What’s In a Name?

by Stephanie Dong Hee Kim, adopted from South Korea to the Netherlands.

Is a name just “but” a name?

The meaning of words and language is so much more than a collection of letters, signs or sounds.

Words and sounds have meaning, these are symbols, they reflect feelings and thoughts. A name expresses your identity: who are you, where are you from and who and where do you belong (to)?

Questions which don’t have an obvious answer for many adoptees and every person who is searching for both or one of their birth parents.

I was conceived and grew to be a human being in my Korean mother’s womb, as the fourth daughter of the Kim (김) family, and my parents named me Dong-Hee (동희) after I was born.

I was adopted by a Dutch family and got a new first name and also a new family name . Lately, to me this started feeling like ‘overwriting’ my identity and I don’t feel senang about that anymore.

I see myself more and more like a Korean woman who grew up in the Netherlands and has a Dutch nationality. My Korean identity is my background and forms a big part of who I am, even though I didn’t grow up in that culture.

There is a slight difference between how I feel about my first name and how I feel about my family name.

I am grateful that my adoptive parents never took away 동희 from me and just added Stephanie so that my life here would be easier. It’s still easier to have a western name nowadays, since discrimination hasn’t disappeared through the years.

I feel more and more that my blood relation and my Korean background is where I want my family name to refer to, I feel proud to be a 김 family member.

I feel less connection with the Dutch family name, because I do not share any cultural and biological family history with this name and the people wearing this name. Also, there has never been much contact nor connection with any of those family members, besides my adoptive father and -brothers.

That’s why I’ve decided to get used to what it’s like to let myself be known by my Korean names, starting with social media . Just to experience what it does to me, if it makes me feel more me and in place.

I would like people to start feeling comfortable to call me by either of my names. I think it will help me sort out which name(s) reminds me most of who I really am, makes me feel home. Maybe it’s one of them, maybe it’s both. I’m okay with all outcomes.

It’s in some way uncomfortable to me because it feels like I’m taking off a jacket and with that I’m a little exposed and vulnerable.

But that’s okay, since I have been identifying myself with my Dutch names for more than 42 years.

This was originally posted on Instagram and redacted for publishing on ICAV.

Resources

What’s In a Name? Identity, Respect, Ownership?

America—You Made It Hard to Be Proud to Be Asian-American

by Mary Choi Robinson, adopted from South Korea to the USA

As I sit down to my laptop it is May 2, the second day of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Awareness Month and I reflect on Alice Wu’s The Half of It I watched last night to commemorate the first day of AAPI month. Watching the movie with my daughter, I thought how I wished it or something like it had been available when I was a teenager or even in my early twenties. To see an entire film focused on the life of a young Asian woman on the cusp of self-discovery and adulthood would have made me feel seen and a part of the fabric of American identity. So while this month is meant to showcase AAPI heritage I am not in fact proud to be Asian-American…yet.

I am sure my previous statement will elicit reactions from disbelief, to shock, to anger, and everything in between from varying groups of identities. So let me explain why I am not proud yet, how America made it nearly impossible for me to be proud, and how I’m gaining pride in my Asianness. As a Korean adoptee, raised by white parents in predominately-white areas, I have always navigated two racial worlds that often oppose each other and forever contradict my identity. The whiteness of my parents did not insulate or protect me from racism and in fact would even appear at home. When I first arrived to the US, my sister, my parent’s biological child, took me in as her show and tell for school with our parents’ blessing. Her all white classmates and teacher were fascinated with me and some even touched my “beautiful silky shiny jet black” hair, something that would continue into my early thirties until I realized I did not have to allow people to touch my hair. Although I start with this story, this is not a piece about being a transracial, transnational adoptee—that is for another day, maybe in November for National Adoption Awareness Month—but to illustrate how my Asian identity exists in America.

As I grew up, I rarely saw other Asians let alone interacted with them. Instead, I lived in a white world full of Barbie, blonde hair and blue eyes in movies, television shows, magazines, and classrooms. The rare times I did see Asians in person were once a year at the Chinese restaurant to celebrate my adoption day or exaggerated or exocticized caricatures in movies and tv shows. Think Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles, or Ling Ling the “exotic gem of the East” in Bewitched. Imagine instead an America where Wu’s film or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asian or Fresh Off the Boat or Kim’s Convenience would have opened up for generations of Asian Americans. Rarely would I spot another Asian in the school halls. However, I could never form friendships with them, heavens no, they were real full Asians and society had taught me they were weird, ate strange smelly things, talked funny, and my inner adolescent warned me association with “them” would only make me more of an outsider, more Asian. In classrooms from K-12 and even in college, all eyes, often including the teacher, turned to me when anything about an Asian subject, regardless of whether it was about China, Vietnam, Korea, etc., as the expert to either verify or deny the material. I always dreaded when the material even had the mention of an Asian country or food or whatever and would immediately turn red-faced and hot while I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pant legs until the teacher moved on, hoping the entire time I would not be called on as an expert like so many times before.

My white family and white friends would lull me into a false sense of belonging and whiteness by association. That false sense of security would shatter when they so easily and spontaneously weaponized my Asianness against me with racial slurs during arguments. Of course, I was used to racist verbal attacks from complete strangers, I had grown up on a diet of it, but it especially pained me from friends and family. The intimacy of those relationships turned the racism into acts of betrayal. That was the blatant racism; the subtle subversive racism caused just as much damage to my sense of pride. As a young professional in my early twenties, a white colleague told me how beautiful I was “for an Asian girl.” A Latina student in one of my courses loudly and clearly stated, “The first day of class, I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to understand you and I’m so glad your English is so good!” And of course I regularly receive the always popular, “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” Because Asian Americans, whether born here or not, are always seen as foreigners.

AAPI Awareness Month did not even become official until 1992. But anti-Asian sentiment in the US has a long history and was sealed in 1882 with the first national stance on anti-immigration that would be the catalyst for future immigration policies, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, coincidentally signed into law also in the month of May. In February 1942, the US rounded up and interned Japanese-Americans and Asian-Americans of non-Japanese decent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now in 2020 amidst the global lockdown of Covid-19, anti-Asian attacks, both verbal and physical, have increased to startling numbers. As recently as April 28, NBC News reported Over 30 percent of Americans have witnessed COVID-19 bias against Asians. Think about that—this is Americans reporting this not Asian Americans. The attacks have been worldwide but this report shows what Asian Americans are dealing with alongside the stress of the pandemic situation in the US. Keep in mind the attacks on Asian Americans are not just from white folks, indeed we’re fair game for everyone as evidenced by Jose Gomez’s attempt to murder an Asian American family including a two-year old child in Midland, Texas in March. Let that sink in—a two-year old child simply because they are Asian! Asians are being spat on, sprayed, and worse by every racial group.

To help combat this current wave of American anti-Asian sentiment, highly visible leader and former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang advised Asian Americans in a Washington Post op-ed to:

“…embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”

My reaction to Mr. Yang’s response bordered on anger at the implication for Asian Americans to continue the perpetuation of the model minority myth. The danger of which, besides reinforcing divides between racial and minority groups, extols the virtue of suffer in silence. Do not make waves, keep your head down, be a “good” American. Sorry Mr. Yang, I am finally gaining pride in my Asianess and I cannot and will not stay silent any longer.

It has taken me my whole life to gain nuggets of pride in my Asian identity. Now I appreciate the color of my tan skin and dark almond-shaped eyes and no longer compare my physical beauty to white women and the standards society has forced on us all. For the first time I actually see myself, and all Asian women and men, as beautiful because of and not in spite of being Asian. I no longer avoid other Asians and cherish friendships with those who look like me. I love to explore the diversity of Asian cuisines, cultures, and traditions and continue to learn about them since, remember, “Asian” is diverse and not a monolith of just one culture. Now I speak up without fear of rejection or lack of acceptance when I witness anti-Asian or any racist behavior and use those moments as teaching opportunities whenever I can. I no longer resent not being able to pass as white. I am becoming proud to be Asian.

Read Mary’s earlier blog My Adoption Day Is An Anniversary of Loss

Painting My Infant Self

by JS Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, author and artist.

When I was in Korea in 2006, I traveled to Daegu to see the hospital grounds where I was supposedly found abandoned. Wandering aimlessly, I hoped for something to feel familiar, despite how decades had passed. This painting was inspired by the photo I took on my trip.

While painting my infant self there sounds pretty sad, it felt amazing—almost as if I’d traveled back in time to tell her she was now in my safe hands.

You can follow more of JS Lee’s works at her website.

The Significance of Adoptee Eyes

by Alexis Bartlett, adopted from South Korea to Australia; their adoptee art project can be found at Art by Alexis Bartlett.

YoungHee’s Eyes by Alexis Bartlett

In continuing on with my adoptee portraits and drawing lots of eyes lately, it got me thinking about my own story and history, eyes playing a strange role.

I always hated my eyes as I was growing up. Part of the difficulty growing up as an adoptee is that we just want to be like those around us. It was always disappointing to me when I’d look in the mirror and see these brown, Korean eyes staring back at me because they were nothing like those around me, or those who were meant to be my family. I still go through periods where I really want to get the infamous Korean eye surgery done (to give myself a double eyelid, and hence the illusion of larger, less Asian eyes) because I think there will always be a part of me that I can’t fully embrace for who I am. But I have a little guy looking to me now as a mum; a little guy who I want to have grow up loving himself just the way he is. And I feel it would only be contradictory for me to alter myself while telling him he should love himself for the way he is.

It’s so hard, but self love is so important. And that’s so hard to have when you’re adopted because not only do you know (from a VERY young age) that there was some reason as to why you weren’t wanted, but we grow up around people who look nothing like us. It might seem trivial, but trust me, it isn’t. Representation is important, especially coming from those who are meant to be closest to you. Anyway, YoungHee here, has amazing eyes.

To see more of Alexis’s adoptee portraits, check them out, click on each image.

For those who don’t access Facebook, here are some of what Alexis has shared for these portraits as a reflection of her own journey:

“It’s nice to paint people who are “like me”. I’m only just coming to terms with… myself, in many ways. I’ve been trying to get my head around my adoption trauma all my life; something that’s manifested itself in various ways over the years. I was a terrified, lonely kid (although, to be fair, I love solitude) who wanted to be accepted but couldn’t be because I could never accept myself and just be myself.”

“A lot of people don’t want to hear the experiences of adoptees; they’re too confronting, too challenging to the happy ideals people go into adoption with. Many of us are angry with misunderstanding, having been silenced by the happy side of adoption that people want to believe in.”

“I was a very lonely kid. I’ve always found it difficult, if not impossible, to make genuine friendships with people, and I always knew I was different to my adoptive family; many of whom excluded me from things, anyway. Art was all I had, much of the time.”

“For me, belonging has always been a struggle. I have my own little family now where I finally have a true sense of belonging, but other than that, it’s pretty sparse. I’ve been made very aware recently that I’ll never truly belong or fit in with my biological family, and I’ve never truly fitted in with my adoptive family either. Finding the Korean adoptee community has been immensely important to me though and I feel super honoured that I can share my fellow adoptees’ experiences and stories. Thanks, guys.”

My Adoption Day Is An Anniversary of Loss

by Mary Choi Robinson, adopted from South Korea to the USA.

This is Choi Soon Kyu.

She is about 4 years old in this picture and recently orphaned and sick from the ravages of poverty.

Before this picture was taken she had a prior life and was someone’s child, someone’s daughter with most likely a different name.

About 8 months after this picture on February 18, she will be delivered to the US, be given a new identity and family; a new life that is foreign, scary, and imposed upon her. Her name will be changed and she will lose her language and culture to new ones.

Her three identities, her three lives, are borne of trauma and loss. She is now me and I survive every day from all she lost.

Don’t tell me to be thankful or grateful, or that every child deserves a safe, loving family and home.

Instead try to understand that I carry this unbearable grief and loss every day. A grief that is not worse but unlike other grief that cannot always be easily expressed. A grief I’m not certain how to mourn and will most likely never recover from, that may have generational consequences.

Some days I struggle more than others, especially when unexpectedly blindsided by adoption.

So today is not just the anniversary of my adoption/arrival to the US, but also an anniversary of loss. But I’m still here and doing the best I can making the most of this life, so I’ll celebrate that.

If you’d like to read more from Mary, her Masters thesis is included at ICAVs Research page – Living a Parallel Life: Memoirs and Research of a Transnational Korean Adoptee.

The Pope Shaming People into Adopting Children

by Cameron Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, therapist and founder of Therapy Redeemed.

Are we shaming one another into adopting children? Let’s consider the impact of that kind of messaging.

First, please visit @patrickintheworld for an organized dialogue on humanity – and how Francis’ words fall short in recognizing our intrinsic experience of it. You don’t need to adopt a child to fulfill your humanity. And not everyone who adopts a child is selfless.

Second, can you imagine adopting a child because you felt guilty or selfish for not adopting one? Please see my previous Office Hour With Your Therapist episode, “Is Your Marriage Ready for Adoption?”

Third, a pet is very different than a child. I’d strongly caution comparing them as if they can be switched out like car parts. Explore the hashtag #notathing and examine the fruits of such a commodifying narrative. Adoptees, from infancy to any age, need a kind of thoughtful and informed care that exists beyond the way we describe cats and dogs.

Fourth, as this messaging comes from a spiritual authority who struggles to meaningfully address the importance of post-adoption services, I urge us to continue supporting families in the church who have already adopted.

Despite differences in worldview, adoptees (and their families) need to know they’re not alone and they need help in navigating all the complexities that come with relinquishment, transfer(s) of custody, and beyond.

I’m in no way saying we should discount families outside of the church. But I worry there are adopters in spiritual communities who’ve entered this journey because of mis-informed motives (no judgment from me, I know you don’t need more of that!), and have found themselves in desperate need of resources and hope.

Lastly, it should go without saying, let’s continue to interrogate the conditions that minimize or tokenize efforts toward family preservation. I’d love to see more Christ-fueled initiatives to keep children with their parent(s) and kin.

Yes, the conversation flows beyond the scope of this single post. Please feel free to browse my account for more faith-related thoughts on #adoption – as well as the myriad of #adoptee voices on and off social media who have been speaking on these issues of reform and restoration.

How transnational adoption practices in South Korea can challenge women’s ability to control their reproductive destiny

by Christla PETITBERGHIEN (Haitian adoptee raised in France), Eunseo KIM, Jiyun JEONG, Jung HEO, Sum Yin Shek, submitted as part of their academic course: The Politics of Values.

Introduction

In our current society, the area regarding the issue of adoptees and social policies related to adoption are pretty much hidden and invisible. There are plenty of reasons for such a tendency; isolation and alienation, emphasis on normal society, less prioritized, and so on. Hence, we became aware of the fact that those issues should be enlightened enough worldwide so that their rights are protected and people are engaged. In order to achieve such a purpose, we should have a better understanding of the family-building value, the identity and rights issue of adopted children and women, so that their rights can be discussed and handled thoroughly.

We have chosen to focus on the practice of transnational adoption in South Korea since this topic, which remains largely undiscussed in the academic field, is an eminent political issue that involves many ethical and conflicting value questions regarding the issue of family-making and the right to parenthood but also because one of our teammates is herself an adoptee who was already interested by this topic. International adoption constitutes a form of stratified reproduction, enabling some to engage in child-rearing while making it impossible for others to do so. The process of adoption relies on family construction throughout the de-kinning of other families, so starting from this observation,
we wanted to understand the way in which a family comes to be destroyed and, in this way, to see how adoption testifies the ideals and the social-political values of societies regarding family-building. In order to understand this, we needed to look at the situation of biological parents, especially biological mothers’ situations and the factors that force them to separate themselves from their offspring, as well as the agency’s degree they have in this process and the contribution of the state to the social and economic incapacity of certain individuals to form a family. We wanted to understand how political values influence the use of adoption by states as a biopolitical tool for population management and reproduction control. We focused on the situation of Korean single and biological mothers as a case study highlighting the more global problems of transnational adoption, as
Korea remains one of the major child donor countries despite its current status as a developed country.

While in search of the interviewee, we came across the work of Hosu Kim, Birth mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea; virtual mothering (2016). As an expert who has specialized in child adoption, especially transnational adoption, we decided that she would be able to provide us insights into the questions that we had and therefore chose her as our interviewee. Hosu Kim is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. She got her Ph.D. in Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY and M.A. in Sociology at Indiana State University. Her research interest is mainly focused on transnational adoption and reproductive politics. Her selected publications are Decolonizing Adoption Narratives for Transnational Reproductive Justice, co-authored with Sunghee Yook and The Biopolitics of Transnational Adoption in South Korea: Preemption and the Governance of Single Birthmothers, in which she explains South Korea’s international adoption functioning as biopolitical technology, how the government controlled and regulated unwed mothers and their children to displace the abnormal citizens.

Methodology

The questions asked during the interview are the following: (1) Is traditional social stigma
regarding “normal family” in Korea getting in the way of not only single mothers raising a child on their own but also keeping a child instead of sending them for adoption? (2) What was the reason that made you focus specifically on South Korea regarding the issue of international adoption? How did transnational adoption function as a biopolitical technology in South Korea? (3) Has capitalism overridden the true value of the child-welfare ethics and the right to rear their own child by commodifying the children especially within the overseas adoption industry? Does the growing demand for adoptable children in Northern Global Countries challenge the respect of birthmothers’ reproductive rights? (4) Does a single pregnant woman really have a “choice” when it comes to deciding adoption? If not, what factors put these women into the state of ‘having no other choice’? (5)
Do you believe the political weakness of biological parents serves the interests of other actors of adoption such as adoptive parents and the state? (6) What kind of changes should/could be made about the adoption policy in the future?

In our group, there are five members including Christla PETITBERGHIEN, Eunseo KIM, Jiyun JEONG, Jung HEO, and Sum Yin Shek. The common work of all five of us includes coming up with the interview questions, doing research on each part, participating in the interview process asking questions, and writing each paragraph for the corresponding part. Christla has come up with the topic and found the interviewee, Eunseo did the research on the interviewee’s work and was in charge of contacting the interviewee, and Jung categorized all the possible questions and regrouped them for the finalized set of interview questions. As for the report, Christla and Jung wrote the introduction, Eunseo and Sum Yin wrote the conclusion, and Jiyun finalized the paper by unifying the overall literary style.

Analysis of the interview

  1. The influence of traditional family norms in Korea to single mothers
    The whole single mother issue should not be simply generalized as East Asian culture. Rather, it is a combined issue including economic, social and legal barriers in Korea, which hinders single mothers from raising children on their own. The traditional cultural prejudice plays a huge role. However, it is the legal framework that primarily blocks single mothers from registering their own children under their name. There is a colonial legal system which is called “Hojuk” in South Korea and which acts as a fundamental framework that constructs the family structure. And so often, the structure is patriarchal, meaning only a man has the privilege or prerogative to recognize one’s paternity. As a result, up until its abolishment in 2005, single mothers in Korea could not legally claim their own children as theirs. And when these single mothers decide to raise their own children rather than sending them away, they have often skirted around the legal barrier by registering their children under the name of their male siblings or their own father. Hence, combing with all the wealth gap, gender gap, job availability, all the other social and economic factors, it is hard life circumstances for the women rather than a simple conservative cultural reason.
  2. About the interviewee’s interest in adoption issue in South Korea
    South Korea is one of the largest countries sending children to international adoption. Beyond such statistics, for Professor Kim, personal experience studying as an international student in the US led to the interest in the intertwined history of South Korea and the United States. Frequently meeting people who have adopted and raised Korean children in mundane conversation ended up asking why there are so many orphans, especially sent away to overseas adoption. South Korea’s international adoption practice lasted 70 years, tracking back from the Korean war to today when squid game and parasites are everywhere. The dissonance between sending Korean children and establishing the proud Korean culture can be understood in the term, the biopolitical technology. The Korean government and its norms define what is a normal family, entitling who is adequate to raise children. It included controlling and stigmatizing unwed mothers, forcing those ‘inadequate’ mothers to send their children. Also, it was a consistent operation of normative citizenship removing underserving citizens from South Korea; people with mixed race or born to presumably sex workers in camptown or children from orphanages or single mother were regarded as a typical abnormal sector of the populations. Hence, South Korea’s nation building process, which was very capitalist and patriarchal, included forced displacement of the inadequate surplus population.
  3. Capitalism and the international adoption industry
    Hosu Kim also pointed out how capitalism has supplanted the true value of the child welfare ethic and the right to raise one’s own child by commodifying children, particularly in the international adoption industry. The genesis of transnational adoption is part of the practice of the humanitarian market. Humanitarianism is associated in the collective mind with the idea of virtue yet humanitarianism functions as a non-profit sector of global capitalism. In the 1950s and 1960s, many adoption agencies became not-for-profit institutions, but also seen as child welfare institutions. These agencies had some type of children’s welfare in their name and, as a result, many citizens confused these adoption agencies with children’s welfare institutions, which had nothing to do with this exchange of money. It was a deliberate disguise that allowed many adoptions to take place. The lack of knowledge of the many biological families involved about the exact procedures of the adoption and the amount of money exchanged in return for their children as well as the confusion they make between the name of the agencies and the child welfare was exploited to make them accept the adoption separation. Therefore, not only that, their parenting right, their custody is uprooted, but through the adoption , they become rightless people to ask for any rights (right to information or even to know whether their children are still alive).

    Furthermore, the questioning of the respect of the reproductive rights of the biological mothers is the result of the increasing demand of adoptable children in the countries of the North, because who says a greater Demand requires the necessity to look for more Supply. In international adoption, there is a logic of supply and demand chain. But today the number of adoptions is decreasing with the development of medical reproductive techniques and many feminist researchers have looked at this global reproductive assembly line and the case of surrogacy and the similarities it has with adoption. One can indeed wonder what kind of work all these long-unrecognized biological mothers have done? Have they been surrogate mothers in spite of themselves?
  4. Adoption not as a choice
    Based on the estimate that about 40% of all adopted children in South Korea in 2005 were relinquished at or transferred from maternity homes, it raises curiosity regarding the regulatory functions that maternity homes have undertaken. The research done by Hosu Kim about maternity homes in South Korea for single pregnant women back from 1980s until mid 2000s reveals the reality of rightless single mothers.

    Most single pregnant women face exclusion and hostility from their communities after disclosing their pregnancy, and often coming to a situation where their male partners derail from the relationship or are not able to support them financially. The maternity home is one of very few options to those who are in desperate need of shelter, food, protection, and medical facilities. As a result, many of these women take refuge in maternity homes. However, from the instant of the arrival, they are inquired into their plans for the baby’s future without being fully informed of options and choices, and the screening questions give the sense to the single mothers as if there are only two answers: either relinquishing the baby or taking full responsibility of keeping the child despite their hostile living conditions.

    During their stay at the maternity home, adoption constantly floats not just as one of the options but as the only viable one. Without a very clear idea of what adoptions might look like, and what it would feel like after the birth, single pregnant women face info sessions with the adoption agencies and even potential adoptive parents. They make consultations in which they solicit babies from pregnant women. During these sessions, a lot of catharsis moments and a sense of consolation and reassurance are exchanged, putting the hope into the birth mothers that once they rebuild their life, they can meet the adoptees. The reality that lies in this process is that maternity homes are operated in a very close network with adoption agencies as 40~50% of maternity homes are founded and operated directly by them. Although maternity homes seem as though they help the single mothers prepare to return to society, away from the “shameful past” and difficult memory and back into the normal site, there is no room for birth mothers to acknowledge and to claim their motherhood.
  5. Interest dynamics within the actors of adoption process
    It is now obvious that the political weakness of birth parents serves the interests of other actors within the process of adoption, such as adoptive parents, the state, and adoption institutions. Under the name of ‘children welfare center’, these agencies disguise the seriousness of commercialization of this transnational child adoption industry, and even furthermore, having birth mothers unwillingly become a surrogate to their children. Parenting is considered a basic moral thing as a human, which is naturally expected for parents to raise their children under whatever circumstances they are situated in. While birthmothers, in general, have more responsibility for their children in this gendered society, birth parents being considered “morally delinquent” definitely results in the silence of the birth family. For instance, 10% of adoptees are presumably missing children who lost their way around in their neighbourhood, and moreover women run away from inhumane unliveable living conditions such as domestic violence, leaving behind their children. Often the birth families unexpectedly find their children in adoption later. What’s worse is that the whole secrecy around adoption conceals the uncomfortable yet important truth of it, such as 11-15% of the adoptees experiencing abandonment from their adoptive family and being re-adopted. They way birth families are easily perceived as a morally deprived, indigent people not being capable nor having rights to reproduce serves to their political weakness, or at least questioning their rights. In this neoliberal capitalistic society, self sufficiency and self responsibility is viewed as the norm, which makes people lacking them be taken away from their reproductive rights. All of such problems linked to the transnational adoption requires the clarification of who is responsible for it, and the repair of the framework of reproduction and justice regarding these family issues.
  6. Possible future of adoption policy
    Professor Kim first pointed out that if there is a clear order, no matter if it is ethical order, social order or moral order, if the beneficiary exists, so does the benefactor. However, if there isn’t, rather than reinforcing the power asymmetry between the countries or between involving parties, it actually can prolong and sometimes creates unnecessary hammocks and injuries. For the transnational option in South Korea right now, there are layers and layers of legislation which sort of block both parties, adoptees and birth family, from finding each other. So, by creating a special law or some type of legal framework whereby adoption and all the other related documents can be and should be made available, this means it would no longer just be the property of the individual agencies. The second point that Professor Kim is concerned about is repair. Repair should be thought of upon the 70 years long history of transnational adoption. There isn’t any fine line cutting out who’s fault it is, we cannot really distinguish if it is only one country’s fault or was there any violence involved. Under such conditions, this whole scene created a new ordinance and new imaginations of what to think about for repair and also for social justice.

Conclusion

We have been able to identify and analyze the dynamics within the issue of adoption,
particularly on the international adoption policies of South Korea, throughout the interview of Professor Hosu Kim. Adoption is a political issue as it functions as normative citizenship in the Korean government’s nation building, and also an ethical issue as it defines abnormal and inadequate mothers and children. By interviewing Professor Kim, we deepened the understanding of the biopolitics of adoption policies and recognized the lack of discourse about reproductive rights and capitalism related to the welfare design of supporting single mothers. Like the capitalist hierarchy between the states and the project of nation building brought about by adoption politics, the controversy between neo-liberal ideas and reproductive rights are opening diverse possibilities of a repaired framework of adoption. We hope the ethical and political dimension of adoption policies would further develop to promote the rights of adopted children and mothers.

Longing (Someday) by Luke McQueen

by Luke McQueen adopted from South Korea to the USA. Luke’s Longing (Someday) is one of 6 musical pieces created by an intercountry adoptee to be featured in ICAVs Video Resource for Professionals.

About Me

Some people wonder why I have such a vague answer to “What’s your sign?” Here’s why. I was born somewhere in South Korea, likely near Jecheon around 1972. I was in an orphanage in Jecheon for about 1 year and adopted in 1977 to a loving family in Longmont, Colorado in the United States. Like many orphans and adoptees, I have no idea when my birthday is, hence any Zodiac sign will do. But regarding the Chinese zodiac year, I’m either a rat, pig or an ox.

My Music Journey

My earliest musical memories, lovingly captured by my family on cassette tape (kids go ahead and DuckDuckGo), include a recording of songs I learned at the orphanage. Around the age of 6 or 7, I was regularly singing in my church where my father was the pastor and I did so up until high school. I learned some classical piano (pretty much the extent of my formal training) around the age of 8 and began to compose some simple original work around the age of 10 or 11. Around 12 or 13 years old, I was given a synthesizer by a family friend and within a couple of years was able to upgrade to a real synth (the Ensoniq SQ80) with my paper route job money. I tried to impress girls but with limited success (actually, not so much though as I couldn’t overcome my insecurities and pretty serious acne). Those days I produced some amateurish creations of 80’s synthpop (better known as “music” during the actual 80’s). Speaking of, I’ve got to bring some of those songs back one of these days!

A pivotal moment in my music life came in the mid 80’s when I entered a talent competition and won based on a fairly simple composition. I beat out an extremely talented musician who played Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” This sparked insight that new and created music is quite different from some of the most complex played/covered music. It was after this that I committed to making my own music — but it would be many years before I would have the maturity to listen to others, judge myself properly and have a learning mentality to be able to fashion an adequate song.

I joined the jazz choir in high school and ended up writing the baccalaureate song. It was called “Changes” and it was about as cheesy as it sounds, but continue reading and you’ll see why! Anyhow, for my prom date in my senior year, out came my trusted SQ80 with candles and fancy pants cake, and I sang my heart out. My date declined when I asked her out again after that, so I’ll let you decide how it went or what it meant :).

When I graduated high school I went to a small Christian College in Lincoln, Illinois, where I joined a music group and also formed a Christian band named “Going 2 Rock U.” And just like that, the cheese increases! There were some proud song creation moments, but no finished or polished production of anything for the public. I do remember I had one song that had Christian lyrics with a Babyface vibe. Honestly, I didn’t know how to craft decent songs, but I thought I was much better than I was, so I did not take any guidance or criticism well, however well-intended.

Nevertheless, in 1996 as a CU-Boulder student, I auditioned for Dave Grusin’s “A Westside Story” with the CU jazz band where I got a taste of world-class performers and saw possibilities in music. [record screech] However, I promptly chose the safety of a Technology Consulting career and put off this music dream for another 17 years. In 2013, I moved to Korea to search for my birth family and also decided to give music a try. As a student, I took a couple of Berklee Online classes in orchestration and jazz improvisation to hone my chops and then began performing in Seoul in various bands, formed my own band, and finally ended up as a solo artist. All along, I was learning how to play live and write a ton of songs, some of which will be on my record this November. To make ends meet, I worked various music company jobs and was given other opportunities to perform my music. A big opportunity came in 2020, when I became an artist in an independent entertainment company in Seoul. It’s true when they say “you can’t make it alone.” So I humbly take steps forward, with a lot of help from friends, musicians, fans and industry professionals, to build a lasting career as a solo artist.

What inspired Longing (Someday)?

Although I’ve been making music since I was in middle school, I haven’t had any songs I was ready to proudly say “this is my song.” But finally in 2013, after visiting Korea for the first time, I decided to write a song about the desire to find my birth family, specifically my birth mother. I have no memories of Korea as a child, so I imagined wandering the streets as a child and feeling the lost feeling of wanting to go home. I tapped into my own mid-life crisis where I felt my life was crippled and falling apart in so many ways–in my relationships and work, and so the feeling of escaping that and longing for the unknown helped to create lyrics. I tried variations of melodic “oohs,” deciding on the current chorus and the song was born.

A Quick Therapy Sesh

As an adoptee, I have been a combination of a chameleon, charmer, escape artist and an under-the-rug-ifier. As a child, I was decent at trying to get people to laugh and often trying to be funny, which I believe was to try and hide or deflect from my insecurity and desperate need for acceptance. Any negative feeling was avoided, unaddressed and lay dormant for many years until suddenly during mid-life, my shielding/protection from my unknown past and unprocessed feelings came back, and there was no way to hide from them anymore. I have also seen how by not addressing these issues, my self-sabotage and critical nature was eating away any opportunity and chance to succeed in music. I was certainly a mess which influenced many decisions, being in wrong relationships, and making many poor decisions for my life. Also, I have had perpetual blindness to my selfish nature, a mark of the immaturity of my character. Luckily, however, with true friends, my loving family, and by the grace of God, I have come out of all of this milieu a stronger and more confident human being. And with the realization of my selfish nature, I am able to better find the path of compassion, kindness and peace from my true loving nature. Although it will continually be a journey of learning, I believe I am more resilient than ever and now I am ready to live again, even during these challenging times of viruses, fear and lockdowns.

Has my perspective of the song changed since writing it?

Since the original writing of the song in 2013, the main thing that’s changed is my perspective on the substance of the longing. Before, I thought it was only my birth family I longed for, but now I realize it was an even deeper longing that I felt. And in 2019, this desire to connect was only truly met when I reconnected with the ultimate birth parent, God, when I became a follower of Jesus again.

Feedback I’ve received for Longing (Someday)

In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, but just like the varied experience of adoptees, it’s likely more complex… for many that have not searched for their birth family, the song may stir up emotions they have locked up for many years. For those who’ve found birth families, the longing can still exist, as unrealistic expectations are not met or worse. In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, however I would completely understand an aversion to Longing (Someday) for some adoptees who are completely avoidant of adoption-related topics. I have heard from those outside the adoption experience that this song reminds them of loved ones that have passed or whom they may be alienated from. I am blessed to have been able to produce the song and have many in your audience hear it. I hope the lyrics and music will touch their hearts as much as it touches mine.

Any new music relating to my adoption experience?

Longing (Someday) is the only truly adoptee-related song I’ve written. I do have a duet I co-wrote with another adoptee who is a wonderful poet and it’s called “The Other Side.” I may release it as a single in the future but it’s not yet production ready. I also had some music featured in an unreleased documentary called “My Umma” but I am not sure I will release the music for that. I do, however, have a song that will be on my debut album in November called “Disappearing” which I wrote from the perspective of a birth family hoping their adoptive child will return home, but with the passing of time, the very real prospect of a reunion diminishes. Now that I write this, this certainly sounds depressing. Hmm, maybe that’s why I have so many happy fun songs to offset and balance these songs!

I currently have a 5-song EP released, and will be releasing my 12-song debut album on 23 November 2021. If you’re interested, please check out my music, which is a mix of poppy fun, groovy and soulful tunes along with ballads like Longing (Someday).

So maybe I don’t have a specific “sign” I can give you, but instead I’ll give you a “song.” I hope you enjoy Longing (Someday).

How to find Luke McQueen

Mental Balance and Art

by Jonas Haid, adopted from South Korea to Germany.

Everyone is talking about work life balance.

What about mental balance?

When I finished my B.A. in fashion design I realized that doing artwork and being creative is my favourite tool to take myself out of this world. At the same time I understood that creativity can’t be a part of my future career. Here are the reasons why:

1. I need inspiration to be creative.
2. If I’m in the creative process there is no alternative, if someone criticises my artwork, I take it personal.
3. If there is too much pressure, there is no way to produce an acceptable result. If the result isn’t perfect, I’m not satisfied as an artist

So, right now I’m earning my money as director of online marketing in a big agency. I protect my creativeness to relax and take my mind into other dimensions. So, I love working with data and building digital strategies, and I still think it’s important to love your job, but it’s also important to protect your personal needs and hobbies.

This special artwork is inspired by ICAV (InterCountry Adoptee Voices), a platform for intercountry adoptees to tell the world about their story. Thank you Lynelle Long for investing your time to start this amazing organisation to help other adoptees around the world heal their souls.

The butterflies at not just random, I tried to find some from Korea, China, Vietnam and Indonesia which are also found in Europe and the rest of the world. These represent the various countries that many of ICAVs members were born in.

My message with my artwork for fellow adoptees:

Be strong, be real, be yourself.
No matter how much we’re craving for all the love we missed.
The old chapter is already written.
So take a deep breath an cheer up your confidence because there are so many chances. Just be open minded, inspired and warmed up from the love of your choice, start the first stroke of your own personal story.
You are one of a kind.

#worklife
#mentalhealth
#minimalartwork
#worklifebalance
#inspiration
#creative

Other pieces of art that Jonas has shared at ICAV: Art from the Heart, A Picture is Worth 1000 Words, The Caged Soul Mate.

Letter to President Moon

by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.

President Moon,

To you, I may be merely a statistic.

A Number.

Name: 86c-1335.

Born: “bastard”

Abandoned by: Bio Mother

These are the words inked into the brittle pages “cataloguing” my birth, 4 ½ months before I was separated from my mother, exiled from my motherland, sold, and sent overseas via the process of “adoption”.

For 34 years, I have carried the burden of shame and humiliation for decisions of which I had no control over, or voice.

For 34yrs, it has been expected of me by society and the world at large to be “grateful” for being adopted; for not being “aborted” or left to languish in poverty raised by a single mother and ostracised by a society that is unaccepting of such a dishonourable and disgraceful existence.

Expected to be “grateful” to have been “chosen” to go to a “better life”.

Tell me President Moon, how many Korean adoptees actually went to a “better life”, do you know?

How many of us were checked upon or followed up on in the years after our adoption?

Any..?

Have you ANY knowledge or understanding of the suffering and trauma so many of your nation’s children were exposed to after going to “better” lives?

Are you cognisant of the fact we are 4 times more at risk of suicide than the average person, due solely to the trauma of relinquishment? Are you aware of how many adoptees have since lost their lives to suicide?

If our own people, the people who govern our nation continue to portray us as disposable, products for export, how do you hypothesise the rest of the world to perceive us? To value us?

To know who we are and where we came from, to be treated with the SAME decency and respect as any other being, for OUR lives to count, to matter, to be valued for more than just the going price of the highest bidder; can you honestly argue this to be such an immense or unreasonable request?

Why do we as adoptee’s continue pay to the price for the mistakes and failures of the elites who governed generations before us?

Why do our nations children continue to pay the price for a deeply flawed and failed system? A system put in place to “protect” and “care”, to safeguard society’s most vulnerable and helpless, to protect those unable to defend themselves or make their suffering known.

A system which has catastrophically failed to fulfill its duty of care time and time again, a system that cataclysmically FAILED in its duty to protect 16 month old Jeong-In.

My status in Korea as a child born out of wedlock to a single mother without consent or approval from the elders of our family, without the approval of society, meant from the day I was born, my life was of no more value to our nation but for the monetary profit that could be gained from the sales transaction of my adoption.

To you, I am a faceless statistic.

Just another number on a piece of paper; a data entry in the government system, an easy money maker used by Korea in its resolve to rise to the advanced economic powerhouse it is today.

To you, I my be a nothing, a nobody, an abhorrent by-product of the highest betrayal to a nation who’s social, political, and legal structures continue to be governed by the principles of Confucianism.

To you, I may be but one number, but I am one that represents over 200,000 of your displaced children throughout the world.

You seal our records, deny us the very basics of human rights.

You have attempted to keep us faceless, to keep our voices from being heard.

You have watched in reticence as we have been sold, trafficked, abused, and murdered.

You have buried our truths and silenced our voices.

Attempted to censor the knowledge and proof of our existence as effortlessly as you have managed to erase our pasts.

You try to placate us with empty words and blanket apologies, yet time and time again Korea has CLEARLY established how little value it truly places upon the wellbeing and lives of its children.

Not only via the tens of thousands of adoptees scattered worldwide, but through the 250 students it left to die onboard the sinking Sewol Ferry.

250 children who could have been saved, weren’t.

Through the way in which obedience and perfection are EXPECTED and DEMANDED of every child; academically, socially, even physically, pushing Korean suicide rates into some of the highest in the world and the leading cause of death nationwide for ages 9 -24 yrs.

These are YOUR children!!!

Our nation’s future!

If it is to have a future.

You seem to show little to no regard for lives of the young, yet death rates now surpass birth rates, leaving the question how much longer will our people endure?

How much time until our race is no more?

The image of Korea that is so carefully projected onto the world stage, is nothing but a farce.

A nation consumed with pride, greed, and ambition revelling in its technological and economic advancements, whilst continuing its long and profound history of human rights abuse. Revelling in the global phenomenon of K-pop, K-dramas, and flawless plastic surgery turning citizens into life-like anime dolls all of which amounts to nothing but superficial, pretty, shiny, plastic distractions; band aids made for minor cuts, but with which Korea uses in attempt to conceal the extensive, critical, and ineffable wounds scarcely “hidden” beneath the surface.

Deliberately refashioning Korea’s image for the fulfilment and pacification for the global arena while remaining steadfast and loyal to a fundamentally flawed, corrupt, and broken system which continues to extort and profit from the separation, suffering and abuse of its people makes those ruling over the South no better than the tyrannical dictatorship oppressing our people in the North.

To you, we may merely be statistics.

But we are no longer voiceless, and we will no longer be silenced!

We are over 200,000 strong, each with a face, a name, and a story.

We had Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, and Cousins.

No matter how hard you may try to dehumanise us, I can promise you, in this you shall not succeed.

I will no longer be silenced. I will remain faceless no more, for I am NOT a thing.

I was born in Haeundae, Busan.

Daughter of- Kim, Yeo Kyeong (Mother) and Jang, Hyeon Soo (Father).

I have endured racism, child sexual abuse and rape on two separate occasions in my “better” life so far.

I have fought with an Eating Disorder for 21 years, made countless attempts to end my life, all of which I have been brought back from.

My arms will forever bear the permanent, grotesque, disfiguring scars from which my life’s blood has so often freely flown, only to be replaced, time and time again in the desperate attempts to save a life that in your eyes, seems of little to no value, and not worth saving at all.

Tell me President Moon, what will you do when there is no longer a population to sustain our race?

When will you and the people who continue to govern our nation admit culpability, take responsibility for their duty to safeguard our people, to protect the vulnerable and the voiceless?

To guard, secure and preserve our nation’s future and the future of its children.

We are NOT objects!

We are NOT inconsequential!

WE are YOUR children!!!

We are NOT COMMODITIES!!!

We are NOT a product to be labelled and packaged for sale!

We are NOT replaceable, exchangeable, refundable goods for export no matter how hard you have tried to dehumanise us.

President Moon, We are NOT THINGS!!!

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