Posts Tagged ‘Korean adoptees’

Baby’s mom

When  I was newly adopted, my parents introduced me to one of their employees named Neva (or something similar like Niva, Nova, Nevaeh, etc.) who had a few month-old baby whose picture is below.


Instead of calling her by her name, I called her “Baby Mommy” which would make everyone laugh or smile and say, “she’s so cute.”

If they had known about Korean culture, they would have known that it would have been very rude and even unthinkable for me to call an adult by her name; they would have known that “baby mommy” was not a child’s cute way, but a Korean way to call a mother of a baby.

“Baby mommy”  was my way of translating directly the Korean expression 아기 엄마 (agi eomma) which means “baby’s mom”  with the “s” ommited (as the 의 of 아기 의 엄마 is ommited).

“아기 엄마 ( Baby’s mom)”. That’s how Koreans call a baby’s mother.  That’s how I called a baby’s mother while growing up in Korea.

If I had known Neva’s baby’s name, I may have called Neva “[the name of baby]’s mom”.  But I didn’t retain the baby’s name, it was a too difficult name for a Korean girl to say or remember.

 Unbeknownst to me  I was recycled to an all American girl (and later to a Québécoise de souche) within a short time, I stopped callling Neva “baby mommy”and I started addressing her and other adults by their names.

“Someone’s mother; someone’s father”

In 2001, a Korean friend (who then lived in Montreal) invited me to go to Korea. At the last moment she learned I couldn’t stay at her parents’ house, so she found me a family to stay with during my trip in Korea to search my family.   All I had to do, in exchange for my accomodation, was to speak in English or read an English book  with a seven year-old girl, the only child of the family. Her sister, who was the private English teacher of the girl, needed to take vacations, so I would be like her substitute. I told her that my spoken English was aweful but she assured me that it didn’t matter to the mother of the girl.

Before meeting the family, my friend introduced me to her sister to talk about the child, Sue Young…  “And what’s the name of the lady?” I asked at the end. A brief silence that followed made me feel like I had asked a wrong question. “You don’t need to know her name. Call her Sue-Young eomma, it means Sue-Young’s mom,” she said. While she was explaining me that’s how they do in Korea, I felt awkward and I felt like I wanted to scream, ” Why can’t I know the name of a person whom I’m going to live with for five weeks!!? How am I going to endure THIS for that long?!!!!” My whole body ached, but I kept quiet…

The language I don’t speak was once my mother tongue and the culture I find weird was once my culture. I don’t remember the language but I remember the culture. Yes, I REMEMBER  the Korean culture as if I had learned it from a book or from white adoptive parents (except that I didn’t learn it from something or someone stranger to the culture, I had lived it naturally with my natural parents and my people; I didn’t know yet anything about the word “culture” yet I was part of the culture and the culture was a natural part of me). And everytime I think of my Korean life with my  mind of Quebecer, my whole body hurts, it hurts so much I wish to die.

In Korea, parents are referred to as someone’s mother/mom or father/dad. For example, my teacher would address my father as 명숙(의) 아버지 which means “Myung-Sook’s father”; the teacher of my brother Dae-Yeol would address our mother as “Dae-Yeol’s mother”; My sister Marie’s friends would refer to our mother as “Marie’s mom”, etc.

Husband and wife may also call each other “[their child’s name]’s father” or “[their child’s name]’s mother”. For example, Sue-Young’s mom would call her husband, “Sue-Young appa” which means “Sue-Young’s dad”.

Myung-Sook’s father

As I remember this part of culture (referring parents to as someone’s mother/mom or someone’s  father/dad), my heart aches for my father. When I  lived in Suwon, my father was  referred to solely as  “Myung-Sook’s father” as all  my siblings had left home. I can only imagine how it hurt him to be referred as “Myung-Sook’s father” by the neighbors after I was gone.  I can only imagine how he suffered after losing me. I can only imagine how he felt every time he entered the empty house/room that was lent to us by our generous landlady.  I can only imagine the overwhelming loneliness and grief  that made him drink to death . [link] There was no other way for Myung-Sook’s father to escpape from such loneliness and grief after losing Myung-Sook (to the industry of adoption).

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Against international adoption because kids belong in families, not in orphanages.

I went through two orphanages before being adopted.

The first orphanage was aweful.  We were beaten every day for any reason or no reason. No child should ever live in such institution, not even for a day. After four months in the horrific orphanage I was transferred to another orphange for the sole purpose of adoption. I lived at the second for ten months.

No, there is no error in my subtitle. I’m against international adoption because kids belong in their families, not in orphanages.

I was not an orphan while I was living in the aweful orphanage.  I was not an orphan while I was being processed for adoption at the second orphanage. I should have been living with my family, not in an institution. I shoud have been with MY family, not with a new family, not with a couple in another country who needed someone else’s child to build a family.

Most of the kids in both orphanages were not orphans. The rare orphans had extended families. They should have been living in their families, not in an institution.

The first orphanage was overcrowded. There were seven or eight houses which were called cabins :  two or three for boys, three for girls, one for mentally handicapped kids and one for preschoolers. In each of the girls’ and boys’ cabins lived 30 to 50 kids; there were less kids in the cabins for the handicapped and preschoolers.

It was in 1974-1975 in Korea. It’s written in the texts on the history of Korea that there were that many kids in orphanages because of poverty and of  rapid industrialization and urbanisation. It’s written in texts on Korean adoption that Korean adoptees came from different waves; the adoptees from the 1970s were from poor families due to rapid industrialization and urbanisation.

What’s written here doesn’t come from history books. It comes from my experience as an “orphan”.  This is what I’ve seen or heard during the 14 months I was instutionalized.

I was called to the office of the orphanage to be questioned. I gave my former address to the office worker. She wrote all the information I gave her. I told her I didn’t know my new address yet, but if she could bring me to my former house, I could go to  my married elder sister  who lived a few steps away and I could also go to my new home from there. She promised me they would search hard for my former house and my elder sister and would call me back in a week.  But they never call me back (they would never contact my sister). The orphanage was overcrowded, yet they kept me.  [link and link]

Poor or rich, once kids were brought to the orphanage, parents were encouraged to leave them. There was one girl of a rich family in my cabin. Her mother had came to fetch her the same afternoon she had entered the orphanage. But the housemother of our cabin invited them to discuss with her in her room before letting them leave. At the end of the day, she told us the girl would stay with us and appointed her as a “balang”.  Balang, in the language of the orphanage, was a title given to the kids who were chosen among the older kids to be in charge of running the daily life in the cabin and  had more priviledges than the ordinary kids.

It was a horrific place to live. Food was not good, we didn’t eat enough and there weren’t enough of shoes for everyone.  Sometimes the balangs would steal shoes from other cabins or a balang would go to a boys’ cabin to ask them to give us some shoes.  We had to go to another building to eat. The best shoes were taken by the balangs, and then the first kids to reach the pile of shoes. The last kids were left without shoes or with shoes that didn’t match, or both for the right feet or both for the left feet.

I heard from the balangs that the orphanage director was rich. He made more money from selling the sports ground a few weeks after my entrance to the orphanage.

The orphanage didn’t do adoption, but adoption agencies workers and other orphanage directors could pick  some adoptable/salable kids whenever they needed.

The director-driver of another orphanage picked about a dozen kids including me from the girls’ cabins. Once again, for the third time (the first being at a police station), I gave  the address of my former house and I told him he could bring me to my elder sister who lived a few steps away from there. He told me he would search for my sister and would come back in a week to bring me to her. I didn’t know we were transferred to his orphanage only to be put up for adoption.

The second orphanage was for girls only.  It was ran by Catholic nuns, thus the kids were raised as Catholics regardless of their parents’ religion.  It was a source of adoptable children for adoption  agencies and individuals who could come to pick the child/children they wanted without going through an agency. All the girls who had been transferred from the aweful orphanage were put up for adoption (with Holt Children’s Services) the next day  after our arrival.  We were given new birthdates and new ages to make us younger. We were told we couldn’t go to school because we would go to the USA soon.

There were only three groups of about thirty girls; at least the two- thirds of the kids were preschoolers (because younger children were more adoptable than older children). There were no handicapped kids (because they are usually not/less adoptable). Many were placed by their parents temporarily or until the age of 16 or their majority; others like myself were taken from other orphanages (mainly from the aweful orphanage). A few weeks after our arrival, a lost girl was brought by a nun; she had lost her grandmother while they were visiting Seoul.

It was a nice place to live with modern facilies, good foods and clothes, thanks to donations from foreigners. There were many American visitors. They would entertain us, give us gifts, or take pictures of us. We would perform a variety show of dance, singing and sketches to welcome and thank them.

Two sisters who had been temporarily placed were taken back by their mom. Eavesdropping a conversation between the nun and our housemother, I learned that their mom was single.  The nun was saying she was angry at the girls’ mom  for not listening to her.  She had tried to convince the mom to leave her daugthers at the orphanage; she had told her they would be better off at the orphanage and that she would be better off too, that it would be very difficult to raise two kids alone, that she was irresponsible and crazy to raise two kids alone. But the mom was crazy and stubborn, she wouldn’t listen to her.  Later I heard news of the two girls from the schoolgirls. They were  very happy to live again with their mom.

Another mom came to fetch her two daughters. She stayed outside the entrance gate to talk to her eldest. We were all excited when we heard who she was. She told her daughter to go fecth her little sister so they could go back home. And then the mom and the girls left without notifying. We told the nuns and the director that the two girls had just ran away with their mom. The director seemed worried. They ran after them and brought them back. They went to the office with the mom. We waited impatiently trying to guess what they were talking about.  They finally got out of the office at the end of the day. Much to my surprise and disappointment, the mom left without her daughters. It was even more suprising when she brought her youngest, third daughter next day.

Every new girl were put up for adoption. Some of the girls who had been temporarily placed were adopted too. We would often talk/hear about the USA as if it was a country of fairy tales. We all wanted to go to the dreamland. When a few kids had left, the director would bring more kids from the other orphanage to put them for adoption.

Although I was happy to have many friends to play and live with, it was a great sadness to see them leaving. After only a few weeks at the orphanage, I didn’t want to make new friends, because all friendship was to end with a separation. It was a greater sadness to be separated from my father. I missed him every day, but I was hoping to be reunited with him. I trusted the director of the orphanage just like I trusted all the adults I had met before him. I thought he was searching hard for my sister. I understood you can easily locate people when you have an address only two years after my adoption.

Adoption supporters make statement such as “Children deserve families” on which everyone can’t help but agree. The adoption agency which processed my adoption made a similar statement, “Every child deserves a home of his own”.  They call us crazy for being against adoption. They say to be against adoption is to be for keeping children institutionalized for life. [link]

I was kept in an orphanage because some people were thinking “Children deserve families”. They were thinking of a new family/home, and they offered me for adoption without my father’s consent. I was thinking of my family, the one I was born to.

Adoption supporters are talking about adoptive familes, while we are talking about our families (that is our natural families). They’re advocating for the childless people who need someone else’s child to build a family and for the self-righteous Christians to indoctrinate the children, while we’re advocating for the children and their families.

That is why they are worried about the decline in the number of adoptions. Deline of adoptions for prospective adopters means thay can’t become parents, and decline of adoptions for adoption agencies means less money.

The first orphanage I lived in was the kind of orphanage that adoption supporters would like to use today  to promote international adoption. They would use black and white pictures of poor orphans living in an overcrowded orphanage. They’re actually using old black and white picture of Romanian orphans to pressure Romania to re-open its door for adoptions. They’re even using adoptees.

Once an adoption supporter, after learning I was adopted at 10 years old, assumed that I wanted badly to be adopted  while growing up in an orphanage. He told me I should speak to the whining adoptees to shut them up.

Having been through two orphanages, I know that there were that many kids in the orphanage because kids that were abandoned, lost, runaway, temporarily placed by their families or removed from their families by authorities were all kept without differentiation as orphans/unwanted/abandoned.

No parents would ever leave a child alone in a street if they hadn’t known some adoption workers were collecting children. No parents would ever bring a child to an overcrowded orphanage if they hadn’t been reduced to chose between an orphanage and starvation. No parents would ever chose to  give away a child they had been raising and caring for X number of years if they hadn’t been reduced to adoption or starvation.

There were that many kids in orphanages because of poverty, because struggling families were given no other option than orphanage/adoption and starvation, because kids in orphanages brought foreign money to the country, because adoption agencies made money from selling kids.

In every sending countries, adoption system incentivizes the abandonment, buying, selling, stealing and kidnapping of children, and the coercing and tricking of the parents.

It begins with setting up  an adoption agency and orphanages in a country devastated by a war, a famine, a natural disaster or years of dictatorship. Once adoption agencies are set up, it’s nearly impossible to eradicate them. ( So far Romania which is the only country who has succeded, is still under pressure to resume international adoption.) They are set up to stay forever in the country to separate more families.

Adoption agencies in a country at its most vulnerable are catalyst to child abandonment. Over time, abandonment/adoption become a inherent part of the society: poverty, divorce, sickness, or any reason become a reason to give up children for adoption. When the country becomes rich and modern, unwed moms are given the choice between adoption or abortion. Adoption agencies is a business selling children; a business’ goal is to make money. To make money, they need both the clients and the products (children). They need to maintain a steady supply of children to keep their business.  If  the economy of the country improves, they find other sources of supply. At last they can get “special needs” children. Decline in the number of adoptions is not good for them. To counteract the work of activists, unwed moms will be given a baby box.

unlistened-to voice

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Park Chung-hee was the president of Korea when I was child. He came to power through a coup d’état.

I was then too young to know his name, too young to know politics.

If Korea had sold me off to a foreign country a year or two later, I could have learned his name.

The early collaboration between the adoption industry and the dictatorship was responsible for sending over 50 000 children overseas.

I began understanding the concepts of politics about a year after my adoption, first by learning my uncle was the mayor of the city where I lived and then by learning the names of the mayor of Montreal and of the Prime Ministers of Quebec and Canada.

If I hadn’t been sent off from Korea, I would have learned the name Park Chung-hee and the history of Korea instead of the names Pierre Elliott Trudeau and René Lévesque and the history of Quebec and Canada.

I know very little of the history of my birth country. I’ve learned the name of Park Chung-hee thanks to Jane Jeong Trenka by reading her posts on her Facebook wall.

During my childhood in Korea, I knew police was corrupt. The police ignored all of my father’s complaints against a woman who stole his money because the police station was next to the tavern she owned and policemen were friends with her. When he put a wrong address on his last letter of complaint, they arrested immediately the man residing at that address. No wonder why policemen wouldn’t even try to find the homes of lost children.
Policemen had lot of power. They would stop public buses anywhere for their spouses and children. It sucked to see their family members taking bus for free when ordinary people had difficulty to buy food.
Korea was already preparing to become rich and modern. At school and Sunday school, we were taught to cross street by footbridge or at traffic lights. Once my father and I were arrested and jailed for a few hours for having crossed a boulevard anywhere. There was then no need to be so strict as there was not much traffic, unless Korea knew it would become rich and modern as it is today.

But like all children, I was raised to be patriotic. I learned at young age to sing the song “taegukgi” (Korean flag) and I’ve never forgotten the words. I also learned to say proudly “uri daehanminguk” (our Republic of Korea); I don’t think I knew what it meant when I first said it. I learned to sing proudly the national anthem of Korea with my right arm on my chest; I still remember a few words of the anthem. During a certain period of summer, a taegukgi was put at almost every courtyard door or house; the national anthem was played across the city (of Seoul) at a specific time of the day; kids and adults would stop to sing with their arms on their chests looking at the nearest flag. At school there was a taegukgi in front of every class rooms. Kids were raised to be patriotic and to love and respect our country and our flag. Once the teacher said to keep our country clean; the same day and the following days, I swept the earth ground outside of our courtyard. I was sad when the teacher talked about an athlete of our country who won a competition wearing our enemy country’s flag. At the awful orphanage where kids were beaten everyday for no reason, we had to get up early to get in rows like soldiers and sing the national anthem before doing physical exercises.

I was 8 years old when I heard of the assassination attempt of the president Park Chung-hee. I still didn’t know his name. I was in a bus going from Seoul to Suwon when soldiers stationed at every street corner stopped the bus to search everywhere. Back home I asked my sister what the soldiers were looking for. She told me someone had tried to assassinate the president but his wife had saved his life by throwing herself in front of him and she praised her calling her the hero of our country. After hearing the story, I told myself that one day I would become a hero of “uri nara” (our country).

Instead of becoming a hero, I have become a product of Korea sold to Canadians through the USA. Instead of being raised as a Korean, I was recycled to a white French Canadian, badly recycled as my body and blood have remained Korean.

It makes me sad to think of “uri nara”. It hurts me to death to have been sold by my own country and my own people that I loved so much.

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Plan A: biological child; dead in the womb.
Plan B: Kelly, the neighbors’ daughter; failed.
Plan C: a girl from Korean or Vietnam; Korean girl recycled to a Canadian girl.

Kelly lived the next door. She was three years older than me.
When I started learning English, I heard her saying to my friend Lori that everything that belonged to me used to be hers. “Her Barbies were mine, her bike was mine, her cloths were mine,…, everything Kim has was mine before she came,” she said. I went to see my mom crying and told her what Kelly said. Mom told me that Kelly was a liar and she consoled me.

About a year later after we moved to Canada, I saw in my mom’s wallet two wallet portrait photos: one photo of Kelly and the other of me. Kelly and I were photographed wearing the same dress and with a same haircult. The photos were taken most likely by the same photographer. By her look, Kelly’s photo must have been taken two or three years before mine.

I told my mom that I still remembered Kelly had said all my stuff belonged to her before my arrival. Mom said it wasn’t true; most of the things had been newly bought especially for me and only a few things were lent to her until my arrival.

I questioned her more about Kelly.

Kelly was the daugther of my parents’ employee. My parents kept because her father was alcoholic. They got attached to her. Kelly’s parents took her back after the father recovered from alcoholism.
Before having Kelly, mom was pregnant but her baby died in her womb because of Rhesus factor problem. She couldn’t become pregnant again.
Mom was very sad for the double-loss of her baby and of Kelly. A social worker consoled her and told her she could have her own daugther by adopting a girl from a poor country. That’s how my parents have decided to adopt me.

I felt like crying and my throat tightening.

A few years later my parents and I were having a nice time watching together some old home movies they had filmed before my arrival. In one of them, Kelly was filmed wearing the same dress as in our photos and receiving a blue toy dog as gift for Christmas from my mom. The blue toy dog was one of my toys.

I then understood that Kelly had told the truth, and therefore mom had lied to me. It hurt me to know that I was a replacement for the aborted replacement of their unborn baby. I didn’t show my feelings as usual.

In 1999, my mom died of cancer. I found in her wallet the two portrait photos of Kelly and me with the same dress and same haircut taken at different times. I tore them crying.

I still have the dress that belonged to Kelly before my arrival. My mom wanted to keep it as a souvenir of my first days after my “birth”. I’ve kept it because I wanted to give my favorite dress to my future daughter. I was 10 years old when I dreamed of having my own children and family and decided to keep that dress. I’m now 46 years old and childless. Despite my yearning to have my own children, I will never adopt because I was adopted.

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I opened my eyes and I remembered I was in USA. I felt anxious and alone in the new enviroment. I wanted to cry but I was a big girl so I have chosen not to cry. The cloths on my bed showed me the yellow-haired woman had been in my room while I was sleeping. The yellow-haired woman came in, showed me the cloths and without saying a word, left the room. I got dressed quickly by fear of being seen by her, then I felt alone again.

The yellow-haired woman came back and brought me in front of the mirror. Unlike the previous day, she was silent. She wanted to brush my hair but I stiffened. I didn’t want my hair be brushed by this stranger. She had many items and trinkets to give me. I only remember few of them. It happened in silence: she would show me an item and I would nod or shake my head. The silence was embarrasing; I thought the American woman was shy as I was.

She showed me a ring; I nodded, she put it on my finger. She showed me a trinket, I nodded, and she gave it to me. She showed me earrings; I realized with horror that her ears were pierced. I shook my head and I thought the Americans were barbaric. I felt anxious, I missed home and I wanted to go back fast but the woman showed me a watch. I nodded and she put it on my wrist. I thought, “Americans are so rich that they can offer a watch to kids.” I never thought I could have a watch as a child. I felt I could like this American. I wasn’t interested by any other item that she showed me but I continued to nod without paying attention to her…

After giving me the last object, the American woman showed herself and said, “Mommy”. She repeated again, “Mommy? hm?” I understood by her body language that I had to call her Mommy. I nodded. She seemed very happy. She called me Kim-Kimmi. At the end of the day, when her fat husband came back, she showed him and said, “Daddy”. I nodded again.

That’s how I began to call two strangers mommy and daddy.

I would talk to them in Korean after I became less shy with them. I never called them “eomma” and “appa” which respectively mean mom and dad in Korean. I would call them by the Korean terms equivalent to Mrs and Mr. I don’t remember how to say the Korean words as my eomma’s and appa’s culture became a foreign culture and my mother tongue became a foreign language.

While I was being emptied of everything Korean and filled with everything American/Canadian unbeknown to me, I continued to call them mommy and daddy, until they brought me to Canada, their homeland, where they asked me to call them “maman” and “papa”.

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