Driving home with 2½ gallons of kimchi, sporting red splatters on my coat from the gochugaru (Korean red chili powder) mixture, I looked like a victorious paintball player … Over my lifetime, as a Korean adoptee in a White family, I haven’t known many other Koreans – let alone commune with them. I have always felt “White” despite what the mirror (and others) told me every day.
Serendipitously, however, I was invited to a Kimjang – a traditional collective effort of making kimchi. The energetic group of ladies at the Kimjang were welcoming as we gathered outside. A few were “Korean-Koreans,” but most were “Korean-Adoptees” just like me. As we chopped vegetables and mixed the ingredients with our gloved hands, camaraderie was enfolded into the concoction. We joked about motherhood and Asian babysitters – sending us into fits of hackling laughter.
Afterwards, I wondered if acceptance is exactly what the Kimjang tradition was meant to unleash – a time when Koreans are unguarded and understood. Being included brought a sense of completeness that I subconsciously searched for my entire life (not to take an inch away from my American family’s Jewish and Redneck traditions). As a nomadic Army brat, I never knew that Korean Adoptee Communities existed in America until recently.
Last year, when I interviewed Joy H. for my book, she described a “subtle internal click” that happened when she met her biological family. NOW I GET IT. Although, I would describe my “click” as raucous and permeating. Who would have thought that kimchi could not only be healing for my digestive system, but also for my soul?