THIS THING OF OURS-ADOPTION

THE KOREAN WAR BABY

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.


January 15, 2012

Adoption Today: International Adoption-Parenting the First Generation

KOREAN WAR BABY NOTES: This is from Adoption Today, under their section Korea. Very informative site and gives many different sources. Check out their website.

Resources and Adoption Stories


International Adoption: Parenting the First Generationby Jennifer Donohue Astion
Korean adoption began in response to the thousands of children orphaned during the Korean War. Between 1956 and 1985, American and European families adopted approximately 141,000 Korean children.* These families raised the first generation of international adoptees.

As the mother of a 2-year-old daughter from Korea, I want to learn from the experts, the parents who pioneered international adoption. What worked well for their families? What do they wish they had done differently?

Recently, I spoke with three mothers who adopted Korean children during the 1970s. Their children came home at different ages, grew up in communities of varying diversity, and have different levels of connection to their birth families and Korea. Despite these differences, all of the families emphasized Korean culture and good communication, and all of the children have grown into successful adults.

Three Family Stories
At age 6, Amy joined the family of Marilyn and Bob Canfield. The family also has five biological children, so Amy was welcomed into a spirited and caring home. “The whole family was delighted. She was a little princess,” Marilyn Canfield recalls. Adopted in 1973, Amy grew up in Spokane, a small, mainly white city in Eastern Washington.

In Renton, Wash., a diverse community south of Seattle, Donna and Barry Copp adopted 6-month-old Kevin in 1974 and 2-year-old Kerri in 1977. Both children were malnourished when they arrived but thrived in the Copps’ loving home.

On the other side of the country, 1-year-old Melissa joined the family of Sandy and Bob McGowan who lived in Norwell, Mass., with their two biological children. After adopting Melissa in 1976, the family adopted 6-year-old Jonathan in 1978.

Korean Culture
Bringing Korean culture into the family was a dominant theme for these parents. “We had Korean things around the house — maps, books. We went to Korean restaurants. Starting in kindergarten, I brought in Korean food for Lunar New Year,” recalls Sandy McGowan. In fact, the attention on Korea created some resentment from the family’s biological children. “They all got along fine. There was a little jealousy about the emphasis on Korean culture but I told them it was more important for them. They need some tie to their culture.”

The Copp family offered Korean cultural opportunities but tried not to push them on their children. “I tried to encourage their culture. There came a point where they weren’t interested. You can’t force that,” says Donna Copp. “Probably about junior high we let them do their own thing.” The Copps’ hands-off approach allowed their children to go at their own speed. As adults both Kerri and Kevin have renewed their interest in Korea.

Diversity
“If I had it to do all over again I wish I’d lived in a more diverse community,” says Sandy McGowan. After growing up in a white neighborhood, her daughter Melissa chose a college with a large Asian population. While the Canfields lived in a mainly white neighborhood, their daughter Amy was popular in high school. “She had a lot of opportunities to date,” says Marilyn Canfield. Amy also met Asian friends in college, and later visited one of them in Korea.

Donna Copp believes the diversity in their neighborhood helped her children make friends of different races at an early age. “We had some Asian families in our neighborhood. They have friends of all nationalities — African-American, Asian and Caucasian.” Donna Copp realized how different it would be to raise her Asian children in another part of the country when her family drove through the Midwest and received some very strange looks. “It is important to live in a multicultural community. There are areas where it would be difficult to raise a child of another race but we were very fortunate.”

Connecting to Other Adoptees
Sandy McGowan sent both her children to a Korean heritage camp. She told them, “You have no choice. You have to go. If you hate it you don’t have to go back.” Both children loved the summer camp and returned to work as counselors. “They made very good friends there. They really connected. My kids got so much out of it.”

The Copp family made lifelong friends at an annual family camp sponsored by their adoption agency. “They still go. You meet friends there. Some of their friends have kids too,” says Donna Copp. “You can’t emphasize enough how much they learn at those things.”

Donna Copp also formed a support group for families with adopted children. “When we adopted a long time ago it was not as common as it is now. We were kind of going through this alone. I thought it was important they were around people with similar backgrounds.” Those relationships continue to be strong. “They still have friends from that group. I still have friends from that group.”

School
Marilyn Canfield remembers how teachers in Spokane treated her daughter Amy. “Her teachers expected Amy to be a little quiet Asian thing who studied hard and got good grades. I would see what some people’s expectations were and it made me mad. I have no patience for that.” Her experience is a reminder that Asian children often face the stereotype of being a “model” minority.

Transracially adopted children face not only teachers’ expectations but also questions from other children about their families. Donna Copp feels the continuity of living in one neighborhood spared her children the awkwardness of explaining their family makeup to new groups of peers. “They were accepted so well by the community,” she explains. “They went to one elementary school, one junior high and one high school. The kids all knew them. They were just Kerri and Kevin.”

Adolescence
Adolescence is always challenging but adoptive parents feel especially worried for their children. Marilyn Canfield found herself looking for resources when her daughter was a teenager. “When Amy was in adolescence, I felt there wasn’t anything written that applied to her and the parents of transracial adoption. As a child grows into adolescence they are trying to find out who they are. There’s one other component if it’s a transracial adoption.”

Marilyn Canfield spent a lot of time listening to Amy’s memories of Korea. “I would recommend talking to kids about their pasts,” says Marilyn Canfield. She and her daughter spent hours in the car together visiting family members. “We’d be driving together. She would go to sleep and wake up and chatter the rest of the way. She would tell me things she remembered. It’s easy to talk to a child when you’re in the car. It’s good when they get to be adolescents.”

Donna Copp notes that her children were teased for being Asian and was available to hear their concerns. “They have been stereotyped and have experienced prejudice; however this is usually because of their race or other difference, not because they are adopted. As parents we may not know how they feel, but as a parent we can be there to support them.”

Ties to Birth Families and Korea
“I was always positive about their birthmothers,” explains Sandy McGowan. “On Mother’s Day I always thought about them. I sent pictures to the agency. When we opened the files, those pictures were there.” Both her Korean children have visited Korea, been reunited with their birth families, and maintained positive relationships with their Korean families.

Amy Canfield studied Korean in college and visited Korea. Planning the trip, she told her mother, “I just want to see someone who looks like me.” Amy met her birth family but has been frustrated by the difficulty of communication with family members.

Donna Copp has examined her children’s adoption files in Korea but has found no information on their birth families. While her daughter Kerri wants to search for her birth family, her son Kevin is open to meeting his birth parents but is less motivated to search. Kerri plans to visit Korea this year.

Adult Relationships
After growing up in a white suburb, Melissa and Jonathon McGowan have formed a diverse group of friends and both have dated Asians. Amy Canfield has a diverse group of friends but dated mainly Caucasians, including her husband with whom she has two daughters.

Kevin Copp has a stepdaughter and a biological son with his Hispanic wife. Fatherhood has been a very meaningful experience for him. As he told his mother, “It’s really nice to have someone who looks like me.” His sister Kerri married a Caucasian. Reflecting her positive adoption experience and desire to give a home to a child who has already been brought into this world, Kerri is planning to adopt from Korea.

Conclusions
These families raised Korean children when there were no guidebooks. I am inspired by their commitment to their children’s birth culture, their awareness of racism, and their ability to connect their children to other adoptees. I hope to follow their example by keeping an open dialogue with my own daughter about her birth family, adoption and Korean culture. Copp eloquently sums up what we, as parents, can do. “As a parent of two Korean adult adoptees, I can only recommend open communication at an early age, consistency, being involved in your child’s activities and lots of unconditional love.”

* These statistics come from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Jennifer Donohue Astion is a freelance writer in Seattle. She and her husband adopted their 2-year-old daughter Amy from Korea.


KWB Notes: Great stuff eh? Read more at Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute on Facebook also.

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