Where were you adopted from? How old were you when you were adopted? Did you have any other birth siblings? What was the adoptive family set up like? How many other children were in the family and were you the only nonwhite child in that family?
My twin sister and I were six months old when we were adopted from Seoul, South Korea by what is considered now to be the pioneering and most ethical international adoption agency. In 1972, they had placed us into separate foster homes until they matched us with a couple in the US, particularly in a small emerging city in Washington State.
Our adoptive parents were the all-American dedicated Christian family. We grew to love them—in fact, we thought they were a perfect couple--like typical young children do of their parents. Today, my 83 year old adoptive father is my closest friend. My adoptive mother passed away from cancer in 1997. When they adopted my twin and me, they already had two sons, ages six and four.
Did you live in a diverse community? Go to a diverse school? Struggles with identity?
Despite growing up in a small community, I actually didn’t get hit with racism as a child like other intercountry adopted people have, but I do remember being given disgusted looks that suggested I, an Asian minority, had no right to be in the U.S.. There were a few minor incidences here and there, like the time while walking to school a group of elementary school children pulled back their eyes, stuck out their middle fingers at my sister and me, and yelled “chinks, go back to China!” (The funny thing is that I wondered to myself, “where? Where are the chinks?” I fully identified myself as “White American.”) But we did not experience overt bullying, such as pushing, shoving or violence. Also, it is funny to note, that after my trip to Korea, my adoptive father still thought of me as his Caucasian daughter—it took a few arguments to convince him that I’m actually Asian.
The “racism” I deal with as an adult is just an overall assumption made against me based on my ethnicity mostly while I’m in public helping my adoptive father in such places as the grocery stores, parks or restaurants. People might assume that I am my adoptive father’s nursing assistant or worse, his mail-order bride. I might get scowled at, pointed out, or asked intruding questions by disapproving spectators, and there have been plenty of disapproving looks as if I’m trying to take advantage of a nice elderly man. In fact, one quite disturbed and curious man marched up to me and asked my (a) father and me how long we had been married. It’s one of the hazards of being a female transracial Asian-born American-bred adoptee. As tiny tots, people used to adore my father when he cared for my sister and me. In contrast, the sight of me, as an adult, taking care of him triggers some disgusted looks toward me. In fact, it really is not uncommon for people to stand in the middle of a grocery store aisle in order to stare at me while I help my eighty-three year old adoptive father buy his groceries. But I’ve learned to ignore the looks.
Are you in reunion with your birth/first family?
While at the 2004 Korean adoptee gathering, my sister and I requested for our files. We were told they were in Oregon. Once back in the states we were told our files were in Korea, the same office we had originally asked in. Then back in Korea in 2007, we were given a few more (nonhelpful) papers.
I waited seven years after my adoptive mother passed away before deciding to search for my Korean family. Some adoptees have the audacity to wonder about their biological family as young children. (I didn’t think I had that right back then.) I fully believed with all my being that I was an orphan, therefore the thought of a Korean family hadn’t even occurred to me until the age of 32 when I attended the Korean Adoptee Gathering and watched as Korean adoptees all around me were reuniting with their families. The curiosity for one’s biological family might happen while we are teenagers or not until we are much older. Up until very recently, I gave more consideration to the adoption facilitators than for my own birth rights—because at the time I didn’t know that I even had rights!
What are the losses for you for being internationally adopted? And the gains?
Because of my adoption, I have lost my Korean family and the Korean community that comes with it. I also lost a beautiful and peaceful philosophy that used to be a part of Korean culture. Most people might think this loss is not a big deal--especially due to an overall aversion against all of Korea in the minds of those in my adoptive community. However, I’m the type of person who believes every society is made up of individuals and I’ve always had an interest in humanity, therefore I find value in my ethnicity despite being severed and segregated from it.
The gains of adoption have to do with the fact that, as an adopted person, I am a beneficiary. On the surface, it appears as if I have only gained. Pro-adoption workers place value on the materialistic (and sometimes the religious) things that an adoptive family can give to a child as if things can replace family. Many presume that the “poor” mothers are incapable of giving their child “real” love. I appreciate all of my adoptive parents’ attempts to provide a decent home, but they assumed that a religious education was their only responsibility and that it was enough at the time. I will always appreciate their efforts. However, based on experience, I know now that owning more things does not fulfill adults or children. My adoptive mother was a hoarder. I grew up in an unfinished 4000 square foot (cold!) house that was crammed pack full of possessions, which crowded us out. My adoptive father owned thirteen vehicles, including Cadillac Limousines. This did not mean they knew how to love us more than our Korean parents could have. Like typical children, I ignored our adoptive parents’ flaws, and accept them for who they were. I accept the past, but this does not mean I am for adoption any longer--especially after learning how children have been and still are manipulated and unethically obtained for adoption and how much money is involved depending upon the child’s race.
Do you think international adoption should ever happen, rarely happen or never happen? And why?
Before there was international adoption in South Korea, there was peace. There was no fight for the rights to gain children between stakeholders. There was no cause for demand. There was no profit made for each child moved overseas.
I dislike the rhetoric adoption facilitators use—especially the saying “every child has a right to a family.” That one bothers me the most. What about the right to the family we were born into? Why do strangers have the right to take that away? Adopted people don’t want “a” family, we should be given a right to know and be cared for by our own biological families—and if mother is gone, we should at least have the right to know our father, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents are. As a child’s right advocate, I do not see adoption as “Child Protection” like adoption facilitators claim it as, but rather a violation on the child’s natural born right to know and be cared for by our parents, which is not only given divinely but also recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
After having listened to adopted people for almost a decade and looking at the history as well as the global scale of it, I believe that the roots of the practice is built on lies, ignorance, manipulation, and outright deception, which can be considered child trafficking. Far too many inexperienced parents have been exploited and not presented with the long-term ramifications against the family unit that adoption causes. It’s taken me years to get to this point in my life—even after years of researching, collecting and listening to hundreds and thousands of stories and being tossed into the trenches myself—I didn’t ever consider myself to be “anti-adoption.” Adoption has become so glorified that if one part of it is questioned, you will be labeled anti-adoption and dismissed, ignored or even attacked. After scrutinizing all parts of it, I now disapprove of the practice. There are too many risks involved—risks that can last a lifetime and never be corrected.
What advice would you give to people considering international adoption?
The adoptee community is changing rapidly. What is acceptable now might not be ten or eighteen years later. Personally, I don’t recommend adopting at this time. I foresee the community demanding an inquiry and accountability against governments. Scrutinize the application form prior to signing. Don’t write the check until you have a clear understanding. There are some organizations that will start you off with small asking amounts but eventually ask for more, they might send you a different child than the one you originally wanted, or give you a disabled child and before you know it, you owe them $60,000. Watch out for some-sort of discreet silence clause intended to prevent you from speaking out or seeking justice if something unforeseen happens or if the adoption agency fails you.
When my sister and I started the Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network Facebook Group, we had no idea that there were so many parents (of adoption loss) who needed to speak out against the practice. We started the group because we wanted to hear the real voices of mothers (and fathers) who had lost their children to adoption rather than base our assumptions about them by agency hearsay. As you know, the voices can appear radical at times, but I see it as a much needed space even though it’s controversial for those who have mainly heard of the “positive adoption language” led by adoption facilitators and their followers.
Do you think that there should be certain stipulations on what kind of family should be allowed?
I believe that temporary or permanent guardianship is a better option for children and is more in line with Children’s Rights. This would allow the child to keep his true identity and to maintain a relationship with his or her biological ties and birth culture. This way, if the “match” is not made in heaven, both parties have the option to “divorce.” As it is now, “matched” families are obliged to continue the dysfunctional relationship created by some random social worker or agency employee. Because I co-owned and operated an adult family home (for people with disabilities) here in the states, I also believe that group homes are a valid solution.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), countries are not required to send their children out for adoption if it is not part of that country’s culture. (I was very fortunate to have this explained to me by Roelie Post and Arun Dohle of Against Child Trafficking. This is something I instinctively felt but didn’t know I had a right to believe while I was studying Bertha Holt’s memoir.)
When you read Bertha’s memoir, her husband Harry (they were a farming couple, first cousins and set up the child welfare program in S. Korea) and his cohorts, entered S. Korea zealously believing they were “God’s appointed people” who were providing “child protection” for the Korean people—despite the fact that they were also ceorcing the Korean mothers and the Easterners did not understand that adoption meant, “a clean break and forever,” as said in Bertha Holt’s memoir. The Holt legacy has built a sanctioned system that now Korean born adult adopted people are trying to reform. I think we should kick out the adoption lobbyists, follow the UNCRC and allow/trust S. Korea to take care of their own children.
Intercountry Adoption does not solve a country’s problems, it actually adds to the problems and places additional burdens upon children.
What would you like to see happen more in the communities/politically so that children don’t have to be internationally adopted from overseas.
I like the idea of children being brought up in villages and small communities. I’d like to see more community building. I have noticed that the consequences of my adoption have been passed down to my children. They, too, have been isolated from their Korean heritage and family lineage, unable to communicate with Koreans and even if we do find our Korean family, we would need an interpreter to communicate. A potential relationship would be superficial at best and take time to develop. Despite my acceptance for my own uninformed status, it’s disheartening to see my daughters deprived of their Korean grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and unable to have deep understanding and connection with other Koreans.
Have you given birth yourself? If it is not too personal what impact has this had on you and how has it affected how you view your story?
My husband, who left home (his parents, family and Vietnam) at the age of 14, has always been fiercely independent and resourceful. We are a very progressive couple. Our attitude towards parenting has been completely non-traditional compared to the training I received while young. We believe that parents need to earn respect, not automatically receive it. We’ve earned respect by being able to see our daughters for who they really are instead of trying to force our will and our beliefs onto them, which in the end only causes rifts and feelings of suffocation. We let them decide for themselves their philosophy but we have also discovered that they instinctively emulate our attitude and actions. The way we taught them was to try to be our own best self. The mantra my husband would suggest to them while they were growing up was, “Know Your Rights,” and my mantra was: “Treat people the way they want to be treated.”
In 1992, when I first learned of my pregnancy, I was scared and was made to feel ashamed by the religious community I had been raised in. I left that community and learned how to be a parent by just taking action--and not thinking nor judging my status as a young mother. We just did it by believing in our capabilities every day until one day--before we knew what had happened in 2010--our oldest was graduating as valedictorian of her senior class. And our younger daughter, now in college, found her passion for photography and videography. Our daughters are now 21 and 18.
How do you cope with transitions, loss, rejection, acceptance?
While my girls were growing up, I transformed my formal living room into a sanctuary and have spent the last fifteen years living in isolation in what I call a meditation sabbatical so that I could concentrate on reading and writing. My passion has always been studying world religions, reading true life stories of varying cultures and philosophies. During this time, I shed many layers of who I was perceived by others in order to look deep within myself, and as a consequence, I found strength in my S.E.L.F. (Sacred Energy Life Force). I like to help other adult adopted people and parents of loss to shed some of the layers in their own lives, which is the reason I started an online wellness center called Sky Sanctuary via my Vance Twins website. I like to ask, “what if God is all of us?” I enjoy meditating and tuning into the silence within and around me.
Just this past year, I’ve been compiling an anthology called Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists, which has helped me come full circle. After reading diverse stories from (domestic and intercountry) adoptees, I realize that we are all connected. We may be from different countries, but we can all identify with each other’s experiences one way or another. The biggest theme in the collective—and this may seem cliché to those of us who have lived adoption—is that we are constantly living between two worlds never really belonging to either one. I trust the path I am on because I know that we’re all in this together. To me, knowing that I am part of a larger like-minded community is liberating. Through activism, I believe the adoption community will heal itself.
For more information http://www.vancetwins.com