Not Your Mother’s Hurricane
“America make people crazy.”
I was working with one of my English Second Language students when the matter of Hurricane Sandy entered the conversation. “I don’t have belief that it will be so bad. People go crazy and act like it end of the world. I can’t understand.”
We were working on a one page response paper to an ethical dilemma—any of her choosing from the professor’s list, from nursing home abuse to abortion or capital punishment. My student—let’s call her Sandy for confidential and humorous purposes—had never stepped foot inside a nursing home and didn’t have much to say about capital punishment. Abortion was also the shortest term on her list of topics, so we’d settled on that.
“Different decisions, they work for different people. Right thing to do for some is all wrong for others.”
We circled the topic for a couple more sentences and then came to the paragraph addressing the other side of the argument. “Some people think that instead of abortion,” I began neutrally, my voice as blank as most of her paper, “People can choose adoption.” In the past, I’d heard a gamut of responses to the subject of adoption from many of my ESL students, each a little different depending on their culture. Some of my students happened to know about my case, but usually there was never a good reason why it was relevant. With Sandy, my family had never entered a conversation.
She nodded in recognition of the word, “adoption,” and input her two cents. “Yes, but some people also selfish. They can’t see their child raised by some other mother, so they don’t do. It like I say: ‘some decision right for some people, and it not right for others.’” And then we were back to circling the topic, adding supporting details, transitions, and many missing commas.
Sandy hailed from Haiti. I’d worked with her for over a year now, and the subject of America vs. Everybody Else had manifested more than once. Like most of my ESL students, she had a love/confusion relationship with American custom and law. Once, a very studious, amiable woman from the Ukraine asked me if my mother taught me how to speak Korean in addition to teaching me my refined English skills. When I told her that both my parents were American, and hence I was adopted, she became very earnest and instantly replied, “Oh, I’m sorry!” Even her inflection made it sound like a downer, and in her eyes, it was one. Unlike Sandy’s concise assessment of the duality of opinions, some people think they know a bad storm when they see one, and that’s that.
My Sunday morning lesson with Sandy, with a hurricane over our heads, traveling up coasts and crossing between lands like each of us had done earlier in our lives in order to arrive in this classroom in Brooklyn, happened to be only a few weeks after I discovered that South Korea had legalized dual citizenship for the first time in the country’s history. I initially thought, “Huh?” and then, “Not a chance.” Then, “Why?” and “Does it count, though?” before I could understand the change of Korea’s staunch law against dual citizenship. It’s a rational step advancing the globalization that has already been sweeping that traditionally exclusive part of the world. In expanding Korean nationality, of course they are also allowing the expansion of Korean language, Korean custom, and culture.
Before I could rediscover all of that in my mind, though, my first thought during my lesson with Sandy was complete agreement that what feels entirely right for one person can be a plainly wrong decision for another. From the standpoint that no overarching ethical rules exists, a law, a custom, or a policy is still, at base, a choice to follow or not follow (Not too unlike the evacuation orders that were and were not causing mass alarm in the areas of Brooklyn just below our classroom). A simple change of policy dictating that Korean dual citizenship is now possible doesn’t change societal (or personal) feelings that it may not be possible to balance the two worlds.
This is really just to say that the matter of dual citizenship was on my mind since I’d heard about it. Even through giving lessons, even through reports of a “frankenstorm,” the advent of this willingness to allow international adoptees like me to have their citizenship returned to them doesn’t mean, doesn’t compel me to feel, that it’s still mine to take.
Dae-won Kim, a Korean-Swiss adoptee among the first group of fifteen people to regain his Korean citizenship in 2011, appreciated his breadth of options when it came to identifying his nationality: “Now, I can tell anyone I’m either Swiss or Korean. It’s my own choice rather than having someone else tell me.”
In response, I’ll borrow a few of Sandy’s closing statements in her response paper: “Ethically, some decisions are too complicated for people, because they can’t control their circumstances. Sometimes other people, they don’t understand that because they’re not in those other people’s shoes. If they were, I think they’d understand better.”
After she finished her paper, we both went home early in accordance with the campus closing down in preparation for the real Sandy. She told me she still didn’t believe it was coming. I had yet to make a decision either way. So I went home to wait.