I came to the United States at the age of 11, when I was given up for transnational adoption by my family in South Korea.
I met my adoptive parents for the first time when I landed in Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The middle-aged couple, who were first-generation immigrants from South Korea, lived in a small town in Indiana. They welcomed me into their home, and the adoption process was finalized within one month of my arrival. My name was officially removed from my biological family registry, and the strangers that I had met at the airport became my legal parents. Everything had happened so quickly — and before I even had a chance to process what had happened, it all fell apart.
My adoptive parents, who had never had any children of their own, thought of the adoption as a business transaction. They expected to be monetarily compensated for the adoption, and demanded a large sum of money from my biological family. When they realized that my biological family was unable to pay, they kicked me out of their home. After being in the United States for only three months, I was abandoned by my adoptive parents, and left without a home, family or legal status.
I spent the next three years as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. These three years were definitely one of the most challenging periods in my life. At first, I had nowhere to go, and no one to ask for help. I was unable to attend school due to my undocumented status, and I thought I would never be able to go to college. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to meet a new family who took me in under their roof. They gave me a place to stay, and genuinely cared for me and supported me. With their help, I was able to fight a long and difficult legal battle against my adoptive parents, and finally gain lawful permanent residency.
Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I had not come to the United States, but I find it impossible to imagine myself in an alternate narrative. My background as a transnational adoptee and an undocumented immigrant is a fundamental part of my personal identity. My interest in studying the migration narratives of others stems directly from my desire to understand my own experiences as an immigrant. Exploring the topics of migration, citizenship, and belonging provides a way for me to process and come to terms with my own struggles in search of belonging and national identity.