean American Adoptee, an Asian American woman, and as an artist.
When asked where I was born, I answered honestly, “I don’t know.”
When told I “should want” to learn the Korean Language, I answered, “Well it didn’t work out that way.”
With images from my variety of portfolios, I explained the origins of images. The story, my story, adopted at 2 in 1970, just the basics.
There was a steady flow of people attracted either by the images or because they love the food, or they have Korean friends, or they were Asian. There were three bi-racial couples, and two Korean Adoptees who visited. The first KAD was a young man, who told me that I was one of the few KADS he had met. The second was a 2-year-old boy just adopted in October. His parents were very sweet young White couple and had travelled all the way from Rocky mount to the festival in Roanoke.
When meeting adoptee parents I find myself putting up guardrails. Looking at the little boy, I had some clear visceral and emotional reactions that I needed to shut down. I thought of his birth mother. I thought of him growing up in Rural Virginia. None of this was sharable in the moment. There are no pat sayings or words of experience to impart. The well is too deep. When my bucket comes up with water to share I will do so. I think I told them about my Adoptee portraits and my coming exhibit.
There was at least one other teen adoptee I saw with her parent, but she did not visit the tent. She may have been a Chinese Adoptee, or like me at that age, unwilling and embarrassed to connect with an Asian culture foreign to her. Though had she entered the tent she would have found we have more in common than first assumed.
I have never been so forthright about sharing my Korean American Adoptee Identity, but as I said, “As an adoptee I can only speak to my Asian American experience.” I do not have Korean Immigrant parents and grandparents. I do not have legacies of Asian family rituals or language. I have what I have learned growing up in a White family on Long Island and all the years of knowledge and experience I have chosen and that life has given me.
As I plan and network for my Touring Exhibit, Seeds from the East: Korean Adoptee Portraits, this was a good dry run. Naming myself, identifying my community, claiming my unique KAD culture, and communicating my experience in an empathetic and balanced way within the adoptee and non-adoptee communities, these are tasks I will continually practice, learn and one day be at peace with. In this I am not alone, as others have cleared the path.
I am just planting some flowers, perhaps a garden, and creating more visual space.