Author: Brian Bomster-Jabs, graphic artist for URMND
Featured on KoreanAmericanStory.org
My name is Brian Bomster-Jabs, and I am a Korean Adoptee. I was adopted when I was 5 months old and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. When I arrived, I had a brother waiting for me. Two years later, I would have a sister. Both were also adopted from Korea, and the three of us were all raised by white parents. Growing up in Baltimore, I was exposed to different culture than what the majority of Asians Americans would experience.
I was raised in a mostly black neighborhood, so of course, I adapted to the environment around me. I grew up on Bone Thugs and Harmony and Wu-Tang, which led me to getting into music, writing and rapping. But before that, I was an artist.
I started drawing ever since I could remember. My mom told me that when I was a baby, they did a Korean tradition where they laid out a number of different objects, and let me crawl to one. I crawled to the crayon. In kindergarten, when all the kids were playing with trucks and blocks, I was that one kid at the drawing table, drawing my life away. From Power Rangers to Animals, I would stay there until it was lunchtime. After 25 years, I am still drawing to this day.
My family and I soon moved closer to the art school I wanted to attend. After I graduated high school, I went to Virginia Commonwealth University to further my art education. When I was at VCU, I experienced a ton of diversity, which was one of the reasons for choosing that specific school. I went to my first Asian party, which was my new years resolution, and got to sit at the Asian table at the student Commons activity center, which was a big deal for me since I never got to do any of those things back in Baltimore.
In 2011, I graduated with a BFA in Communication Arts. But I had no idea what I would do next. I found myself moving back home and applying to jobs in DC as a graphic designer, which I really didn’t like to do, but I knew it was going to pay the bills and loans. I didn’t get the one job I wanted, but luckily had a backup plan.
While I was in college, one of my Asian friends mentioned that I should teach English in Korea, since he knew I was interested in visiting my home country. So when my DC jobs fell through that week, I found out that I had gotten the last position for the program. I had to tell my parents that I was leaving to live in Korea for a whole year…in two weeks.
After running around in DC getting my passport and paperwork done, I was finally ready to go, but my Mom brought something up in the process, and I’m glad she did. She pushed me to go to my adoption agency and talk to the head advisor about searching for my biological parents. She gave me papers, as well as a sheet of questions to read over before one typically begins the search to see if he or she is actually ready. Now at that time of my life, or at any time for that matter, I didn’t care so much about finding my biological family while growing up because I was just happily living life. I wasn’t too worried about searching for them since I already had a great family here in America.
After 6 months of living and teaching in Yeongcheon, Korea, which is about 30 minutes away from Daegu, was when I started the search. It was a cool evening, and frankly I was just bored. That’s when I thought, “Hey why not look over those papers and questions Mom gave me?” I never read them when they were given to me. The first question that was asked was, “Why are you doing this search?”
During the time I had been in Korea, I met several Korean Adoptees, and almost everyone knew about my story because of my last name, Bomster-Jabs. Bomster is my Father’s last name and Jabs is my Mother’s last name. I remember talking to this one girl about her search. She found her family, but they didn’t want anything to do with her. I remember the tone of her voice, and could tell that she was still very hurt. For me, it wouldn’t have mattered if my family rejected me. I did the search knowing I already had a family back home waiting for me. I did the search hoping that if I did meet them, that I could say, “Hey, your son didn’t turn out so bad after all.” I did the search because of the chance that I could find them and make them proud.
People told me it would take 6 months to a year to get back an answer from my adoption agency, HOLT. Therefore, having 6 months left in my contract and already being in Korea, I thought it was the perfect time to look for my biological parents. If I found them in that time, cool. If I didn’t, that was cool with me as well. I never will forget the call I received early in the morning, around 8 or 9 o’clock. I answered the phone, groggy-voiced and everything. It was a woman from the adoption agency.
“I have good news Brian. We found your biological parents.”
I was shocked, and definitely not ready for what she said next.
“You also have a younger brother and sister.”
My brother was in the army at the time and the crazy thing was that he was actually stationed in the same city that I lived. Who knows, we probably could have walked by each other on the streets or rode the same train. But it didn’t end there. I found out I also had 10 uncles, 8 aunts, 2 grandmas, and 1 grandpa that were still alive. For a couple of weeks, we wrote back and forth to each other. I received pictures of them, and I learned that I looked so much like my Appa. Another incredible thing was that this all happened in a week and a half.
On April 27th, 2012, I went with my co-teacher and was finally reunited with my Appa and Umma for the first time. It was the first time I was speechless. I couldn’t even say hello in Korean, which was the first thing I learned. I only wanted my co-teacher to videotape the initial moments of our meeting, we met, but he taped the whole meeting.
I am so glad that he did. I ended up staying another year and a half. I had my
first birthday with my biological family, and I celebrated all of the other Korean holidays with them too. I went to my cousin’s wedding, where I met many relatives and cousins. I also got my Mom and Dad, as well as my sister, to come and visit me and meet my biological family in Korea. I’m so glad it all worked out. Looking back on it now, I’m so glad I didn’t get that job in DC.
I am now currently back in Baltimore freelancing with my art, traveling while spreading my art, from LA to NY and MIA, places where art is truly thriving and appreciated. This year, my art has been getting a lot of attention. I was featured on numerous sneaker magazines such as Nice Kicks, did sneaker collaborations with Reebok – Shoe City, as well as Red Bull.
I have been able to combine my love of childhood cartoons, wearing sneakers, as well as popular street wear brands in my work. I’ve also been doing custom hand-painted shirts, sneakers, and boots. I am now starting up my own clothing line, which I know will change the world.
I should mention that the reason why I was given up for adoption was because I was born with a birth defect called a cleft lip and palette. My parents had me when they were very young and couldn’t get the surgery that was needed, so they put me up for adoption with hopes for a better life for me.
Since I’ve been back in the US, I have told my story to Operation Smile, a corporation that fixes cleft lips for children all over the world, and now am a spokesperson for them. I did an art commission for a local NFL player, and decided to visit their headquarters in Virginia Beach and donated close to $3,000, which helped 12 kids get surgeries, the same kind that I needed. I am still waiting to go on my first mission trip with Operation Smile, but for now, I’ve been telling my story wherever I go to whoever will listen. I’m working to help give back to children who were born like me, to raise awareness of cleft lip. My mission is to build a clothing brand which will donate part of the proceeds from selling shirts, shoes, and paintings to kids who are in need of the surgery I had as a child.
Thank you for reading my story.