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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language of the Heart: Korean Adoptee Identity and Disorientation

  • Author(s): Sooja, John K.
  • Advisor(s): Yamamoto, Traise
  • et al.

Language of the Heart explores Korean adoptee identity, adoptive family dynamics, mythologies of blood, and the negotiations of kinship and racial difference within transnational and transracial adoption criticism and popular texts. I argue for a Korean adoptee identity that does not condemn the adoptee to victimhood and inauthentic selfhood. The transnational and transracial adoption critical canon offers little agency or futurity for the Korean adoptee—often generously designated as the “model transnational and transracial adoptee.” Language of the Heart explores why this might be and suggests that given how transracial adoptee literature is dominated by self-writing, authobiography, memoir, and poetry, for many critics, identity, then, is simply treated as the summation of the expressed self in the text. Further, given that the Korean adoptee’s expressed self is most commonly articulated as lost, inauthentic, or, as Eleana Kim notes, inescapably haunted, I argue that Korean adoptee identity actually provocatively catechizes and indexes the limitations of founding identity in blood and kinship. My dissertation proffers a theory of disorientation and disoriented identity that aims to dismantle genetic essentialism, nativism, and the heteronormative nuclear national family that are inevitable within heteronormative kinship regimes. Ultimately, this project excavates kinship, as the binary of biogenetic or “blood” relations versus adoptive or “social” relations, and the consequences of not taking seriously the grounding of identity in kinship, blood, family, history, and the nation.

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