Monthly Archives: January 2008

Searching for Life

How hard it is not to retype the entire book and post it here, since I think anyone who is interested in truth, justice, and reconciliation for families that have been separated should read this amazing book. But we don’t want to violate the rights of authors by circulating their work for free… So, please run out and buy this simply amazing, wonderful, and inspiring book by Rita Arditti.

Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina

Here’s just one short quote that spoke to me as those of us in Seoul are preparing to unleash, perhaps within a month, something for the history books (stay tuned for that!)

The concept of “psychosocial trauma” developed by Ignacio Martin-Baro can help us understand the restitution process. He believed that when an injury that affects people has been produced, nourished, and maintained through a certain set of social relations, then individual solutions are not effective. The social context responsible for the injury has to be taken into account. A new “social contract” to heal the trauma is needed, incorporating individual and sociopolitcal factors into the equation. In the case of the disappeared children, their loss of identity represents a trauma affecting not only their individual lives but also their relationship with society. For this relationship to be restored, the social distortions that took place need to be exposed. Restitution brings into focus the trauma’s social dimension, as it it provides the wider context for each individual story. Truth and justice must be part of the picture, if the children are to construct a meaningful future for themselves as individuals and as members of society.

Australia to apologize to Aborigines

Australia will issue its first formal apology to the country’s indigenous people next month, a senior minister said Wednesday, a milestone that could ease tensions with a minority once subjected to policies including the removal of mixed-blood children from families on the premise that their race was doomed.

The Feb. 13 apology to the so-called “stolen generation” of Aborigines will be the first item of business for the new Parliament, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose Labor Party won November elections, had promised to push for an apology, which has been debated in Australia for years.

“The apology will be made on behalf of the Australian government and does not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people,” Macklin said in a statement.

Macklin and Rudd have previously ruled out financial compensation for the impoverished minority, and Macklin did not mention that subject Wednesday. But she said she sought broad input on the wording of the apology, which she hoped would signal the beginning of a new relationship between Australia and the impoverished minority.

“Once we establish this respect, the government can work with indigenous communities to improve services aimed at closing the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians,” she said.

Australia’s original inhabitants, Aborigines number about 450,000 among a population of 21 million. Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia and are most likely to be jailed, unemployed and illiterate.

Australia has had a decade-long debate about how best to acknowledge Aborigines who were affected by a string of 20th century policies that separated mixed-blood Aboriginal children from their families — the cohort frequently referred to as Australia’s stolen generation.

From 1910 until the 1970s, around 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children were taken from their parents under state and federal laws based on a premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative.

A national inquiry in 1997 found that many children taken from their families suffered long-term psychological effects stemming from the loss of family and culture.

The inquiry recommended that state and federal authorities apologize and compensate those removed from their families. But then-Prime Minister John Howard steadfastly refused to do either, saying his government should not be held responsible for the policies of former officials.


Watched an amazing Danish film last night called Festen, which I won’t spoil for you, but if you want to read more about it, you can click here.

It was the first time I’ve ever heard white people speaking Danish! I thought that only adopted Koreans spoke Danish (as well as French, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, German and Italian) — ha ha that’s what living among adoptees does to you. If I ever meet an ethnic Dane from Denmark, s/he’ll be like a character in a movie to me.

Anyway, Festen is the best movie I’ve seen for a really long time, and I confess that I watch a movie almost every day. What it really made me think about is how families will try often try to maintain a good appearance, even to themselves, when actually everything is completely screwed up. Elements in the movie portraying this wealthy family include classism, racism, incest, complicity on the part of mothers, domestic violence, etc. Things can be completely screwed up right underneath everybody’s nose and everybody knows it, yet there is something that makes people want to just keep the status quo as it is and disturb nothing, no matter who pays the price for everyone else ignoring what is going on. Ultimately it is the truth-teller who is scapegoated and who people accuse of being crazy. (Actually, it’s everyone else who’s crazy.)
The movie is incredibly complex, which is why I’m probably able to overlay my own concerns onto it — you could probably overlay any human concern onto it. Of course I thought about how people act in international adoption and how almost everybody is just trying to keep the status quo going, even though what is happening is completely screwed up at the world level and also sometimes on the family level, and how almost everybody’s trying their hardest to ignore that. The people who tell the truth are the ones who end up tied to a tree during dinner parties.

OK, that probably didn’t make any sense to you, so now you’ll have to watch it!

All I have to offer

I had one of my thrice-weekly conversations with my sister, again. There is a lot I want to say to Korean society after I have my talks with her. I’m not writing this in Korean now, so I guess I’m just putting this here for myself. But I wish Korean people could read it.
Hi Koreans.

I’m an overseas adoptee. Yeah, I’m originally Korean. KOREAN. I said I’m KOREAN. Yes, I’m adopted. It doesn’t matter where I grew up. What matters is that I live in Korea now. I speak English well, you got that right. Yes, I found my mother. She died. My dad is dead too.
I work in a company. Yes, it can be tiring, but overall I like it. I like living in Korea. Oh, you’ve been overseas too?
No, I don’t want to go back to America. Because I like living here better. Yeah, I know Korea is expensive. I live in a little 10-pyeong room. It’s so small I’m ashamed to show my family because I know they’ll say it’s dap-dap hae and they’ll worry about me.

Yeah, it’s crazy isn’t it? Droves of Koreans trying to get out of the country as fast as they can, and all these adoptees coming back and living in tiny rooms just to live in Korea and eat triangle kimbab out of GS25 for a month. Just to live in Korea and breathe the Seoul air that you complain about.
I can eat spicy food. Sure I can eat the kimchi. I don’t have a favorite Korean food, but I don’t see that as an affront to my Korean-ness. Though I never take Korean-ness for granted. Or having a Korean family — I certainly never take that for granted.

You wonder why I like Korea so much. But I wonder why you hate Korea so much.

Oh, because you think Korean people are greedy and selfish? Because people care only about their own families? Because the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer? Because the place is corrupt and everything is too expensive?
Sure, I suppose if you really think that Koreans are completely without ethics, compassion, and humanity, I can see why you want to leave here.

I could see why you hate this place so much if you think the people around you are completely hopeless.

But I don’t hate this place. I don’t hate you. I don’t hate me.

So why am I so angry?

Because I know we can do better than we are right now.

I know that we are human beings who have the capability to care about one another. I believe that we can and we should, and I will hold my expectations of you and this country so high that you will never again be ashamed to say that you’re Korean when you go overseas.

What I mean by that is, I know you’re worried about your safety if you live overseas, like you want to, because you know that other people think you’re greedy and selfish and closed too. So maybe there’s a reason for that, but I don’t think we have to conceptualize ourselves like that forever. So before we start spreading that around overseas, why don’t we tend to our own nest at home? I think those of us adoptees who feel perpetually homeless know how important having a home is.

Maybe you feel hopeless, like Korea can’t be fixed, but I don’t believe that. I have great faith in what this country can do. Just look at how much you’ve already achieved. I’m proud of you. And for that reason, I will always challenge you to be as great as you can be.

You want to flee and I am going to dig my heels in and ask you to stay here and fight with me. We all deserve better. We all deserve to believe in the best parts of ourselves — sharing, truth, dignity, taking care of each other. We deserve to feel like humans and not greedy animals just scraping and digging for ourselves. We deserve to feel like a part of a community and a country. We all deserve a home to come back to so we can rest.
I know Korea is the land of bribes but we adoptees haven’t anything to bribe you with. As for me, I’m living in student housing at the age of 36, pretty much any gyopo has better Korean language skills and cross-cultural skills than I do, I went to a college you’ve never heard of, and I was raised by a factory worker and his wife. In 8th grade I realized I was never going to go to college unless I found my own way, so I studied hard and scholarshipped my way through my education 100%. I have used food stamps, and I was on public medical assistance while I worked my way through college to pay the rent. I know that’s not what you think adoption is supposed to get people, that’s my non-Ivy League, blue collar American reality. (I don’t know what they told you about adoption, but it seems like you’re surprised.)

So the only thing I have for you is my belief — in the very core of my being — that Korea can be a better place. I believe that Korean people can step up to the challenge. I believe Korean men can take responsibility for their children, and I believe that no matter how selfish and stingy you think your own countrymen are, there are enough caring people who can change Korea so you can hold your head high and be just as proud to be Korean as I am, no matter where you go in the world.

Maybe it is blind stupid optimism or naivete, but I’ve heard love is like that.

Please don’t tell me that Korea is not ready to change its social system, because it already is. Please don’t limit your imagination to self-Orientalizing stereotypes. Maybe you’d love to be a Westerner or even be white, but if adoptees can’t be white, you certainly can’t either. Believe me, I’ve been trained in whiteness. But I think it’s good enough to be Korean — especially if you take the steps to turn Korea into the place that you want to live.

I am the lowest of the low in Korean society. My body was bought on a sliding scale for between $400-$800. Being sold will probably steal your humanity away from you faster than anything. But although this happened to me, and although I am sometimes treated like a monster in Korea, I believe in my own humanity. And I believe in your humanity.

Despite having been sent away from Korea, I can see what is good and noble in about it. I can see what is generous and innovative in you. I saw parts shining so clearly and brightly that I came all this way to join you again. I see that we can build a bright future together. I can see the best part of you. I hope you’ll see that too. The mirror that is reflecting your image back to you, through my heart, is all I have to offer.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Korea

Two adopted Koreans (Ross Oke and me) doing voiceovers for Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commisssion.


Web site:

 You know what is the next logical step ….

Holt spam

WordPress has this neat function that catches comment spam and puts it in a separate place.

Look who I got spam from today — with a link straight to a site promoting international adoption. Does anybody still want to dispute whether this a consumer-driven business?

Do I prefer the Asian porn spam, the buy-a-foreign-bride spam, or the buy-a-foreign-baby spam? Hm… tough call. They should put together some kind of package deal for certain people — a lot of money could be made. More cross-marketing, people! Reduce those logistics costs!! Work with me here!!!
holt international adoption agency | | IP:

  1. holt international adoption agencyThank you for the article. I needed this.Jan 10, 6:34 PM — [ Edit | Delete | Unapprove | Approve | Spam ] — Fool’s Gold: International Adoption from South Korea

My sister is awesome

For the past few weeks, I’ve been spending about 4-6 hours a week in a language exchange — with my Korean sister. I stop by her house on my way to work.

It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. I am SO thankful. Really, I could just cry, I am that thankful. My heart is so full. (And I have the cutest 2-year-old nephew who LOVES ME.)

I found out that since we made this time to just sit down and talk, we can talk about almost anything, despite neither one of us being even close to fluent in each other’s language. It is a matter of patience and wanting to communicate.
She’s two years younger than I am, meaning my mom was pregnant with her in Korea right about the time my adoption was finalized in the U.S.

She’s been telling me a lot about how she grew up.  I hear a lot about my mom and her hardships in Korean society and how my sisters grew up. Really, it was horrible. Like you can’t even imagine how horrible and for how long it was horrible, the were so poor… Sometimes on my way to work I cry thinking about how we all paid such a terrible price for being different in places where different people are just not welcome. That’s the Korean society and rural Minnesota aspect…

We also talk about politics and whatever else is on our minds. Today we talked about North Korea and how she was “brainwashed” (she used that word, in Korean) at school into believing that all communists were bad, and all communists lived in North Korea.  She was surprised to learn later that there are communists all over the world! ha ha ha

As it turns out, my sister also likes to write. I think that’s cool.  I hope she writes a book one day. I didn’t tell her that yet.

Also, do you know how when people cook, their food always looks somewhat the same? For instance, my American sister’s food all sort of has that same look. It’s something about presentation or the way they use a knife. Weirdly enough, my Korean sister’s cooking has the SAME LOOK that my American sister’s cooking has, although neither one of them has any idea how to cook each other’s dishes. Anyway, I think that’s cool too.

Something that I’ve learned that has been a huge relief is that my sister hates the same things that I hate about Korean society. I will not make this a bitch-fest, but those who’ve lived in Korea or know people who have lived here probably know what I’m talking about….

So our mutual annoyance with certain aspects of Korean culture is very affirming to me. That’s because I always second-guess myself about making negative judgements on Korean society, because I know I am looking at Korean society with Western eyes.  But GOLLY my sister thinks all the same things suck and SHE’S KOREAN. So I’m glad we have some cross-cultural agreement. The patriarchy universally sucks (along with other things like narrow-minded Korean people who judge my sister even today because she didn’t go to college, etc. Jerks.). I could go on but I shan’t.

Hooray!  All three of us sisters here miss our mom so much and wish she were here. Our mom was so poor for so long that we all really long to spoil her rotten now. She would only wear fur coats and eat the best food, never ride public transportation and never work another day in her life! We’d take her on vacations and show her just how much fun life can be.