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.
November 28, 2010
“In Defense of Adoption” Stephen Morrison Part 3
Part 3 Stephen Morrison "In Defense of Adoption" Korean Quarterly, fall, 2010
Coerced Unwed Mothers
Allegations have also been made that the agencies have coerced unwed mothers to give up their children for adoption; this has been widely misunderstood as well. While it is true that there have been many cases where social workers in agencies have tried to talk the unwed mothers out of their desire to keep their children, there is also the other side of the coin that most people don’t think about. The social workers in the agencies are all too familiar with the difficulties facing unwed mothers to raise children in Korea. Often the social workers don’t see the determination and the desire by the unwed mothers to keep their children but only see the difficulties ahead of them for both.
Most likely, the social workers are mothers themselves, and more experienced and mature than most unwed mothers. In their services to unwed mothers, they have seen many unwed mothers who decide to keep their children, only to return them later for adoptions when they realize how difficult it is for a single mom to raise a child and be accepted by the families, friends, and the community. Knowing the difficulty, social workers may feel that they are compelled to convince the unwed mothers to give up the children rather than be burdened by them at such a young age. Such motivation could easily be misunderstood.
The Korean War Baby notes: While stories of Unwed Mothers being pressured to give up their babies are reported it certainly does NOT represent a percentage of cases. There is no “ALL” in This Thing of Ours-Adoption. One person’s experience does not set a standard, yet some groups tend to present the information as though it represents ALL. Stephen brings up many good points that even social workers in USA or UK, must evaluate. The number of cases of “Returned children” by mothers who could not manage are also not known. Back to Stephen:
I have also heard instances where some birthmothers relinquished their children, then later returned to reclaim their children, only to discover that those children have been assigned or sent abroad for
adoption. In these instances, the agencies should have waited before assigning the children to be adopted. The revised adoption law now being considered by the legislature in South Korea includes a waiting period designed for birthmothers to reconsider their decision to place a child for adoption. It is encouraging, however, that adoption social workers are now a lot more open to a birthmother’s desire to keep her baby.
In recent years, more and more unwed mothers are choosing to go public with their single parent status and take on the challenge of keeping their children. There is now a network of unwed mothers in South Korea called the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network (KUMSN).
…I speak as an adoptee who lived the orphanage experience. Had I not lived in the streets of Korea at age five, and then in an orphanage for eight years, I am quite sure that I would not be able to defend adoption with such conviction. Without having experienced the pain of being homeless and living in an orphanage, I could easily be persuaded to be suspicious of the agencies, as many are.
For without suffering and without having gone through the orphan life, and without understanding what happens to orphans living in Korea, it is quite understandable for (SOME) adoptees to view the adoption process as a business of adoption agencies which are selling off children for profit. This misunderstanding alone would make any adoptee angry or bitter.
Alternatives to Adoption
So what would have been the alternatives for (now adult) adoptees if they were not adopted through ICA? Orphans growing up in Korea have historically faced incredible challenges as they are subject to strong social stigma. Compared to ordinary children with families, orphans in Korea experience what I call “status discrimination.” I have heard and read about the experiences of racial discrimination as described by adoptees living in Europe or in the U.S. But this type of discrimination is nothing compared to the status discrimination that orphans have to endure. By status discrimination, I am referring the denial of opportunities for good education and good jobs that orphans experience, not only because they lack the financial and social support of a family, but additionally because the society discriminates against them simply because they are orphans.
In the old days, three to five percent of orphans were able to go to college. Although educational opportunities for orphans have increased in recent years, they still fall significantly below educational opportunities of ordinary Korean children with families. …The status discrimination of orphans does not end with limited educational opportunities. If a young man with an orphan background wishes to date and marry a woman with a family, often the woman’s parents reject the man even though the woman loves him. If two men (or women) of equal ability apply for the same job, and one grew up in an orphanage and the other in a normal family, the applicant who grew up in the orphanage usually loses out.
Although the social stigma against orphans has lessened greatly over the years, it still presents a big challenge for children growing up in orphanages. Not many orphans are adopted domestically in Korea, as they are mostly older, and Korean nationals tend to prefer adopting infants, in order to keep the adoptions secret. (KWB notes: SECRECY of Adoption in Korean Society in Civil Code Law and Domestic Adoptions through the Adoption Agencies is 97% even among Christian families BECAUSE of the stigmas against their adopted child. I understand that many keep it secret to protect the child BUT THE CHILD HAS THE RIGHT TO KNOW.) Back to Stephen:
(By “secret,” I am referring to the practice of a prospective adoptive mother going through an elaborate deception to pretend to be pregnant and/or to plan a well-timed move to another part of the country, then presenting the adopted baby as a birth child at the appropriate moment)
Out on their own at 18
Orphans in Korea must leave the orphanages when they turn 18 years old. Often these orphans are emerging from the orphanage just out of high school, with very few marketable skills. Leaving the orphanages, these young adult orphans are usually given a onetime severance allowance of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. But this meager allowance runs out very quickly.
With no financial support or family support available, going to college would be impossible. These young adults go through extreme hardship once they leave the orphanages. A few find ways to stay with friends and/or extended families, but not all of them are that fortunate. Most wind up working in low-paying jobs at which they work long hours. Some may become successful teachers, pastors, nurses, etc., but these types of successes are very few compared to others who haven’t fared so well. In many areas of their lives, adults with orphan backgrounds must be vigilant to keep their background a secret, for fear of status discrimination.
The Korean War Baby urges you to study his entire report, only ten pages or 15 minutes. Love to hear from anyone with comments or conflicting viewpoints. The KWB will guarantee you editorial content will be exactly what you write to me.