Monday, August 24, 2009

Boston Globe article

This image is of Mei-Ling Hopgood with her adoptive parents in 1974.

This was just published on August 23, 2009 and I thought that it was worth sharing. The author, Mei-Lin Hopgood, is an adoptee from Taiwan.

Another country, not my own
One overseas adoptee explains: Parents’ embrace of the ”home” culture can have its costs

The woman, I know, was just trying to be loving. She was a bubbly Midwestern mom who had adopted two Korean daughters and went to great lengths to “keep” her daughters’ culture. Her girls took language lessons, and the family celebrated Lunar New Year - they never missed it. To help sensitize her daughters’ white classmates, each year this woman went into her daughters’ school and did a presentation on Korea, pointing out the country on a map, explaining its traditions, and showing the children a real hanbok, a traditional Korean dress.

She told me this, and I nodded and smiled, trying to listen politely to her story. But something about what she was doing made me uncomfortable, despite her good intentions. Like her daughters, I’m an adoptee born in Asia; I was born in Taiwan and raised by a white family in Michigan. I thought to myself: Korean-Americans do not walk around in hanboks all day, and this child had never really done that either - unless her mother made her.

When I was her daughter’s age, I wanted desperately to avoid the kind of identity that she was trying to give her child. I averted my gaze if an Asian-looking stranger threatened to look me in the eye. I didn’t want people to think I was one of them, because really, I wasn’t: I couldn’t speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or any other Chinese dialect, and didn’t do “Chinese” things in my home. My parents weren’t even Asian. I was trying so hard to show that I was just as American as anyone else. If my own mother had done something like that woman did, I would’ve hidden beneath my desk.

Over the last two decades, international adoptions have become commonplace in the United States. More than 268,000 children have been adopted from abroad since 1991, with China, Korea, and Guatemala topping the list of countries they have come from over the last five years. At the same time, there has been a huge push to import adoptees’ culture with them, a dramatic shift from a time when parents were told that assimilation was best. Today, almost all parents who adopt internationally try to cultivate some kind of connection to their child’s birth land. Efforts range from throwing some ramen noodles in a salad to remodeling the interior of their homes to an Asian motif and spending thousands of dollars to send their children to language schools and heritage camps on another continent.

Parents do these things hoping to help their children adjust to the sometimes tricky duality of their existence. Yet I worry that some parents are now taking things too far: Going to extremes to idealize the native culture might be as damaging to an adoptee as ignoring it. Asian-American activists have for decades fought the idea that you are born with a culture - that if you look Asian, you must eat with chopsticks, wear different clothing, speak a different language; that you are different and thereby less American. Parents, to some extent, are asking children to conform to those expectations. And without adequate acknowledgement of the reality that actually is - their experience in America - I suspect that children might have an even harder time figuring out where they belong.

When my parents adopted me from Southern Taiwan in 1974, many social workers were still telling multiracial families that the best thing was to try to help their children assimilate into the majority culture. Focusing on differences could cause the child to feel more out of place; love was supposed to conquer all. The idea was that parents should “raise the child ‘as though she was born to you,’ ” said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, based in Newton, and author of the book “Adoption Nation.”

As many adoptees started to enter adulthood, especially during 1980s and 1990s, the adoption community began to see the profound flaws in the love-is-color-blind philosophy. Grown adoptees - many of them Korean born - began to speak out about their feelings of self-loathing, racial taunting, and feeling like they had lost or been denied their birth culture. Those cautionary tales sent the pendulum swinging the other way. Adoption advocates at all levels, from social workers to the ministries of foreign governments, now consider preserving the child’s heritage to be vital. Countries such as China even require that some element of their culture be maintained in adoptive homes.

Eager to do the right thing, many adoptive parents - usually white and middle-to-upper-middle class - have tried to re-create their children’s native cultures. Moms and dads formed and joined support groups, enrolled their children (and themselves) in language, dance, and art classes. They decorated their homes with Russian paintings, threw Lunar New Year parties, bought Guatemalan jewelry, and made regular pilgrimages to the local Chinatown. They established their own specialty magazines, attended culture camps in the United States, and spent more than $10,000 on “heritage tours” in the Motherland. An entire industry - from travel agencies to doll makers - caters to these families’ desires to provide adequate cultural touchstones.

Parents do these things to help instill in their children pride in who they are, and where they came from, but also to prepare them in case they want to return to their homeland and search for their birth family. What perplexes me is when parents say things like they are sorry for removing their children from “their culture.”

Sociologist Heather Jacobson told me the romanticization of culture is common among the adoptive families she interviewed for her book, “Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the Negotiation of Family Difference.” Jacobson said mothers with children from China told her they felt a deep connection with the country of China, its traditions, and people.

Yet, she also noted, “it did not translate into actual friendships or deep meaningful day-to-day relationships with Chinese people here in the United States.” Most of the women she spoke to wanted their children to have more contact with immigrant Chinese - rather than, say, third-generation Chinese-Americans - because they were more genuinely “Chinese.” The traditional culture - fan dances, tea ceremonies, and holidays - is more accessible, more alluring, than the actual, complicated experience of being Asian American.

“It’s the parents who enjoy it so much - and that’s largely how Asian cultures are understood and experienced in the US,” she said.

But focusing on a museum view of culture can ignore - or become a way to ignore - the reality of life as a racial minority in America. One of the first racial experiences I can remember was when boys at my grade school made fun of me, pulling their eyes back and saying, “Ah-So!” I went home and reported the injustice to my mother, and she told my 6-year-old self to go back and tell those boys they were “ignorant.” That’s just want I did. As I grew older, though, those kinds of experiences grew more varied, from whispering classmates to men yelling, “Go back to your country!”

“So often families are more comfortable talking about culture because culture is something that we can celebrate, and food, music, and other fun things can be associated with culture,” said Amanda Baden, who was adopted from Hong Kong, and is now a Manhattan psychologist who advises adoptive families. Being open to talking about race is just as important, she said.

I was Miss Everything in high school, from class president to pompom captain. Looking back now, part of that was probably an effort to prove to everyone - but mostly myself - that I was as American as anyone else. This was a discussion that I didn’t have with my parents, though, as open as they were. I didn’t want to worry them, knowing how hard they had tried to impress how wonderful we were. I didn’t know how, nor did I want, to tell them about my feelings of isolation until much later, when I could understand them myself.

It wasn’t until I met my birth family, at age 23, that I actually started trying to “be Chinese.” They were nothing like the poor, farming family I had imagined them to be; my father had clawed his way out of poverty and into the middle class. In fact, their own culture had evolved into a wild mix of traditional Chinese values and modern influences. Taiwan similarly challenged my assumptions, with its Buddhist temples juxtaposed against spanking new skyscrapers.

After spending a good portion of my life ignoring my heritage, I started to study Mandarin, and even took a year off of work to immerse myself in Chinese language, culture, and history. I adopted the styles of my sisters - their hairstyles, their fashion preferences. I learned to make dumplings and bought tea sets.

Yet, my enthusiasm and best efforts only took me so far. Today, I might be able to make small talk with the Chinese owner of my local grocery store, but I can still barely have a one-on-one conversation with my birth parents. I’ve come to recognize that I will never know them in a deep, substantial way, and I will never fit perfectly back into the country where I was born.

More and more adoptees are returning to their native countries these days, with similarly mixed results. Sook Wilkinson, a psychologist and author of “Birth is More than Once: The Inner World of Adopted Korean Children,” said, “I’m learning from those Korean adult adoptees who’ve visited Korea many times and who have even moved to Korea to live there for years, that no matter how much they learn about the culture and heritage, they’re never accepted as native Koreans.”

This is a danger, I think, in presenting the birth country and family in an overly romantic way, and in raising a child’s expectations that they will and should fit in. Adoptees can end up feeling bad not only because they don’t fit in, but because they disappoint their parents.

My return to Taiwan and meeting with my birth family were an important part of my own internal personal journey. But just as important have been the friendships I have built with other Asian-Americans: What I share with them is not a mythical culture, but an experience in America. Seeing others who defied cliche encouraged me to do the same - and to be proud of who I was.

It can be tough to maneuver the multiracial dynamics inside, and outside, the confines of a family, but what I tell parents is: “Relax.” There is a healthy middle ground that I think my own family more or less found. My parents celebrated my heritage, and that of my brothers, who were adopted from Korea; and they also went out of their way to find Asian-American baby sitters and incorporate Asian-American adults into our social circles. It wasn’t easy. Mom and Dad, as uncomfortable as they may have been at times, learned to live with the differences in our racial perspectives, our rebellions, our journeys to Korea and Taiwan and back. They listened, let us vent or cry, and backed off when they needed to. Ultimately, they let my brothers and me decide how our past would influence our present.

Today, I don’t wish that I were more Chinese, even if my biological family and our heritage hold a place in my heart and history. I’m glad that in college I chose to study Spanish in Mexico for a semester. Almost five years ago, my husband and I moved to Argentina, where we are living and raising our daughter. No regrets, either, at having to weather some racial nastiness here and there, and come out with a more confident, fought-out self-image. I appreciate that my parents were loving and patient enough to let me figure out these things at my own pace.

My way of life is culled from so many places and influences, including where I was born, where I grew up, and who raised me, but also where I’ve lived and the people I’ve loved and admired. I’m hoping my own daughter will inherit her Midwestern grandfather’s hard work ethic and passion for learning, and the good health of her grandmother. May she also love languages and all kinds of food, from mac and cheese to Chinese dumplings and Korean bibimbop. I hope she’ll enjoy spending Sundays visiting long into the night with her extended family, like they do in Argentina.

I realize that adoptees will all come to their own view of culture and adoption, but I imagine many international adoptees and children in multiracial families share this wider, more global view of themselves. Our blended family backgrounds, beliefs, and practices - as diverse, complicated, and dissonant as they might seem - are as authentic as any. We are another version of the immigrant story, with a culture is just as rich as the one we might have had.

Mei-Ling Hopgood is a journalist and author of “Lucky Girl,” a memoir about her reunion and relationship with the family in Taiwan who gave her up as a baby. Raised in Michigan, she now lives in Argentina with her husband and daughter. She can be contacted at

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yoido Full Gospel Church: The World's Largest Church

June 26, 1988

June 26, 1988 was a Sunday. We went into the city and attended a service at Yoido Full Gospel Church. This church boasts a membership that is not only the largest Christian congregation in Korea, but also in the world. With an impressive 830,000 or so members today, Yoido Full Gospel Church is remarkable in this regard due to the fact that there has not been a long history of Christianity (Protestant) in Korea.

The focus of the start of the church was centered on humanitarian and spiritual help to those in need. Its founders, David Yonggi Cho and his mother-in-law Choi Ja-Shil, held services in Choi's home. From there, the growth of the church became so big that the church purchased land on Yoido Island which is in the Han River in the middle of Seoul. Something of interest that could be a factor leading to this incredible growth is that Pastor Cho sends the message that God's will for Christians not only consists of salvation of the soul, but also physical health and financial pro$perity.

In 1988 and still today, Yoido has 7 services each Sunday with interpretations in English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Russian and Spanish. There are also satellite churches throughout the city. If you go to Seoul and are there on a Sunday, you must go to Yoido Full Gospel Church for the experience.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sung Ro Won Orphanage

June 23, 1988

Back in Seoul from our road trip, we had a few more days to visit more points of interest. In addition, these days were set aside so that some of the adoptees could visit the location of the orphanage or home where they lived before being placed with our adoption agency and ultimately matched with their adoptive families.
Since I was in foster care, I did not ever live in a group home. So, I decided to go with a few of the adoptees (2 of which were my roommates) who lived at one of the group homes that is a partner of our agency, the Sung Ro Won Orphanage. The Sung Ro Won home is still in existence today.

The orphanage is a 2 story brick building with an outdoor play area. There are rooms for infants and rooms for older children. There is also a large room that looks like a pre-school classroom. When we arrived, we were met by the director of the home and a few of the care givers. They were so gracious and happy for our visit. We toured the home and got to hold the babies and play with the children. It was just amazing that these sweet, beautiful children did not have families.

For a few of the members of our trip who lived at the orphanage, this, of course, was the first return visit to the place where their lives in Korea came to an end. The director at the time, Mr. Kim, was the director when the adoptees on our trip were residents. This was quite special for them to meet someone who "knew" them in Korea.

Mr. Kim took my fellow adoptees into his office. The orphanage kept meticulous documentation of the children who lived there. He pulled out photo albums that had pictures of them at the Sung Ro Won home in the early 1970s. My roommates saw pictures of themselves that they had not seen until this visit. Towards the end of this private meeting, Mr. Kim presented each adoptee with a hanbok which is a traditional Korean dress. I have photos of them on the steps of the Sung Ro Won home in their hanboks with Mr. Kim. This day visit turned out to be quite emotional and certainly very special.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


View of Taegu

June 20, 1988

On June 20, we traveled to Taegu. Taegu or Daegu is the 4th largest city in South Korea. It is located in the southeast of the country and is Korea's industrial city. Here, textiles, machinery and metals are produced.

We visited Taegu University. This university is known for its programs for those with special needs and we were treated to a performance by deaf students. In addition, we ate lunch at a cafeteria and enjoyed seeing the campus.

This is another city where a few adoptees were born and it was nice that we were able to make this stop on our tour.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Long Duck Dong...aka The Donger

Without a doubt, John Hughes' films are my favorite movies from the 80s. From "The Breakfast Club" to "Pretty in Pink", Hughes' created characters that were relatable, flawed and memorable. Since his death, I came across a couple of articles that are very critical of the creation of Long Duck Dong from "Sixteen Candles". This movie was a favorite and the sophomoric humor can still get a laugh from me today. However, "Sixteen Candles" did push the politically correct envelope with its "oriental" character. Even though the scenes with the Donger are hilarious in terms of the situational and physical comedy, they can be a little uncomfortable to view at the same time. Especially if you are of Asian descent.

On the motherland tour, race and racism were always on the table. I remember that several of us were perplexed about the character Long Duck Dong. It was only a couple of years since the release of "Sixteen Candles" and the movie was still fresh in our minds. We found the Long Duck Dong funny, but as Asian Americans, was it OK to laugh? For many of us, a huge part of our emotional development centered on our acceptance of who we were ethnically and how to exist in a non-Korean world.

Moreover, Long Duck Dong was a crude reminder that we were not in the majority. I remember an adoptee, who said that she was very self-conscious anyway, say that she felt like people were watching her in the theater when Long Duck Dong was on the screen. It was a bad stereotype (as if there are good ones) and I would argue that it has contributed to perpetuating a negative image of Asians today.

In the movie, I always laugh when the Donger was riding the stationary bike w/his "sexy American girlfriend" or when he told his host family that he drove their car into Lake Michigan. I was not laughing at the extremely thick accent, though. It is like being forced to listen to fingernails on a chalkboard. I found comedy in the dialogue or the set up of a scene. So, I wonder what other people found funny about Long Duck Dong. Was it his accent or his antics?

Another thought is that the Donger was thrown into this family who was sheltered and ignorant, and the Donger's character was simply to point out that there are people like this who still exist. His host family made him do household chores and he was the source of many jokes. Perhaps we are to find humor in the fact that the other characters were not so worldly and that they were really the odd ones, not the Donger. Funny or pathetic, I can relate to some of the Donger's experiences. Most importantly, the Donger got the girl and he was the life of the party.

My last point is that I could never figure out which country was Long Duck Dong's homeland. If I recall correctly, there is a reference to him being from Japan which doesn't make sense because his name is certainly not Japanese. Then, some of the characters refer to him as a "Chinaman." So, this could have been intentional in order to keep it "pan-Asian", if you will, so not to isolate and offend a certain Asian culture. Wow, how thoughtful. :)

I just came across this blog via the Chicago Tribune and this guy was pretty bothered by this character. I won't go as far to call John Hughes a racist, but I will say that I can see this blogger's point.
John Hughes: Racist? by Jason Chin

Growing up in the 80's was tough for me; I wasn't athletic, smart or good-looking, but somehow I made do. I was funny and that helped. I was great at dodging as well. And then 16 Candles ruined it all.

The movie was okay. Trite, a little fun, but I remember seeing it in the theater and thinking to myself, "This is going to be trouble."

How is that OKAY? Sixteen Candles was THE movie of 1984 and just about every single class "comedian" would quote lines from the move to me. And not in a friendly manner either. For years, I thought it was just me being annoyed. But it's not. Don't get me wrong, I love most of John Hughes' work. Home Alone is a wonderful movie and I love Uncle Buck for some reason. For me, personally, 16 Candles is very racist and that character overshadowed the entire movie experience. I would like to think that something like that wouldn't happen nowadays.

I'm sad that such a talented writer and director has passed away, but I can't forget how that movie affected my life.

Furthermore, here is another opinion piece about Long Duck Dong:

It was John Hughes' death and recent articles that reminded me that we discussed this notorious character on the motherland tour. I love John Hughes' films. How could we not laugh at the campy scripts of the "Vacation" movies, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Busan (Pusan)

One of the beaches in Pusan

June 19, 1988

We spent a relaxing day in Pusan. Pusan is Korea's 2nd largest city (and Korea's largest port city) which is located on the south/southeast corner of the Korean peninsula. In fact, you can take a ferry to Japan from Pusan. You will also find that Pusan has great beaches and is very cosmopolitan. I remember walking on the beach and eating a great lunch in Pusan. I even believe that we had really good Korean BBQ. For me, I seem to remember what I ate for various meals throughout my life. It is probably useless information for the majority of the time, but for this trip, I'm glad that I remembered!

We didn't have any organized tours and it was a great day to get to know more of our fellow travelers. After a long lunch, we walked along the beach and checked out the local businesses. Actually, a few group members were born in Pusan so this was a meaningful day for them.

Although some of the adoptees had very traumatic and sad stories of abandonment, it appeared that most of the adoptees on this tour left Korea as infants and were very well adjusted. On the surface, everyone seemed happy and I was able to relate. Not only did we share similar adoption stories, but we grew up in similar settings. If I recall correctly, it seemed like at least half of this group was from the Midwest and all of us had siblings. Most of the time, our discussions were pretty mundane, but there was this common thread that made these conversations comfortable. It was a time that many of us found a unique acceptance and belonging.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Euna Lee and Laura Ling

I wanted to post that I am relieved that Kim Jong Il has "pardoned" these journalists. I hope that they make it on the plane and are back in the U.S. ASAP. I am curious to learn about the deal making that took place before former POTUS Clinton arrived and am appalled that there is already criticism that the U.S. should not have negotiated with North Korea regarding the release of these journalists (i.e...piece on by John Bolton, former U.S. embassador to U.N.).

I'm just glad that they are on their way home!

Friday, July 31, 2009

An unforgettable story

Orphaned children in South Korea circa 2007

Previously, I wrote that one of the most meaningful lessons that I learned on the motherland tour of '88 was not to take for granted the fact that I was adopted as an infant. Many of the adoptees left Korea as children and had memories of the day of their abandonment. Some of the stories still resonate with me and I can't help but feel compassion for these individuals as these traumatic experiences will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Nighttime seemed to be when we would have intimate conversations about our lives. We would stay up late sharing stories and often hypothesizing about what our lives might be like if we grew up in Korea. One of the stories that I will never forget was about the last day a fellow traveler had with her biological family.

I will call her Mary. Her story began when she was five years old. She recalled that her bio-parents told her that she and her younger sister, who was three, would go to a neat place where there would be lots of children and that they could play and play all day. Of course, this was appealing and she didn't think too much of it. Her bio-mother told her that she needed some things to take with her and then proceeded to put her clothes and her younger sister's clothes in a paper bag.

A little later that morning, her bio-parents told Mary and her sister that they were going to go for a long drive. This was odd as her parents didn't own a car, nevertheless, it seemed like it was going to be a fun and special day. Mary said that her parents were unusually quiet in the car. They arrived at a building and found many children playing outside. Her parents told her and her sister to go play and they did as they were told. Their parents told them goodbye.

When they were ready to go home, she and her sister began to question the adults at this building about their parents' return and they were told that they were not going to return. This was their new home. Mary realized that they were at an orphanage. Mary said that she and her sister sobbed for what seemed like many hours.

A few months passed with the hopes of their bio-parents' return. One day, the orphanage director told them that he had some special news for them. Of course, they thought that their bio-parents were coming to get them. The orphanage director informed them that they had a new family waiting for both Mary and her sister in the United States. They were going to leave the only country, culture and life that they knew for a new one in America.

Even though Mary seemed to be well adjusted at eighteen years old, I couldn't help but think that this memory of abandonment would haunt her for the rest of her life. Understanding that her bio-parents could not afford to give her and her sister the life that they wanted for them, she gradually accepted their decision. Furthermore, this was not a story about a single mother who would be shunned from her family and Korean society for having a child out of wedlock, but of a married couple who wanted more for their children.

This also sheds light on an interesting cultural difference between Korea and the U.S. From my observation and my opinion only, it seems that Korean parents who could not (or cannot) provide for their children see adoption as an opportunity for their children to have a "better life". Of course, I do not know of what type of assistance was provided back then, but I am guessing that there wasn't much financial support from the government. Additionally, a support system, either from the immediate family or society, for a single parent was non-existent

On the other hand, there are single parents and couples in the U.S. who raise their families with meager financial means or maybe government assistance in order to keep their families together. Yes, there are those American parents who have also placed their children for adoption with the hopes of providing a better life for them. However, it seems as if domestic adoption of infants in the U.S. is not common especially among Caucasian children.

So, regardless of domestic or international adoption, what is the better path for a child? This is a difficult and complex issue and every aspect of the child's future life needs to be examined. So, is it better to raise a child with limited resources and little support or to give another family with greater financial means and access to more resources the chance to raise the child? At least in Korea many years ago and even now, it seems as if the parent/s felt that putting their bio-child up for adoption was for the best. Even today, I wonder if Mary still believes that this was the best for her.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Touring Kyongju

Sokkuram Grotto

June 18, 1988

I mentioned in an earlier post that Kyongju was the capital of the Silla (Shilla) Kingdom and it is also a concentrated location of Korean Buddhist art. It is known as the "museum without walls" due to the many sites and artifacts that survived since the 9th century and UNESCO has listed Kyongju as a World Heritage Site.

We spent the morning touring palaces, tombs of nobility and temples. We also went to the outskirts of Kyongju to see the Sokkuram Grotto. This grotto was built along the side of a mountain in 751 and houses a Buddha that is visited by many every day.

After visiting these archaeological sites, we walked around an area of Kyongju and checked out the local businesses. Even in an area with great historical significance, I was curious about the shopping possibilities!

As I look back at my photos, I wish that I had taken more. Life before digital cameras was just not convenient. I hope to return someday. That afternoon, we headed to Pusan (or Busan).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Korea Times Article & Nature v. Nurture

A Korean/American flag hybrid

During our tour of Korea, a few common questions among us were "What would our lives be like if we grew up in Korea?" or "What would we be like?" Of course, one could speculate endless possibilities, but a mutual postulate at was the debate of nature v. nurture. We were all curious as to whether or not we would look the same, act the same or have the same likes and dislikes if we grew up in Korea.

So, this is why I decided to share a short article that I read a while back and rediscovered on a fellow adoptee's blog: After I initially read the article, I found it to be a superficial illustration of Korean adoptees and then, I wondered if it was a bit more telling of Korean culture, how success is measured and attitudes toward adoption.

Granted, this piece isn't based on extensive research or an academic analysis, but it does offer some exposure to what Korean adoptees have accomplished in the U.S. I found it curious that the first example of a successful adoptee is of a former Playboy model. In a culture that has been historically sexist, I shouldn't have been surprised that this adoptee's "accomplishment" was cited as a success story. Or, maybe it was to reveal that we are all individuals just like anyone else from any background and not just one giant homogenic cohort? Right. Oh, I definitely don't think that this woman (aka..Playboy model)was on my motherland tour. :)

Not only does one of the paragraphs lead off with "Surprisingly, many adoptees have become rather successful..," but the overall tone of the article expresses wonderment that these individuals have done well. If this is the case, does the article rudimentarily suggest that one's development is due more to nurture rather than nature? Furthermore, it doesn't even begin to address some of the hard issues that many adoptees have faced or the controversy that hovers over international adoption.

On a positive note, I do like that it emphasizes the benefit of living with a foster family. Maybe this was to encourage individuals to become foster parents in Korea as this was published by the Korea Times. Perhaps it was an attempt to shed some guilt that these adoptees have become productive individuals. Regardless, I truly believe that this is an invaluable component to the Korean adoption program and a testament of Korea's commitment to its orphaned children. I cannot agree more that the foster family program is an integral part of an adoptee's development as our adopted daughter and I are both products of this system.

Korean-American Adoptees Searching for Roots
2008.1.21Korean-American Adoptees Searching for Roots
By Jeremy Chew
Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES ― A number of Koreans have been adopted into American families in the United States. Traditionally, from a cultural standpoint, Koreans rarely adopt children, even children of their own ethnicity. Apart from the war, many of these children come from significantly disadvantaged backgrounds: born into poverty or born out of wedlock.

Surprisingly, many adoptees have become rather successful. Some like Playboy model, Nicole Oring, have gained notoriety (a feat less likely had she grown up in a conservative Korean household). But for the most part, many continue to lead successful lives among Asian-Americans as the model minority.

David Camitta, a Wall Street investment banker at Merrill Lynch, attended the top universities: University of Illinois for his undergraduate degree and Columbia University for his masters in mathematics. Continuing his track record, David is well poised to rise to the ranks of vice president and managing director.

Although he was raised by Caucasians in Wisconsin, a state with less than 1 percent of Asians in its population, he managed to rediscover his roots while balancing work in a dominantly Caucasian workforce. Two years ago, he met his biological parents for the first time. It was certainly an emotional roller coaster ride.

Living in New York City, a city with its own ``Koreatown,'' Camitta is very involved with social activities. He is active in YKAM (Young Korean American Association) and receives tutoring from NYU students native to Korea so that he can converse with his siblings in Korea via the Internet.

One of his best friends, Jonathan Carfield a venture capitalist, is a fellow Korean adoptee and the two do not let their backgrounds hinder their progress. In fact, their non-Asian names may move them to the initial employment-screening phase that is often times racially discriminatory.

Korean adoptees continue to make their mark outside of business. Captain John Principe, who grew up in California, has also taken his foster parent's last name. After graduating from the University of California Berkeley in political science, John Principe joined the United States Army as a second lieutenant, a career path that many of his counterparts in Korea (serving two years of mandatory service) would gladly avoid. Currently, he is a captain in the Army's elite ranger battalion.

After serving several years in Iraq, Captain Principe recognizes that many Iraqi and Afghani children are displaced and the need for international humanitarian efforts to place those children is ever more important.

One result of the Korean War (1950-1953) was the existence of 100,000 homeless children. It could be said that the Korean War brought forth international recognition of Korean adoption practices.

The lives of Captain Principe, Camitta and Carfield underscore and reexamine the age old debate between Immanuel Kant and Konrad Lorez's idea of ``nature versus nurture.'' One thing is clear: that their lives are significantly changed because their foster families have welcomed them with open arms and considered them their own, providing them with immeasurable opportunities.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Getting to know my roommates

Hotel Concorde, Kyongju

June 17, 1988: Con't.

After leaving the Korean Folk Village, we headed to Kyongju (or Gyeongju) which is located in the southeastern part of the country. This is one of Korea's popular cities for tourists and was the capital of the Silla (or Shilla) Kingdom for over 1,000 years. That said, there are many historic buildings and temples to tour and this was on the itinerary for the following day. I was excited to visit other areas of Korea and looked forward to more sight seeing.

We arrived at Kyongju and checked into a hotel. In '88, it was the Kyongju Tokyuu Hotel and now it is the Concorde Hotel Kyongju (I think). We were just excited that we were in a new location and it seemed like it would be a good setting for socializing. By this time, we were together for a few days and started to feel more comfortable with each other.

After dinner, most of us went to check out the discotheque also known as the little smoke filled room with a dance floor. Even then, it seemed dated and a bit garish. That didn't stop us from checking out the locals and listening to American pop songs sung in Korean. I faintly remember a couple of Village People songs in Korean. Anway, the novelty wore off and my roommates and I decided that we wanted to leave.

The four of us returned to our two rooms and decided to hang out for a while. Our conversation started off with mundane topics and then, we began to question each other about our pre-adoption circumstances at a deeper level than any previous discussions. Naively, I thought that everyone had the same experience that I did.

Digress for a second. Being adopted as an infant, I didn't really have any major issues or certainly didn't have any memories of living in Korea. I only learned that I was adopted when I noticed that other kids at pre-school looked like their parents. On the way home one day from pre-school, I told my dad that the other kids looked like their mommies or daddies, and I wanted to know why I didn't. He said something to this effect, "Well, sometimes there are mommies and daddies who have babies and they might not be able to provide for their babies. They want them to have a better life than what they can offer, so they give their babies up for adoption." He continued to explain adoption and told me about Korea, etc.. It was an age-appropriate response that made sense to me. I will always remember this conversation.

So, back to June 17. Like I said earlier, I operated under the assumption that everyone was adopted as an infant and no one had any memories of living in Korea before their "new" lives in the U.S. Well, I was wrong.

One of my roommates began to tell her story with the fact that she was 4 when she was adopted. She said that her (bio)parents abandoned her and her younger sister at a train station in Seoul. (I have learned that this was a common scenario.) She remembers walking around while holding her sister's hand and crying out for her parents. She said that her sister had a dirty diaper and she didn't know what to do in addition to the fact that they were both extremely scared. After roaming around for a few hours, someone approached them and took them to a police officer. The police officer took her and her sister to the police station and they waited there for a long time. She said that she even remembers that a policeman gave them ice cream. The next thing that she recalled was that they were sent to a group living home or an orphanage. Luckily, they didn't live there for very long. A family from the Midwest adopted her and her sister.

I realized that we were around the same age when adoption became a part of our lives. I learned that I was adopted when I was around four years old and my roommate was four when she came to the U.S. If I can recall that car ride home when my dad explained adoption to me, then her memory of being abandoned at the train station has to be permanently etched in her memory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Korean Folk Village

Farmers' Dance, Korean Folk Village

June 17, 1988

Our next point of interest was the Korean Folk Village. We left Il San in the morning and drove about an hour or so outside of Seoul to this park. It opened in 1974 with the purpose to educate its visitors about Korean history and culture. It also serves as a venue to exhibit various forms of folk art. (I will compare it to Silver Dollar City sans the hillbilly touch.)

KFV is an impressive re-construction of Korea during the late Chosun period (1392-1894) when education emphasized loyalty, filial piety and Confucian ideology. You will see how the Koreans lived as their lifestyles are reproduced in the different exhibit houses. Performances by dancers and drummers might show a mask dance or paying homage for a bountiful crop. Other performances include ceremonies depicting events such as a wedding or even Shaman worship.

Throughout the park, you will find the houses of 30 folk villages that were relocated to create this outdoor museum. The villages typify the styles of housing found within the different regions of Korea. In addition, they reveal the inhabitants socio-economic status through their design and materials used to construct them.

We all seemed to enjoy the visit to KFV and it was a fun, multisensory and interactive way to learn about our heritage and its history. At that time, I'm sure that several of us had a limited background in Korean history, were clueless about the meaning of "filial piety" or had a comprehensive understanding of Confucianism and its infuence on Korean culture. Now, I'd like to return with my family and with a new appreciation. The visit to KFV had a long lasting effect as I still remember that day and it incited an interest in a culture that will never fade.