Korean statistics estimate over 14,000 adoptees in US without citizenship

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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.


Single mothers accounted for up to 90% of Korean adoptions

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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.

“Your birth record is none of your damn business”

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commentary / stories

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.


RIP, Phillip Clay

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commentary / news

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.

Some KAD reunion films to keep on the radar

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history / stories

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.



Is Marissa Brandt the first adoptee to compete representing Korea?

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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.




Being the Korean side of the family

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Posted with permission of the author, this was a profound expression of the complexities of race as a KAD parent.  It can be difficult to feel like an “authentic” korean, and then it becomes even more challenging because parents often want to pass on their heritage to their kids.  (The heritage of one’s adoptive parents can feel even more foreign.)  It is left up to the KAD to bear that burden which they may be hard-pressed to handle. (Not to mention that a person’s Asian features are frequently overlooked in favor or white- or blackness in America.)

I was adopted into a white family in a white city. Fast forward through all the jokes and stereotypes and KAD issues (stories and convos for other posts!).

Now I’m married with two teenagers who are half Korean and half African American. Since my family is white and my husband’s fam is black, I’m afraid my kids don’t identify as Korean or Asian and it makes me sad. They don’t have a Korean side of the family to learn from and “be” Asian with.

Sometimes I feel like a fake Korean myself because I didn’t grow up “Korean”, I basically grew up white. I saw mostly white people. Seeing myself in pictures or certain situations sometimes jolted me into remembering how different I was. I feel that I don’t truly have the culture to even pass on.

There are so many thoughts and half-formed questions regarding this for me. Can anyone else relate?

EDIT: We do lots of Asian things: Korean shows, music, eat nori, sushi, rice, shop at asian supermarket. I just don’t know if it is translating into them feeling like they are Korean without actual family and legit cultural influences.

EDIT: My kids are happy and we don’t distinguish them as black or Korean. It has only come up with them when only ONE ethnicity can be selected on a form. This is what’s on MY mind. They have never said anything and don’t have issues (that I know about!) regarding race. I want to expose them to Korean culture so when they start figuring out who they are, they have experiences and familiarity with Korean culture.

Coming out racially

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There are even adoptive families that don’t survive the adoptee coming out racially, so it is sad but not surprising that couples and other relationships also experience tremendous pressure.  One story:

When I met my girlfriend, who is also white, we were both coming out and helped one another accept and understand our sexuality, which really brought us together. Now I’m coming out racially—as a woman of color.

I don’t mean to blame my girlfriend—who has yet to come out to her conservative family and knows what it is to be marginalized. But it bothers me that she doesn’t understand why people make a deal about race. I recommend books to her about racial oppression and white privilege, but she says I am forcing us apart by focusing on our differences. 

Coming out racially, which really only an adoptee can experience, can be as scary and life-evolving as coming out sexually.  Many of the thoughts and experiences she describes occur to some Asian Americans, to be sure, but the level to which adoptees in white families can feel part of the Italian / Swedish / etc heritage, feel biologically related to these people who are white, feel attached to their non-Asian family name, and feel part of the mainstream brings a vastly deeper immersion into white culture that cannot be overstated.  When adoptees suddenly realize that none of this is necessarily true, that there is another whole, different side to them, it can be an exhilarating discovery, but cause a massive rift with people they had related to so easily before.

Ask Lisa: Coming Out Racially