Believing in Me
At the age of nine, I began to learn the English language, and simultaneously, lost my native tongue, Korean, along with my voice. Aside from, hello, I love you, mom, and older sister I retained the Korean word, noon-chi, commonly defined as a sense of awareness. I remembered the first four words and phrase because my birth mother and oldest sister remained in Korea while my second oldest sister and I joined a new family in the U.S. During my childhood years, the telephone conversations with my family in Korea dwindled in frequency, and eventually, I could only repeat, like a skipping record: Umma (Mom), Unni (Older sister), ahnyoung (hi), sa-rang-hae (I love you). Noon-chi (a sense of awareness) is a word I learned from my second sister after my adoption.
There were many moments growing up when my Korean sister and I stood out in our well-to-do, white neighborhood. The difference stamped across our faces was not always as unique and special as I have been told to believe. Our experiences growing up, I am sure, varied greatly, and though I cannot speak for my sister, I am certain we both felt a sense of despair greater than we knew how to deal with as children. Our personal histories and origins were one day obliterated and new identities had to be forged. I think as the older child, my sister felt an immense sense of responsibility not only for herself, but for me and for the circumstances that she had no way to control. She often took her frustrations and sorrows out on me. As a child, I was quite careless, as my sister would put it, whereas I would phrase it as having been carefree. I lacked what my sister had abundance of: an ability to discern situations or people and act accordingly and cautiously, in other words, noon-chi. My sister’s reproach, “God, you don’t have any noon-chi!” stuck with me over the years.
In college I relearned Korean and realized noon-chi had more than one meaning depending on its usage. I discovered I may not have had possessed noon-chi, but noon-chi had preoccupied my frame of mind. With every scrutinizing stare at my Asian face, all the nights I begged the Merciful to make my flat nose grow, and each time I looked into my adoptive mother’s shining blue eyes, I learned to fear the uncertainties. Anxiety grew from the silence that enveloped my Asian-adopted self. The ability to assess her environment and position herself fittingly was my sister’s strength. I, on the other hand, looked over my shoulders or sneaked quick glances out in public. Having noon-chi was an attribute for my sister and her survival, and for me, I was oppressed by a constant awareness that people around me stared quizzically, pityingly, exotically, and ultimately, judgingly as being different.
Living with such a frame of mind is paralyzing. I want to burst free of such a demoralizing existence. I believe I can rediscover the carefree girl and take back my voice. This I believe.
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