Where we end up


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Here’s some highlights from Jeff Yang’s overview of PBS’s POV (Point of View) series on adoption (airing this month and available on their website as the series progresses), Born across borders, as seen in SFgate.com’s on-line magazine.

On assimilation:

“What else can they do?” says Wang-Breal (Chinese adoptee and film maker). “She’s surrounded by white people in a very white town. She needs to make friends, she needs to do well in tests, she needs to read, she needs people to understand her. I grew up Asian in a small white town myself — I can relate. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of survival.”

On, “you would have ended up a prostitute”

“Making this film was fascinating,” she (Korean adoptee and film maker Deanne Borshay Liem) says (of searching for the other girl whose name and whose adoptive life she lived when their identities were deliberately swapped) “I got to meet all of these women who were the same age as me, but who’d followed different paths through life. And it really gave me a window as to how I could have ended up. One of the Cha Jung Hees I found runs a restaurant bar. Another is a farmer — she and her husband grow those Korean apple-pears, they have cattle, they raise honeybees. A third has had a variety of jobs; she was working as a wallpaper hanger when I met her. But they all were surviving — they all had kids in college!”

The experience of the search underscored two things for her: The first was that she could have survived, even thrived, had she stayed in Korea. (“Adoptees are always told that if they’d stayed in Korea they’d have ‘ended up as prostitutes,'” she says. “Well, that’s clearly not a given.”)

And on Adoption as a business:

“One adoptee I talked with told me that his parents showed him the picture that led them to pick him,” says Liem. “In the photo, he was crying and looked dirty. But he remembers that on the day he had that picture taken he was actually happy, and the photographer snapped a picture of him smiling. Then they put dirt on his face and forced him to change into raggy clothes, yelled at him, made him cry, and took a second picture. That’s the one his parents originally received. After his parents informed the orphanage they wanted to adopt him, they received the happy picture with a note saying ‘Look, this is how he feels now!'”

On motivation:

In a scene near the end of “Wo Ai Ni Mommy,” Jeff Sadowsky explains that Faith had recently asked him, “Why would you want a daughter from China?” His explanation: “Well, I’ve always been into things from China. I guess, from the martial arts — I’ve always been — I love China.” Donna quickly steps in to course-correct: “I told her, ‘I wanted a daughter, and you needed a family. We didn’t see you as being Chinese, we saw you as a beautiful girl who wanted a family.'”

Near the end he talks to a Korean adoptee friend who lives in Manhattan and found her birthmother living in Queens.  It got me to thinking, maybe I should also send my story out to all of American, Australian & Canadian (the 3 top destinations for Korean Emigration) Korean communities.  I mean, there I was living in Seattle for the past 24 years and the possible Kim Sook Ja has lived her whole adoptee life in Washington State, two hours drive away.

This adoption thing is SO BIZARRE and SURREAL at times, you can’t imagine how weird it is…

I mean, I’m living IN KOREA – how weird is that?  And now back to the handwriting analysis and cross-referencing of names with the U.S. Census for an adoptee looking for her father with only an illegible signature to go by,  and copy-editing my friend’s memoirs of her cherished life before adoption split up her family.

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17 thoughts on “Where we end up

  1. This is one of those areas of human social relations which remain essentially a bottomless pit — or black hole, take your pick — which can and will endlessly suck in all energy put into it. The trick is to not get sucked in alive, along with the effort.

  2. i was recently told how, if i weren’t adopted, would have ended up doing menial labor like being a typist – or a prostitute. it is nice to hear that there’s a choice in korea, and that all girls who don’t get adopted or who don’t get into seoul national don’t have to become prostitutes.

  3. Hi Jim,

    I’m a little dense some times, so I’m not sure what, in particular, you’re referring to?

    Sona,

    Yeah, that’s a crock. How many prostitutes can one country support? Certainly not 200,000… As I’ve related in the past, I met a man who was a street kid and managed to stay that way without getting adopted. He is now a respected teacher. He had a tough life, but so did I: only he didn’t have to lose his culture and language. He still is deeply rooted in this place; these people. He’s never been disconnected.

    I was thinking recently that I was more likely to become a prostitute in the United States. I left home at 17 to get away from my dysfunctional family, where I had been exoticized and molested by my father. I was a love starved girl living on my own, barely able to feed myself. The thought of prostitution crossed my mind often. I would give myself away, just for some fleeting company, and think, “I could be/should be getting money for this…” as my stomach growled.

    Being a yellow female in a white world was a dangerous, predatory place. It was hard to navigate and figure out what I was really valued for, and the answer was so often not my character, but the subservient powerless docile dream of colonizers.

    ADDED: I wanted to add that I was exoticized by EVERYONE. Not just by my adoptive father who crossed the line. Everyone.

  4. I mean that there is never enough time, money, energy or compassion to try to make things right with mass social failings like this. And realizing this to be the case, then understanding that driving oneself to the point of mental exhaustion or even breakdown won’t be helping anyone, least of all oneself. That a measured, Zen-like pace is what is called for.

    Steady (not necessarily slow) wins the race. Early sprinters flame out, right..?

  5. As for the “exoticization” of people of other races: the difference between desired and undesired behavior of course, is in relating to these people as _people_ first; and as possible sexual partners second. But this choice then begs the question: how does one relate at all, sexually, to anyone of other races when their ‘special characteristics’ are to become some sort of ‘political-correctness’ battlefield: not to be tread upon on pain of excommunication..?

    Just asking.

    As for me: I simply came here looking for ‘korean words for dummies’ — and ended up a semi-regular reader out of sheer curiosity.

  6. I mean that there is never enough time, money, energy or compassion to try to make things right with mass social failings like this

    Somebody’s got to address it…or it continues unabated…

    driving oneself to the point of mental exhaustion or even breakdown won’t be helping anyone, least of all oneself. That a measured, Zen-like pace is what is called for.

    That’s what I’m saying…I see my limit, and I’m at it….

    As for the “exoticization” of people of other races: the difference between desired and undesired behavior of course, is in relating to these people as _people_ first; and as possible sexual partners second.

    To the former, right on. To the latter, I would insert “erotification” in between. What few people care to admit is that a portion of parent-hood is erotic. It’s physical. It’s pleasurable. It’s okay. It’s natural. (I’ve been massaging this topic in my head for the some time now, but fear the fire-storm that will erupt) It’s something that non-natural parents want to replicate. And these attempts are carried out to the ludicrous degree of ingesting hormones to promote lactation in adoptive mothers of infants. But whether they go to these extremes, no matter their justifications, or not, most adoptive parents want to replicate a naturally born parent/child experience.

    Couple that with exoticization/exotification(sp?) and whatever other deficits are being filled by adopting, and you have a very heady cocktail. To be a CHILD and to be BOTH exotic and erotic is one “E” too many, in my opinion.

    I don’t think the consideration of possible sexual partners typically comes into play when it comes to adopting. I don’t think adoptive parents are, for the most part, sick like that. (though there are exceptions, like Masha Allen’s exploitative adopter) But I do think there are a whole host of unacknowledged desires that are not managed very well. WAY more than is healthy for the imported child.

    As for,

    the difference between desired and undesired behavior of course, … begs the question: how does one relate at all, sexually, to anyone of other races when their ‘special characteristics’ are to become some sort of ‘political-correctness’ battlefield: not to be tread upon on pain of excommunication..?

    I wouldn't venture to guess. Is this sought out? Or is it serendipitous? What if it starts out accidental but becomes serial? Exotification is yet another form of objectification. Maybe as collector, that doesn't seem like a foul, since the collector is "appreciating." But I can speak for myself as the object: its confusing and diminishing.

    I relate sexually to all races, shapes, sizes. Conversation turns me on, and looks only by merit of clues as to personality, honesty, sincerity. But I must always ask, "what's your motivation?" when approached by anyone who hasn't taken the time to know me as a person. It's almost always these 'special characteristics' which turn me into an object. So anyone who's SEEKING based on exotic criteria is a big fat FAIL with a capital F. The politically correct sexual battlefield is propagated BY THEM whenever this disrespect occurs. The vigilance is over being objectified. The vast majority of this objectification is directly because I appear Asian.

    I knew a Chinese girl who was only looking for Jewish men. In my eyes, she's equally reprehensible…

    ADDED: Oh! I didn’t answer your question…

    To answer you question, “How does one relate…” to those of another race that you want a sexual relationship with.

    Umm, well first try looking at their personality. It’s as simple as that. Race shouldn’t be a factor at all, and if it is then you’ve got some of your own race issues you might want to explore. If you have none, then it’s not an issue and probably won’t be an issue to whoever you’re interested in.

    WE CAN TELL.

  7. You do an amazing job here of working though a difficult subject in that nobody wants to see themselves as an objectifier of human beings. But every human being does some level of it. I feel lucky in that it appears to be separate in me and that I am more driven by personality and history than I am by anything else.

    I listen to my friends go on about what woman or other they find attractive and I toss out someone like Frida Kahlo as my dream woman. They wince.

    The more adoptive parents I meet, the more I realize that the exotic mattered when they got into it and they never really get past it. “Oh, I lose my kids when they are with other Asians.” What? You wake up every day seeing your children’s faces and suddenly you don’t recognize them? That sort of thing.

    I’m not comfortable with how we got here, but I try very hard to not have some kind of artificial relationship with my boys. I actually have no idea what being a natural parent is like. That’s probably a good thing.

  8. Damn it. This thread is more compelling than my work at the moment.

    Thanks, Ed. It’s REALLY HARD to speak with clarity about such a complicated topic!

    And, fire-storm be damned, the serious problem with exotification of foreign acquired children (who are all essentially erotic and at the same time needy, expectant, innocent and trusting)is that this borders on fetishism. Well, sometimes it is outright fetishism…

    I’ll guess Deanne Borshay Liem does not want to explore this topic the same way I am, but I DID take notice of the name of her next project, which is Precious Objects of Desire. http://www.mufilms.org/films/precious-objects-of-desire/

    When parents can’t give a satisfactory answer to the question: “Why FOREIGN adoption?” it really sends a strong message as to what this is really about.

    Ed, being an adoptee yourself compounds everything. We work through our own issues by repeating them. It’s just the way we’re hard-wired. (at least that’s what the therapist told me. She said we want to not just repeat – but correct – get whatever went wrong to have the right outcome) Of all the adopters out there, adopting adoptees shouldn’t beat themselves up too badly, because what’s done is done and let’s make the best of it! But I do hope potential adoptive adoptee parents can learn from you and others like you. You’re a trooper to stay in the fire here, especially since I don’t let anybody off the hook.

    As you might know, I am totally against Steve Morrison and his group promoting Korean adoption by Korean adoptees. Their special interests still exploit Korea and contribute to the social injustice of women here. They are also a pawn for the rest of the adoption industry. And where they can provide a small race buffer for their children, they still can’t connect the children to the culture and community from which adoption has severed them. It’s like condemning two generations to one island, the first is overjoyed to no longer be alone, but dismissing that they’ve replicated and forced their fate on another. I don’t appreciate their politics and think there are better ways to serve Korean children.

    And Jim, as for political correctness, I have come to HATE navigating that minefield, which is a daily affair in Seattle. By it’s very name, it indicates that consideration is based upon not wanting to aggravate political factions. But the intent was originally to promote thoughtfulness and respect and empower marginalized groups and individuals.

    The goal should be for true respect and creating a battlefield has the opposite effect, in my opinion, so the semantics of respect language should only be questioned if it goes hand in hand with persuasive education. PC should be changed to stand for Personal Consideration instead.

  9. ut I must always ask, “what’s your motivation?” when approached by anyone who hasn’t taken the time to know me as a person. It’s almost always these ‘special characteristics’ which turn me into an object. So anyone who’s SEEKING based on exotic criteria is a big fat FAIL with a capital F…The vast majority of this objectification is directly because I appear Asian.

    It just occurred to me that I could have been talking about adoptive parents here. Who, by international adoption (I guess unless you’re Madonna or Brangelina) can’t know the child ahead of time. In the past I have mentioned that International adoption felt as strange as being a mail order bride. Only we get no choice in the matter.

  10. Well, the way to solve the problem with ‘political correctness’ (in the worst sense of the term) and its post-`60s alter-ego ‘identity politics’ is to stop avoiding the issue of class politics. But you don’t want to go there — so this line of commentary comment stops here.
    ;)

    But I do want to add that AFAIC, you are absolutely correct in your analysis and your volunteer work: korean women (or any women anywhere, for that matter) should never be pressured to give up their babies, for any reason — least of all in the interests of lining other peoples’ pockets. The orphans of a country should find a place in their immediate community. That should be obvious — let alone being the proper and moral thing to do. And where that is not happening — we have a dysfunctional society in need of immediate fixing.

    And so what kind of a place is Korea, then..?

  11. I don’t avoid class politics at all. I just don’t debate it academically. I try to show people the difference, in person, one person at a time. To me, that’s the only MEANINGFUL way.

    Theories & definitions are limited, and their failing is they are not dynamic. The ivory towers fail to recognize what is not sanctioned by themselves, when actually everything is a matter of perspective. We can study history, but people tend to be smarter than the theories created to anticipate their actions. History doesn’t repeat itself in exactly the same way, it adapts.

    I’m also learning that people have to believe they’ve come to their own conclusions, so it’s not effective to confront individual’s contradictions and hypociacies. Instead, you show them alternatives and possibilities that appeal to their imagination and hopes for a better world for themselves.

    “And so what kind of a place is Korea, then…?”

    Koreans are like oxen wearing a phantom yoke. Their resignation and acceptance of their fate is more comfortable than the anxiety of freedom.

    Korea is a post modern society in the extreme. Its image and historical (and self) references lack depth and conviction.

    Korea is a place of resignation and anxiety. It is permeated with collective suppression. Humanism is confused with individualism, which is social death. The collective is no longer a community, so the benefits of the collective no longer support the individual. Compound that with a population density 15 times higher than the U.S. That’s a lot of anxious people crammed together – a pressure cooker.

    So Korea is a place that needs to create REAL communities which support and value humanity. Paper orphans are a symptom of the lack of real community, as is being one of the world’s leaders in abortion and suicide. International adoption is a bandaid solution for this. The excessive preoccupation with lining ones pockets at the expense of ethics is also a symptom of lack of community and failed collective ideals.

    A collectivist society without community, that’s what Korea is.

    OK. I’m spending way too much precous, precious time picking this apart. Got to live in this place and get work done.

  12. I could comment (fruitfully IMO) at great length on the above post; but I’ll only comment on this one statement below (since our discussion strays far from the declared purpose of this blog):

    > I don’t avoid class politics at all. I just
    > don’t debate it academically. I try to show
    > people the difference, in person, one
    > person at a time. To me, that’s the only
    > MEANINGFUL way.

    Actually, one of the greatest failings of both liberals and Left on the West is their almost invariable fixation on the _specifics_ of this or that concrete, special situation — but at the expense of the ‘general case’ which unites (by explaining) all unique situations as variations-on-a-theme (so to speak). Instead, the best way to approach the complexity of life and society is to be able to see _both_ the forest AND the trees in it… And here, you say that I speak only of the forest; and that simply isn’t the case, girl4708.
    ;)

  13. You and I have a serious communication problem: I never understand what you’re saying. I don’t know when you’re being critical, patronizing, or supportive. You seem preoccupied with trying to make me think about things in YOUR political framework. I’m a common person who participates in activism. But activism is not my life’s work, nor is political analysis. I HATE politics. I have to look up terms, just to attempt to converse with you.

    I’m living amongst the insiders as an outsider. I’m doing the best I can. Just sharing this at all with everyone is a lot of work in and of itself, and responding to the constant politicizing of everything in your comments is becoming a chore and giving me fatigue. :(

    You seem like a nice guy and all, but can we take a break please?

  14. Well, we’re far apart in a lot of things; and a long period of dialog — as you more or less say above — is the only practical solution to that problem. And you say too that you HATE politics — yet this blog and what you are so passionate about is absolutely LOUSY with politics. So how can I win here, eh?
    ;P

    You can just ignore my comments, you know.
    ;)

  15. jim, perhaps if you were more clear about what you are trying to say it would be helpful. otherwise, why comment at all? write your own blog if you must, but leaving vague comments that seem loosely (if at all) related to girl 4708’s actual post is confusing to everyone.

    this is her blog. i certainly do not want her to get tired of reading comments like yours and stop writing. as a korean adoptee, her perspective is invaluable to me and i don’t want a passive aggressive “responder” messing with that.

  16. Wow, so I’m not the only one who finds the comment hard to understand? That makes me feel so much better and less stupid…

    Jim,

    You know after one of your other comments somewhere on the blog I went and looked up “middle class” only to find many many definitions for it. That you only recognize the economic theory definition is indicative of why we can’t communicate – there’s a rigidity and a rightness to your positions that are not about dialogue…And there’s also an armchair aspect of your politics (as I can only assume since I don’t know anything about you) that makes criticism of what I do or how I am doing it (lacking, it would seem) that feels a tad hypocritical, especially since I put it all out there and do put my feet in the fire as often as possible.

    Anyway, that’s just how it feels. I recognize and appreciate the support you have offered in the past, but given that you are just satisfying some curiosity and I am just a human interest story to you, then maybe the level of criticism isn’t appropriate?

    Part of this ride is just observation and speculation on my part. Just because I observe this society and am product of a social issue, doesn’t mean I want to enter the political debate arena. I’m figuring stuff out as I go. I don’t profess to be an expert and I don’t profess to be 100% sure about anything. The blog is a document, and that’s it. I am no pundit. (I had to look that word up and make sure it meant what I thought it did)

    Please try and refrain from starting lengthy debates. I just don’t have the knowledge or energy. Also, my life is heavy enough as it is. So I come to the blog to eject some of that heaviness, not add to it. And you’re right. I can ignore the comments. But I’d rather you just respected my sentiments instead.

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