Close and Connected: KAAN

Friday night before the conference there is a burst of activity. Sounds overlap in layers. A film festival is in process, across the hall families with young children take part in other activities. Under the chatter and laughter there is music-- the hyponotic beat of changgo drummers dressed in reds and yellows, moving with urgency and heat, as if each were aflame. There is standing room only, people are sitting on the blue-carpeted floor, including the space at the feet of the drummers. A palpable energy fills the KAAN Conference. Each year more people want to be involved.

After all, it’s not just a conference. It’s an event which prepares parents to form strong multiracial families, and a transracial adoption community coming together, jam packed with workshop sessions led by adoptees tailored to facilitate dialogue, to link, educate, empower and build strong self-esteem. It takes adoptive parents out of the mainstream, and provides an opportunity to peel back the layers and lead their children into a healthy racial identity as transracial adoptees and their families from around the world gather together.

The Saturday dinner is a big party filled with celebration, resource sharing, the chance to tap into the continually evolving KAAN community. Over the years I’ve caught moments that will stay with me forever—Simon, age 16 with black hair cut short, lean as a knife, whose mother forced him to attend the conference. Simon became gleeful and so fired up by Saturday evening that he was overheard making plans with new found conference pals to meet up again at the conference the following year.

I didn’t see this, my daughter told me about it, but it’s as if I did see it—my oldest daughter, then age 26, a former fiercely independent competent child who moved out on her own at age 17, was a panelist in the workshop session “Freedom At Last! Living Away From Home” geared for High School seniors and college students through age 23.

My daughter said to the group of young adult adoptees, “First of all I don’t recommend getting a full time job and moving out on your own right out of high school—but if you are determined to do it, I’ll tell you what you need to watch out for.”

What is KAAN? The Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network was born on April 18, 1998 at a leadership conference in Sacramento, California. It was a first of its kind in that it combined Korean government leaders, Korean American leaders, adoptee leaders, and adoptive parent leaders, uniting with the purpose of forming a national service organization for adoptees and their families. It was the culmination of a painstaking relationship built with the Korean Consulate in San Francisco and with outreaches from across the United States. From this beginning KAAN went on to create the first ever national conference for the Korean adoption community.

The first KAAN conference was held in 1999 in Korea town in Los Angeles, California, which brought more Korean adoptive families together in one place than at any other time in history. But, KAAN is unique in that it is not just adoptive families who came together. For the first time ever Korean born adoptees, adoptive families, Koreans and Korean Americans came together as a community. The adoption issues and needs of the Korean adoption community were addressed and it was a historic occasion.

So what did that first conference (and those that have followed in the years after) accomplish? It proves without a doubt, a need within transracial adoptees and their families to come together.

Although the majority of adoptees are Korean, recently transracial adoptees of all races have begun attending.

One young woman from Kansas summed it up by saying. “Seeing all those Asian faces, with nearly all of them adopted into white families, made me realize that I was not alone.”

While the message is loud and clear, “I have to get away from my parents,” within the teen and young adult adoptee group, recently a growing number of adopted adults in their mid 30s have begun inviting their parents to attend.

While adult adoptees have something meaningful to share with young families, their own journey is not over and a number of sessions led by adoptees are offered for adoptees only.

KAAN’s programs are evolving so parents of adult adoptees can continue to learn and grow, even as they give their children custody of their own lives, and as adult adoptees become parents and raise a new generation of children whose mothers and fathers were adopted transracially.

The yearly conference offers an environment to continually explore adoptive family life from every angle. Adoptive parents are encouraged to have an open mind, to throw out any stereotypes, and listen to what adoptees have to say. They have an important story to tell. The conference provides an opportunity to band together with other transracial adoptees and with partners, friends and family members who share common values and goals, proving that while the slant for KAAN is Korean American, Adoptee, Adoptive Families, its mission is transferable, and the annual conference is a valuable resource for ALL transracial adoptees.

The KAAN Conference is a weekend that happens once a year. It serves as a threshold; a place between here and there, a continuous dance between the familiar and unknown, to comment on understanding, reveal difference, or similarity, to explore our place—it is our moment in time.

KAAN thank you for 16 years of memories. 1999 ~ 2015