by Hollee McGinnis born in South Korea, adopted to the USA, Founder of Also Known As (AKA), Assistant Professor of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University
Like many adoptees, the only pictures I had of my birth growing up were the ones of me when I entered the orphanage around the age of two that convinced my parents I was to be their daughter and photos of my arrival to the U.S. when I was three. And so, I felt as a child I had fallen out of the sky on a Boeing 747, walking, talking, and potty-trained.
Being born was foreign. I had no evidence of it happening to me, no one to be my mirror to remind me, except when I peered into a mirror and saw a face that looked foreign to me because it didn’t match the faces of those I called my family, peering back.
It has been a long journey to know ~ and accept and love ~ that face, this body, who held all the knowing of my birth. The terrain of my face I carry from my mother and father, and my ancestors in Korea. Yet, the laugh lines, the crows feet, are all imprinted from a life filled with love from my family and friends in America.
After I first met my Umma, my Korean mom, she gave the above picture of me (on the left) as an infant that she had carried with her to my foster Dad, who was the director of my orphanage, who sent it to me. I remember my Mom Eva Marie McGinnis and I both shocked to see me as an infant with my curly hair! She too had been denied any evidence of my infancy.
Later, when I saw my Umma again, she told me she had curled it and had taken this photo of me. She laughed heartily about taking the photo and it was clear that it brought back a happy memory for her. I tried to imagine the moment captured in this photo: my Umma taking the time to curl an infant’s hair (I must have been wriggling the whole time!), the clothes she picked, finding a place to pose me. All gestures felt so familiar, memories of my Mom helping me sweep my hair up, hunt for a beautiful dress, find a place for me to pose (see junior prom photo below).
Integration is a path to wholeness, and yet for so many adoptees this is not possible because there is no opportunity to find birth family, no photo, no memory to trigger the mind to imagine and make meaning. And so we are left with a vague sense of knowing, of course, right, I have a blood lineage, I was born. But we are only left with the aging features of our faces and bodies as witness that we were birthed into this world like the rest of humanity, yet are prevented from having any truthful information about it.
So my wish on my birthday, is for all adopted persons to have access to information about their origins so that they can have the affirmation of their birth and humanity. And I invite anyone who feels disconnected from their origins, to know you carry them in your body. Your ability to look in the mirror and see your mother and father with the love, compassion, and tenderness you would look at a baby picture is the photo you have been always looking for.
You can connect to Hollee at Insta @hollee.mcginnis
Read Hollee’s previous share at ICAV from 2014 on Identity
“The law was drafted to respond to more than a century of Native children’s being forcibly removed from tribal homes by social workers, sent to government and missionary boarding schools and then placed in white Christian homes.
The law’s goal of reunification — placing Native children with tribal families — has long been a gold standard, according to briefs signed by more than two dozen child welfare organizations.
Building a Native child’s connection to extended family, cultural heritage and community through tribal placement, they said, is inherent in the definition of “the best interests of the child” and a critical stabilizing factor when the child exits or ages out of foster care.”
The Brackeens are fighting this law because in 2015 they fostered, then adopted, a Navajo child and they, along with other families, believe it should be easier to adopt Indigenous children.
The defence posits that “the law discriminates against Native American children as well as non-Native families who want to adopt them because it determines placements based on race.”
☝🏼 It’s not lost on me that this case is being heard in November, which is both National Adoptee Awareness Month AND Native American Heritage Month.
✌🏼 This case is majorly indicative of the systemic issues oppressing Indigenous communities and invalidating adoptee experiences.
White folks who want to adopt need to understand this simple fact:
YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO SOMEONE ELSE’S CHILD.
Especially a child of the global majority.
⭐️ Fostering or adopting us does not automatically make you a good person.
⭐️ Fostering or adopting us does not “save us” from anything.
⭐️ Believing you are entitled to adopt or foster anyone’s child is the definition of privilege.
If the Brackeens and their co-plaintiffs poured this much time, energy, and effort into supporting Indigenous families and communities as they have trying to overturn constitutional law, who knows how many families could have been preserved?
On that note, why are we not actively working to preserve families?
🧐 That’s the question this month: Why not family preservation?
You can follow Patrick at Insta: @patrickintheworld or at LinkedIn @Patrick Armstrong
The UN Joint Statement created for me a day of mixed feelings. For many of us, myself included, who are the victims of the past and current practices that constitute illegal and illicit practices in intercountry adoption, we have been speaking up, shouting from the rooftops, demanding attention, help, and support. But usually to no avail. Most Governments around the world have continued to turn a blind eye to the reality that some of our adoptions have been questionable and some, outright illegal with prosecutions of perpetrators. As one adoptive mother and fierce advocate, Desiree Smolin essentially said on her Facebook post, why has it taken the UN so long given the decades of trafficking and illicit practices? Why have so many families and adoptees been left to suffer the same impacts when it has been known to happen for so many decades?
So on 29 September, I felt our voices have been finally heard and validated – that someone in power was listening to us. Thank you to those at the UN who worked tirelessly to make this happen. It felt a little vindicating but at the same time, the reality of this world crushes hope because I know the statement from the UN is not going to put any true pressure on governments around the world to act in our best interest, let alone help us in any practical sense.
I felt personally so empowered by the UN Joint Statement that I wrote another letter to our leader here in Australia, the Prime Minister. In my letter, I ask the Australian government once again, to please do something to help those who are impacted instead of the deathly silence we’ve experienced in the 25 years I’ve spent advocating for our rights and needs.
Have a read of my lengthy letter which highlights the many times I’ve attempted to raise this issue to our Australian government, asking for supports for the victims. I’m as yet to have any response from the Australian Prime Minister. I imagine that the post-COVID economic recovery of the country, the current floods that have hit Australia all year long, and the other more higher priority issues like domestic family violence will receive his attention first compared to my long letter about a topic that impacts only some of the 20,000 of us intercountry adoptees. We just don’t rank up there in importance and unless it was their son or daughter being impacted, there’s just no reason why our Australian government would care enough to act.
I’ve been asked by a few about what I thought the impact would be of this UN Joint Statement. I truly think the best outcome might be that States (governments) will realise the risks they bear in continuing to conduct and facilitate intercountry adoption with all its pitfalls in safeguarding the human rights of intercountry adoptees. When we consider the legal cases being fought around the world by various intercountry adoptees and the revolution in awakening that we can fight for our rights, I would caution any government against participating in intercountry adoption. Legal pathways are slowly but surely being found by adoptees around the world. Governments must realise that if they continue on as they have in the past, there will be a time of reckoning where the abuses to our human rights will finally be recognised and the injustices need to be compensated.
In the Netherlands, the fight for adoptee rights is led by Brazilian adoptee Patrick Noordoven who won his right to compensation due to his illegal adoption to the Netherlands. Dilani Butink also won her court hearing for her case of an unlawful adoption from Sri Lanka. Bibi Hasenaar is also mentioned as having liability claims in this joint report. Sadly, both Noordoven and Butink’s cases are still being appealed by the Dutch State who have unlimited funds and time which highlights the power imbalance and ongoing victimisation that adoptees face. Sam van den Haak has also sent a letter to the Dutch State about her own and 20 other Sri Lankan adoptees whose adoption files have errors that caused emotional damage.
In Sweden, Carlos Andrés Queupán Huenchumil filed an appeal to change his name back to his original, having been illegally adopted from Chile. In France, a group of Malian adoptees are taking legal action against the adoption agency for its role in their illegal adoptions. In New Zealand, Maori adoptee Bev Reweti has mounted a class action against the State for being displaced and adopted out of their Maori whānau. In South Korea, Korean-Denmark intercountry adoptee and lawyer Peter Regal Möller and his organisation Danish Korean Rights Group have submitted just under 300 cases to the Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission seeking to know the truth about their identities that were falsified in order to be intercountry adopted. Peter openly talks about the legal cases against agencies Holt and KSS that are coming in the future. I also know of other intercountry adoptees who haven’t had published media articles yet but who are progressing in the early stages of their legal cases against States and agencies for their illegal adoptions.
The momentum is growing around the world as adoptees become more aware of the human rights abuses they’ve lived that have been facilitated via intercountry adoption.
It’s not just adoptees who are taking legal action. Some incredibly courageous parents are, and have, also taken action. Recently in France, adoptive parents Véronique and Jean-Noël Piaser who adopted a baby from Sri Lanka have filed a complaint in 2021 for the fraud that involved the stealing of their baby from her mother in Sri Lanka. In the USA, adoptive parents Adam and Jessica Davis have been successful in assisting the US government to press charges against the adoption agency European Adoption Consultants (EAC) for its role in fraud and corruption of theirs and many other adoptions.
In a landmark first, both adoptive parents and biological parents of Guatemalan-Belgium adoptee Mariela SR Coline Fanon are taking civil action in Belgium as victims of human trafficking. The case is currently under judicial investigation. This is not the first time biological parents fight for their rights in intercountry adoption. In 2020, biological father from Guatemala, Gustavo Tobar Farjardo won at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for his sons to be returned to him who had been adopted to separate families in America.
So ultimately, I believe the UN Joint Statement acts two-fold: firstly, it goes some way towards validating the traumas some live in our adoptions and encourages intercountry adoptees and families around the world to stand up and demand action and legal vindication of our truths; and secondly, it makes it clear to States the risks they undertake if they continue on in their current practices of intercountry adoption.
I would personally be glad and celebrate if adopting countries assess the risk of participating in intercountry adoption as too high to continue it into the future. We are long past the time of being blind to the colonial practices and harms of intercountry adoption. We must do more to help all countries become more aware of the responsibility they hold to their own born-to-children. Remember that some of our biggest sending countries in intercountry adoption are our richest – China, South Korea and the USA. It is time we moved past the easy solution intercountry adoption provides to countries who don’t wish to take care of their own and challenge countries to understand there is an inherent cost if they ignore their children by casting them aside, when it suits. Intercountry adoptees do grow up, we become well educated, we are empowered by Western mentality to demand our rights be respected and injustices no longer be ignored.
The UN Statement is long overdue given the decades of generations of us who are impacted by illegal and illicit adoptions. I celebrate that we have been heard at the highest level internationally, but I’m fairly certain that States will not step up to deal with this issue in any practical way. I know they will remain silent for as long as possible, hoping it blows over and meanwhile, as in the Netherlands, they will continue on in their trade of children but in a slightly different way, despite conducting a full investigation; because that’s what countries do. I’m a pragmatist and I will continue to raise awareness and push for much needed change, because I know despite the UN Joint Statement, we are still at the beginning. It will take a huge en-masse movement from impacted people to get governments to act in support of us because for too long, they’ve been able to get away with doing little to nothing. At some point, the cost for governments and participating entities of doing little, will outweigh the cost to stopping the practice.
I believe in its current form and as practiced under the 1993 Hague Convention, governments are unable to prevent and stop the illegal and illicit practices aka trafficking that include human rights abuses in intercountry adoption. Therefore it needs to be stopped. The UN Joint Statement is simply a reflection of where we are at today. Victims no longer need to plead to be heard, we HAVE been heard at the highest level internationally. What we are waiting on now, is for appropriate responses from governments and facilitating organisations — which might be a long time coming.
by Cameron Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, therapist and founder of Therapy Redeemed
What entitles an adoption agency to continue operating? The number of children placed per month? The lowest amount of adoption discontinuities annually? The director’s credentials? Their appearance in an exclusive media production?
If they struggle to incorporate a diverse range of adoptee testimonies into the way they effectively deliver child welfare services, including initiatives to keep families intact, what is it they’re doing in and to our communities?
One question adoptive parents can ask is, “How have adult adoptee testimonies changed your standard operating procedures in the past five years? Can you show at least three examples of how your program has shifted or evolved based on adoptee-led research and literature?”
Unless they’re willing to show you their contribution to the healing pools of service they claim to provide, it’s okay to wonder how many people and families have been held back from accessing their facilities of living water.
In other words, show us the heart of your agency. If it’s an abundance of non-adoptees speaking and teaching, there needs to be something else that shows us you’re working in the best interest of the adoptee, not just at the age they’re “adoptable” but across our lifespan.
We want to partner with you! But please, minimize the idea that our activism is bad for business. The adoptee voice shouldn’t be a threat to those eager to learn how to serve adoptees better. So many of us want to help you bring your promises to life. Thanks for hearing us in that way – and making it a “best practice” in solidarity.
I am a product of the Vietnam war in which America treated my birth country as a chemical laboratory with pesticide warfare. Many of my people suffer to this day from the lifelong impacts of the decision to spray thousands of hectares with the deadly chemical cocktail.
I have witnessed a high proportion of my fellow Vietnamese adoptees suffering from cancers at relatively young ages, a proportion of our children born with disabilities, mine included. Whether we can categorically say it is caused by agent orange being sprayed, is unclear but we know it was an airborne contaminant that would have impacted our mothers with us while in utero and in environments we may have been exposed to as young children.
For the newer, younger generations of Vietnamese adoptees, they are born in a country that still suffers the effects of the contaminated land and waters from agent orange. How many of them suffer from generational impacts of agent orange?
One of the most confronting realities I experienced whilst visiting Vietnam’s orphanages was meeting with the children who live with serious deformities and disabilities, those who are not able to be looked after in family homes because their complex needs are too overwhelming.
Maybe the American and other adopting governments think it was enough to “save” us from their own acts to wipe out our country and have us airlifted to their lands, where we can grow up to whitewash the acts of war and the perpetrators because after all, we should be grateful to be adopted shouldn’t we?!
Hardly anyone really wants to know, and people don’t talk about it easily, let alone the adoptees’ attention when it happens. Usually the attention goes to the #adoptiveparents and the adoptees are often alone in the rain.
Last week was the book launch of adoptive mother Rini van Dam’s book #donderdagen in Sneek. Speakers’ introductions rightly focused on the author, of course, but one of the topics why the book was created was Sannison’s death. A fellow Korean adoptee who ended her life before she was 17 and her funeral service was on November five, my birthday. She had just broken up with a fellow adoptee shortly before. It was 1991, the year when association for adopted Koreans, Arierang, held its first major national meeting. The year where loves both blossomed and burst apart. The year I became aware of what and pain and sorrow lurked beneath us all.
Two years later, Julia, a Korean adoptee from Belgium who left life just before she turned 21, died and her funeral service was on 5 November, my birthday. Her adoptive parents, however, did not want adoptees at the funeral service.
A few years later, I would lose my own sister, Joo Min, while stationed as a UN soldier in Bosnia. We don’t really know why she chose to save two boys in their fall in the French Italian Alps when she must have known it would be fatal for her herself.
Yesterday, I was reminded of the above. A painful but perhaps the most necessary confrontation with my personal history to learn through this hard road that I could no longer look away from my inner development. Since then, I have been working hard for the suffering of adoptees around the world. But instead of praise and support, I received threats and angry adoptive parents in my path. Some even threatened to want to kill me. But angry adoptees and #scientists, especially from the Netherlands, also tried to take my message off the air. Until the Swedish research by Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung came out in 2002 and substantiated my experiences and suspicions.
Existential trauma to suicide shows a relationship with the tearing process created by relinquishment and #adoption. Since then, such outcomes have surfaced all over the world except in the Netherlands. The Netherlands still likes to indulge in the Walt Disney story and any contrary noise about this phenomenon is conveniently dismissed by statistical research, which, although Evidence Based accredited, manages to conveniently dismiss this issue.
Science prefers to leave the suffering of many adoptees to themselves because what doesn’t show up in the statistics doesn’t exist according to the government and adoption agencies.
Bijna niemand wil het echt weten, en men spreekt er niet makkelijk over, laat staan dat de geadopteerden de aandacht krijgen als het gebeurt. Meestal gaat de aandacht naar de #adoptieouders en staan de geadopteerden vaak alleen in de regen.
Gisteren was de boekuitreiking van het boek #donderdagen van adoptiemoeder Rini van Dam in Sneek. De inleidingen van sprekers waren natuurlijk terecht gericht op de schrijfster, maar een van de onderwerpen waarom het boek is ontstaan is de dood van Sannison. Een mede Koreaanse geadopteerde die voor haar 17e een eind maakte aan haar leven en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Ze had kort daarvoor net de prille verkering met een medegeadopteerde uitgemaakt. Het was 1991, het jaar dat vereniging voor geadopteerde Koreanen, Arierang, haar eerste grote landelijke bijeenkomst achter de rug had. Het jaar waar zowel liefdes opbloeiden, maar ook uit elkaar spatten. Het jaar dat ik mij gewaar werd welk en pijn en verdriet onder ons allen schuil ging.
Twee jaar later, overleed Julia, een Koreaanse geadopteerde uit België die net voor haar 21e het leven verliet en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Haar adoptieouders echter wilden geen geadopteerden bij de rouwdienst.
Enkele jaren later zou ik mijn eigen zus, Joo Min, verliezen terwijl ik gestationeerd was als VN soldaat in Bosnië. We weten niet echt waarom ze verkoos om twee jongens in hun val in de Frans Italiaanse Alpen te redden terwijl ze geweten moet hebben dat het haar zelf noodlottig zou worden.
Gisteren werd ik aan het bovenstaande herinnerd. Een pijnlijke, maar wellicht de meest noodzakelijke confrontatie met mijn persoonlijke historie om via deze harde weg te leren dat ik niet langer weg kon kijken van mijn innerlijke ontwikkeling. Sindsdien heb ik mij hard gemaakt voor het leed van geadopteerden over de hele wereld. Maar inplaats van lof en ondersteuning ontving ik bedreigingen en boze adoptieouders op mijn pad. Sommigen dreigden mij zelfs om te willen brengen. Maar ook boze geadopteerden en #wetenschappers, vooral uit Nederland, probeerden mijn boodschap uit de lucht te halen. Totdat het Zweedse onderzoek van Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung in 2002 uitkwam en mijn ervaringen en vermoedens staafde.
Het existentiële trauma tot zelfdoding laat een relatie zien met het verscheurende proces dat ontstaat door afstand en #adoptie. Sindsdien zijn over de hele wereld dergelijke uitkomsten opgedoken behalve in Nederland. Nederland laaft zich nog graag aan het Walt Disney verhaal en elk tegengesteld geluid over dit fenomeen wordt handig weggewerkt door statistisch onderzoek, dat weliswaar Evidence Based geaccrediteerd is, maar dit onderwerp handig weet weg te werken.
De wetenschap laat het lijden van veel geadopteerden liever aan henzelf over want wat niet in de statistieken opduikt bestaat niet volgens de overheid en de hulpverlening.
ICAVs Memorial Page with Suicide Awareness links and other resources on this topic
At ICAV, we strive to elevate adoptee artists as their works can often portray what words struggle to convey. Consistent with this, at the recent 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night, Ra Chapman and myself wanted the evening to be a celebration of Australian intercountry adoptee artists. We were able to present some of their work in a printout as a ZINE which you can view here:
Other Adoptee Artists
We’ve had some other incredible intercountry adoptee artists present their works at ICAV over the years. Here is a compilation of what has been shared. Click on the image and it will take you to their blog with artworks.
Meg is a Korean intercountry adoptee, raised in Australia and a comic artist. She makes largely autobiographical and non-fiction work that has appeared in The Nib, The Lily, Liminal Magazine, The Comics Journal and anthologies including Comic Sans,Steady Diet, Threads That Connect Us and the Eisner award-winning Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment and Survival. She has exhibited comic, animation and film work internationally, taught comic making to university students, developed and delivered comics programs to high school-aged students from migrant and refugee backgrounds with STARTTS, and art programs to elementary-aged students in Korea. Meg is currently working on a long-form work based on her experiences as the Asian child of white parents in Australia, a recent period of living in Korea, and a failed search for her Korean mother.
She created the artwork for our K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night promotional material and ZINE:
Meg also presented as one of our adoptee artists and you can watch the video of her presentation here:
Ebony is an Haitian born intercountry adoptee raised into Australia. She is a talented artist whose body of work speaks to the complex issues we live as intercountry adoptees and exploring our identity.
As an Australian contemporary artist with an interest in interrogating concepts of individuality, adoption, sexuality, queerness and black identity. Ebony draws on her life experience to inform the creation of her drawings and expressive sculptural forms, employing a diverse assortment of materials to compose her work. Performance is also an important element of her creative practice. In 2000, Ebony created the drag personality Koko Mass. Koko loves to perform songs with soul and is a bit of a badass who always speaks up and is honest about issues they face in society. Koko challenges perceptions head on whilst also having fun with their audience. Ebony’s practice is bold and politically engaged, responding to issues that affect her communities with a strong visual language she continues to explore. Ebony completed her Masters of Contemporary Art at Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne in 2020.
Ebony contributed this piece of artwork for our ZINE which was a printed out magazine celebrating Australia’s intercountry and transracial adoptee artists, for people to take home.
She is also participating with a group of Australian First Nations adoptees on the 7 Oct at Melbourne University in an exhibition titled – Adopted.
Ebony’s artist statement about this video:
Divine Make-up, 2019
Divine make-up is an example of my drawings coming to life, putting myself within the frame, showing how I draw and then pairing that with my spoken word performance. Drawing is an important part of my practice; I respect the simple form of paper and textas.
I like the immediacy of drawing; I feel my drawings can be spontaneous and I like to free draw. When I draw, I don’t plan the outcome, I start and see where it takes me, I let the marks guide my direction. My work, as Ebony, is personal and honest. My drawings are a mix of feelings, experiences and specific moments in my life. This videos shows the ideas I have explored recently, coming together to fill the space with my black self.
On Friday 9 September, I co-hosted with Ra Chapman (Korean intercountry adoptee and playwright) an adoptee artist event in Melbourne, Victoria at the Malthouse Theatre. This event followed the performance of Ra’s incredible comedy play, K-Box which is the story of Lucy (a Korean intercountry adoptee) who is a 30+ year old Korean adoptee who brings some humour and hard truths to the dinner table.
Following the play, we had some of our talented intercountry adoptee artists present a small 10 minute segment on their artwork.
The next few blogs will bring to you a couple of these adoptee artists in their presentations, followed by some of the artwork we captured for the ZINE, a small magazine showcasing their artwork as a take home memento from our evening.
For me, the highlight of the evening was a reading by a Korean adoptee who is an academic, a writer, and co-host of podcast Adopted Feels, Ryan Gustafsson. Ryan is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. Their most recent publication is ‘Whole Bodies,’ which appears in Liminal’s anthology Against Disappearance: Essays on Memory (Pantera Press, 2022). Ryan is also co-facilitator of the Korean Adoptee Adoption Research Network (KAARN).
Ryan’s presentation was powerful, eloquent, and poignant and presented with such raw honesty, it resonated within my soul as I could relate to so much of what they shared about how we can feel about our first mother.
Have a listen to Ryan’s reading from an excerpt of their writing titled – We met each other with different names.