Who Am I? - From Terry Hong

Who Am I? – From Terry Hong

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Every week, I came with a book or a story, pictures to talk about things Korean or Asian, or sometimes I just showed up to play. And every week, the children greeted me with excitement and hugs. Every week, I wondered silently which of these fresh-faced children could possibly be my Sarah’s tormentors. After spending time with the whole class, Sarah and I always had a few moments alone – I like to think that’s when we both nourished each other’s souls.

The next year – my final year at college – Sarah’s family moved further upstate in Vermont, to the small town in which her father and grandfather had grown up. She had the same teacher her father had had 30 years prior. And whether it was a change of place, or that decades of her family were so entrenched, Sarah did not face the same racism. Ever so slowly, Sarah began to thrive once again.

Decades have passed, and Sarah has remained a constant in my life. After I graduated, we stayed in contact the old-fashioned way – this was back in the day, after all – through letters, phone calls, and visits. She danced at my wedding and I watched with glowing pride when she graduated middle school, then high school, then college, then graduate school – at the top of her class, mind you! I like to think I’ve never missed a major milestone in her life.

When our daughter was born, more than 17 years ago, Sarah’s mother made us the most amazing quilt … she had just discovered photo transfers on fabric, a technology that allowed her to literally stitch Sarah’s and my life together. There we are on the front lawn of Sarah’s house, with Sarah sitting on a pumpkin bigger than her little self, her brother Justin plopped before us in a laughing bundle. There she is with our daughter as a toddler, gleefully smiling at each other, little nose to little nose. There she is with the wind blowing her hair – which hasn’t changed in decades! – in every direction, as she shields her gaze against at an unseen sun.

The quilt hangs over our daughter’s bed … and every night that I kiss our daughter goodnight, I see Sarah smiling, too. Sometimes our daughter asks about a certain picture – she likes to hear the same stories over and over again. And as I say goodnight one more, I wish sweet dreams for Sarah, too.

Today, Sarah has returned back to Vermont, where she’s a track coach at a local school. She’s a phenomenal athlete … and even those many years ago, I never could keep up with her! She drives a bright red, fully-restored, classic Mustang almost older than I am! – the one car I used to point out to her when I was still a teenager as my favorite in all the world! I like to think she takes a little piece of me whenever she pulls out of her garage.

With all the latest gadgets, she calls, emails, and texts me regularly, and texts the kids. While Sarah thinks she might be still be reaching out to me for advice, in many ways, she’s taught me more than she could ever know.

As an Asian American, I feel that I live my life in a place of “in-between” – not quite Asian, not quite American, but somewhere in that elusive space in between. I realize that experience is especially magnified as an Asian adoptee, especially in a transracial family situation. But whatever the hardships or challenges, in the end when all is said and done, family is everything. As Sarah’s mother proved over and over again, never mess with a determined Asian mother – and that’s an Asian mother by birth or by adoption!