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Heart Family: How a Group of Theatre Artists Can Give You a Sense of Belonging

Written by: Kayla Kim Votapek

Heart Family: How a Group of Theatre Artists Can
Give You a Sense of Belonging

By Kayla Kim Votapek

Who makes a family?
Are they individuals who are biologically related to you?
Are they people you have chosen to be a part of your life?
Are they humans who provide you a sense of belonging?

A mentor of mine, Kim Pevia, believes that people can have three different types of families: a biological family, a chosen family, and a heart family. Your biological family consist of people
who share your DNA. Your chosen family can consist of individuals who join your family through marriage, adoption, fostering, family friends, etc. Your heart family, however, consists
of individuals you choose who are special to your heart. They might be people who have made a big impact on who you are. They might be individuals who have supported you throughout most of your life or they have given you love in a way your biological and chosen family does.

For me, my theatre family is a part of my heart family. They have provided me a sense of belonging and acceptance. They have encouraged me to create a vocabulary to communicate my experience to others through the art of storytelling. They don’t ask me to keep my race and identity separate within me which has been my biggest struggle through my entire life.
Being a Korean Adoptee, I have always struggled with who I am and how to be at peace with my adoption experience. At the age of 4 months old, I was adopted by an American family and flew to the United States. My upbringing was very Americanized. I learned all the wonderful and empowering things about being a part of my adopted family’s community. I truly love my family and everything that makes me a Votapek. I have, however, struggled because I biologically do not look like them.

One of my earliest childhood memories that I have is when one of my school friends was coming over my house for a playdate. The moment they walked through the door and saw my parents they asked, “Why don’t you look like your Mom and Dad?” That was the first time that I realized that I was different. My experiences similar to that one has taught me how to code switch to make other people feel more comfortable about my identity.

I have also experienced bias from some individuals within the Korean community. Korea’s culture and hierarchical society forces individuals to believe that blood lines play an important
role in defining their community. The Korean society believe that it is the birth mother’s fault for getting pregnant and that they are not responsible people. Because of this belief, the
acknowledgement of a Korean Adoptee’s history is typically erased and/or looked down upon. I have been called a Banana or a Fasian on multiple occasions from people within the Korean community. In their eyes, I am a fake Asian or “White” because my upbringing was American and not Korean. I also have had Koreans try to shove as much Korean history down my throat in one sitting in order to teach me how to be a Korean. This had made me resent the way I look growing up and made me wish I was someone else.

Having to deal with both communities forcing me to choose one identity over another created this internal struggle between my DNA vs my upbringing. This had led to many moments where I hated myself. I yearned for a “home” and a community that would accept me for who I am. It wasn’t till I met one of my theatre mentors that I was able to truly understand the power of having a theatre family.

This individual open the door to many fantastic theatre opportunities for me to grow as a theatre producer. He also opened his heart. He has given me so much support and love that has provided me this sense of “home” that I have been longing for. He as well as other theatre artist have encouraged me to be different. They have created spaces that has allowed me to start to my journey of holding both my cultures within my body and accepting who I currently am in this given moment.

Most importantly they taught me the significance of being a part of a community of creatives who have lived through similar experiences. I have been introduced to wonderful communities such as Theatre Communication Group’s Theatre Folks of Color Network, Consortium of Asian American Theatre & Artists, New Jersey Theatre Alliance, The New Jersey Arts and Culture Administrators of Color, and many others. Many of the theatre artists that I have met from these communities have become a part of my heart family. Each of them has made a big impact on the person I am today. They have encouraged me to start exploring what it means to be Korean while allowing me to still love being a Votapek. These artists have taught me that it is okay to change my identity over the course of my lifetime and have allowed me the freedom to be my truest self.

No matter where you are in your artistic career or what type of art you do, I highly encourage you to find your heart family within our art’s community. There are an abundant amount of
affinity spaces including this one, The New Jersey Arts and Culture Administrators of Color, that can provide you a sense of belonging. I promise it will not only make you a better theatre artist, but it will make you a better person.

About the Author:

Kayla Kim Votapek (She/Her/Hers) is a Creative Producer and Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Consul

tant who specializes in anti-racism work through the lens of intersectionality. She is currently using the power of storytelling to educate individuals on mixed race/identity and mixed families (i.e.: adoption, multi-generation, multiracial parents, interracial relationships, upbringing etc.)Kayla received her Bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, Psychology, and Education as a Social Science from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She obtained her Master’s degree in Creative Producing from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, UK.

About Vital Voices & Vision

This blog series is intended to be a platform for members of the New Jersey Arts and Culture Administrators of Color network to share their creativity, expertise, and thoughts. Are you a network member and would like to contribute to this series?

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