Korean Adoptee Community

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

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.

Policy

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.

Conclusion

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.
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Korean Adoptee Identity Research: Past, Present, and Future

Research on Korean adoptees’ racial and/or ethnic identity mirrors the shifts in adoption approaches. In the earliest years of Korean adoption, adoption agencies and social workers promoted the belief that transnational adoption offered a clean break from the child’s native country, culture, and birth parents and that transnationally adopted children would wholly assimilate to (white) American culture. Correspondingly, outcome studies were prevalent assessing the psychological, social, and developmental adjustment of transracial adoptees. Feigelman and Silverman (1984) conducted a study of 372 adoptive families and compared the long-term adjustment of Colombian, Korean, and African-American transracial adoptees to in-racially adopted whites. The sample was comprised of 5 percent (n=19) Colombian children, 43 percent (n=161) Korean children, 13 percent (n=47) African-American children, and 17 percent (n=65) white children. Two-thirds of the adoptees were between 7 and 12 years of age, 31 percent were between 13 and 20 years old, and the remainder were between 21 and 25. Adjustment was measured by three questions assessing the parents’ perceptions of overall evaluation of the adoption, the frequency of the child’s emotional problems, and the frequency of the child’s growth problems.

Results showed that adjustment problems for Colombian children were no more severe than those experienced by white adoptees and in fact were reported to have fewer emotional adjustment problems. Their adjustment was more likely to be described as satisfactory in comparison to all other adoptees in the study. Korean children’s emotional adjustment was similar to those experienced by white adoptees, and their adjustment was rated as satisfactory at higher rates than white adoptees though lower than Colombian adoptees. However, Korean adoptees had a greater frequency of reported growth problems. African-American adoptees had poorer adjustment as reported by their adoptive parents, and they were more frequently reported to have emotional adjustment problems compared to the other adoptees in the study and less likely to be reported as having satisfactory adjustment. However, the pattern of poorer adjustment was not statistically significant. Further analysis showed that the age of the child at placement and the intensity of family and friend’s opposition to the adoption were significant determinants of adjustment outcomes with children adopted at later ages (over the age of two) and those whose family and/or friends expressed disapproval related to maladjustment.

As the U.S. moved away from straight-line assimilationist theories and in the aftermath of race-conscious movements in the 1960s, social workers’ and various racial and ethnic groups’ objections to transracial adoption practices, particularly transracial adoption of Black and Native American children, gained traction. The controversy surrounding domestic transracial adoption influenced transnational transracial adoption, and the questions raised by the National Association of Black Social Workers and American Indians during the 1970s about loss of culture, racial identity, and socialization would find their way into Korean adoption research.

Research findings were mixed with some studies finding that transracial adoptees rejected their racial background by showing no interest or exhibiting shame and others finding that transracial adoptees identified racially/ethnicially. Benson, Sharma, and Roehlkepartain (1994) conducted a study to examine the mental health of adolescents who were adopted as infants. Their sample included 881 adolescents who had been adopted in infancy; 33 percent were transracial adoptees and Korean adoptees (n=199) were the largest segment of these adoptees. Transracial adoptees found their race more salient than their adoptee status compared to white adoptees. Of the Asian adoptees, 22 percent wished to be “a different race,” and only 51 percent reported feeling accepted by other Asians. Further, Asian adoptees reported lower levels of self-esteem compared to white adoptees.

Studies also found that some adoptive parents viewed their children as void of color, race, or nationality and therefore deemphasized racial differences. In one of the first nationwide studies of transnationally adopted children in the U.S., Kim (1978) conducted a study of 406 Korean and mixed-Korean adoptees. Many of the adoptive parents reported that they saw no color, race, or nationality in their adopted children. In a study of 30 Black and 30 white adoptive parents of either Black or Black biracial children, McRoy and colleagues (1982) found that the transracial adoptees (Black children adopted by White parents) whose parents deemphasized the importance of racial identity tended to devalue or not acknowledge a Black identity. Further, the transracially adopted Black children who had no contact with co-ethnics expressed racially stereotypical views, such as “Blacks are poor” and “they use bad English.”

Later research focused on the importance of parents’ support of adoptee’s ethnic identity development. Using a modified version of Portes and Rumbaut’s (2001) second generation ethnic labels (i.e., foreign national identity, hyphenated American identity, American national identity, pan-ethnic minority identity), Tuan and Shiao (2011) found that adoptees whose parents emphasized their shared fate were more likely to describe themselves using a compound ethnic label or hyphenated identity (i.e., Korean-American) than those whose parents did not. The concept of shared fate stems from Kirk’s ([1964]1984) framework for understanding adoptive parents unique family circumstance and refers to parents who acknowledge their family’s difference and share with their adopted children about the uncertainties that lay ahead and cope along with them. Tuan and Shiao (2011) identified additional factors influencing these identifications, such as personal experiences of prejudice and opportunities for contact with other Asians and Koreans. Also, key was the shared outsider or forever foreigner experiences of Korean adoptees and non-adoptees. This study added nuance to previous research that found KADs use a range of activities to develop a healthy sense of identity (Evan B. Donaldson 2009).

Whereas early adoption research focused on parents’, and in some cases teachers’, evaluations of adoptees or was conducted from social work/practitioner point of view, the early 2000s saw adoptees authoring their own stories. Although there were adult adoptees prior to this decade, during this time a critical mass of adoptees was entering adulthood and technology allowed for a wider dissemination and reach of adoptee-authored works. Since then adult adoptees have claimed their own voice, whether through their own academic research, adult adoptee anthologies, blogs, or hashtag movements. These outlets focus on adoptees claiming adulthood, dismantling the eternal orphan construct, and telling the adoptee story from the experience and perspectives of the adoptee. Accordingly, they provide insight into how adoptees conceptualize an adoptee identity and create a specific, shared social identity, leading to the question: What is an adoptee identity and culture? Is there a specific adoptee identity separate from other identities and if so, what are the components? Additionally, what does an adoptee identity do? Is it a political identity?

 

For more information about Korean adoptee identity, see:

  • Palmer, John D. The Dance of Identities: Korean Adoptees and Their Journey toward Empowerment. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Park Nelson, Kim. 2016. Invisible Asians: Korean American Adoptees, Asian American Experiences, and Racial Exceptionalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Tuan, Mia and Jiannbin Lee Shiao. 2012. Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America. NY, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Re/Sources:

  • Benson, P.L., A.R. Sharma, and E.C. Roehlkepartain. 1994. Growing Up Adopted: A Portrait of Adolescents and Their Families. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.
  • Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. 2009. “Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Health Identity Formation in Adoption.” New York, NY: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
  • Feigelman, William and Arnold R. Silverman. 1984. “The Long-Term Effects of Transracial Adoption.” Social Service Review 58(4):588-602.
  • Kim, D. S. 1978. “Issues in Transracial and Transcultural Adoption.” Social Casework, 59, 477-486.
  • Kirk, H. David. [1984]1964. Shared Fate: A Theory of Adoption and Mental Health. London: Free Press of Glencoe.
  • McRoy, R., L. Zurcher, M. Lauderdale and R. Anderson. 1982. “Self-esteem and Racial Identity in Transracial and Inracial Adoptees.” Social Work 27:522–526.
  • Portes, Alejandro and Ruben G. Rumbaut. 2001. Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Tuan, Mia and Jiannbin Lee Shiao. 2012. Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America. NY, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

 

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Korean Adoption in the U.S.: A Brief Overview

As a result of the Korean War and as early as 1953, the U.S. began adopting children from Korea. During the 1980s adoption from Korea reached its peak with over 66,000 Korean adoptions. Although adoption from Korea has been declining since then, Korean adoptees are the largest number of transnational transracial adoptees within the U.S. In fact,

“Korean transnational adoption was the first sustained intercountry adoption program in history (all previous intercountry adoption programs were temporary, in response to national disasters or emergencies); the current permanent practice of transnational adoption, whereby prospective adoptive parents in the United States or another receiving country can expect to have a choice of countries from which to adopt children, can be traced to Korean adoption” (Park Nelson 2009:5).

While popular understandings of Korean transnational adoption often center on individuals and ideas of Christian or humanitarian aid, such tropes mask the historical and social contexts that enabled these adoptions as well as how transnational adoption was institutionalized. A mix of social and historical factors in both Korea and the U.S. facilitated Korean transnational adoption. As a result of the Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 1953) and the separation of the Korean peninsula into two nations, countless children were orphaned or homeless; among those orphaned were the offspring of Korean women and U.S. G.I.s. Consequently, orphans of the Korean War were the first Korean adoptees.

Korean orphans were depicted in the media as ‘Korean waifs,’ ‘waifs of war,’ and military ‘mascots’. In fact, many U.S. G.I.s returned to the U.S. with ‘mascots’ (i.e., Korean boys), and U.S. soldiers and chaplains often wrote home asking for supplies for orphanages they had set up. In this way, Korean orphans were framed as objects in need of humanitarian aid and American serviceman were framed in a “paternalistic role as the main supporters of orphanages and conduits for charitable donations from concerned Americans at home” (Kim 2008:7) even though some were actual fathers to children of Korean women who did not fulfill their paternal role due to stigmas of illegitimacy and miscegenation. These early depictions of Korean orphans spurred many families to adopt from Korea, and it was after Harry and Bertha Holt’s very public adoption of eight Korean children in 1955 that the demand for Korean children soared. The Holts, and then the Holt adoption agency, were key in relaxing adoption standards of foreign children. Although by the late 1950s the population of abandoned mixed-race Korean children declined, the rate of child abandonment in the general population soared, and “by 1965, 70 percent of children being sent overseas were of full Korean parentage” (Kim 2008:18).

Social factors that influenced the increase in and general availability of adoptees in Korea include its patriarchal society, stigma of single motherhood, and increase in facilities to address orphaned children and facilitate adoptions. Within the U.S., social factors that contributed to the likelihood of transnational adoption include use of “matching” in social work for adoptions, which privileged white, middle-class, heterosexual couples, and the decrease in available domestic adoptees. Efficient and widely accepted methods of birth control and decreasing public opposition to unwed mothers and adopted children were also contributing factors.

Although Korean transnational adoption may have been initially framed as a humanitarian effort, transnational adoption practices have become more critically interrogated. Regarding Korean adoption specifically, the 1988 Seoul Olympics saw criticisms against Korea for “exporting” Korean children. More recently, some adult Korean adoptees have created groups advocating against transnational adoption. In regards to transnational adoption broadly, traditional ideas of humanitarianism have been replaced with examinations into the commercialization, commodification, and imperialism embedded within these adoption practices.

For more in-depth history and analysis of Korean adoption, see:

  • Brian, Kristi. (2012). Reframing Transracial Adoption: Adopted Koreans, White Parents, and the Politics of Kinship. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
  • Choy, Catherine. (2013). Global Families : A History of Asian International Adoption inAmerica. NY, NY: NYU Press.
  • Pate, SooJin. (2014). From Orphan to Adoptee: U.S. Empire and Genealogies of Korean Adoption. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Oh, Arissa. (2015). To Save the Children of Korea: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption . Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Re/Sources:

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Another Korean Adoptee Story

As a child, the library was one of my favorite places. I loved the endless adventures at my fingertips. There was something comforting, and exciting, about knowing that anything I could ever want to know, and much that I could never even imagine, could be found within those voluminous shelves. I voraciously devoured the stories from history, from authors’ imaginations, and those constructed from the world we live in. Naturally, when I wanted to know about people like me, adoptees, I went to those trusted library shelves. But this visit was different. Unlike the many successes of the past, this time I found no comfort within those shelves. My hunger was left unsatiated. Diligent searches up and down the stacks left me empty handed and dejected. Adventure, history, and science fiction lined the shelves, filling the building from wall to wall, but the fact was that I was nowhere to be found.

“At least my mother loved me and didn’t put me up for adoption!”

– Accusation of a friend in elementary school

It was the early 1990s and while social workers and clinicians were researching adoptee outcomes and interviewing parents about their children’s adjustment, these research papers, journal articles, and limited monographs didn’t make it to the shelves of my public library branch. Perhaps this was for the better. After all, I was not in search of clinical absolution but rather connection to similar others. Like many others, I grew up in a neighborhood where very few looked like me, and unlike some others, I did not grow up participating in adoptive family groups or culture camps. Instead, adoptee was wholly a solitary state of being. Like any other only (l)on(e)ly child, I found ways to entertain myself. My imagination created new worlds and spell-binding adventures, unearthed scientific discoveries, and provided answers for who I was and how my family made sense.

“You guys know about vampires?” Diaz asked.
“You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.

And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all.
I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me?
That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?

And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

— Junot Díaz, Pulitzer-prize Winning Author

I had no idea that though I consistently felt isolated, I was far from an anomaly. Internationally there were others adapting to another country and culture; nationally there were others assimilating to Whiteness yet integrating homogeneous (White) communities; and even in my own city there were others navigating the Black-White color line in a city that was still very much reaping the consequences of being the place of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination while also negotiating the mores and values of the Bible Belt. Even though I did not know my connection to the broader transnational transracial adoption phenomenon, I would learn that others knew enough – enough to make conclusions (about how we’ve fared), enough to make decisions (about how much we need to know), enough to make declarations (about who we are).

“She was giving me advice [about how to care for an infant], but I mean what does she know. She doesn’t have kids of her own. They were adopted.”

–Reflection of a friend in undergrad regarding her mother-in-law

While others felt confident enough to make such allegations publicly and privately with vast affects, their conclusions lacked comprehensive evidence. To be sure, I am adopted and this has had deep consequences, consequences beyond outcomes and adjustment, but I am much more than suspended moments in time or transgressions of U.S. conceptions of family-making and kinship ties. Yes, I am an adoptee (and yes, I am an American), but adoptee is more than static measurements or a categorization, something to be assessed, reported, and then filed away. It means to come to terms with being a representation for your experience, for what it means to be racialized in a certain way, what it means to create love and family and care beyond blood and with people who don’t look like you, what it means to challenge these U.S. borders. It means being at peace with being marked – as othered because of your family construction and your supposed phenotype-culture mismatch – yet invisible – because of your race within U.S. racial hierarchy – and taking the awareness of both and being seen. Asserting yourSELF. Demanding to be seen.

Silence kills the soul;
it diminishes its possibilities to rise and fly and explore.
Silence withers what makes you human. The soul shrinks,
until it’s nothing.

– Marlon Riggs, Filmmaker and Gay Rights Activist

It does not mean, however, that I acquiesce to external definitions about how I have come to be or ways that I should feel about where I am, neither where I am in this country nor where I am in this family. Quite the contrary, it means I don’t have to fit into the dominant adoptee narrative. It’s an acknowledgement that I am always being defined – orphan, unwanted, unloved, loved, grateful, rescued, white, culture-less – and am always being seen through the lens of others’ relationships to their family. People project their feelings about family relations and family making onto my family’s formation. Yes, what you onlookers say about adoption and how I should feel is directly related to your own family issues. You tell stories about me to bolster what you think about you, wish to be true about you, or what your values are. But just the same, I tell stories too.

Sharing your story is also freedom-work. In storytelling, we are reminded that we’re not alone, that we are loved, & that love is work, too.

– Deray McKesson, Activist and Social Movement Curator

And the stories I tell go far beyond the boundaries of adoptee. Adoptee is more than just an act – the act of abandonment, desire for a ‘better’ future, new family, new home, new country. It is action. It is deconstructing, redefining, rearticulating. It is better imagined Adoptee-American, because it is a politicized, racialized, historically-situated, and power-relation laden identity. We bear the marks of imperialism, colorism, colorblindness, commodification, and consumerism. Accepted individually but rejected collectively within the American imaginary of what is American. And, so the label adoptee, infantilizing and marginalizing, is insufficient in describing a full-grown, fully functioning, free standing collectivity who share a history, an upbringing, an experience and daily lived experiences, and who use those commonalities as a basis for community building, political platform, and advocacy.

Nobody’s going to save you.
No one’s going to cut you down, cut the thorns thick around you. No one’s going to storm the castle walls nor kiss awake your birth, climb down your hair, nor mount you onto the white steed. There is no one who will feed the yearning.

Face it.
You will have to do,
do it yourself.

– Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Author and Theorist

We have both the right and the responsibility of telling our story. If we don’t, then it will be told for us as it has been told for us for many years. Our stories are so much more complex than tropes about humanitarianism, Christian duty, Western superiority, who is ‘fit’ to be parents, and how adoptees should feel about being adopted. Family is so much more complicated and nuanced than linear explanations. While narratives about helplessness and rescue are seductive to our American minds, they are flawed like the title ‘adoptee,’ inaccurate, misleading, and minimizing of our actual lived experiences. While the title adoptee does describe a part of me, I am not encapsulated within it. As with any title that is externally created and imposed, it must be negotiated. This could be acceptance of the term and how it is used by others, by those in power. It could be a rejection of the title in whole or in part, and the rejection could be active, rejecting and replacing or redefining, or it could be passive, rejecting and ignoring, believing because it does not matter to you or wholly define you that it is free of consequences. However, individual beliefs by themselves do not dismantle institutionally embedded tags. And so the collective movement to #FliptheScript is necessary. And while these social media declarations may influence what the public, prospective and current adoptive parents, social workers, and others think, it is not for them that we do this. It is for us. It is our story to tell.

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National Adoption Month History & Flip the Script

National Adoption Awareness Month is a relatively new observance, established in 1995 by President Bill Clinton. Previously the national campaign to bring public awareness to the thousands of children in foster care in need of permanent families was a weeklong event beginning in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan. The nationally recognized campaign was preceded by a Massachusetts declaration for an adoption week by Governor Michael Dukakis. Currently, adoption awareness month also includes Orphan Sunday, a crusade organized through the Christian Alliance for Orphans to spur Christian congregations to support orphans across the globe and domestic foster children.

While National Adoption Awareness Month is organized under the banner of the best interest of children in foster, it has been taken up by adoption agencies as a time to promote adoption of newborns and transnational adoption. Adoptees and others have challenged this focus on consumer choice through adoption and the traditional silence of adoptee voices. In 2014, The Lost Daughters started a social media campaign, #FliptheScript, to amplify adoptee voices and experiences. While this year’s National Adoption Month highlights older children in foster care and the desire of foster children to be involved in the conversation about family and adoption, organized around the hashtag #JustAskUs, adoptee and foster children’s perspectives cannot be included as an after-thought.

To understand what an adoptee-centric Adoption Month would look like, see #FliptheScript social media prompts from 2015.

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A Note on Adoption Terminology

Below are definitions of terms central to this series of blog posts. While not a comprehensive list of adoption terminology, these particular terms are key to the topics and ideas I’ll discuss throughout this month.

Domestic or In-Country Adoption: adoption involving adoptive parents and child who reside within the same country

Intercountry, International, or Transnational Adoption: adoption involving adoptive parents and child residing in different countries

Transracial Adoption*: adoption involving adoptive parents and child of different racialized group membership, commonly white adoptive parents adopting non-white child.

Adoptee, Adopted Person: a person who joins their family through adoption

Birth family, First Family, Biological Family: adopted person’s relatives by birth

Adoptive Family: person(s) who become permanent, legal parents through adoption

Adoption Triad: the three main persons in adoption – birth parent(s), adopted person, adoptive parent(s)

 

* While transnational adoption is predominately also transracial adoption, the term transracial adoption has historically been used to refer to the adoption of Black children by white adoptive parents. By confining the designation of transracial to describe domestic Black-white adoption only and not transnational cross-racial adoptions, the role of race and racialization of transnationally adopted children is minimized. However, as detailed by more contemporary research and adoptees’ personal accounts, the transracial nature of transnational adoptions has implications for transnational transracial adoptees’ identity formation and mental health, among other personal, family, and community-level outcomes, some of which I’ll discuss in upcoming posts.

 

For a more comprehensive list of adoption terminology, see:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/glossary/glossarya/

http://www.adopt.org/glossary

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A Brief Timeline of Adoption in the U.S.

According to an Adoption Attitudes Survey, 40% of Americans know someone who is adopted.  Adoption is a legal practice that transfers parental rights of an adopted child from biological (or legal) parents to adoptive parents. U.S. Census data estimates that 1 out of every 25 families with children have an adopted child.  Formal, legalized adoption has been ongoing in the U.S. since the 1850s when Massachusetts passed the first modern adoption law. While early adoptions adhered to strict “matching” procedures meant to conceal adoption, in the 1950s transnational transracial adoption from Korea facilitated changes to matching procedures and preferences, popularizing adoption across racial, religious, and national lines while also providing a model for the international adoption industry we see today. In fact, the U.S. is the leading receiving country of internationally adopted children, adopting nearly half a million children since the 1940s.

Below I offer a brief timeline highlighting some of the key events in domestic and international adoption.

1854-1929 Orphan Trains – Approximately 250,000 children of poor Catholic and Jewish immigrants from New York and the Eastern seaboard were sent to be raised in Anglo-Protestant farming families across the Midwest.

1940s-1970s Irish adoption to the U.S. – About 2,000 children were adopted to the U.S. from Ireland, facilitated by Catholic orders in Ireland and the U.S. Many of these children were born to unwed mothers in homes run by the Catholic church.

1948-1953 German, Greek, and Japanese adoptions after WWII – Close to 6,000 European children were adopted, primarily from Germany and Greece. About 2,400 children were adopted transracially from Asia, primarily from Japan, to white families.

1953 – after 2011 Adoption from Korea – Adoption from Korea began in 1953 with the end of the Korean War. After the very public adoption of 8 Korean children by Harry and Bertha Holt in 1955, adoption from Korea gained popularity. The creation of the Holt Adoption Program in 1956 help institutionalize international adoption. South Korea became known as the “Cadillac” of adoption programs. Adoption from Korea peaked in the 1980s. Over 100,000 Korean children have been adopted to the U.S., primarily transracially to white families.

1955-1962 Hong Kong Project – Over 500 Chinese children abandoned by Chinese parents, who had fled communist mainland China to Hong Kong, were adopted to the U.S.

1958-1967 Indian Adoption Project – Approximately 395 Native American children from 16 western states were sent to be raised in white families in Eastern and Midwestern states.

1970 African American transracial adoptions – Overall, the number of African American children placed with white families is small, and these adoptions reached their peak around 1970, when approximately 2,500 African American transracial adoptions took place.

1972 National Association of Black Social Workers’ “Position Statement on Trans-Racial Adoption” – Vehemently opposed the transracial adoption of African American children to white families, citing the damage to African American children’s sense of self.

1975 Operation Babylift – Following the Vietnam War, approximately 2,500 Vietnamese children were adopted to families in the U.S. and allied countries.

1978 Indian Child Welfare Act passed by Congress – This Act seeks to keep Indian children with Indian families.

1989-2001 Adoption from Romania – The fall of the Ceauşescu regime revealed that over 170,000 Romanian children were in state-run institutions. Approximately 10,000 Romanian children were adopted to the U.S. and European nations. A moratorium on adoption was enacted in 2001 due to black market adoptions, and international adoption was banned 4 years later.

1995-2008 Adoption from Guatemala – After Guatemala’s civil war, countless Guatemalan children were orphaned or separated from family. Over 22,000 Guatemalan children adopted to the U.S. In 2008 adoptions from Guatemala closed due to child trafficking.

1991 Adoption from China – Since 1992, over 85,000 Chinese children, mainly girls, have been (predominately) adopted transracially to white U.S. families. China’s one-child policy and patrilineal society led to the abandonment of baby girls. Adoption from China peaked in 2007. Over 85,000 Chinese children have been adopted to the U.S., primarily transracially to white families.

1994 Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) – Stated that organizations and agencies that receive federal funds could not “categorically deny to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or foster parent solely on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent, or the child involved.

1996 Inter-Ethnic Placement Act (IEPA) – Prohibited State agencies and other entities that receive Federal funding and were involved in foster care or adoption placements from delaying, denying or otherwise discriminating when making a foster care or adoption placement decision on the basis of the parent or child’s race, color or national origin.

2000 Child Citizenship Act – Granted automatic U.S. citizenship to children internationally adopted to U.S. citizenship-holding parents. This Act covered future children adopted to the U.S. and internationally adopted children under the age of 18 at the time it was enacted (children born no earlier than February 27, 1983).

2008 Hague Adoption Convention – The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) is an international agreement to establish safeguards to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child.

2016 Adoption by same-sex couples legal in all 50 U.S. states

 

U.S. adoption raises questions about:

  • The relationship between U.S. global relations and adoption
  • Immigration policy
  • What comprises the “best interests” of the child
  • The role of consumerism in adoption
  • Shifting definitions of ‘family’
  • The role of race, class, and gender in who can adopt, who is adopted, and who relinquishes their child (whether by choice or force)

 

For more detailed history on U.S. adoption, see:

  • Berebitsky, Julie. (2001). Like Our Very Own: Adoption and the Changing Culture of Motherhood, 1851-1950. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas
  • Choy, C. (2013). Global Families : A History of Asian International Adoption in America. NY, NY: NYU Press.
  • Dorow, Sara K. (2006). Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender, and Kinship. NY, NY: NYU Press.
  • Fessler, Ann. (2007). The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. NY, NY: Penguin Books.
  • Herman, Ellen. (2008). Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Jacobs, Margaret D. (2014). A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press
  • Jerng, M. (2010). Claiming Others Transracial Adoption and National Belonging. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Johnson, Kay Ann. (2016). China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Oh, Arissa. (2015). To Save the Children of Korea: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption . Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Roorda, Rhonda M. (2015). In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption. NY, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon

 

Re/Sources:

 

 

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National Adoption Awareness Month – What’s at stake?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always known I was adopted.

This sentiment is shared among transracial adoptees (i.e., those of us who are adopted to families of a different race than our own). After all, we can’t hide the obvious physical differences between ourselves and the people we call family. It’s apparent, noticed, questioned.

Is that your dad? Your mom must be Chinese.
Is that your daughter? Where did you get her from?

Extended family, friends, and strangers feel that it is their right to know private details about your family, about your fertility, about your reason for being. From a young age, we learn to be ready for this interrogation.

So while I knew my parents loved me unconditionally and accepted me wholeheartedly, I received conflicting messages from those around me, from the news, and from media. In short:

Was I just like one of the family? or Was I unwanted, unloved, and abandoned?

Even now, I can’t escape those questions. Although I know the answers, questions like these, and many others, continue to play out on TV, in the news, and among the public. These questions about what family is and who are family members touch on something deeply personal and important. And, not just for adoptees. When adoption crosses color lines, as it does in transracial adoption, questions of identity, community, and what’s best for the child take on another dimension. And, when you add in national citizenship, as is the case with transnational adoptees, this idea of who is included and what that means becomes even more complicated. The idea of belonging is both personal and political. There is something at stake.

Adoption is not just about the family that is created but also about the family that is left behind. It’s not just about children that are taken from harm or relinquished willingly, it is also about ideas of who is fit to be parents, financial gain, and power. Adoption is not just about celebrity adoptions or the families portrayed on screen; it is about how adoption is crafted in the public’s imagination and by whom and then how that guides who is adopted, who adopts, and from where. When it comes to building families, there is something at stake.

Today starts National Adoption Awareness Month. While its purpose is to bring awareness to the thousands of children in foster care who are waiting for permanent families, this is also a time for adoptees to claim and amplify their voices. Voices that have historically been silenced or ignored. During this Adoption Month, I will explore the history of adoption in the U.S., how it has been portrayed in popular culture, and how adoptees have created and claimed space in this ongoing dialogue and portrayals of adoption. To be an adoptee and leave the story of adoption to adoption agencies, media, or the general public is not an option. There is indeed too much at stake.

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On Adam Crapser’s Deportation and Transnational Adoptees’ Belonging

Today we learned where we belong.

I read the news about Adam Crapser’s deportation with disbelief, with anger, with confusion. Adopted from Korea to the U.S., we Korean transnational adoptees were told we were home. We were the children of our (largely white) American adoptive parents. We were family, Americans, sold the lie that we are white and just like ‘everyone else,’ that our ethnicity doesn’t matter, our race does not exist. We transnational adoptees were marketed as ‘baggage free’ (not like those other orphan children), ‘clean slates’ (completely divorced from life, family, and country pre-adoption). The model minority child for adoption.

Yet we are deported.

To a home we do not know, a country that does not recognize us, family that we cannot locate, whose names we do not know, on paperwork we are not allowed to see.

Korean transnational transracial adoptees often feel this sense of in-betweenness – between countries, between cultures, between families. We often do not have any memories or ongoing connections to our birth country, yet we remain tethered to it, whether through our own longing and questioning or the expectations of others. And, it is often these expectations of others that keep us from feeling completely at home here. We are between Korean culture that we know little about but are assumed to know and American culture, which we are reminded isn’t really about us. We are haunted by a past that we are told doesn’t exist yet remains ever-present.

But we cannot be divorced from our past. It is on our bodies, etched into our collective memory.

Our past is that of the Korean War – a fight between world powers over the Korean peninsula. A battle that left our birth country ravaged. A battle that opened the door for Korean adoption and the international adoption industry we see today.

Our past is that of Korean children used as pawns in both U.S. and Korean political relations.

Our past is that of not being adoptable because we were not white and then becoming adoptable because we were not Black.

This is our past and it remains ever-present.

Adam’s case reminds me that we are never American. Never American enough. We can have American parents, American siblings, ‘American’ names, live in American homes, attend American schools, wear American clothes, eat American food, speak with American accents, but we will always be told to go back where we came from. And for the thousands of transnational adoptees whose parents never naturalized them, we are often sent back there.

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A Microaggression Microaggression

In a recent conversation with a Well-Meaning White Woman, who talked a little too loud and sat a little too close to me, I experienced a microaggression microaggression. Let me explain.

She adopted an Asian girl and being the Well-Meaning White Woman that she is became familiar with many of the ‘microaggressions’ (her words, not mine) that Asians face. As she interspersed commonly espoused ignorant phrases like “All Asians look alike” and “Asians must be smart” throughout our conversation, I felt the whole interaction turn into a farce.

Knowledge of stereotypes and racist assumptions are hardly admirable and doesn’t stop these interactions from happening, will not protect your Asian child, nor serve as a bonding moment between you and me. We cannot bond over our families not knowing which Asian we are in a photo, or how teachers treated us as if our intellect was inherent, or how we are relentlessly questioned about our right to be here in America, teased because of our eyes, our nose, our skin color, or generally and continually made to feel ‘other’ than. We cannot share a knowing look when a Well-Meaning White Woman interjects into a conversation among friends to say she has adopted an Asian girl and she’s doing it ‘right.’ Put simply, we cannot find refuge in each others presence.

I care little if you have knowledge of these demeaning insults or prejudiced beliefs because, as we all know, knowledge only takes you so far. It is what you do with this knowledge that matters.

So do not tell me how you know what it’s like to be an Asian and adopted woman in this world. Tell me what it’s like to be a white woman who interrupts racist talk, dismantles systems of power, and listens first and talks second. That is something we can bond over.

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