by Sara Dansie Jones born in Sth Korea, adopted to the USA.
The evolution of fairy tales says a lot about how we tell stories in America. Americans took the more violent European version and made them suitable for children. And then Disney gave us the happy ever after endings to relieve us from war-torn reality. We grew up seeing princesses with tragic beginnings, and happy meetings that make up for the hardships they endured. I and others could not help relating my Korean birth family as some kind of fairy tale. Indeed, I felt like I had been transformed into a Korean princess for a few days.
But if this was a fairy tale, my fairy godmother would have given me the ability to speak fluently in Korean. My godmother would make my birth father appear so that he could hug me when I came off the airplane. I would still not feel distant from my Korean family by language, distance and Covid. My goodness, I sound difficult to please. Thankfully, a new type of fairy tale has evolved. Where we see a more realistic journey past the “happy meeting.” Meeting my birth family has brought on a new set of challenges. That is the reality of adoption. I’m holding onto the good memories of meeting my birth family 2 years ago, until we can see each other again.
P.S. Autumn in Korea is beautiful.
To hear more from Sara, watch her incredible TedTalk.
These are my thoughts about ICAV’s online event for adoptees with filmmaker and guest speaker, Sun Hee Engelstoft (adopted from Korea to Denmark). I’ve been thinking about it ever since and putting it off because it’s heavy. I don’t really have the emotional capacity to write everything I want to say smoothly so I’m just going to put some of the highlights out there in no particular order.
Sun Hee’s groundbreaking film Forget Me Not, tells the story of 3 birthmothers in Korea who were coerced into giving up their babies. During Sun Hee’s talk I learned that Sun Hee lived in the shelter with the mothers for two years. She was sort of like a confidante for them, unable to be placed within the usual hierarchy in Korea because she’s an adoptee. In spite of their closeness, most of the mothers have chosen not to keep in touch with Sun Hee because she represents the most painful part of their lives. One of the mothers ended up in a mental institution and was forbidden to keep in touch with Sun Hee and also her child, despite the promises that she would be able to. The other mothers married and eventually had more kids.
Sun Hee had planned to complete the film in 2 years but it ended up taking 8-9 years. She might have given up but she felt an obligation to tell the mothers’ stories. Sun Hee said that if she had her own children, she doesn’t think she could have made the film; the implication was that it would have been too painful.
I hung onto every word of Sun Hee’s talk filled with so much valuable knowledge and poignant perspective. Here are a few sentences from Sun Hee that really struck me and will stay with me forever.
“Mothers want to keep their children. Period.” Only when mothers were threatened with the loss of family and any future were they unsure about this. Sun Hee said, “I believe I saw how the mothers would close down and how babies would close down, and that was really, really painful to watch.” I could see the pain on Sun Hee’s face as she recalled these memories. I think about myself as a child and how incredibly difficult it was to open up again.
“Relinquishment is an every-day decision.” This blew me away. Sun Hee talked about how she had always thought of relinquishment as something that happens once, on a specific day, and then it’s over. But she found that this was not the case. Every day the mothers were faced with the question of whether to relinquish: when they were pregnant they questioned; after giving birth they questioned more intensely; and even after actually giving the children up they wondered if they’d made the right decision. Most of the mothers could have visited or made contact with their children and they chose not to. When I heard this, I thought about what this means for us adoptees being on the other side. To me it means that abandonment is an every-day experience. We are given up and then every day our mothers do not come to find us, we are abandoned again. It’s not something that happens once.
I don’t know how to end this other than to say thank you from the bottom of my heart, Sun Hee. You have become a bridge between our mothers’ world and our adoptee world. Thank you for honouring their trauma, our trauma, your trauma. Thank you for helping to tell us the truth. We were wanted!
by Kara Bos, born in South Korea and adopted to the USA. (French Translation kindly provided by Nicolas Beaufour)
It’s been two months since the fateful day of the verdict of my court case where I was recognised as being my biological Korean father’s daughter, 99.981% by the Seoul Family Court. I’ve held countless interviews and there are currently 10 pages of Google that host the numerous articles written about my paternal lawsuit and search journey. I would and could not have imagined that this would happen, and I’m still in awe of it all. However, 2 months after the spotlight and shock of what happened is finally settling in. I’m realising that in my everyday life and in my search journey for my mother, nothing has really changed. I still do not know who she is, and have not been able to meet her. I’m back home with my beautiful family and traversing life as I did before, and continue to be ignored by my father and his family. The hurt and questions that burdened by heart before are still present, and even though victories were won and I’m being cheered on by many different adoptee/non-adoptee communities my search journey is ongoing without any real hope of it coming full circle. I’m in survival mode again as each day passes by and I try to focus on the here and now; enjoying the amazing life I have, the amazing family I have, but in the back of my mind I’m still agonising over those unanswered questions that I had worked so hard to get answered.
It’s amazing how we as adoptees manage it all if I do say so myself. We are expected to forget the trauma surrounding our circumstances of arriving into our new families. We are expected to move on, and not dawdle on mere things of the past, as what good will come of it? We are expected to be thankful and happy for the new life we’ve been given and if we dare to search for our roots, then what went wrong in our childhood that we would ever have this longing? Are we not happy or thankful for our current families? I’ve been criticized quite a bit since my trial broke headlines around the globe from strangers and even loved ones with these types of questions. As often as I say I can brush it off, it of course does hurt. How is it that people are so ignorant about adoption and the complexities involved?
This has become my mantra alongside restorative justice for adoptees right to origin; to educate the everyday person on the street to gain even if it’s a sliver of understanding that adoption is so much more complex then how it was and still is currently packaged and sold: adoptive parents are saviours and adopted children have been rescued from poverty and should be thankful for the new life they’ve been given. I want to tell you that most adoptees are thankful for their new lives, as we’ve been told since we were young to be so. Most adoptees are also afraid to search for their origins or birth families as they feel it will be a betrayal to their adoptive families. Most adoptees also will fall into an identity crisis at some point in their lives, since most are raised in a homogeneous Caucasian society and it’s natural that they will at some point recognise that they themselves are not Caucasian. When most adoptees search it is completely not associated with whether or not they are thankful for their families or lives, and whether or not they love their families or have a good relationship with them. It has everything to do with the fundamental need of knowing as a human being where one comes from, and seeking answers to those life questions.
My lawsuit was representative of a girl searching for her mother and all the culminating events that led to that fateful day of June 12th, 2020. I never imagined even finding a family member, let alone my father; and I never imagined I would file a lawsuit against him. I’ve rehashed countless times in my interviews and all social media platforms that it was never my goal. If my father or his family would have given answers to who my mother was discreetly, does one really think I would go to these excruciatingly painful lengths? Do I not as an adoptee, have a right to know these answers? Does a birth family right to privacy outweigh my right to know my origins? These are questions that are now circulating because of my lawsuit and interviews I have done. Thousands of Koreans in Korea for maybe the first time discussed my actions and in the overwhelming majority of those comments were in favour of my father taking responsibility and telling me whom my mother is. The court also agreed with the legal recognition of myself as my father’s daughter, forcing him to add me to his family register even though my closed adoption case from 1984 through Holt completely stripped me of any family in Korea.
The question remains, will it continue? Will my lawsuit actually set precedent and bring out systemic change? Or will it bring harm to the birth search quest as some critics claim? Only time will tell, but my hope is that the Korean government will give restorative justice to an adoptee’s right to origin when they revise the Adoption Act of 2012. Therefore taking responsibility in their role in sending the more than 200,000 adoptees away and allowing us our rightful place to find our way back “home.”
Am I a dog, cat or a fish that you can return back to a pet store? Your actions reflect that I am less than an animal You give strokes of affection and positive comments to your pets As I receive constant chastisement for the infractions that I committed You are genuinely worried when your pet is sick or lost You know nothing about me and remain clueless about the issues I face alone I am insignificant I am a nobody Why did you adopt me?
Other families make a habit of routinely calling each other But we are not like other families, I don’t receive calls from you Most families visit each other over the holidays Unless I come to you, I don’t get visitations Most families know chapters about each other as they interact You know barely a paragraph of my life I am invisible to you I do not matter Why did you adopt me?
You remain vile, proud and unwilling to grasp onto the olive branches I’ve extended With that attitude, how could I subject my children to you? You claim that my truths are mere exaggerations, lies or made up stories How can we discourse when all my words are offensive to you? I have pondered this question so many times You said I have deserved the horrific things you did to me I am a disappointment I am not worthy Why did you adopt me?
There is no answer to this question You’re not honest enough to tell me why When you examine the answer, you dislike yourself even more When you’re confronted with the facts, you tighten your grip on denial You would rather take the reasons with you to the grave Than to be honest with your child I am not deserving I am beneath you Why did you adopt me?
The last time I called home, my adoptive father asked me to come and visit. I spoke to my biological sister who was raised with me and she told me the last time she was home, our adoptive father apologized to her. I’m guessing he will do the same when I go home. Unlike my sister, I cannot accept his hollow apologies and allow him to live his life as though nothing has happened. I want to address the major wrongs he has done to me, things I always wanted to raise but never had the courage to, until now.
You may be hurt or upset by the fact I have addressed you as “stranger”. It’s not done intentionally to evoke anger, resentment or animosity. However, I use this term on purpose. To me, you are a stranger. We have had minimal contact throughout the 30 years I have been on my own. I refuse to call you father because I am a father and I know the joys and pains of being a father. You are not deserving of that title. You have done nothing to build this relationship and I do not know anything about your life. As a father, I have placed the needs of my children first, I have given them every opportunity to grow and flourish, and I have loved them unconditionally. I am their father and everyone who knows my children, knows me too.
Your request for atonement? I’m assuming you will ask for forgiveness. I know you want atonement in exchange for a simple, “I’m sorry”. How can one single phrase ever be reparation for the wrongs you committed, over many years? I cannot give this to you. There is a saying that one can forgive but never forget. This is how I feel. When I write about you and what you have done – this is not lashing out, this is not done to discredit you, this is not done to make you embarrassed … it is simply my own therapy on how to live through the trauma and pain you instilled on me as a vulnerable child. This is recalling only a fraction of the things you did to me and my sister.
You are toxic and here are the reasons why I know you are toxic:
You failed to provide me with affirmation and security In your mind what you did was tough love. I’ve lived my entire life thinking I was a failure, not worthy. This perceived failure and rejection stems from your toxic refusal to provide me with the right amount of security and affirmation during my formative years. I have beaten myself up enough and I no longer need affirmation from you. I know I am a good human being. I know I am smart enough. The long list of accomplishments throughout my life give me this affirmation – not you.
You were overly critical You disapproved of everything I did. I didn’t do it right, fast enough, or I did it incorrectly. You criticized everything. You believed I needed to learn to do things properly but this caused me to be a harsh inner critic – to the point that it became crippling. It took me a long time to stop being overly critical of myself. Do you remember the time you pushed my face into a pile of mashed potatoes because I was unable to say the word gravy? Why was it hard for you to understand that learning a new language as a four and a half year old boy was difficult? It was more frustrating for me than it was for you.
You constantly made fun of me You called me “stupid” and “wimpy” all the time. You constantly made jokes about me and stated that my actions would lead me to a life of crime. I don’t know why any parent would say such damaging things. It was never funny to me. Your words were hurtful.
You constantly justified your actions and tried to make out that I was the problem You twisted normal behavior to be wrong, to suit your thoughts and beliefs. I remember all the times you made me read biblical scriptures and gave me lectures on why my actions were wrong. I was a damn good kid and I had no mean or evil bone in my body. Yet in your eyes, having a snack was stealing. Watching TV was evil. Listening to music was evil. How did you have such twisted logic for two small children entrusted to your care? You also thought it was normal for other children to do the same things that you denied us.
You never allowed me to express emotions If I expressed a different opinion, you called it “sassing back” and often metred out some form of punishment. You never considered my feelings or the way I perceived the world or situation. Even more hurtful were the slaps I had to endure from your wife each time she perceived me to be talking back. I had to suppress the things I wanted to share with you as my parent. The bullying I endured all through high school and the racism I felt from the community I lived in. I suppressed these things because you didn’t want to deal with these issues. When racism occurred, your advice was to, “ignore it!”
You used guilt to manipulate I remember the letter you shared with me that was written by Philip. It stated I was an unruly child because I did not sit still and listen to his instructions. It’s amazing to me that you preferred to take instructions from a man who never had children of his own. You used that letter to justify what you did and you used manipulation like that letter to make me feel ashamed, guilty, and worthless. You used words and your religion to make me feel guilty for being a kid.
You placed your needs and desires before my own Your priorities were always about the businesses you ran. I wanted to do sports – but I was not allowed to participate. Boy scouts and numerous other things that I wanted to participate in, were always shelved. I was seen only as slave labor and never allowed to pursue things I was interested in.
You never established healthy boundaries I did not have any safe spaces to be my own person. My room was open to inspection at any given time. The “traps” that were laid to catch me doing something “wrong” that any other parent would deem as normal was your way of proving I was a bad child. The tactics used were the same tactics used by the Nazi’s to entrap and capture the Jews during World War II. You felt that every aspect of my life was open to ridicule and I had no safe place to flourish. I was always in fear as a child. I lived in fear of reprisal and never had any privacy. No healthy boundaries were ever set.
You made us responsible for your own happiness Your wife forced me to clean the bathrooms. I was forced to clean your filth. I was asked to massage your wife’s feet, back and shoulders at her beck and call. I was told that my actions were the reasons why you were unhappy and miserable -because I could nothing right. As a child, it was never my responsibility to make you or your wife happy.
You were a control freak I was punished for playing with other children at the gym while you played basketball. I was yelled at. I was told to sit still and watch the game. I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion. I was told, “Children were meant to be seen and not heard”. When I wanted a soda, you forced me to drink milk with every meal. Most Asians are lactose intolerant but you didn’t care. You forced us to drink gallons and gallons of milk.
You robbed me of my childhood When was I ever allowed to have friends over? When was I allowed to stay at my friends’ homes? Where were the trips to Disneyland or places where children want to go? You told me to grow up and be an adult when I was only a child. On my 12th birthday, you told me I was “no longer able to eat off the children’s menu” and needed to start acting like an adult. My entire childhood was filled with memories of getting up early in the morning and going to work. Baling hay in the hot summer sun until exhaustion. Being covered head-to-toe in filthy dust and allowed to shower only once a week. Where was the carefree, worry free childhood? I had none.
You were never my advocate An advocate is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy. What I remember is that you threatened me. You stated you had good standing in the community and nobody would believe a person like me. You said these things when I threatened to expose the cruel things you did to me and my sister. When I wanted to go to college, you mater of factly told me to find a way to do it on my own. You had no vested interest in making me a better person. You were never present at any mile marker of any achievements or important dates of my adult life. You were never present at my wedding, the birth of my children, college graduation, sworn in as an officer, and the dozens of other important milestones of my life. I can count on one hand the number of times you called me in the thirty years of adulthood. The real reason why you never called is you did not care.
You lacked empathy The word empathy means that a person has the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When the bully wrote on my face with a permanent marker – what did you do to ensure I wasn’t bullied? I was bullied because of my race. I was bullied all through high school. I sat alone at every meal at the lunch room. You always assumed I was the culprit, that somehow, I committed some offense. In fact, you told others you suspected I was on drugs. With what money did I buy drugs? How could I have obtained drugs when I was isolated in school? You were always quick to assume the worst in me. If you hated us so much, why did you adopt?
Acknowledge your behaviour was emotionally abusive Can you acknowledge that you yelled, name called and belittled me? This by itself is not emotional abuse. Your attempt to control me by using emotion is however the definition of emotional abuse. Your belief that you knew best, your threats, name calling, shaming and criticism was damaging to my spirit. You also spoke to other family members and neighbors about me in a negative manner to destroy my credibility and isolate me from being able to tell my side of the story. This is abuse. You allowed your wife to constantly play mind games with me and my sister: checking to see if we watched tv, adjusting the container of ice-cream to see if we ate any of it, the lack of privacy, the pitting the siblings against one another. This was emotional abuse.
Acknowledge your actions were physically abusive You purposefully made me fearful of you. I felt I had to avoid certain topics and was walking on eggshells because of your anger. You believed you had the authority to be abusive. Despite your Christ-like example of gentleness, kindness and understanding – you chose to hold onto the mentality of “spare the rod and spoil the child”. In fact, you referenced this numerous time when you exercised corporal punishment on me and my sister. You often denied us food when we were “bad”. You used physical restraint techniques of pinching and grabbing us by the neck. Your overpowering frame that is 6 feet four inches was intimidating alone but you felt the need to use physical force on us by whipping, spanking using belts and razor straps. You blamed us for your violent behavior. We were punished for every minor infraction. I suffered hypo-glycemia and one of the symptoms is extreme hunger. I didn’t understand what my body was going through but when I had a cookie to increase my blood sugar, you considered this to be stealing. Later, I would eat entire packets of cookies and throw the wrapper into the woods to avoid the ridicule of being a “thief and sinner” in your eyes. Lastly, the beating you gave me in front of the milk tester was not justified. It was embarrassing. Your violence was NEVER justified.
Acknowledge you neglected me (us) I know you believe that you cared for me to the best of your ability – but to me, this is the furthest from the truth. You refused medical care for me and made me suffer on numerous occasions. When I had appendicitis, you made up some story that I had a stomach ache from eating apples off the tree. Eating fruit off a tree typically does not induce vomiting and severe abdominal pain, where a person needs to be hunched over when attempting to walk. Your disregarded my health and it resulted in me staying in the hospital for a week on IV antibiotics. When I got ring worm, you allowed the fungus to spread across my arms, torso and buttocks. It was “treated” by my grandmother by smearing a strong cleaner on my skin. The ringworm and cleaner left scars on my skin. Furthermore, you refused to provide me with sufficient clothing and gloves. I had to work outside in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures without gloves and proper outwear. I have deep fissures in my hands and the tight shoes caused me foot pain. When a boy’s foot protrudes from holes worn at the toes it is not caused by neglect from the child! It happens because the child has outgrown their shoes and it is neglect on your part as parent. A child should not have to beg to be given gloves to work outside nor put up with wounds in their skin because no gloves were provided.
Acknowledge you refused a child from personal growth and self-fulfillment You never gave me encouragement nor surrounded me with positivity. You did not allow me to pursue things I was interested in. The music I listened to was “devils music.” I don’t think many people would call Madonna, The Commodores and Tiffany as “devil’s music.” Gewirth notes that “to seek for a good human life is to seek for self-fulfillment”. Can you honestly say you provided a good life or childhood for me and my biological sister?
Acknowledge there was no reciprocation When your parents needed things, I sent money home. I did the same for your wife’s mother. Have you ever asked me if I needed anything? When you were hospitalized, I flew home to make sure you were okay. You never flew home to be with me when I underwent numerous surgeries in my life. When important people in your life passed, I made every effort to fly home to show support. You missed all the important mile markers of my life. Most of all you never reciprocated the love that I gave you as a child. I have worked hard to share my life. I have traveled to see you. I have sent numerous letters and phone calls. You have not. We have grown apart over the years and I do not know you at all. We have become total strangers.
Acknowledge you lied Abusive people will stop at nothing to make sure they are seen as the “nice” person. They do this so they don’t have to admit the bad things they have done. As a child, I saw your willingness to help others. You were willing to give the shirt off your back to assist anyone. It’s amazed me that you did not hold the same regard for me. Now I understand why. You lied about me. You painted me to be a monster. You gave half truths about what you did and reasons for why you did these horrible things. You talked yourself into believing your own lies. Why would a person say such things if they love someone? It’s because you had to hide this lie from others.
Acknowledge your religious fervor was destructive “Most of our world’s major religions each assume that it is their faith alone that is the “absolute truth” and refuse to concede that those traditions may be mistaken. Instead, they discover ways to force conflicting information to adapt to their own doctrine.”
You, like many other religious adherents, have no problems in understating the irrationality of other religions yet you were unable to apply the same logic when came to your own faith. Your revered bible has hundreds of verses where it literally instructs people to kill disobedient children, kill disobedient women, commit genocide, subdue and silence women and to enslave people. If one committed any of the offenses today, they would be committed, incarcerated and deemed evil. You used these texts to intrude, torture, and hurt me and my sister. You used your scriptures to subjugate, to justify inequality, and to control. I cannot believe in a faith that is so evil. You lived this evil instead of the love and acceptance that was also mentioned in the same scriptures.
It’s too late to apologize You had a lifetime to offer an olive branch to me. You had your chance to visit me and my family. You had your chance to call me. You made NO effort to be a part of my life. It’s been said that “our life is the sum total of all the decisions we make every day, and those decisions are determined by our priorities”. With that said, I was never a priority to you. As a child I was hurt by your lack of empathy. As a young adult I was hurt by your lack of interaction. I didn’t expect you to make me your priority, I was hoping, however, that you’d be there when I needed you. This has not been the case and I have learned that I have no need for a person who has been a stranger to me all my life. The best we can be is … apart.
Click on the link above. You will then be asked to OPEN or SAVE the file. If you want to watch it – click OPEN. If you want to keep the file – click SAVE.
This is a Microsoft PowerPoint slide show with audio inserted in most pages.
Click onto the speaker symbol on the middle of the page and hit the play button.
The powerpoint show is about my own DNA History. How I became who I am today. How did I get British gene’s? Japanese? Chinese? And Korean? Is it coincidence that my birthday and my sister’s birthday have landed on Korean holidays that celebrate the Japanese liberation movement?
I use my background in Biology and History to explain how I think I became who I am today. It takes about 1-2 minutes to download. File size is 39.5MB.
Many adoptees were sent to orphanages before they were adopted and many do not remember the experiences they had before being sent to their forever homes. At one time, we adoptees may have begun the same journey in life as one of the millions of orphans placed in orphanages. However, a choice made by someone across the globe or down the street changed the course of our lives forever. What started as the same path in life bifurcated into contrasting lives.
Every year, millions of children worldwide remain in orphanages while 40,000 children are moved between more than 100 countries via intercountry adoption. As children, our lives are intertwined and as adults, our lives unravel into separate groups and we do not include the orphans who remain in orphanages when we talk about our journey. When we do talk about orphans who remain behind, we imagine the worst and assume we would have been far worse off than we are now, as adopted people. I hope to discuss the possibilities of being left behind versus the path our lives took as adoptees.
Bad Orphanages Exist
During the past 25 years, I have logged thousands of hours as a volunteer inside over a dozen orphanages located on 5 continents. Many of the places I saw were deplorable and evidence shows that many orphans will suffer from poor health, have underdeveloped brains and experience developmental delays and psychological disorders. The outcomes are bad for many of these children because they will have lower intellectual, behavioral and social abilities than children growing up within a family. These issues seem to be permanent after the age of three and almost every orphanage where I interviewed staff, the orphanage was overwhelmed and poorly equipped to give the one on one individual attention required to promote social and intellectual development for positive outcomes.
Bad Adoptions Exist
If you want to read cases of adoptee abuse, neglect, and murders all you have to do is take a look at the Pound Pup Legacy repository that contains nearly 1,000 horror stories on neglect and abuse. The US Government provides an estimate that 75% of children in foster care have been sexually abused, whereas only 8.4% of investigations of the general public conducted by US Child Protective Services were determined to have been a result of sexual abuse. Adoptee Facebook groups or attendance at adoptee events provides you a learning experience about multiple stories such as mine, of neglect and abuse in adoptive families.
Great Adoptions Can Result in Negative Outcomes
Even when adoptees have loving and nourishing families, they can still end up with negative outcomes. In a recent ten year study published in the online journal Pediatrics, their report stated that adoptees were 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adopted children. Other studies state that adoptees have a higher incarceration rate and suffer from greater mental health issues than the general public. There are preliminary studies from Canada and Sweden showing the damage is done in-utero and pose lifelong consequences with poor health outcomes and even permanent changes to genes.
Despite the popularity of adoption, there is a persistent concern that adopted children may be at heightened risk for mental health or adjustment problems. Margaret A. Keyes, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Great Orphanages Exist
I have learned that one should never generalize any group and this holds true, even to orphanages. In my 2.5 year tour as a diplomat to Kenya and as the CFO for medical research labs, I ran across a modern saint by the name of Sister Placida. Sister Placida is a Scottish nun who has been working in the remote town called Kericho, in Western Kenya. She has lived in the area for over 40 years and was taking care of individuals dying from AIDS and giving them proper burials before the disease became identified.
The outcome of the disease left thousands of children as orphans and Sister Placida found a program that helped surviving family members take care of the orphans. Later after the United States had promised to provide billions of dollars worth of free retroviral medications, she started an orphanage to provide food, medicine, and a nurturing environment so those street children had the best chance of survival.
Sister Placida expanded the program and offered training programs to spur entrepreneurship in the local economy as well as educational opportunities through the Live with Hope Centre in Kericho.
Orphans Can have Positive Outcomes
Being adopted doesn’t necessarily mean our life was spared. I see many adoptees cling to this narrative even when they do not know if this is true or not. I think many Sth Korean adoptees would have had productive and meaningful lives if they had stayed in Sth Korea instead of being adopted. My point of view comes from my eight years of experience living on the peninsula as an adult and the lengthy conversations I had with one of Sth Korea’s premier economists while I was working with him in Afghanistan.
South Korea’s economy is ranked as the fourth largest in Asia and ranked as the 11th largest in the world. South Korea broke out into high-tech industries and has become a leading producer of ships, automobiles, cell phones and other consumer electronics. Currently, South Korea had the fastest average internet connection in the world and enjoys having one of the lowest levels of unemployment. This doesn’t apply only to South Korea. I learned about an orphan from Rwanda when I was working in Kenya by the name of Immanuel Simugomwa who became a millionaire in an impoverished country with the aid of an NGO. I have heard numerous stories all over the world where orphans were thriving within their own country, despite the bad hand life had dealt them.
Adoptees can have Positive Outcomes
One of the perks I have in working for the DNA testing NGO to match adoptees with their biological families is meeting thousands of adoptees all over the world. The adoptee community is as varied as the general public. Someone who works in my line of work is LTG Naja West. She is the current Army Surgeon General, a three-star general and the highest ranking officer in the US Army Medical Department. LTG Naja West is also an adoptee.
LTG West is one of the numerous successful adoptees whom I have met. Others are a professional musician, a prominent actor, globally renowned artisan and author, film producer and successful businessman that runs a multi-million dollar firm. Successful adoptees represent a varied cross-section of life and many are successful in their own rights by achieving their goals.
We shouldn’t drive ourselves crazy about what could have happened instead of being adopted. The simple answer is we don’t know and what we think of as truth may be far from reality. The possibilities could have been endless and I wanted to remind my fellow adoptees that we often overlook and exclude orphans out of the equation when we speak. We often gravitate towards relinquishment, adoption and major highlights of adoption.
Sharing: My question is, where were you placed before you were adopted? Do you remember the other children or have any memories of them? Do we forget the other half?
I grew up on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota. Minnesota is a state, located in the north central region of the United States and borders Canada. Most people do not know the most northern point of the lower 48 states is located in Minnesota. It should be no surprise to learn Minnesota ranks in the top ten states for being the coldest and having the most snowfall. The Minnesota winters are known for dumping heavy wet blankets of lake-effect snow and its frigid temperatures.
If you live in a Northern climate, you gain experiences that only those who live in that region can understand. One learns to watch the weather the night before to know if one should plug in their car so the radiator will not freeze overnight. You learn to bundle up in loose layers to keep out the cold. As kids you learn not to lick metal surfaces when its below freezing otherwise you freeze your tongue on the object licked. Lastly, one learns to never eat yellow snow.
The straw stain that pops out against the white background is the recording of a human or animal’s presence as they relieve themselves in the great outdoors. This mustard stain that violates the white backdrop symbolizes discarded waste and something that is disgusting. Waste of course, is thrown away because it has no value. Garbage is ugly to look at and is an eyesore to the beauty that surrounds us. We put a lot of effort to hide, throw away and rid ourselves of trash. This is the way I felt during my childhood. I lived a childhood where I was taught I had no importance or value. I was the real living breathing ugly duckling. Worse yet, I was Asian. I symbolized that urine yellow stain in the snow.
The counselor at school insisted I take an IQ test and even though I tested a couple of deviations above the norm, I was placed in a “special” class. In the 5 years I was forced to attend this class, I befriended a boy named Raymond. The general public knew Raymond was intellectually disabled. My friend’s face seemed distorted, his pants seemed bulky due to the diaper he wore and his gait could be described as a stumbling walk. Many children mad fun of Raymond’s speech, his simple, s-l-o-w, slurred replies were the brunt of many jokes. I refused to partake in the taunts because I learned Raymond was a human being and like myself, he had feelings and ideas of his own.
After spending “special” classes with him for nearly 5 years, we grew to become great friends. I learned that Raymond loved collecting baseball cards and he would bring extra candy to class to share with me. Some people have asked me whether attending this special program hamper my intellectual growth. It may have but it also allowed me to learn a valuable life lesson. I learned to have compassion for all people. Black, white, yellow, tan, brown … the color of people did not matter. I believe that individuals who have a strong support network can do anything. Nothing can limit an individual in obtaining their dreams and goals. Little did I realize that Raymond and I had much more in common. Like Raymond, I also had to cope with being different, stared at and labeled as an outsider by society.
There was a kid that tormented me on the school bus. He was in high school and I was in first grade. It started out with threats and then it turned into gut punches. He hated me for being Asian. I hid this shame to myself and it was exposed when he took a permanent marker and used it to spell “gook” and “chink” on my face. The physical torment continued on when I entered high school. I endured an occasional punch, oratory lashings, and the constant fear that I would get beaten up. A kid several grades below me would twist my tiny frame into a pretzel on the long journey on the yellow school bus. My thin, waifish 16 year old Asian 100lb frame was no match for his 6ft 2in frame. He was the corn-fed farmer’s son who took pleasure in bending my small frame into a pretzel in the back of the bus. I was forced to feel the shame alone. I felt helpless, emasculated, and humiliated.
I felt further castrated by being taught that I was undatable. I was no match for the jocks. They were strong and good looking. I didn’t belong to the geeks because they were at least smart. I was the outsider to the outsiders. Being raised on a dairy farm meant I had to pull my weight with the chores. I had to carry heavy bushel baskets full of feed through manure covered feed lots and clean the calf pens each morning. I was the target of hate as I arrived to school with a distinct smell of cow faeces. I was the smelly kid in class because my adoptive parents did not allow me to shower before arriving to school. Then to add insult to injury, I was also the brunt of all fashion jokes. I often wore old “hand-me-downs”, garage sale and KMART specials. Needless to say, I was not popular at school.
Not only did I feel belittled but I also felt stupid. I had poor grades. I often fell asleep in class and also at night when I did my homework. My parents never helped me with my homework and without a tutor or a peer to study with, I had nobody to learn from. Many nights I stared into the blank pages of my text books and wondered about the meanings of the literary works or the simple algebraic equations. Nothing made sense to me.
Fear gripped the depths of my soul. Fear of the unknown. Fear for my own future. Later on, when I became an adult I learnt the proper name of the fear that prevented me from doing just about anything. This thing that had a chokehold on my life was called anxiety. My adopted parents described this behavior as being wimpy.
When I did overcome my fears, my behavior could be described as socially awkward. I didn’t know how to act around people because I had little interactions. Other times I would ramble and stay glued to a person because I was so starved for attention. No matter what the scenario, I would act inappropriately and my parents would later reprimand me verbally for my short comings. I never had a chance to be a kid or do simple things such as go to movies, watch popular TV shows, or hang out with friends. It was never an option. I was lacking in personal skills because I was isolated. I had no identity. I was simply a small kid alone in this big world.
My adoptive parents never thought to teach me about my Korean heritage. It never occurred to them to buy me a book about my ethnic origins. When I inquired, they refused to allow me to look at my own adoption paperwork. I was reminded I was American and told to be grateful. I was only taught about their Scandinavian roots. Racial issues that I brought up were immediately dismissed. It was met with the question of what I might have done to provoke someone or it was replied that this was a part of life and I had to toughen up. They called it “tough love”.
When they sicked the dog on me and howled with laughter when the dog tore into my flesh, it was supposedly done out of love too. I never felt like their child. Then again, most parents don’t do these things to their kids. Furthermore, society did not view us as a family either. The mismatch of large, looming Caucasian parents and tiny Asian children looked like the giant bearded lady and dwarf in a circus freak show. I felt awkward showing my face in public. People gawked at us when we entered the room. Our strangeness gave total strangers the courage to walk up and pry into my personal life asking questions like, “Hey are you getting married to your own kind? Are you Chinese? Japanese? Vietnamese?” I have even been mistaken to be Native American, Mexican, and Eskimo. Nobody in Minnesota seemed to know of the existance of a group of people called Koreans. With all this questioning and odd looks I wondered as a child if I was the only Korean left alive on God’s green earth?
A guidance counselor in my high school year was blunt with me when I walked into his office for the mandatory visit. I answered truthfully when he asked me what I wanted to do after high school. I told him I wanted to attend college and work in healthcare. The man told me in a stern voice that I was not college material and that I would steal an opportunity away from someone more deserving. I wondered if he would have said the same things to a Caucasian boy with poor grades? Did he take into consideration the hand I was dealt as child of being bullied, thrusted into child labor and a person who had all self esteem pummeled out of him? I have always wondered why he never offered any encouragement. Isn’t this what guidance counselors are supposed to do? To give individuals the best route towards the goals they were aiming for? Like the rest of the community I grew up in, he saw no value in me. But I ignored all the negativity I faced through out my childhood and focused on achieving everything said to be impossible.
The best way that I could explain my childhood was to compare it to a prison. A small, cold dirty Mexican prison. I was isolated from people. I was not allowed to pursue things I was curious about. My life was filled with hard manual labor, misery, abuse and filth. Despite these beginnings and the statistical chance of being successful, I persevered. I took remedial college course and taught myself how to write simple sentences. I studied evenings and learned the math I was unfamiliar with. I observed people and learned to shed my social awkwardness. I opened myself up to possibilities and fell in love. After several attempts, I married and was blessed with two wonderful children. I earned five degrees and two were graduate degrees from a reputable university. I traveled to more than 40 countries across the globe. One of the countries I visited was my birth country and I found my biological family. I have dined with presidents and met with dignitaries. I can say that I have had a fruitful life and entered into a profession as the CFO of hospitals.
I hope in telling my story, I can encourage others to take steps to push away their fears. I experienced numerous years of conditioning from others saying I was not good enough, strong enough or capable. I encourage everyone to break free from the chains of violence, hate, and anger. I tried as hard as they did in breaking me and I reached for the impossible. I made it despite the odds!
I encourage you to take a chance on yourself. You are worth the wait!
I was reared on a small dairy farm that rested on the edge of the Red River Valley on the Minnesota side. I grew up in a rural farming community that was filled with a lush green forest of corn, amber waves of grain and intermittent dots of farm homesteads covered with thick deciduous trees. On these vast plains lived a curious little bird, in scientific terms, called a Charadrius vociferous. These small insignificant brown birds with long thin spindly legs made their nests on the ground in the fields and shoreline all over North America. The locals, where I grew up, name this bird by the falsetto cry it makes … kill deer, kill deer. I am certain, if birds could speak, they would poke fun at the killdeer’s pencil-thin legs and scrawny body.
What makes this benign lusterless outward appearance memorable are the bird’s acting abilities. This bird pretends to have a broken wing to draw predators and trespassers such as a curious dog or small children away from their precious eggs. It’s amazing to observe these birds screaming around and flapping their wings and then dart away when you get near them. The birds deserve an Emmy Award for their dramatic performances. I have fond childhood memories of chasing these small feathered friends and was tricked into believing they needed medical attention. I never located the bird’s eggs but remember seeing fluffy plumed chicks darting about like a group of frolicking school children on the playgrounds.
In my studies I learned that the killdeer birds were aboriginal to North America, so I was dumbfounded to see similar antics during my travels to Korea. At first, I thought the kids waving at the soldiers were the average child as we passed in our armored track vehicles. Moments later, I realized these masqueraders were actually professionals pulling a scam. These acting children reminded me of the pretentious wounded Killdeers back home on the Minnesota prairies. Like the birds, they played wounded. Instead of broken wings, they acted out with alligator tears and pouting faces. The familiar killdeer, killdeer cries of distress were replaced with childish voices begging for items, “M.R.E., M.R.E.,” “GI gimme M.R.E.!” The children were asking for prepackaged Army food called Meals Ready to Eat or MRE’s for short. I eyed the children with caution and was disrupted from my stare by my friend.
“Hey, Hansen! I ate part of my lunch during our drive and I’m gonna give the rest of my meal. Watcha think?” “I don’t care,” I answered. I deliberated for a second and focused the children back into view. “Hmmm, to be honest, I really don’t think they want your leftovers.” Barrick jumped off the vehicle before I could finish my reply. Barrick seemed like a towering giant compared to the two little girls and it was comical to see him trying to speak Korean with them. I watched with amusement as the little girls refused his opened MRE package. They gestured that they wanted whole MRE packages that lay on top of my armored personnel carrier. Barrick insisted that the items inside the familiar brown plastic bag were indeed still good. “See,” he contended as he held the sealed crackers in the air and made facial gestures that the items were delicious.
I could tell that the eldest girl who was around 8 years old, was getting annoyed. She huffed several times and then blatantly refused the offer by waving her hands for him to get lost. As he made his final offer, the older girl stuck her fist in the air and gave Barrick the bird!
Barrick turned to me in shock and asked in disbelief, “Did you see that? She stuck up her middle finger!” Barrick took a few steps back toward the track vehicle and looked back once more to watch the little girl stick out her tongue at him. He shook his head in disbelief and said, “Just to think, I felt sorry for her!”
Another soldier walked up to the small children and handed the youngest some candy, she appeared to be about 5 years old. The tiny fingers clutched the pieces of hard candy and she began to place a piece inside her mouth. Then fast as lightning, the eldest child struck the littlest one with candy in the face. She landed a couple of hard blows to the small cheeks with her open palms. The eldest child’s face filled with rage. Then as punishment, the larger of the girls pulled the thinning mittens off the smaller one and stuffed them inside her coat pockets.
We all stared at the scene with horror and disbelief. I asked my KATUSA (Korean Augmentee to the US Army), a Korean National soldier who was attached to our unit, to come with me and translate for me. I kneeled in the snow and gingerly grasped the eldest girl by the shoulders and asked her why she was hitting her sister. The girl pulled away from me and put her back towards my face. I got up and walked in front of her and kneeled. This time I asked her if she loved her younger sister and if so why she had hit her in the face. The KATUSA again translated my message, and after a few minutes of questioning the eldest girl’s strong cold glare dissipated and she began to sob in my arms.
The crying girl blurted out a stream of words and left my hug to embrace her little sister. After a short conversation, I learned that the children were forced to stand outside in the twenty degrees below temperature to beg for MRE’s from the passing US Soldiers that trained near her home. Her parents were poor farmers and they supplemented their meager income by selling the Army rations on the black market. As I was listening to her story I started to see the telltale signs of neglect. I noticed that the exposed fingers were red and swollen from mild frostbite and the cheeks chapped from exposure. The hair was matted and dull flakes of dandruff were present in their hair and the horribly tight clothes barely kept them warm from the chilling mountainous winds of Korea.
So many questions fill my mind as I recount this story that happened so many years ago. I wonder what asshole would teach a little girl the meaning of the middle finger. I hope I made a better impact on her and that she has learned to cherish and love her sisters, despite the burden her parents placed on her shoulders as an 8 year old. I revisit this story from time to time and ponder on how this girl is doing. Would she have been better off adopted like me and suffer like I, or was she better off to have been kept with her poor family in Korea? The “once in a lifetime” trip to see my “homeland” taught me more about myself than I imagined possible. I hope this girl has grown up to be a strong, independent woman who has nothing but happiness.