Emotional search for a lost identity

Film maker Deanne Borshay hunts for the girl she was supposed to be

April 16, 2007

 
  Above: Deanne Borshay, during her recent visit to Seoul. bottom: Cha Jeong-hee, as she was in 1965. [JoongAng Ilbo]

In the winter of 1966, a girl called Ok-jin boarded a plane to the United States, but her passport carried the name of Cha Jeong-hee. The girl was told by the orphanage where she had been living that she should not tell anyone her real name.
Mr. And Mrs. Borshay, who already had two children, welcomed their adopted daughter at the San Francisco International Airport. The Borshays had sent her money, clothes and toys every month for the previous two years.
In time, the eight year old girl grew up to became a documentary film director known as Deanne Borshay, who is now 50 years old.
She was born Kang Ok-jin, adopted as Cha Jeong-hee and raised as Deanne Borshay and now she works for the Center for Asian American Media, which supports documentaries through investment and distribution.
“My parents came to love Cha Jeong-hee through their letters and decided to adopt her,” Borshay said. “They asked the orphanage to arrange the adoption and sent documents and money. But Cha’s parents decided to take their daughter back and the orphanage chose to send me instead. I guess they thought we looked alike.”
There was no one who could speak Korean in her mostly white neighborhood. She eventually learned how to speak English and confessed that she was not Cha Jeong-hee. Her step parents did not believe her, showing her the original adoption documents.
For a time, Korea and her Korean identity faded in her memory but, when she was in college, she began to recall aspects of her past and faint memories of her original family. She sent an email to the orphanage recorded on her adoption documents. She met her biological mother and other family members.
“The fact that I was not Cha Jeong-hee was hard for my step parents,” Borshay said. “They were good people and wonderful parents but it was difficult to talk to them about it. They accepted it only when they realized I looked like Cha in the pictures sent from Korea.”
Later her step parents visited Korea and her biological parents. She documented the story in her first film, “First Person Plural,” in 2000. She included footage from home video taken by her step parents and other footage that documented Korea’s situation in 1966. The film is a detailed, dramatic and painful account and Borshay was invited to screen it at the Sundance Film Festival. She received an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the film was aired on PBS, the American public broadcasting station.
The film was a way for Kang Ok-jin and the Borshays came to terms with each other. However, the Cha Jeong-hee Deanne Borshay has never met is still a part of her. Cha’s birthday is still on all her personal documents such as her driver’s license and her medical records.
“Sometimes I think I lived the life of a girl called Cha Jeong-hee,” said Borshay. “The clothes and letters were all hers. I felt I was not a legitimate member of my family. I was confused, but there was no other option for me. Now I want to find and meet Cha Jeong-hee. I wonder what kind of life she has lived.”
That is why she started making her second documentary, “Precious Objects of Desire.” For the documentary, she is going to record the process of finding Cha and the life of an adoptee like herself. She also plans to include interviews with officials from the orphanage where she and Cha lived.
“Nearly 200,000 Korean children were adopted overseas. Considering their family and relatives, a lot of people were affected. I hope we can now talk openly about the lives of adoptees. Sending children abroad for adoption is not a solution. The best way is to keep a family together, or to help them be adopted in Korea.
Her step parents, who both passed away last year, kept a sketched outline of Cha’s foot. According to the outline, they bought shoes, which they sent to Korea for Cha. However, the shoes did not fit the girl who actually came to the United States. Borshay, or Kang, is looking for the original owner of the shoes. Cha was born on Nov. 5, 1956, and stayed in an orphanage in Jeonju, North Jeolla province for two years. Borshay left Korea last Thursday. For her contact details, call this reporter at (02) 751-5583.

By Lee Hoo-nam JoongAng Ilbo [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

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