When Seattle-based Korean adoptee Laura Wachs reached adulthood, the usual freedom to party was not the first thing on her mind.
“I’ve written poetry since middle school. I’ve loved it my entire life. ... When I turned 21, it wasn’t the booze I was excited about. I wanted to go to my first poetry slam,” she said. “I did, and I’ve been going ever since.”
But her enthusiasm was not simply about having fun. For Wachs, her interest in poetry came from a more painful place.
“Poetry saved my life,” she said.
“I grew up without believing my voice had value and because of that it got to a point where when someone asked my opinion on something I couldn’t answer. Not because I didn’t want to. I honestly didn’t know how to articulate my opinions anymore.
“Poetry taught me how to do that again. It gave me empowerment in my voice. It helped my process through trauma and gave me a community.”
This is important to her as an adoptee, and Wachs has set up a project on Kickstarter to publish poems written by others in her situation, and run poetry workshops and showcases of adoptees’ work in Korea. It will be her first trip back to the country since she was a baby.
“In terms of adoption, it’s hard to explain what the experience feels like,” she said. “I want to use poetry to dig deeper and find out the truth of what this narrative looks like.”
As part of her work on the project, she has been in contact with online networks of Korean adoptees from all over the world.
But has she got an overarching impression from them?
“No. That’s what’s incredible. It’s all different,” she said.
“I guess some prominent dialogues I hear from people are, firstly, frustration if they are trying to find their biological family. The system behind adoptions is corrupt and manipulative. I’m just learning how much so.
“Secondly, anger rooted in the racism they experience.”
Wachs is feeling her own frustration. Having begun her search for her birth family a year ago, the 25-year-old learned her Korean name, Kim Hyo-jin, but the name of her mother, Kim Hye-kyung, turned out to have been supplied with a false ID.
“(Searching for my birth parents) is something I’ve started and stopped, started and stopped. ... Then when I made the decision to travel back to Korea, I put all my energy into it,” she said.
“I decided to do so out of curiosity but more honestly, for my biological mother. I want her to know I’m okay, happy and never have felt animosity toward her.
“I know a lot of mothers are filled with guilt and shame. I don’t want to think she’s out there living a life like that.
Wachs hopes that the workshops will help her and other adoptees deal with their situation.
“I think it will help all of us process the overwhelming journeys we are on,” she said.
As for her own work, she said she tried to explore people’s individual experiences.
“‘Write your truth’ is a common philosophy in writing,” she said.
“I explore people. I guess more specifically I look a lot at people and how they are affected by trauma. How that trauma can shape someone for better and for worse.”
For more information on Wachs’ Kickstarter project, visit The Voices of Korean Adoption Kickstarter page.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org)