Review: Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation

imgresMemoirs are tricky business. I have known for a long time that I would never attempt to write a memoir because they are so difficult. They must draw the reader in, excite without being overly melodramatic and yet be approachable so the reader can relate and empathize. Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation by Soojung Jo, meets these criteria in both ways.

I first came upon Soojung Jo’s writing when she was blogging at Faith and IllusionsI’m not quite sure how I stumbled upon her blog, but I recall being interested in her take as both a Korean adoptee and as an adoptive parent. I was disappointed when she stopped blogging, but found her through other social media sites and remember when she reunited with her Korean family. Ghost of Sangju details her reunion but for me, it is her description of her childhood with her adoptive family that was most engaging and relatable.

imgres-1The book begins with a prologue describing the horrific events that led to her birth and relinquishment and segues into how Soojung/Raina is found by her omma, her birth mother. The remainder of the book intersperses segments of omma’s letters to Soojung with narratives of her childhood, time in the military, and being a mom. As you get to know Soojung, little by little, you also get to know her omma. Like many Korean adoptees who were adopted to rural white communities in the U.S., navigating life as a perpetual outsider, even within a family’s enveloping love, was difficult. A few sections stand out in particular. Soojung describes her adoptive mother, in particular, with such tenderness that as a reader, I could feel that maternal love emanate from the page. As a mother, I also appreciated the way Soojung describes her pregnancy and new parenting as an adoptee.

Although I have not reunited with my Korean family, I have had many friends who have, so Soonjung’s descriptions of her reunion – while unique to her family – were strikingly similar to other narratives of reunions heard firsthand or read from intercountry adoptees. That Soojung’s descriptions in this book of feeling like an outsider, of compartmentalizing her emotions, of being overwhelmed with a birth family’s desire to make up for lost time, and dealing with hurt adoptive parents are similar to many Korean adoptees’ narratives speaks to how adoption practices have largely discounted and minimized the emotional tolls that relinquishment and adoption place on everyone involved.

In the prologue, Soojung writes, “Omma has had many years to live with her ghosts…she has tasted every flavor of loss, but she never swallowed bitterness. The only reason I know about her story – our story – is because she never sowed those seeds of hate and despair.” Soojung Jo’s omma has indeed had many years of living with her ghosts, as I imagine many birth mothers, birth fathers, and extended birth relatives do; and we cannot forget that adoptees also live with these ghosts whether or not we know them. From outward appearances, Soojung is a “successful” adoptee judged by her strong leadership and business skills, distinguished military service, loving parenting and even adopting herself – yet even all these accomplishments cannot erase the losses that are inherent in adoption. An important lesson is gained through reading this memoir: that grief and loss must be acknowledged, and secrets brought to light.

Ghost of Sangju is a valuable contribution to the adoptee-memoir canon, and I recommend that adoption professionals and prospective adoptive parents in particular read this book. It might be difficult to read and tempting to discount Soojung and her omma’s story as only one story; it is one story, but it resonates because it is, in fact, many of our stories. It is time that these narratives are honored and validated, so that birth families and adoptees do not have to exist, as Soojung writes, as “a spirit suspended between two worlds and two families, to be forever in between.”

Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation will be available soon through Gazillion Strong. For more information, click here.

 

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Twins separated by adoption

What happens when intercountry adoptees find out they have birth family they never knew existed? Lately it seems there have been several adoptees publicizing their discovery. And many are twins who were separated. WTF is up with that? 

I wanted to highlight some of these projects so here you go. Please support. 

 

"aka Dan" is a documentary project chronicling Dan Matthews' journey to Korea in summer 2013, centering around his struggles with identity and family during the IKAA (International Korean Adoptee Association) 2013 summit, his first live concert performance in Korea, and his reunion with his Korean birth family. Accompanying the documentary project will be a full-length music album inspired by his experiences.

And here is one by actress Samantha Futerman who discovered her twin sister, Anais, adopted to France. Their project is called Twinsters.

 

 

On February 21, 2013, Samantha, an American actor living in Los Angeles, received a message via Facebook that would drastically change her life. It was from Anaïs, a French fashion design student living in London. Anaïs' friends viewed a KevJumba YouTube video featuring Samantha. They were immediately blown away by the identical appearance of Samantha & Anaïs. After a few light Google stalking sessions, Anaïs & her friends discovered that both girls were born on November 19, 1987 & adopted shortly after. Anaïs knew immediately that it was possible for Samantha to be her biological twin sister & reached out to her through Twitter & Facebook.

And last, Deann Borshay Liem's film, Geographies of Kinship, feature a Korean adoptee Michael Holloway who reunites with his twin brother who was kept by his birth family (starts at about the 2 minute mark and again at 4:32).

 

More stories about twins separated through adoption

From The Week: 9 Incredible Stories About Identical Twins - see #3, #5 and #9

From MSN: Twin brothers reunited in China

From The Nation: Twins separated at birth reunited after 25 years

From Huffington Post: Bao Lulin and Yang Yanfei, identical twins separated at birth, find each other 24 years later

(R)Evolutions

Reflections on the KAAN 2013 conference and launch of Gazillion Voices Magazine

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Last weekend I attended the KAAN 2013 Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a somewhat spontaneous decision, meaning that I did not submit a proposal months ago when the call came out, and that spending the money to attend in a year when I have many other conferences to attend seemed out of the question. Another reason why I had no intention of attending is that many years ago I did attend some KAAN Conferences and I left both (2002 and 2004) with the impression that it definitely did not meet my own personal needs as an adult Korean adoptee.

But several things have happened over the almost decade span of time since I last attended KAAN. One important change involved the addition of some Korean adoptees I really respect and care about in leadership positions within the organization. Another was the general progressive shift in the purpose and “feel” of the conference mission. What seemed to me an over-reliance on the “feel-good/let’s not talk about anything difficult” goal of connecting Korean adoptive parents with other Korean adoptive parents, and Korean adopted children with other Korean adopted children and a “celebrate Korean heritage!” mentality in the organization has changed over time to an acknowledgement of race and white privilege in transracial adoption, and the importance of the full, lived experience of adopted individuals. Whereas before it seemed the goal was to show non-adopted Korean role models, a recognition of adopted Korean adult role models seemed to be evident. Also an earlier sense of only showing “positive” adult adoptee perspectives (i.e. those who were uncritical of Korean adoption) has been replaced by an acknowlegement that adoption is not always sunshine and rainbows, and that positioning adoptees as pro or anti adoption is unproductive and polarizing. I was told by several people that the current leadership was amazing to work with and really believed in the importance of adult adoptee leadership (and they were right!).

And then the most compelling reason of all – the chance to see some dear transracial adoptee friends who live scattered around the U.S. See, for many of us, it is these interactions with those whom we’ve cultivated deep friendships over time at adoption-related conferences that help us endure the long droughts of transracial adoption isolation and segregation we experience in our daily lives. In particular, it was the opportunity to attend panels led by adoptees and to have discussions at dinner or over drinks and stay up until the wee hours of the night critically deconstructing, sharing experiences, strategizing ways of coping and supporting and validating each other that compelled me to cold-call the organizers at KAAN and ask if I could still get involved.

This year KAAN did something I wouldn’t have seen a decade ago – they invited transracial adoptee speakers who are not Korean adoptees. And they (parents, adoptees) talked about commonalities among transracial and international adoptees, and about racism and white privilege. This is a welcomed change for me. In my own personal and professional work I have been spending less time with Korean adoptees and more time developing relationships among other adoptees. This is a reflection of my own growth, because I see my own adoption story and narrative as interconnected to other adoptees.

One of the greatest benefits of being privileged to attend graduate school has been the opportunity to really deepen my understanding and knowledge of the historical roots of child placement and adoption and look at the arc over time for how children have been conceptualized and how adoptions have changed and morphed in terms of practice and law (but ultimately with the same underlying theoretical basis, at least in the U.S.). When I learned about the orphan trains, about the Native American boarding schools, the Indian Adoption Project, when I read Regina Kunzel and Dorothy Roberts and Rickie Solinger – I realized how interconnected Korean adoption is with Native American Indian adoption and transracial adoption of African American children, and the immigrant Catholic children who were adopted to Scandinavian protestant farm families in the midwest through the orphan train movement, and the children adopted from Ethiopia and Haiti. Displacement, isolation, racism, cultural erasure, unaddressed grief and loss, these are all commonalities we adoptees have. We transracial adoptees also have many commonalities among “baby scoop” era white domestic adoptees from the maternity home generation.

In his keynote at KAAN, Dr. John Raible emphasized this point, our commonalities across race and situation, with a lot of passion and intensity. I’m sure there were some, adoptees and adoptive parents alike, who were taken aback at his bold challenges but I was heartened that John challenged the old paradigms about transracial adoption. John is not just about helping how we conceptualize transracial adoption evolve over time, his ideas are revolutionary.

Sometimes it seems that when it comes to adoption and child welfare, the pendulum swings back and forth from an emphasis on removal and placement to family presevation. At least in the U.S. that is what many child welfare professionals have said. But as I was recently reminded, it is perhaps not so much of a pendulum swing but a spiral – what seems to be a circular movement away from, then back to, a certain paradigm. But even when it seems like things are coming back to where we started, maybe in truth it has changed in fundamental ways so that even what looks like a circle from looking at it top-down is actually many degrees separated when looked at from the side view.

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Cover of August 2013 issue of Gazillion Voices

Yesterday, a project I am involved with, Gazillion Voices, launched its monthly online magazine. This is also revolutionary in that Gazillion Voices is the first ever adoptee-led publication. Unlike every other publications on adoption, this one does not relegate adoptees to the sidelines, in an “Ask the Adoptee” advice column or limited to one or two stories by an adoptee author. Gazillion Voices is challenging, provocative, and most importantly – led by adult adoptees and includes majority adult adoptee voices.

Kevin Vollmers, one of the editors of Gazillion Voices magazine, and I were debriefing the KAAN conference as we waited for our flight to take off back to Minnesota. We both agreed that it feels we are on the precipice of some incredibly big paradigm shift when it comes to adoption. I’ve been feeling it for about a year now, ever since the CCAI and the State Department (including Ambassador Jacobs) met with a grassroots group of us adult adoptees to hear our collective concerns  for the first time last July.

I am so proud to be part of a community of revolutionary adoptees. With social media platforms, it appears like this adoption revolution is new and those of us with blogs and websites can appear to be doing new and groundbreaking work. But we recognize we are not the first. We are incredibly grateful and humbled by the incredible work of so many adoptees who have been doing this work for decades, without much acknowlegement and very little fanfare. In fact, many adoptees have taken the hits for years on our behalf. Adoptees have been working in policy, advocacy, community organizing, research, academia, and very importantly through art for decades. We in this current generation of adoptee rebels are not taking their hard work for granted; no, we are trying to continue the work and will pay it forward – so that the next generation of transracial adoptee leaders can take it to the finish line.

 

 

Repost: Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race

Another repost from my other blog that was written during my hiatus.

Originally written March 25, 2011.

When you are part of a small and specific population, you tend to be hyper-aware of representations of "your group." So when I heard about Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao's book, Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America, I immediately put out a query to my Korean American friends to see if anyone had heard of the authors or this book.

Since 2006, I have been keeping track of the "call for participants" for research on Korean adoptees that I've come across through different venues (most often list-serves and organization newsletters). Since I've started counting, there have been 23 calls specifically involving Korean adoptees and another five for transracial adoptees (ETA: that have put out widespread calls for participants- there have been several others I have been aware of that did not advertise or use the internet to find their sample).

Of those, 11 studies specifically involved looking at racial identity; 9 studies sought to understand the Korean adoptee "experience" and 4 were what I call "well-being" or "adjustment" studies. While I get that racial identity is a huge part of understanding the transracial/international/Korean-adoptee experience, I'm waiting for research that stops pathologizing us and am hopeful that more research like Eleana Kim's work will come out that centers the adoptee as the agent of change and action, not merely a passive subject of study.

There are many aspects of the Korean adoptee experience that are not being studied or researched. I swing between feeling that "my community" is saturated with research while at the same time acknowledging that there is so much more to be learned and understood. 

Tuan and Shiao seek to understand how and in what ways Korean Americans identify themselves and how their identity/identities "are chosen, discarded, or revised over time (p.12). So here are my thoughts about this book and how I, as the "subject" (not literally, I was not a participant in this study, but I am part of the population being studied) view the discussion.

I'm always pleased when I read articles/studies that focus on the adult adopted person's experience (although once again, our voices are mediated through outsiders so some aspects of their analysis will be limited). Because so much of adoption as a practice is focused on the adoption of a child, people tend to think of adoption as an event. But as others have stated, adoption isn't a single-time event (that would be the finalization of an adoption) – adoption is something that affects adopted persons, birth parents and adoptive parents throughout all of their lives. Traditional studies look at outcomes for children, often fairly soon after placement although there have been some notable exceptions, and rarely has there been the opportunity for longitudinal studies which could follow a cohort of adoptees for a long period of time – especially adulthood.

I bring this up because we're so focused on making sure the immediate benefits of adoption are studied that we haven't thoughtfully delved as much into how an adopted person makes sense of their adoption experiences in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. Other than Brodzinsky and his colleagues, not much research has been conducted on the whole life experiences of adopted persons. An experienced adoptive mom (I call adoptive parents whose children are now adults "experienced") I know shared with me that she often tells newbie adoptive parents that the majority of their lifelong relationship with their child will be as adults and that pre- or new adoptive parents are often taken aback at this statement.

One of the aspects of the study I was disappointed in was the sample. The authors describe that due to their proximity to the Holt adoption agency, they chose to solicit their sample from families that had adopted through Holt (the authors do acknowledge the limitations of their sample and recruitment, which I appreciated).

In addition to the ease of securing participants for the interviews, having access to Holt enabled the researchers to have case files. I was bothered by this for a few reasons. First, it was never clear to me why the researchers needed the case files and how information they gleaned from the files added to their research.

Second, without understanding why and in what ways information from the case file was considered important for the study adds another layer of concern from the point of view from an adopted person who is unable legally to have access to my adoption files. It is disconcerting to know that someone else, through permission of my adoption agency, can have access to that information without my consent.

[ETA 4/19/11: I received an email from Dr. Shaio, informing me that he and Dr. Tuan did not look at case files. In the book (p. 15) they wrote that Holt "provided access to its placement records" and I incorrectly interpreted that to mean case files. I am happy to stand corrected and to know that case files were not accessed for their study.]

As a researcher myself, this is something that I have struggled with. I have participated in research in which I have access to case files that the subject of the files are not allowed to see for themselves. I hope other researchers understand just how privileged they are to have access to such personal information that as the client, I/we can never have. I'm not saying this is necessarily wrong in principle – but I am saying it is an ethical issue that researchers MUST think about. It's not the same thing as having one's medical records or case files used for research because when I go to the doctor I sign a form that gives consent for my records to be used in research. As an adopted person (or as a fostered alum would be) I am not given permission to withdraw my consent. I don't even get asked. Researchers go through the agency or the adoptive parent, not the adopted person.

The other thing I was sensitive to was that the researchers chose to contact the adult adoptees through their families. They sent out letters to adoptive parents, asking them to forward them on to the adoptee. This could only work if the adoptive parent and their adopted child were in contact and/or on speaking terms; and because not all adoptees ARE in contact with their adoptive parents (including some I know of personally who were adopted from Holt) this has the potential to skew the sample because it is dependent on the adoptive parent. Perhaps sending a call for participants through other means in addition to the adoptive parents that still have ties with Holt would have generated a sample that provided a more diverse voice. And once again, it is looking at the adoptee through the lens of the family (adoptive parents), even though the authors were quite clear it was the adult adoptees' voices they were seeking to understand. From my view, it appeared as though the authors chose not to engage with, or were unaware of, adult adoptee organizations who might have been able to help in soliciting participants.

Despite these concerns, overall I was pleased with much of the book. I especially appreciated that the authors problematized the adoptive parents' "colorblind" mentality about adopting a child of color – if that color were "yellow" and not "black." I really liked that the authors expanded David Kirk's theory of "shared fate" to analyze how adoptiveparents accept/reject racial difference in addition to adoption.

While the stories and words of the adopted Koreans that participated in this study rang familiar in terms of their descriptions of childhood experiences, their more recent discussions pertaining to race, culture, and constructing identity did not fully match the spectrum of adoptees. There was very little discussion of the networking (social and otherwise) of Korean adoptees around the world, which was interesting to me in light of the fact that Holt was the first to do adoptee camps and also have been big in organizing yearly "Motherland" tours. There was one mention of the Gatherings (1999, but not the 2004, 2007 ones), no mention of adoptee list-serves and blogs which have been around since the 1990s, and very little mention of books written by Korean adoptees (including memoirs, anthologies and scholarly work).

In the end I gave this book 3 1/2 stars out of 5. I think that the audience for this book is actually adoptive parents. There would be much for adoptive parents to learn, especially if they are not familiar with the concept of "shared fate" and I think the adoptee voices do, to a large part, mirror much of what I have heard from adult adoptees over the past 12 years I have been involved with the Korean adoptee community.

 

Spotlight – Andy Marra

Screen_shot_2012-03-15_at_8.53.47_PMaI was privileged to meet activist, Public Relations Manager for Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and one of the Advocate's Forty under 40 of 2012 Andy Marra a couple of years ago at an adult adoptee conference to celebrate AKA New York's 15th anniversary.

At the conference Andy shared parts of her story that are now public in her Huffington Post article, Beautiful Daughter: How My Korean Mother Gave Me The Courage To Transition. I was so excited to learn that Andy was going to share her story because it was one that I have thought about a lot since I first heard her speak. Go immediately and read it here.

Then, hear Andy on NPR

Have some Kleenex® handy. 

More than the sum of our losses

"I suppressed any notion
of being Asian and just thought of myself as white." Suki Leith was
adopted by an American family in the 1960s, she tells the BBC why the
Korean government needs to change the laws regarding international
adoption.

Even though I study adoption and write about adoption and read countless media and academic articles about adoption; even though I read books and memoirs and watch films by adoptees and adoptive parents; even though my personal social circle is heavily populated with adoptees – domestic, transracial, international, same race – believe it or not, most of the time I do not sit around thinking about adoption losses.

Most days I get up and go to work, take care of the household chores, talk with my kids, take them to their activities, make dinner, take the dog for a walk, do the dishes and laundry, study and read and study and read, hang out with friends, and participate in numerous volunteer or community events. Most days I don't think about what I've lost by being a transnational, transracial adoptee.

But today, I am thinking about those losses. Several hundred adoptees like myself are in Seoul right now, attending the IKAA Gathering, and I am at home. There is both a sadness and a sense of relief of having to be stuck at home studying this August instead of being with many friends and fellow Korean adoptees at the conference.

I've been to the past two IKAA Gatherings and there is no way to adequately express what it feels like to be surrounded by 600+ others who have experienced the same life experience of being adopted out of our country of birth. 600 of us is a small number compared to the 200,000+ in South Korea's 50+ year history of adoption, and I am sure if it did not cost so much to travel to Korea, many more would be there. 

It is hard to convey what it feels like to know you don't have to explain why you are who you are – why you look Korean but don't speak the language, why you always have to explain how you fit in your family, and why you sit on the fence between a cultural identity you don't physical match and a racial identity you don't culturally match. Who else knows the frustration of being told constantly through our lives that we should be grateful for not growing up in this country where we are now spending lots of our hard-earned money so we can get a tourist's version, a "Korea 101-lite" and trinkets at the market to put up on our walls than someone else – in fact several hundred others – who have been there and done that.

And yet, being in Korea at the IKAA Gatherings sometimes makes me very angry. I get angry that the country that didn't want me and wouldn't provide for me now wants me to come back and put on a happy, smiley face. I get so damn frustrated when I meet adoptees from all ages and backgrounds who share how unprepared their adoptive parents were in dealing with racism, racial identity struggles and understanding adoption losses. 

There were times, when I was at past Gatherings, that being with 600+ other adoptees who all experienced this huge loss made me overwhelmingly sad. Looking around and seeing so many others who had lost their Korean families and had been adopted to mostly white European, American or Australian families – how could I not feel sadness, when basically, we were a room full of survivors – a room full of people abandoned, abused, neglected, rejected – who somehow found the means to find each other. It's basically one huge support group.

Most days, I don't think about these things. I don't want to think about these things. I don't want to feel the pain and sadness associated with being adopted. But then I listen to a documentary like this BBC report. I read and view an art installation, A Collection of One, that showcases the impact of all of us who have been adopted from South Korea. 

Or, I read something poignant by a fellow adoptee. Yesterday, another fellow adoptee posed on her facebook page the question,

A diagnosis is not a destiny. Or does it have to be? Once
called "at-risk & special needs" and more, I can testify that one
can out-do and out-live a diagnosis. At least to live a productive,
happy, and fulfilling life. But how often do people live up to the
expectations of a diagnosis, just because that's expected?

My response was this: "I think it's easier for some to live a self-fulfilling prophecy than to
spend our lives convincing both ourselves and others that we are more
than the sum of our childhood losses."

I rarely write about my personal feelings about my adoption experience, especially in the past several years. I also turn down any request for interviews with the media, like this BBC documentary, when I believe they want me to walk down that path of "do you get along with your adoptive parents?" or "how was your adoption experience?" I turn down such requests for a few reasons: first of all, my adoptive experience is much more complex and layered and nuanced than a sentence or two that is published in an interview can adequately express and it always ends up being framed as "good" or "bad." I hate that dichotomy, and I hate it when something that might be negative gets turned into a statement about my adoptive parents that portrays them as bad parents. So while I want to write about some of the not-so-great things about being a Korean adoptee, I don't want to be pathologized nor do I want people to judge and pathologize my adoptive parents.

Secondly, I tend to really want to focus on the larger structural issues that are at play in the adoption-industry machine and to always frame adoption as one family's story negates those larger structural problems and societal attitudes. As often as possible, I want to focus attention on the ocean, not on the individual starfish

But I'm going to be honest today, and admit that today, I'm feeling sad. I'm feeling loss and grief. Several years ago, my grandmother passed away. I was very close to my grandmother; she was the one person in my family that constantly made me feel that she was the lucky one to have me in her life. Last weekend I saw my grandfather and his new wife. While I think highly of my grandfather's wife and am very happy she is in our lives, every time I see her I can't help but feel sadness over the loss of my grandmother. It doesn't mean I don't love this person, it just means she is not my grandmother and I have the right to love the one without feeling guilty for having loved the other. And no one in the family has the expectation that we'll all forget about my grandmother because my grandfather remarried. It would be ridiculous.

I may have gained many things by being adopted to the U.S., but I've also suffered many losses. And while I believe I am much more than the sum of my childhood losses, there are days when sadness bubbles up and overwhelms me. Because it's hard. For many of us adoptees, it would be easier to just shove all those feelings of loss and grief way down deep, compartmentalize them, and throw away the key. For others, it is easier to let ourselves stay overwhelmed with grief. I totally understand why many adoptees don't make it. As difficult as it may be to believe, every time I hear about an adoptee who has killed themselves, I understand. For many adoptees it IS easier to live up to the expectation that we are no more than the sum of our losses and our "at-risk" and "special-needs" diagnoses. I've had to work hard to convince myself that I am more than the sum of my childhood losses – and having to constantly prove to greater society as well takes a heavy toll.

My adoptive parents were great parents and I'm fortunate that we still have a good relationship. However, having a good adoptive home did not erase the losses I've suffered. There is nothing that my American, middle-class upbringing could have done to erase the loss of my Korean family and culture and language. I am tired of this prevailing assumption that as long as the adoptive parents are "good" ones, the adoptee won't ever feel loss and grief. I'm really exasperated at this notion that a "well-adjusted adoptee" is one who never questions adoption loss, who never feels sadness or grief, or who never goes through an identity crisis over who s/he is and where s/he belongs. I hate that we are constantly told that we should "get over it."

I'm not going to defend adoption – in any manner, shape, or form – today. I'm not going to add a caveat that "it's better than an orphanage" or "it's better than lingering in foster care." I'm not going to be "balanced" in my analysis. Because this isn't an analysis. This is about feelings. Which I, and every other adoptee, is allowed to have, without justification and without a parenthetical about how of course we love our adoptive parents. I'm not going to accept comments on this post either, because this isn't about anyone else but how I'm feeling right now, right here, and I don't want advice on how to "get over it" or suggestions that I get therapy or any of the things that we adoptees are often told.

Recently I heard one adoption "expert" (not an adoptee, of course) state that despite the losses involved in adoption, as an institutional child welfare practice, "adoption is still the best intervention we have for children who are parentless." Every generation of adoptive parents think they're doing a better job
than the ones before, and some are downright glib and smug about
it. Get over it. As an "intervention" adoption gave me a home and a family but it did not "cure" the losses that caused me to be in need of a home and a family. Adoption is not a cure, it's a treatment that – if the adoptee is lucky and it's done well – potentially helps makes the sorrow manageable.

An art installation in Korea

I am one of 200,000.*

From one of the artists behind this piece:

The art installation we’ve been working on the past month is to illustrate the relationship between the number 1 and 200,000. We lose sense of the impact of our actions when we allow ourselves to look at only the number right in front of us. The reality is that 200,000 is almost unfathomable. This is an attempt at showing what one looks like, 200,000 times. One adoptee at a time, processed in the perpetual motion machine that is international adoption.

This was installed last month, but the video has just been uploaded to YouTube. For more information about the story behind the art, click here.

*I participated in this art installation by sending my photo to be included.

HERE presentation at CHSFS

Hi folks,

The collaborators of HERE: A Visual History of Adopted Koreans in Minnesota will be presenting for a fundraiser at Children's Home Society and Family Services on June 22nd. 100% of the proceeds will go to support Russian orphans who will not be adopted. From CHSFS website:

Children’s Home Society & Family Services is pleased
to host the creative team behind the book, HERE: A Visual History of
Adopted Koreans in Minnesota.
 
Date: Tuesday, June 22nd
Time: 7:00-8:30 pm
Location: CHSFS, 1605 Eustis Street, St. Paul, MN
 
 
Join fellow members of the domestic and international adoption
community at Children’s Home Society & Family Services as the
agency hosts Kim Jackson, Heewon Lee, JaeRan Kim, and Kim Park Nelson,
the creative team behind the outstanding photography/oral history book HERE: A Visual History of Adopted Koreans In Minnesota.  Attendees
will have a rare opportunity to hear from all members of the creative
team about: the process that went behind creating the book; what
projects, partnerships, and promotional activities are currently
underway surrounding the book; and thoughts about a future book
series.  Refreshments will be provided.
 
Cost: $50.00 donation for adults; free for individuals under the
age of 18.  At the authors' request, all proceeds will go to the
Orphanage Assistance Endowment, which help support efforts that offer
orphaned children in Russia with a number of resources, from basic
needs to educational programs.  
 
Space is limited. Click here to register or contact Kim Herman at kherman@chsfs.org or 651.255.2329.
 
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK PROJECT
Minnesota is home to the one of the largest population, per
capita, of adopted Koreans in the world. Many of the 13,000 of us have
grown up isolated and have experienced little racial tolerance in the
urban, suburban and rural areas in which we were raised. Adoption is
often fraught with psychological and emotional tensions, and being
people of color raised in a racially Caucasian environment adds another
layer of complexity. We recognize an urgent need for us to see
ourselves represented, acknowledged, and celebrated. We are each
other’s touchstones, genetically and culturally. We are a living,
breathing part of Minnesota history. We are HERE.
 
With the initial assistance of the Cultural Community Partnership
starting in 2004, and through several generous donations and two more
collaborators, JaeRan Kim and Kim Park Nelson, during the evolution and
final publishing of the book project in March 2010, Kim Jackson and
Heewon Lee embarked on making their dream—a photographic portrait book
of Korean adoptees living in Minnesota—a first-of-its-kind book for its
community. This book also includes the Korean adoption history in
Minnesota and oral histories of selected participants.
BIOGRAPHIES
Kim Jackson was adopted in 1975 from South Korea
and grew up in Northeast Minneapolis. She has traveled to Korea eight
times and began photo documenting her travels in 1998. She has worked
in the publication field for over 16 years and owns her own graphic
design business Dalros Design. She currently works full time as an art
director for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. She lives in Minneapolis with her
husband, two children, and one Beta fish.
 
Heewon Lee is from Gwangju, South Korea, and
immigrated to the U.S. in 1975. She has been a graphic designer for
over ten years. Heewon has also played taiko in the Twin Cities'
performing group Mu Daiko. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband,
son and two lazy cats.
 
JaeRan Kim, MSW, LGSW, is a social worker,
teacher, and writer. She is currently a doctoral student focusing on
child welfare and adoption. She was born in 1968 somewhere around
Daegu, South Korea, and was adopted to Minnesota in 1971. She lives
with her partner and two children in Minneapolis.
 
Kim Park Nelson is a scholar and educator of
Korean adoption, Asian American Studies, American race relations, and
American Studies. Between 2003 and 2006, she collected 73 oral
histories from Korean adoptees in the United States and around the
world. She also developed and taught the first college course on Korean
adoption in the United States. Her Ph.D. dissertation at the University
of Minnesota American Studies department is titled Korean Looks,
American Eyes: Korean American Adoptees, Race, Culture and Nation. This
research explores the many identities of adult Korean adoptees, as well
as the cultural, social, historical, and political significance of over
50 years of Korean adoption to the United States. She is currently an
assistant professor of American Multicultural Studies at Minnesota
State University at Moorhead.

Korean looks, American eyes: Korean American adoptees, race, culture and nation by Kim Park Nelson

My dear friend and amazing scholar, Kim Park Nelson, just gave me permission to post the link to her dissertation, Korean looks, American eyes: Korean American adoptees, race, culture and nation.

Abstract:

This project positions Korean adoptees as transnational citizens at
intersections within race relations in the United States, as emblems of
international geopolitical relationships between the United States and
South Korea, and as empowered actors, organizing to take control of
racial and cultural discourses about Korean adoption. I make
connections between transnational exchanges, American race relations,
and Asian American experiences. I argue that though the contradictory
experience of Korean adoptees, at once inside and outside bounded
racial and national categories of "Asian," "White," "Korean," and
"American," the limits of these categories may be explored and
critiqued. In understanding Korean adoptees as transnational subjects,
single-axis racial and national identity are challenged, where
individuals have access to membership and/or face exclusion in more
than one political or cultural nation. In addition, this work
demonstrates the effects of American political and cultural imperialism
both abroad and domestically, by elucidating how the acts of
empire-building nations are mapped onto individuals though the
regulation of immigration and family formation. My methods are
interdisciplinary, drawing from traditions that include ethnography,
primary historical sources, and literature. My dissertation work uses
Korean adoptees' own life stories that I have collected and recorded in
three locations: 1) Minnesota, home to the largest concentration of
Korean adoptees in the U.S.; 2) the Pacific Northwest, home to the many
of the "first wave" of the oldest living Korean adoptees now in their
40s and 50s; and, 3) Seoul, Korea, home to hundreds of adult Korean
adoptees who have traveled back to South Korea to live and work. In
addition, I use Korean adoptee published narratives, archive materials
documenting the early history of transnational adoption, and secondary
sources in sociology, social work, psychology and cultural studies to
uncover the many layers of national, racial and cultural belonging and
significance for and of Korean adoptees.

A pdf of the dissertation is available through the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy. Link is here.