The public availability of the Internet provided Korean adoptees (KADs) a platform to find one another and create long-standing networking groups. Southern California based KAD group, Association of Korean Adoptees (AKA-SOCAL), is one of the earliest known U.S.-based Korean adoptee groups still in existence. Founded in 1994, this group was the result of an Internet post seeking other Korean adoptees. Around this same time, other meetings of KADs in cities across the U.S., Europe, and in Korea facilitated by similar internet postings were happening, such as NYC-based Korean adoptee group Also-Known-As founded in 1996 by Hollee McGinnis; AKA-San Francisco in 1997 co-founded by Crystal “HyunJu” Chappell; Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A.’L.) in 1998 founded by Ami Nafzger, a Korean American adoptee, along with 11 other KADs; Boston Korean Adoptees (BKA) in 1998; AK Connection serving the Minnesota Twin Cities region in 2000; and Adoption Links DC in 2002, which originally started as an offshoot of the first Gathering in 1999 (more about this milestone event in a subsequent section). These groups would lay the foundation for the KAD infrastructure we see today.
Beyond providing a space to meet similar others, in many cases for the first time, and emotional support, these groups created programming that addressed their wants and needs. This was a departure from previous organizing in two key ways: 1. It was self-led, instead of led by adoptive parents or social workers; and 2. The programming was adoptee-identified versus what parents, practitioners, or adoption agencies determined was what adoptees needed. One key goal of these adoptee-led groups was to mentor the newer generations of KADs. In this way, a KAD consciousness was created and younger KADs were socialized into it.
KAD consciousness is characterized by three shared experiences unique to their race-adoptive status location: 1. Racial difference from one’s (adoptive) family and in many times community; 2. Understanding of one’s minority status in the U.S.; and 3. Feeling of in-between-ness, characterized by not quite fitting in with one’s racial and/or ethnic group or one’s (adoptive) family, or in Korea or the U.S.
In forming these KAD groups, online adoption forums were created and then solidified, relationships with local Korean American communities were fostered (this was substantial as there has been ongoing debate to how “Korean” KADs are and their role in the “Korean” Korean American community), and links to the international adopted Korean community were created. These three steps connected the local and global nature of Korean adoption. Korean adoptees connected to similar others and formed groups by regional location but also identified themselves with the global Korean adoptee community. Undoubtedly, the experiences by nation crafted dissimilar experiences yet a unifying thread of transnational and transracial adoption exists. This is evidenced in the number of European KADs who travel to the U.S. for KAD gatherings and vice versa. In fostering ties with the Korean American community, KADs claimed or re-claimed their birth country and immigrant status. By doing so, adoptees challenged the previously popular sentiment of Korean adoptees having a clean break from their native country or being assimilable into (white) American-ness.
Online message boards facilitated face-to-face meetings and the creation of many of the still existing adoptee groups. Message boards in the form of Facebook groups continue to provide a space for adoptees to meet adoptees, in many instances for the first time, and begin awakening an adoptee consciousness.
Conferences serve as a site for collective identity-making and social activism. KAD conferences have existed since the late 1990s and are the outgrowth of KAD networking groups. One of the first major KAD conferences was the 1999 International Gathering of Adult Korean Adoptees (“The Gathering”) in Washington DC, which was co-hosted by Also-Known-As. Nearly 400 KADs, who were adopted between 1955 and 1985 representing over thirty U.S. states and several European countries, attended. The Gathering produced the first large-scale survey of KADs, established the relationship between adopted Koreans internationally and the Korean government, and provided evidence of a Korean Adoptee identity and collective.
KAD groups also created a network of people who are easily mobilized to support/carry out adoption-related policy changes. For example, in 1999 as a result of G.O.A.’L’s lobbying, the Korean government extended F4 visas to include adopted Koreans. This was a significant achievement given that in order to obtain an F4 visa one’s familial relationships had to be verified. Historically, for Korean adoptees their familial ties were erased in order to facilitate their adoption. The F4 visa included special rules that allows Korean adoptees to obtain F4 visas despite not having any documentation of their Korean familial ties. By extending the F4 visa to adoptees, the Korean government recognizes adoptees’ blood ties to Korea.
Throughout 2015 and ongoing, KAD groups, as well as other Asian American groups, have organized around the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) of 2015. One component of this advocacy is tied to a high-profile adoptee deportation case. Adam Crapser, a Korean adoptee, is currently awaiting deportation because his adoptive parents never took the necessary steps to naturalize him. In response, KAD groups and Asian American groups created, distributed, and signed petitions and raised legal funds for Adam Crapser to remain in the U.S. Beyond rallying for him specifically, there were petitions for and now support of an amendment that will grant all international adoptees adopted to the U.S. citizenship (Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015 S.2275 and HR.5454). While the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted citizenship to all adopted children under the age of 18 when it went into effect, those adopted previously and whose parents did not file the proper citizenship paperwork, like Adam’s, are still vulnerable. Without citizenship, these KADs, and other international adoptees, cannot vote, open bank accounts, get driver’s licenses and passports, or pursue employment.
The mass availability of the Internet provided a much needed space for Korean adoptees to locate one another and affirm their experiences. KAD networking groups, conferences, and policy initiatives, serve as ways to express and solidify adoptee identity and community. Through these channels, KADs bring awareness to the existence of the adoptee community and the realities of adoption.
For more information about the foundations of Korean adoptee community and what some have termed a Korean adoptee movement, see:
- Kim, Eleana. 2010. Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.