The DNA results? There’s a chance they’re completely wrong. Ok, not completely — I mean, the essentials still hold true. I’m definitely from East Asia and I’m definitely mostly Korean. No, we’re talking wrong enough, such that what I’ve been wandering around telling myself—and random bikini waxers—is wrong, the stories in my head perhaps just that. I chastise myself: I should’ve known and been proceeding with caution. Because if there’s been one constant throughout this entire process, it’s that the truth is shapeshifting. Like a vessel spotted far out on the horizon, it’s never clear if she’s floating towards me or away, large as she may loom.
These are the thoughts floating around in my mind at the end of March, after attending a brunch with a few of the adoptees going on the trip this summer. Over tea, I had mentioned my DNA test to the group—a pretext to ask about current Korean-Japanese relations—when one of my fellow adoptees attempted to reassure me.
“You shouldn’t put too much stock in the ethnic breakdown reports with 23andMe,” she said, “You’re probably more Korean than you think. Have you read those articles about how the results are often really off for Koreans? There’s been a bunch of users who’ve said they can trace their family history back for generations, and there’s no Japanese in their family line, yet their results will say they’re 30-50% Japanese.”
“Wait…so the results aren’t accurate?”
“That’s what it seems like, at least for some Koreans. 23andMe’s original sample size of Koreans was small, so I think the assumption is that they didn’t have enough people to definitively give percentages in terms of how “Korean” someone was or wasn’t. And some articles I read say you can’t really break down Japanese and Korean makeup like that anyway, because of the history.”
The director of the tour, M, looked over at me as I processed this piece of information.
“Besides,” M soothed, “Don’t worry about it. You’re Korean.”
But am I? Sometimes it feels like the whole, central point of this trip is just that. What does “being Korean” even mean, to me, individually?