THIS THING OF OURS-ADOPTION
My name is Don Gordon BELL and I am one of the earliest of the first generation of KAD's (Korean ADoptees). The Korean War had been settled by Armistice three years before I left war-torn Seoul, Korea, on May 21, 1956. It was the first plane of twelve 'war babies' processed thru the Harry Holt Adoption Program. Read more of MY STORY on My Pages.
I grew up in a typical middle-class family of English-Scottish roots in greater Los Angeles, Ca, USA. Memories faded, Korean language was 'lost' and I did not know anything about the country of my birth until I met Korean Marines in Vietnam while serving with the US Marines. It was my first exposure to real Korean people. I was not completely aware of how prejudiced most Koreans thought towards a Half-Breed like me. I learned what "Tuigi" meant, a Korean word for a "Child of a Foreign devil". Oh, wonderful.
All my life I always had to answer the question: "What ARE you?" and I simply would tell 'my story'. It was not a big deal for me, for my Adoptive Parents had taught me that being an American meant that WE were from many countries. I never 'wished to be White' and just learned to stand up for my own identity. MY Identity was as an American, with mixed heritage. I did not know what being "Korean" meant but often wondered about my roots, and what my birth father's ethnicity. Mexican, Native Americans, and Spanish people would tell me that I had their 'genes' for sure. Little did I know they were right!
After college, I traveled to Manila and for ten years I lived in the Philippines. I was excepted as a 'mestizo' and fit into the former Spanish colony. I was a B-movie Character Actor, working on international and local films, enjoying a 'crazy and wild' abandonment. Then a life changing experience gave me faith in a personal Higher Being. After walking away from the film business, I lived back in the USA, not sure of my direction in life finding work in construction, finish carpentry, door hanging, and many other jobs I'd like to forget.
In 1991, at 38, I attended a Holt Heritage Camp that was a great experience and really began my own journey of Adoption Identity search. I had never thought much of my Korean culture, though I always felt proud of being "HALF-Korean" and "half-Something".
In 1994 I came back to Seoul, Korea, with my church Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and was invited to stay with a church in East Seoul, for one year. I have lived here since late 1995- re-discovering my "Korean-ness", teaching English and telling my Adoption Story to thousands of Korean students of all ages, helping their understanding of Korean Adoptees. It is one of the issues that Korea is now facing, even for its own secretly adopted children, those who were adopted IN-Country by Koreans who desired a family but due to problems with Infertility secretly adopt.
I was a charter member in 1997 (first dozen members) of GOA'L (Global Overseas Adoptees' Link, founded by Ami Nafzger) and continue to be involved with the complex issues of This Thing of Ours-Adoption. Thousands of KADs have visited Korea over the years, searching for their culture and Some search for birth family. Seventy-five thousand have come, yet only 2,400 plus have found Reunion with Birth family, often with varying results. There are many complexities, many don't want to search concerned about offending their Adoptive Families. Each KAD must decide what they want to do, when to do it, etc.
At 61, I am still 'working thru' my Adoption Identity. Each of YOU need to 'work through' your own understanding and hopefully find forgiveness and healing. Read many different accounts and compare before coming to conclusions. I hope that you will learn what IS happening NOW, in the land of your birth, the Rep. of Korea (South Korea). (See Report Links).
Times are changing, the reasons for 'relinquishment for adoption' have shifted, but there continues to be a need for a multi-tiered approach and understanding of Adoption issues. Slowly, attitudes of Korean society ARE changing for the better. But, the majority continue to feel embarrassment and shame. Thus, Adoption is still shrouded in secrecy even for those who are adopted In-country. There ARE positive signs and movements of NGO's and KAD groups are advocating for the Unwed Mothers. However, two-thirds of pregnant women each year, continue to give up their babies for adoption. One out of four are sent overseas, YET three are secretly adopted in-country. The Myth that "Koreans don't adopt" is false, but they need to open up and hopefully change their shame to pride.
This blog is for EVERYONE, whether you are an Adoptee, Adoptive Family, Birth Family or involved in Adoption in ANY way as a professional, social worker, official, etc, from Korea or the world. We examine the complex issues and personal journeys that we, domestic and overseas adoptees, have to face and sort out in This Thing of Ours-Adoption. (Use the Ligit Search function (Left Column) to check for Posts on various topics, TransRacial, TranCultural, MultiCultural families, Domestic, Civil Code Law Adoptions, InterCountry Adoption, etc.)
I personally have come to a compromised, nuanced position on this thing of ours-adoption. I advocate a Multi-tiered Plan that tries to be balanced, realistic, fair to all.
UPDATE: Living in the Philippines since 2010, at first teaching students from several countries as an Online Tutor, based in Makati, Metro Manila. I was working on a Digital Library for Online Tutoring or ELearning; developing an agritourism farm; and Overseas Retirement Care for foreigners needing 24/7 health care.
Then some 18 months ago, in July of 2012 I met with Andrew Leavold, a crazy film obsessed Aussie who helped "pull me back into film making".
WHEW! Lot on my plate. I have also been learning much about the Filipino society's very different viewpoints on unwed motherhood and adoption.
Latest: As of Sept. 2012, I worked on an Indie Film, "Baybayin, the Palawan Script", directed by Auraeus Solito, and international award winning Filipino director. I had a role in the film and explored my hobby as a STILLS Photographer. Currently I have quit all teaching, co-writing on an international film that will be done in 3D and CGI effects. I am back in the film-making business and I love it.
Adoption Discourse needs to hear YOUR VOICE. Every opinion, even opposing viewpoints will be posted and interaction invited by email and Comments have been activated again with spam filters!). Welcome, come learn, and share your thoughts.
May 24, 2009
Preview: Korean War Baby- the book
Following excerpt from future book-
Holt Family Picnic- Two Holt Heritage Camps (1990)
In 1989 I travelled to Kansas City with the Anaheim Vineyard Team, Headquarters based in Southern California, not too far from the original Disneyland. I had a great time in Kansas City, and decided on the way back to ‘pull up stakes’ and just move there to KC, Missouri (Mid-West folks say ‘Mis SOUR ra, and Arkansas is not Ark an saw but ARK….(long pause) kan sas). I was ready for a change and with no prospects in the romance section; after confessing all my past sins to everyone I met, well, duh! No wonder! Just couldn’t understand why even older divorcees ran the other way, when I talked about ‘real’ dating, one on one, not the ‘church group thing’.
This was usually after a small group meeting where I had ‘bared my soul and spilled my guts to tell the ugly truth’. Guys, DON’T do that! Confess to a priest, or simply to God, DO NOT tell people all about how “you really feel”. I thought that confession was good for the soul. Sort of ‘Chicken Soup for Misogynists’, I had the wrong belief that it would help my chances to ‘tell all’. Confessing how I had used and abused many women ("I tried to be a ‘nice’ jerk, paid more, did not physically abuse, never never said “sure, I love you”). womanized by trickery, and yes, even paid money for sex, and done somethings I will NEVER write or say, things that are unspeakable (that ought to get your minds going). Many of my fellow actors in the Philippines could tell stories about me that would get me kicked out of any country. (you guys out there, keep this between you and me, okay?). Boy, was I stupid or what? Dumb as a fence post, I just stood there scratching my head in frustration when even “plain Janes” took off in terror.
Oops, there’s that misogynistic part in me again. When one group of women in my church told me I ‘hated women’ and called me a misogynist I was, well, righteously ‘Pissed OFF’. I wanted to hit them, beat them with a stick. Oh, MY God….I realized slowly that they were right!
So one week after coming back from Kansas City, I was driving home after work when I noticed a large group of people under a banner “Holt Families Picnic”. I immediately stopped and then recognized Bertha Holt, surrounded by adoptees from many countries with their adoptive families. I introduced myself to Grandma Holt and Molly her daughter who was visiting from Korea. Grandma expressed how pleased she was to meet me, noting that I was on the very first Holt flight of 12 way back in 1956. Grandma invited me to be a counselor at Holt Heritage Camp in Eugene, Oregon or New Jersey. I said sure, and after checking the dates I figured that I could work on both camps that year. I drove up in my truck to Eugene, counseled a group of Korean adoptee boys, from ages 8 to 14 and had a great time.
Then back to L.A. to pack up all my possessions into boxes and race off to Kansas City, Missouri. I would have to sleep in the cab because there was no room in the camper shell. I had all my carpenter’s tools, power saws, compressor, nail guns, ready to look for work and mix with the Mid-West folks. Drove to Kansas City in under three days, stopping to unload my gear with a house full of guys, fellow unwed young men. I would stay with them a few months before finding another place. Rested overnight, then I took off for the New Jersey Heritage camp, arriving midmorning of the check-in day.
It was the first times, in both camps West and East, that I had seen so many Korean adoptees all together. Many looked at my ‘mixed race’ face and asked, “What are you doing here?”). Sheesh, story of my life! What ARE you? At both camps we all learned so much about our ethnic identity as Korean. Discovering cultural roots, Korean food, we made Kimchee, learned about meanings of some of our names, cooked rice in clay pots. I even taught the kids Tae Kwon Do, basic kicks and punches even a simple form. For the last day everyone broke got to break a one inch pine board. I made sure everyone did it to give them confidence. “Remember though…Boards don’t hit back”, I quoted my hero, Bruce Lee from one of his movies.
After the first camp finished at Eugene I went to Holt International Children’s Service Headquarters where I met Dr. David Kim (Kim Hyungbok), President of the Holt, USA from 1986 to 1990. He informed me in a letter before I arrived that he was not yet an ordained pastor when he served with Harry Holt as Interpreter and Right-Hand man. In the book “Bring My Sons From Afar” by Bertha Holt he was called “Kim A”. Well, Harry Holt had such trust in him that when Mr. Larson left in mid 1956, Harry shocked the foreign relief agencies by actually appointed David Hyungbok Kim as head of Holt Adoption Agency. No other relief agency would even consider Koreans capable, and one woman leader express shock, shock, "why he hasn't even finished college". This was said in the presence of David Kim, who was burning with controlled anger and embarrassment. Harry simply told her, I am confident in my decision and escorted her out of the office, returning to beg forgiveness for her remarks from young Mr. David Kim.
Now Dr. David Kim expressed to me that he was overjoyed because I was one of the earliest from the first week of March, 1956. I have vague memories, various toys that I played with; people dressed in white staring at us; flashes of but even under hypnosis when I was in college, I was not able to remember my mother’s face or name. He said again that he remembered our mother bringing my sister and I to the World Vision Reception Center, located in Youngdongpo. I thought he was confused and replied to Pres. Kim, “You mean my mother, and my sister’s mother? My family name was Jun and hers was Kim.”
He laughed and showed me her file, where a mistake was made when her Korean passport was processed, with “Jun”／全 mistakenly written as KIM／金 in Hanja, Chinese characters. Two extra strokes added turns 全into金, which Dr. David Kim noticed, thinking maybe Mr. Larson had made the error.
Wow, this was quite a surprise! I could not get my mind around this…Did we have the same mother, different fathers? After experiencing Vietnam and seeing the conditions of a war zone I could easily understand, in my mind at least, what our birthmother must have gone through, taking care of two of us. In the years of living in Korea, it has become crystal clear the prejudices and hopelessness she faced. I want her to know that I understand “WHY, she gave us up…I believe she Chose to surrender us for our own sake, and to live in a country where we could be ‘respected’.
全 容 秀 HanJa (Chinese Characters)
전 용 수 Hangul (Korean)
Jun Yong Soo English (Given names are Compound so, YongSoo means ‘Face Excellent’
全 喆 安 HanJa (Chinese Characters). 喆 / 철 / Chul( 훈음 :밝을 철/ 한자: 喆)
전 철 안 Hangul (Korean) 安 / 안 (훈음 : 편안할 안/ 한자: 安)
Jun Chul An English
全 vs. 金 (See how two extra marks changes Jun to Kim)
Our birth father must have stayed with our birth mother probably until he left to go back to America. Remember, we are more than three years apart in age or conception by the same man. It was difficult for troops to marry women in Korea or Japan until later years, but many just left some extra money and abandoned their pregnant ‘girlfriends’ and any children. I must say though that thousands of US and UN troops gave lots of money to support orphanages. See http://www.koreanchildren.org
Mom remembers a ‘coincidence’.
My adoptive mother smiled as she recalled the events of my sister’s flight in December, six months after my arrival in June. My sister arrived on December 16th, on the first chartered flight by Holt with 95 children. The flight lost one engine but still had three more, so the DC-9 crew struggled to reach San Francisco, on the flight path, instead of LAX, California. I remember my new parents and older brother, Ken, with many other expectant adoptive families being informed by Holt staff that they had to drive upstate to San Francisco. After an emergency landing everyone was evacuated safely. Hours later, we found total chaos upon reaching the arrival area. Children were crying, Korean helpers trying to calm them, adoptive parents questioning the Holt staff as they tried to account for everyone. I wandered around, noticing that, “Hey, these people look like me…they can ‘talk’ my words”.
Mom and Dad both remembered that I ‘found’ my baby sister who had been crying loudly. I was holding her and she slowly stopped crying, apparently after recognizing me. We had been apart for six months but we still knew each other! My birth mother read the name tag, “Kim Chul An” (it should have been Jun Chul An) and thought 'what a coincidence' it was that I had ‘by chance’ found my new adoptive sister. We had grown up telling everyone that my family name was Jun, and my adopted sister’s family name was Kim. Yet many told us, “My, you certainly look like brother and sister”. I always joked that all Asians look alike! Mom, simply said, “Well, that’s God, for you”, not thinking it strange at all.
I have noticed that on my sister’s passport is a note folded inside on page 20, “Ent at San Francisco Loralei REGISTRATION NO. A8963887. ENTER Dec 16/56. (12-16-56) Birth 6-9-55.” You see everything was pretty hectic in the reception area and NO Immigration Stamps were done. One last thing, Dad said to Mom, “well, don’t see anyone checking names…we got our girl, let’s go”. One hour later we heard on the radio about a “frantic search for a missing unaccounted Korean orphan girl” and turned back to the airport. Doh! Everyone had gone by the time we got back to the airport, so we just drove on home and called the Holts the next day! Boy, were they relieved to find out that a baby was not ‘missing’.