Monday, March 05, 2007

How Do You Say Mother in Korean?

I'm not Asian, but I play one among all my college friends. Seriously, during my formative years at Smith College way back when, I was the honorary Asian amongst my Korean, Thai, Chinese and Indian friends. I knocked back sushi, worked at a Thai restaurant and ate Kimchi on everything. Once school was over, I stopped looking for a Korean husband and refocused my energy on being a down, bourgie, Black girl but I still feel a little bit Asian inside. And that's why last week's tear-jerking story of Korean-American skier Toby Dawson and his reunion with his long-lost father left me cold.

In case you hadn't heard the story, Toby Dawson was adopted by a White-American family when he was three years old after being accidentally seperated from his mother at a market in South Korea. Toby's adoptive parents, Mike and Deborah Dawson were both ski instructors and had young Toby on skis by age 4. In 2006 Toby took home a Bronze medal at the Olympics in Turin and that's when the world took note of his tragic story. Tragic because even after winning an Olympic medal, Toby Dawson said he still didn't feel completely happy because he never felt he truly belonged anywhere; not in his Colorado hometown nor in his native Korea. He said he always felt like an outsider.

Long story shorter, after wining the medal, Koreans en masse claimed Toby and many couples came forward saying he was theirs. Well just last week, Toby's real father came forward, was tested and he and Toby had a tearful reunion in Korea. His biological mother was suspiciously absent from the reunion.

Now here's what I found most upsetting about this story --besides the missing mother part. When interviewed on the Today Show, Toby's adoptive mother was recounting how important this meeting of his biological parents was for Toby. She made it clear she and her husband had always known he felt incomplete. They even went so far as to adopt another Korean son so Toby wouldn't feel so alone. Then she goes on to recall how for the entire first year of his life in the U.S., Toby would call out in his sleep, Ama Ama. "We don't know what that meant," Deborah Dawson said on camera. "We don't know if he was missing his real mother or the women at the orphanage or what."

Now, I admit, I had a lot of Korean friends at one time. And I know my way around a Korean restaurant. But even if I didn't I can figure out that Ama means MOTHER!!! HELLO!?! And even if I couldn't add 2+2 and get 4, I'd definitely ask someone to translate for me, considering my new son was waking up every day for 365 days saying the exact same thing. What is wrong with people? Do you think that two people who can't make that kind of effort to learn about their adoptive child's culture and language should be adopting children from foreign lands? Makes you wonder.

I'm sure the Dawson's raised Toby the best way they knew how, and maybe he would have been feeling the same way no matter who had adopted him. But this is just one of those instances that makes the Meltingpot think that people who believe that "love is all you need" and being colorblind is a virtue -- are frighteningly off course.

I just hope Toby Dawson finds some answers to his lifelong questions in Korea.



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Danielle said...

it was a really moving story....

it's great how TD setting up a foundation for adopted kids too, a fantastic way to channel your own experiences to help others. Both sets of parents (sans the mom) must be so proud of him.

Anonymous said...

Umma, or "ama" is Korean for mother. I'm sure when the family said they didn't know what he meant when muttering the word; was referring to the question if he dreamt of women at the orphanage or his biological mother. It was not a mistake in translation or ignorance. I myself being Korean and adopted into a very loving American family understands what it is to be alienated and not know where you belong.