Red Pants No Shoes
I am 40 years old and I do not know when I was born or where I was born or even what my birth name is. Unfortunately, I am not alone. Please read about my story.
On October 26, 1973, I was found on the streets of Korea by a Yeongdeungpo police officer. Apparently I had been abandoned or so my papers say. At the time I was wearing red pants and no shoes. I have no recollection of my early life.
Only 4 days later, I was flagged for overseas adoption by an adoption agency case worker. However, I stayed with a Korean foster family for a year. I have heard that nowadays a mother or father must give signed consent in order to put their child up for overseas adoption. Starting in the 1950s and continuing to this day, there have been almost 200,000 Korean adoptees who have been relocated without their consent to other countries. Beside losing a mother and/or father, Korean adoptees have lost their culture, language, roots and identity.
Children have been dubbed the primary export of Korea. Today international adoption practices are somewhat more transparent, but for many of us, our origin and early memories are forever lost. For myriad complex reasons, Korean children could not be cared for and the solution, at the time, was to send them to wealthier Western countries. In the last couple decades, Korea has quickly become an industrialized nation and is no longer considered a second world country.
Korea has a history of being in the dark and/or ashamed of it’s high rate of international adoption. Even today, domestic adoption rates are still pretty low, but are improving. Traditionally, Korean blood lines and family names were very important in a formerly Confucian society which dictated class structure, social interaction and even formality of language. In current day Korea, there is still very little support of single motherhood which is considered shameful to the family (to the extent of affecting citizen status, employability and personal/professional ostracization and harassment). A lot of pressure from society and family to abandon the child, abort the child or put the child up for adoption was the norm. Though efforts are being made to increase awareness of the plight of single mothers, many of who would prefer to raise their but don’t have the confidence or financial means. At the height of international adoption, children were commonly just left on the street (or at a bus station or market or similar) and kidnapped (from still groggy mothers still under anesthesia from delivery and by well-meaning neighbors or less immediate family members). In some cases, a newborn was whisked away from the new mother who was told the baby didn’t survive the delivery. In other cases, a parent or parents were told that they’re child was only going to be taken temporarily and then returned.
I and many others like myself may never know the details of my birth and early upbringing. In addition to hurdles such as sloppy record keeping and storage, some institutions give higher precedence to protecting the confidentiality of the birth parent/parents. Today Koreahas yet to sign the Hague Adoption Convention (http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/overview.php), thus making the search for birth family very difficult if not impossible.
I feel that as a human being, I have the right to know where (city not a specific address) and when I was born as well as my ‘actual’ name. Instead information is being withheld and documents have been fictionalized in order to create a seemingly seamless paper trail. I have no idea what is genetically in store for me (fortunately I was blessed with two healthy children). I have no idea if I may be related to my husband (not very likely since we are different races, but still possible). When my children make a family tree for a school project, there will be nothing on my side of the family. A large diaspora of displaced Korean, we aren’t fully accepted into the countries we were sent to for adoption (U.S., Canda, France, Italy, Sweden, etc.) and yet we’re strangers in the country (Korea) of our birth. I too have a “basic drive to discover who [I am] and where [I] come from”.
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