June 3, 2015

Interview with Soojung Jo (Part 2)
Author of Ghost of Sangju

Today, Laura Dennis and I are so blessed to be able to interview the amazing Soojung Jo, author of Ghost of Sangju. If you haven't read Ghost of Sang Ju, oh my lands!!! Get the book today! I promise, you will want to read it all in one sitting. There's so much to unpack. Wherever shall we start? Well, if you've come here from Laura's blog -- here's part 2 to enjoy and if you're reading here first, please hop over to her blog for part one. And without further adieu, we give you, Soojung...

Both of your reunion stories in the book—of your trip to Korea, and your Korean family’s trip to America—are riveting. As anyone who is in reunion knows well, it’s an ongoing journey and rollercoaster of emotions. What is the greatest challenge in reunion for you now, aside from the obvious one that Omma and family live so far away? 

There’s so much injustice in this story, and yet so much love and redemption.  I call it “A Memoir of Reconciliation,” but I don’t think that’s quite accurate.  Maybe it’s the hope or the dream of reconciliation, the crazy idea that all these experiences, emotions, and contradictions can reside in one lifetime.  It’s still incredibly difficult to reconcile these parts of myself and my life, to be true to both Soojung and Raina, and to be the daughter of both of my families.  I still feel so much anger and disbelief about it all. But I don’t consider reunion to be a great challenge, even in its difficulty.  I know the truth now, while so many separated families and lost children never get the truth.  They never have the chance to deal with these “challenges” that I have in reuniting with my Korean family.  Worse, some adoptees have terrible reunion experiences.  They are rejected by their birth families or their adoptive families, and sometimes they are treated as shameful secrets or worse.  It’s trauma all over again.

So yes, there have been challenges, but I’ve come out of it with the truth and with two families.  The blessings are far greater than the challenges for me.  Not everyone is so fortunate.

While your experience as an international adoptee differs from mine as a domestic adoptee, I can definitely relate to, and empathize with, the emotions. The complex blending of anger and acceptance; the sadness and incredulity all mix into a roiling cocktail that we must live with every day, in addition to “regular life.” Your perspective on your adoption and reunion has obviously progressed through stages, but I wonder if you could articulate one or two pathways that worked for you in terms of recognizing the blessings and being able to see how far they outweigh the challenges.

Part 2 of this question speaks to what I would summarize as your amazing adoptee resilience. It allowed you to survive and thrive in the armed forces, to create a beautiful family, to succeed in your career. I’m wondering if you could talk about how much of this is due to your inherent personality (drive to succeed) vs. your “adoptedness” … or is it both or neither?

The first thing is to accept that we can’t go back in time.  I can’t change anything that has already happened.  So, while many terrible things happened, many other wonderful things came from the good in the people of my story and life.  But it would be irresponsible to acknowledge only the blessings without recognizing the tragedies and injustices—many of which are institutionalized and sanctioned by both the Korean and US governments.  I can’t relieve my Korean or American families of their complicity in our story, but I don’t have to blame them either.  The blessings outweigh the challenges, but in this complex life I could not have had one without the other.

Resilience has really come to the forefront of psychology these days.  In a world of inevitable failures and heartbreak, resilience is now recognized as that quality that allows us to remain solid and true, that allows us to grow from the hard places of life.  Where my resilience come from?  I hope that readers will recognize that I had two families who did their absolute best to love and nurture me in their own ways, and that is invaluable in early childhood development.  I also believe that one must be tested in order to develop resilience, and there have certainly been plenty of chances in my life to be shaped by adversity.  Some—like adjusting to a new family, country, and language at age 3—were involuntary.  Those are traumas that some people never fully emerge from, and I think they fundamentally forged my character beyond my natural disposition.  Others—like going to West Point and choosing an Army assignment in Korea—are self-imposed.  Those are experiences that refined me.