In honor of National Adoption Month, Hyphen Magazine’s november issue has only writings from Asian American adoptees. Many of the most well-known KAD writers are included, among them: Matt Salesses, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Lee Herrick, Sun Yung Shin, Leah Silvieus, Robert Yune, Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut!
One of my favorite personal reflections on adoption ever. It carries a sentiment that I tried to capture in the term “kad nation”, and yes there is also an “adoptee nation”.
Many times these days, I feel I belong to this nation more than even the US or Korea. It is a nation that transcends borders. It is a global territory, moving and forming when its inhabitants coalesce. To stand in its presence is to feel alive in the awareness of belonging to a people. And then, as that gathering ends, it disperses again, into solitary atoms – not unlike what we did as adoptees from our homeland many years ago.
— MichelleMadridBranch (@LetHerBeGreater) October 14, 2017
As reported in Korea Times:
Of 111,148 ethnic Koreans legally adopted into American families, 14,189, or 12.8 percent, have failed to obtain American citizenship and are left vulnerable to deportation, said Rep. Shim Jae-kwon of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).
As someone else recently said, adoption without citizenship is human trafficking. Leaving adoptees hanging in the wind due to the failures of those who adopted, oversaw, and administered it is a crime against humanity.
It is well-known that lack of support for single mothers was a major source of why many children in Korea were given up for adoption, but to this extent? From Hosu Kim’s Birth Mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea:
Single mothers constitute the great majority of all birth mothers involved in transnational adoption from South Korea. More than 120,000 children, or two out of three adoptees, were, or are, children of single mothers. Single mothers are referred to as mihonmo, which literally means “not-yet-married mothers.” Due to the high rate at which children of mihonmo are sent away for adoption, the term has become synonymous with birth mother. The conflation of these two categories in common parlance, however, misrepresents the population of South Korean birth mothers as comprised entirely of single mothers. 2 But more importantly, it introduces the expectation that a single mother should relinquish her baby to adoption. To examine how single mothers are rendered into birth mothers, I analyze a critical historical juncture during which single motherhood increasingly accounted for the children placed into transnational adoption. This period occurred between the 1980s and the mid-2000s, when children born of single mothers accounted for 80 to 90 % of all transnationally adopted children.
The fact that the same word is used for both single mothers and adoption birth mothers is also stunning to learn.
A case study in adoptees not knowing their own birth date – one of the many common knowledge details typically denied adoptees.
One attempt at contacting the adoption agency for confirmation of existing information and filling in of blank spots went along the lines of “We’re sorry, but we cannot disclose this information about you without written consent from your biological father.” But he is dead! “We know.” How the hell am I going to get written consent from my dead biological father who I don’t even know who is because you won’t tell me? “That is not our problem.”
Sadly, it turns out that
Had Khara’s true birth date been given in the information that came with her from the adoption agency, many aspects of her life would most likely have played out far better.
It is always shocking when a KAD commits suicide, and we feel the loss keenly. When that person had been deported because of shameful policies that continue to exist in the US – as befell Phillip – it feels like a knife in our back. All that might be beautiful about adoption is rendered ugly in that light, and the words family, country, and belonging reduced to empty marketing slogans.
Even in death, our identity is taken from us. Phillip did not practice Christianity, but he was given a Christian ceremony. His primary language was English, but he was given a Korean-language ceremony with only a grudgingly-provided, poorly-executed English transcript. I do not know if he went by his Korean name, but surely after so many years in the US, his English name was comfortable to him — yet it does not appear anywhere on his display. Ironically, his Korean name was stripped from him after birth, and then his English name stripped from him in death. Yet another reminder to adoptees that everything we have was given to us by chance, and can be taken away just as whimsically at any time.
Sadly, the lasting memory of his death may be the controversy around his ceremony, and not even the things mentioned above. It was the front page article on that day’s Korea Times.
Let’s hope his legacy instead brings about greater understanding and change in areas such as adoptee legal issues, post adoptive services, and mental health. Rest in peace, Phillip Clay.
KGSP is not really a motherland trip, but studying abroad in korea could be perfect for adoptees. Free higher education + monthly stipend + language program. Better than a small scholarship, longer than a homeland tour, more immersive than language school.
Just some historical KAD films to keep on the radar, with some relevant links for each.
Toby Dawson – Lost and Found (2011). Documents Toby’s reunion with birth father, facilitated by his olympic medal media exposure.
Nathan Adolfson – Passing Through (1998). Must be one of the first professional films about reunion, Nathan eventually found his 3 siblings. There is an interesting ending to the story that i am wondering how and if it is handled within the film.
Tammy Chu’s Resilience (2010), examining what happens after a birth mother and son reunite.
A couple other adoptees are hoping to represent Korea in the 2020 summer Olympics, but are there any before Marissa Brandt? She is already competing on the national team and is expected to be in the Olympics.
Brandt, 24, was adopted by a family in Minnesota when she was four months old… and now finds herself playing for South Korea less than one year from the PyeongChang Winter Olympics here.
She hopes to find her birth family – winning an olympic medal is a proven path, so it’s not a crazy idea.
There is a metaphorical journey of the korean adoptee movement represented here. Toby Dawson representing the US team in 2006 traces our original path of integration into our adoptive country. Marissa Brandt representing Korea in 2018 reflects the more recent trend of adoptees returning to reconnect with their origins.
And a side note, it could be sister v sister if Korea plays the US.
While Brandt was helping guide her team to a gold medal in Korea, sister Hannah was also doing the same as a member of the United States team.
Another potential motherland trip. Might be that only the airfare is free, but worth taking a look. They also have a low cost guesthouse that may help.