Monthly Archives: June 2007

Adoption from South Korea: Isn’t 50 Years ENOUGH?

Beginning as an emergency measure in the mid-1950s, the Korean international adoption program grew from a small, post-war rescue operation to its peak in the mid-1980s, when over 8,000 children per year were sent out of Korea for adoption. Most were sent to the U.S., often with the assistance of Christian organizations.




Rapid industrialization, urbanization, and poverty kept the program open in the 1970s and 1980s. The number of South Korean children sent abroad for adoption abruptly dropped as a result of negative world media coverage during the 1988 Summer Olympics, but has hovered around the 2,000 mark since 1991, according to Korean government data.

Adoption from South Korea has remained relatively stable for the past 16 years, but the growing numbers of children being adopted from other countries has created the illusion that numbers are dropping dramatically.



Since the IMF crisis in 1997, single mothers have been targeted as the new source of Korean children for the West. The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported that in 2004, all but one of the 2,257 children adopted overseas came from single mothers. About 70% of single mothers relinquish their children for adoption in South Korea, compared with less than 1% in the U.S. North Korea does not have an international adoption program.

South Korea’s dependence on the international adoption program has stunted the growth of more appropriate government-funded social welfare programs, as well as delayed the social acceptance of single-parent families.

With the 11th-largest economy of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and the third-largest economy in Asia, South Korea is no longer an impoverished country. Moreover, with a 1.13 percent birthrate in 2006, the country has the lowest birthrate in the OECD. The impending demographic crisis coupled with the country’s prosperity makes it clear that South Korea can and must take responsibility for caring for its own children within its own borders.

International adoption is NOT the solution. Instead, the South Korean government must find its own solution by investing in sex education, supporting single parents and creating incentives for domestic adoption.



Over a quarter-million foreign babies adopted to the U.S. since 1990


Solidarity with white “natural mothers”

I thought Anita had a good point so I’m posting my response to her comment from “About” page below.


Anita Says:


My heart goes out to you, and all people ripped from their original countries/families! I am a birthmother (and I am white)in reunion! You have expressed your view point dramatically, and it echos my thoughts in many ways. I am only saddened to hear colour mentioned so many times, when I think this important human injustice is not limited to a colour issue. It is a family and human rights and dignity issue. I am impressed that you were able to find your original family! I know that is a difficult task and that the odds were against you.


Hi Anita,


Thanks for your message. Yes, you are right that adoption is not limited to a race issue. People working in the international adoption industry who are wondering how natural mothers in “foreign” countries feel about having their children taken for adoption would do well to ask a mother of the Baby Scoop living in their own backyard — whether in Canada, the U.S., Australia, or the U.K. Mothers are all mothers, no matter where the live, what language they speak, what their culture is.

However, the adoption system and the way it intersects with other world systems in order to exploit women who have few resources has been especially brutal to women of color ever since the days of the American Indian boarding schools and the “Stolen Generation” in Australia. That is because of the power of global institutionalized racism is getting exercised in addition to the patriarchy and moral police that work together to take mothers’ children away from them.

The brutal practice of taking children away from their mothers and calling it “social service” continues especially in “intercountry” adoption (20,000+ per year to the U.S.) which is usually transracial and transcultural in nature (though not always). I think there is some bonus dehumanizing that happens when the mother of the adoptee is a woman of color; that’s one of the reasons why U.S. family immigration law is as it is and why the international adoption system has been constructed as it has been. So that’s why I am talking about race — because the landscape has literally shifted from white mothers in Western countries as suppliers to “foreign” countries and to women of color as the suppliers of children for adopters.

For a detailed discussion about how institutionalized racism and the international adoption industry work together with other systems to rob women of their children, such as the U.S. prison industrial complex and U.S. military interventions, I hope you’ll check out my anthology “Outsiders Within,” co-edited with Sun Yung Shin and Julia Chinyere Oparah.

Anyway I think we all have a lot to learn from each other and we are all basically in the same boat. The Korean mothers (who are also a racial majority in their own country as you are in yours; it only becomes a transracial situation when their children go to white families and adoptees grow up as racial minorities, often even within their own families) are interested in learning from white mothers  about how to make the kinds of changes in society that will help them keep their own children. We are having a Baby Scoop in Korea right now, except that Korean children are being sent not just to different families, but overwhelmingly to completely different countries, to adoptive parents who do not share their race, language, culture, or anything else.

I’m thankful to all the white natural mothers in North America, Australia, and the U.K. who are sharing their stories and organizing, as in this whole world system, your work also benefits the 20,000+ women in Korea, China, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Russia, Vietnam, etc. who lose their children to the U.S. international adoption system every year. Most of those children who will never be found by their families again. The barriers are just too great. (In Korea we are batting less than 2% for reunions. Then we have to learn the Korean language to even communicate with our families if we are lucky enough to find them. Grim. Frustrating.)

I am very lucky because my mother found ME. She passed away 6 years ago, but I hope that I will live to see the day when adoption as it is practiced today is viewed as the archaic, primitive, and exploitative practice that it really is.

Best wishes to all the moms, solidarity –

Gorge on cheap Korean food

분식 (BOON SHEEK) is Korean fast food. It is dirt cheap and it is what often passes for Korean restaurant food in the States. After awhile it is MAT OPSO (has no flavor) but at first it is like heaven.

(Did you notice how in adoptee grammar, a whole phrase can become a single adjective!?!?! Our new improved homemade international adoptee Korean is way more fun than “native speaker” Korean…. ha ha ha!!! See what they are missing out on!?)

I highly advise all my peeps coming to Seoul for the Gathering to start learning the Kimbap Nara menu on Mary Eats. You will be able to eat fairly deliciously at many such 분식 places — they all serve basically the same things — and you will also be saved from eating pre-packaged food out of the convenience store or going to McDonald’s for the millionth time. (Although the nature of McDonald’s does change in Korea… it is more delicious than you ever dreamed possible…. and the nature of ramyun also changes after midnight, when you put a slice of processed American cheese on it… food can be magic here….)

Combine anything (name of food here) + (chuseyo) and the rules say they have to give it to you.

Remember, look for the sign that says 분식 (BOON SHEEK).

Eat deliciously.

Toward a diverse (Korean) society

or “I Will Eat Whatever I Want To.”

Excellent article in the Hankyoreh.

 “Marriage immigrants” number more than 75,000, multicultural marriages account for more than 14 percent of marriages yearly, and approximately 35 percent of men in farming, forestry, and fishing are marrying foreign spouses. If the trend continues the number of children born to at least one immigrant parent will be 1.5 million in 20 years. Roughly 53 percent are earning less than what the government considers a minimum cost of living.

American adoptive father launches campaign to help unwed Korean moms

Yonhap Interview 

By Kim Young-gyo and Jane Jeong Trenka
SEOUL, June 14 (Yonhap) — Just one year ago, Dr. Richard Boas, the American father of an adopted Korean girl named Esther, was financially helping other Americans so they could adopt children from overseas.

However, Boas’ perspective radically changed after visiting South Korea late last year. Now, he is an activist for the rights of single and unwed mothers and their children. Moreover, he has become a staunch supporter of domestic adoption within Korea.

“Isn’t it in the best interest of a developed society — any society that loves its children — to support them in whatever way possible?” Boas asked in an interview with Yonhap News Agency earlier this week.

The ophthalmologist from Connecticut was in South Korea during the past week meeting lawmakers, academics and social workers to promote not international adoption, but family preservation.

Almost 20 years go, Boas and his wife adopted Esther, believing that they would be able to give her a better life in the United States.

“As grateful as I am that Esther came into my life — and that I had the great privilege of bringing her up, of being her father and seeing her grow into a fine young woman — it pains me to see any woman give up her child because people and the government won’t support her,” Boas said.

The Korean international adoption program began in the aftermath of the Korean War, peaking in the mid-1980s when over 8,000 children a year were sent abroad for adoption, mostly to the United States. In the 1990s and beyond, the “problem” of single mothers in Korea has provided a new supply of Korean children for the West.

The number of South Korean children sent abroad for adoption abruptly dropped as a result of media coverage of the program during the 1988 Olympics, and has hovered around the 2,000 mark since 1991, according to Korean government data. However, along with China, Russia and Ethiopia, it is still one of major “sending” countries to the U.S., according to the annual U.S. State Department report on “orphan” visas.

Nearly all internationally adopted Koreans in the past few years have come from unmarried and single mothers. South Korea not yet ratified the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, while the U.S. has signed but not yet implemented it. North Korea has no international adoption program.

South Korea, the world’s 11th-largest economy, has been criticized both at home and abroad for its low rate of domestic adoption. Government figures show that there have been about 87,500 domestic adoptions versus 158,000 international adoptions since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Even though the government is now promoting domestic adoption, Confucianism, which stresses patriarchal bloodlines, and social stigma against unmarried and single mothers and their children are commonly cited as the reasons for high relinquishment and low domestic adoption.

South Korea ranks 53rd in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Gender Empowerment Ranking, between Chile and Botswana.

“I had the sense of almost rescuing a child from what seemed like a very dismal fate in Korea,” Boas said of Esther, whom he adopted when she was three and a half months old. She is his third child, in addition to two biological children.

With his children grown, Boas closed his medical practice and started a program with other Connecticut adoptive parents to help people adopt internationally. The Adoption Foundation at Family and Children’s Agency financially aided about 15 families to adopt children, including special needs children and siblings.

However, Boas’ view of international adoption changed radically when he visited South Korea for the first time in October 2006 and met a group of unwed mothers who had already made arrangements to give up their children, even before delivery.

“When I met the moms, I started asking myself questions that the other Americans weren’t asking.” Boas said. “Why would these moms give up their babies? Isn’t it the right of any birth mom anywhere in the world to bring up her child if she’s capable and loving? Why are these kids not being absorbed into Korean society, either by their birthparents or by domestic adoption?”
The rate at which unwed mothers relinquish their children in South Korea, estimated at 70 percent, comes as a shock to Americans, where fewer than 2 percent of unwed mothers relinquish their children for adoption.

After meeting healthy and seemingly capable Korean unmarried mothers, who were nonetheless sending their children overseas for adoption, Boas wondered, “Why am I favoring so much international adoption when it doesn’t need to be necessary? This is like the tail wagging the dog.”
Boas returned home to Connecticut, unsettled about what he had seen in Korea. He read about the South Korean social welfare system in comparison with Western European countries and the U.S. Then he encountered an article by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, the Korean-American author of “Somebody’s Daughter,” who had studied Korean birthmothers.
“She became aware that the effect (of international adoption) on these mothers is devastating. They learn English just so they can get a phone call from their child 20 years later. They still long for their children,” Boas said, explaining why he turned his attention to helping Korean mothers keep their own children.

Through his foundation affiliation, Boas now provides funds to the San Francisco-based foundation Give 2 Asia, which also maintains an office in Seoul. In turn, Give 2 Asia supports such organizations as the Single Mothers Network, the single and unwed mothers’ group home Aeranwon and the Korean Women Workers Association.

“I think the problem, in retrospect, was that so much of this has been adoption-driven … I understand some years ago the agencies in Korea even competed with one another to try to find all the adoptable kids they could. It may be in the best interests of the adoptive family, but children are by definition helpless. They can’t make requests. They’re not asking to go overseas.”
Boas said that domestic adoption can also help boost South Korea’s declining population; with a 1.13 percent birthrate in 2006, the country has the lowest birthrate in the OECD.
The practice of international adoption has become “business as usual,” Boas said, but now “Koreans have a golden opportunity to really evolve and do so well by these kids and their mothers. I think when you really come down to it, the economic price and the social price is relatively small. I think it’s much smaller than the price that everybody is paying now.”

Move it.

I had reservations about posting this yesterday, posted it for about an hour, pulled it, and then I found Sue’s very nice comment on the post below. Since Sue’s my “ideal reader” and one of the coolest adoptive parents I’ve ever met, and she found a nugget of value in my inflammatory post, I will let it fly. Here goes — and thank you, Sue!


Some of my best friends are white people.

I knew some white people growing up.

I have some white people in my family.

White people like me.

However, one of the things that I like about living in Korea is that white people move out of my way. For instance, if I’m in a store (outside of Itaewon) and they’re in front of something I want to look at, they automatically JUST MOVE. It’s great, and it’s courteous. I would do the same for them and indeed I always have.

However, I did have a rather unpleasant experience with two white ladies who would not get out of my way last weekend.

So I’m at this feminist literary conference at one of the top universities in Korea and I’m giving a paper called “Adoption is a Feminist Issue: Toward an Imaginative Feminism,” basically stating that adoption has to do with reproductive choice and economic justice for women, so why aren’t feminists talking about it? I’m citing the lack of discussion about it as a failure of imagination, and thanking all the literature professors who are listening for cultivating the imaginations of students so they can be more compassionate toward all kinds of people. And I also made the comment that one of the reasons why feminist academics perhaps are not appropriately framing adoption as a feminist issue is because there are so many adoptive mothers within the halls of liberal academia.

Well, believe you me, I had no idea (until the organizer told me the day before) that the woman who was going to read her paper right before me was a Spanish (from Spain) woman who is also the adoptive mother of a Chinese girl! Who’d a thunk it? And although the mother was all mad that I was talking about “white” adoptive parents, it wasn’t me that made her go like TWENTY MINUTES over her time limit which ate up both my time and the Chinese professor’s time after me. (Isn’t it just like white people to help themselves to all the available time and deprive others of theirs?)

Nor did I have any idea that her other white-looking Spanish friend who was along with her was ALSO the adoptive mother of a Chinese girl! Dios madre!!

So here we are at one of the top two universities in Korea at an international feminist literature conference and it completely devolves into — well, let’s put it this way, it was like certain people had suddenly checked their gigantic brains at customs. It was sort of like an adoption panel.

The mother sitting next to me ended up CRYING in front of everybody and talking about her love for her daughter. “I only know the language of love,” she sniffled. Oh Jesus Christo upside down exclamation point, I thought, isn’t this typical that the white lady has a mental break and then the strong woman of color is supposed to mammy her up? Not only that, but she presented her paper on a Chinese Canadian author who refuses to identify herself as Chinese or Asian, but prefers to be called a “West Coast” author. Is that surprising at all, that the author that this white adoptive mother chose to present on is a bulimic Chinese author who has completely elided her own race and who is self-Orientalizing/fetishizing by being a dominatrix and calling it some kind of women’s empowerment? (Is that like, taking Chinese women’s children away is supposed to be a form of white women’s empowerment?)

Meanwhile the other adoptive mother in the audience seemed to have a little more self-control, but simply didn’t seem to get it about economic disparity and why I think it’s a little crazy that while the Chinese peasants are rioting about the government’s one-child law, foreign adopters can buy up the peasants’ kids for 20 times the amount of money it would take for the Chinese mother to just pay the fine and keep her own child. Is that not unfair? Nor did she get the part where I was saying that no, I don’t think that women should be reduced to their biological functions either, however what I am talking about is not relatively wealthy women’s choices in reproductive technology, but rather all women’s choices to simply raise their own (biological) kids. I mean, are we so space-age and post-feminist now that it’s passe to actually have children out of one’s womb instead of adopt them?

Afterwards, it was reported to me, these two white-looking — but more importantly, white-acting women — who just came all the way to Seoul from Spain for a 2-day conference, I suppose on donkey-back with some hardtack packed away in a kerchief, said they are not white, but women of color, and that they are POOR.


Since I wrote my paper far before I ever met either one of them or knew they were going to be there, it wasn’t a personal thing, but of course they personalized it. My paper was not personal, however THIS is, because I really am that petty.

Now, since I am in full venting/bitchingmode, I should mention that then one of my righteous homegirls — hailing from India and more recently Canada — R, who is researching international adoption, made a great intervention into all the silliness during the discussion, which later got her cornered by the Spanish ladies even though R and I had agreed to get out of there for a break afterwards. (I must take up smoking and drinking. It is so sad that in times like those when a smoke break and a martini would be so nice, but I don’t actually like either cigarettes or alcohol. R says we are strong women for being able to handle all this with just a Sprite. I did knock back a Sprite later and no one could stop me!!! No one I tell you!! 🙂

Anyway, back to the lobby scene where R is cornered by the two uh, women of color, which I think to them means that they are opaque, not transparent. “Excuse me, but we were just going out for lunch,” I say to the Spanish ladies, physically putting myself in between them and R. And here’s why I’m pretty sure they are white, no matter whether they think they are “women of color” or not: BECAUSE THEY INVITED THEMSELVES ALONG. I was thinking, R and K and I are going out for lunch. NOT YOU. I didn’t ask YOU out for lunch, bitch. (I know, feminists are not supposed to say “bitch,” but at least I didn’t say “cunt.”)

So we ended up going for coffee, and the white-acting lady who did her paper on the Chinese author in denial gets out of her folder like TWELVE PICTURES of her Chinese kid. And I thought, isn’t that just like a white lady to bring twelve pictures of her Chinese kid playing piano to a conference in an Asian space so Asian people will have to act like they care? As if we are not surrounded by cute little Asian kids already, some of whom are apparently being raised in such an anti-feminist way, that is, by the women who so vulgarly gave birth to them? Just because she left her kid at home in Spain, I guess she had to bring the photos along as her ticket into Asian space this time. Good lord, that is the oldest and lamest trick in the book. My friends are a lot more nice than I am, because they actually looked at her photos. I was like, I am not going to play that game with you.

Props to K for keeping the Spanish ladies company in a civilized manner and responding to all their nosey questions about her life as an adoptee, such as “What would your life have been like if you hadn’t been adopted?” which I suppose they felt entitled to ask her since that day they were doing their impression of white people even though they are really opaque. However, I thought, the least I can do since these people have already taken up my time and intruded on my space is learn something about what’s happening in Spain. So I asked some questions about how they’re raising the adopted kids in Spain, and wouldn’t you know it, they have no contact with the Chinese community there (it’s the Chinese people’s fault because they are so closed, they said) except when they take their girls to the Chinese restaurant. “But do you try to build some relationships with Chinese people who are not in service positions?” I asked. She assured me that the Chinese are RICH and they are the OWNERS of the restuarant. My explanations about yes, maybe they’re rich, but they are still asking you what you want to eat and bringing you food, which makes it a service position — went completely over her head. It was all I could do not to bust out into my version of The Scream, beat her with my shoe, choke her to death, steal a lock of her hair for my voodoo doll, etc.

And then the two white ladies went to the bathroom, together, for about 15 minutes, and I was wondering if they were holding each other in there and crying or talking about their dates or what. They were sort of huddled together for the rest of the conference. Yes — clutch each other because it is getting too Asian around here!!

The white people whom I like in Korea were probably also nice folks in their Western countries. Nice, meaning respectful of other people and not hogging up all the time and space and resources and wasting all their time either being racist or feeling guilty for having been racist before or feeling guilty about having been born white or trying to deny being white or trying to cover for their racist friends or trying to appropriate Asian cultures. I don’t think that being white automatically makes one unsavory to be around, but I think in Western countries that kind of behavior is easier to get away with. I guess I’d forgotten what a challenge (i.e., a test of marathon will and mental strength) it is to live in a culture where people are allowed to be like that all the time.

OK, so that being said, certainly the white people in Korea, beyond moving out of my way in the store, are not giving me much of a break, but that is way too long to go into. Basically, Korea is crawling with Asian fetishists, which is why Itaewon is the most dangerous place to be in all of Korea (in my opinion). And Korea manages to be a white supremacist culture, even with a Korean ethnic majority. Just didn’t want you to think that I am letting people off the hook simply because they get out of my way (since they think I can’t speak English).

However, having white people get out of my way, usually, is definitely one of the perks of living here.