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  • Heather Lewis

Musings of a Middle-aged Matriarch: How does one find their identity?

It’s hard for adolescents to find themselves. They weave through personalities and identities trying to find the right fit. They switch friend groups, hobbies and goals hoping something sticks. But, is finding identity harder for an adoptee? Does the fact that we begin our lives with a family who isn’t biologically tied to us level-up our journey to finding our identities?

We have defining moments as we grow, both good and bad, that help shape who we are today. Like the time that blonde girl fell into the orchestra pit during rehearsal. The time my cousin lost her 2-year-old son and I had to watch a tiny casket roll down the church aisle. The first time someone close to you betrays you, or worse, when you betray yourself.

When I think about my moments, many seem centered around my race and my “otherness.” Like, when I went roller skating with friends and the only boy who asked me to skate was the one other Asian in the rink. I was repulsed. I didn’t want to be associated with him. Hanging with him just affirmed how different I was. I think that’s why I had such a hard crush on Ricky Schroeder when I was younger. He was blond and blue-eyed. He was my ticket to normalcy. My identity revolved around not being different.

Then, there was the time I took a student trip to Russia and the counselor had me room with the only other Asian girl on the trip. She was a skinny little Chinese girl who sang like Snow White with too much vibrato and she thought she was the shit. I was less than enthralled. I remember thinking, ugh, why am I rooming with her? Did they think I had some subconscious bond with her because our hair was black and our eyes were slanted? I hated standing out like that. But really, is that any different than any other kid growing up?

Sorry I didn’t skate with you Ross. I’m sure you were a nice boy. And, sorry Snow White. I was too judgmental back then. I’m a little better now in my old age.

I think by the time high school came around I got tired of trying to fit in. I got used to the fact that the small town boy wasn’t going to taint his bloodline for the dragon lady. I started dressing in black, listening to The Cure and wearing a fake nose ring. There is no way in hell Carla—my adoptive mother—would’ve allowed a real one. I think children who are constantly ostracized begin to own it and revel in it. It’s like, you’ve felt like an outsider all your life, so why not own it and find others you can identify with. We rationalize our treatment, thinking it’s deserved. I was always so dramatic anyway, so the whole persona really welcomed me in—teenage angst mixed with loner insecurities. I went from the girl who hated to stand out to the girl who said fuck it; might as well find joy in standing out since I’m going to anyway. But really, is that any different than any other kid growing up?

Can the non-adoptee fall back into a family that looks like them, that are tied to them by blood? Can they at least feel like they have a place where they belong? I was always loved by my parents. They did their best to raise me like I was a Bradford. I never felt like the “adopted” child even next to my brother who is their biological, bonus baby. But, when you’re Korean and your mother is an overweight strawberry blonde Christian and your dad looks Amish, it’s hard not to feel “other.” Finding one’s identity can be a daunting experience. But for the adoptee, there’s more layers of complexity as we begin our life abandoned. Whether conscious or unconscious, we were alone and separated from all we knew. For us, finding our way back to self has extra detours. 


Heather Lewis, or 노 영 미 as her biological sisters have named her, was born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in the U.S. at 6 months old. Heather has had many professions: waitress, ballroom dance instructor, middle school English teacher, and her current role in operations. She has a Master’s in English, a Master’s in the Critical Studies of Teaching English and a Master’s in Business Administration.

She is a proud KAD (Korean Adoptee) and likes to explore identity through writing. She loves being married to “fake Dave Grohl” and raising her only daughter. Despite still not knowing her birthday, she’s sure she is a Capricorn.


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