Korean Adoptees, Scholars, Activists Call For End to International Adoption

A large and impressive group of scholars, activists, adopted persons, and adoption practitioners has sent a Declaration Calling For An Immediate End to the Industrial International Adoption System from South Korea. (My thanks to @Koreanadoptee76 for the link; see swedishkoreanadopteesnetwork.wordpress.com.) Directed to the government of South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, the declaration calls on the government  to do the following:

  • Terminate international adoptions from South Korea
  • Improve support for unwed mothers and for their children
  • Implement comprehensive post-adoption services
  • Audit adoption agencies
  • Address citizenship failures
  • Provide adequate services to deported adoptees

The signatories are many. This is an impressive, important document, not just in terms of South Korea, but for international adoption globally.

Korean adoptees are the largest and oldest group of international adoptees. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and range in age into their 60’s. Their decades of experiences provide solid information about the impact of adoption: some good, some bad, all over the spectrum. Many in the adoption community look to them as historians of an important past and as bellwethers of the future of adoption.

Having this group of academics, activists, adult adoptees, and many adoptee organizations call for an end to international adoption from Korea is extraordinarily significant. The call, which I’d argue has been simmering a long time, is partly in response to the tragedy of Korean adoptee Phillip Clay’s deportation and suicide, partly to the deportation of other adoptees from the U.S., partly to the need for better post-adoption services, and partly to demands that more resources be provided to single mothers in Korea, an economically vibrant country.

Another significant point is that these adult adoptees are also calling for better preservation and management of adoptees’ records. So many adoptees have returned to Korea (and other countries) to search for their adoption records, hoping to find their birth families, only to be told the records do not exist or were destroyed in a flood or a fire. Others have found their records only after multiple requests and incredible perseverance, often at high emotional and financial cost.

The maintenance of records by orphanages, adoption agencies, and countries of origins is vital. The records allow adopted persons to know their truths, to know their identities, to know who they are–all basic human rights. This is not a matter of paperwork–for some, it is restoration, salvation, freedom.

The deportation of international adoptees from the United States is one of the most shameful practices of our country. I can only imagine how the sending countries (Korea, Brazil, India, Germany, Mexico, and many more) feel about the fact they sent their children here and we in the United States did not grant them automatic citizenship until 2000, and still have not made citizenship retroactive for those whose parents failed to naturalize them. Talk about broken trust.

Adoptees are not the only ones publicly calling for an end to international adoption. Take a look at this powerful post by the adoptive mom of two now young adults from Korea: Off the Fence, at Third Mom blog.

I am still on the fence. Adoption can change the lives for the better for children, not just in terms of economics. I believe it should be an option. That said, I deeply respect the views and the writers of this Declaration. The traditional narrative of rescue and saviorism must end, along with the fraud and corruption–and it may not be possible to ever end fraud and corruption. Orphan prevention and family preservation have to be paramount. We adoptive parents should be speaking out strongly for both of these, as well as for citizenship for all international adoptees and for post-adoption services for adoptees and for first/birth families.

Please share the Declaration.

 

A Brief Explanation of Why International Adoptees Get Deported

Yesterday the New York Times published an article that is getting a lot of attention: “Deportation a ‘Death Sentence’ to Adoptees After a Lifetime in the U.S.” 

I made the mistake of reading the comments on the tweet of the article, and wanted to clarify a few questions that repeatedly came up.

Why weren’t they citizens? Why did Obama deport them? Why did Trump deport them?

Until 2001, internationally adopted children were not automatically citizens. It was up to their adoptive parents to naturalize them.

Some parents got their children naturalized; some didn’t. Why not? They didn’t know. Their adoption agencies didn’t tell them. They forgot. They lost track of time. They didn’t want to. They found out late and tried to but the government agencies fouled up with paperwork.

Some adoptees assumed they were citizens automatically by being adopted to the U.S., and then found out as adults that they were not. It is, as I understand it, possible but extremely difficult to get citizenship as adoptees after age 18.

As a result of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), anyone who is not a U.S. citizen and is convicted of a felony (the definition of felony can vary widely among states) is subject to deportation.

That 1996 law included by default international adoptees, who arrived here in the US legally, as immigrants, as the children of U.S. citizens, whose parents failed to make them U.S. citizens.

Neither President Trump nor President Obama are responsible for the deportation of international adoptees. The 1996 law was signed by President Clinton (who also signed the Child Citizenship Act), and was the product of a GOP Congress.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted citizenship automatically to children under 18, though the process depends on the visa with which the child traveled. Years in the making, the CCA had a hard time getting approval in what was then an anti-crime, anti-immigrant climate (see the 1996 law). Making the legislation retroactive was a goal, but was a deal breaker for many in the Republican Congress. As someone who was among the many people advocating for the legislation, I remember trying to get the CCA through was not at all easy.

Even in 2000, as today, many legislators did not see adopted children as real family members. Many saw them as immigrants and nothing more. That mindset continues in the current Congress, and across America.

There have been adoptees deported since the 1996 IIRIRA, to Korea, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Japan, El Salvador, India, Thailand, Philippines, Argentina, Guatemala, and Russia. There well may be more that haven’t received press attention. There are probably some adopted adults who thought they were citizens, committed a felony of some sort (could be bad check writing to murder), who served time, and who are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now. There are probably thousands of internationally adopted adults who don’t know they are not citizens. Some might get in trouble with the law, get convicted, serve their time, and get deported.

Sending countries, including South Korea which has the highest numbers, are concerned (and rightly so) about the U.S. citizenship status of the children they have sent for adoption.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress for years to provide citizenship retroactively to the legally adopted children of U.S. citizens who were over 18 when the Child Citizenship Act was signed. It has not yet been introduced in the current 115th Congress. My sense is that there has been resistance in Congress because these adoptees have committed crimes (some of which are minor or are first offenses), and because the Members of Congress do not see international adoptees as genuine family members.

I am not aware of any other country which adopts children internationally and then allows them to be deported.

Adoptive parents need to make sure their children, whatever age, are official U.S. citizens, and have not only their passport (via the U.S. State Department) but also (via the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) their Certificate of Citizenship. Since government agencies use different databases and do not necessarily talk to each other, parents also need to check specifically with the Social Security Administration to make sure their child is listed as a citizen there too.

By the way, the cost of a Certificate of Citizenship is currently $1,369.00. That’s the fee charged by our government to get permanent proof of citizenship. Waiting times are several months to over a year.

There is now an office committed to reporting crimes by “undocumented immigrants.” Adult adoptees, brought to the U.S. legally with the permission of the U.S. government by U.S. citizens who failed to get them citizenship for whatever reasons, could be included there. Those cute little kids grow up. Some commit crimes, which nobody sanctions, and which happens in families all the time. They serve their sentences. They are then deported from the land that welcomed them to democracy, safety, and a better life. Some, like Phillip Clay, are deported and commit suicide, Some, like Joao Herbert, grow up in Ohio, sell a small amount of marijuana, are deported as a result of that first offense, and are killed.

A ‘death sentence’ is not too strong a phrase for the reality that the American government refuses to confer citizenship on people (children. orphans) who were brought legally to the U.S. by U.S. citizens to be adopted, who had no control over getting naturalized except through their parents, and are now subject to deportation. Yes, they committed crimes, some incredibly minor, and served their time as a result, like U.S. citizens do all the time.

It is shameful that the American government did not provide American citizenship automatically to orphans (according to U.S. law) who were brought to America, grew up in America with an American family, lost their original language, family, culture, and heritage, and whose parents (intentionally or inadvertently) failed to get them citizenship.

Welcome to the United States, little children.

Phillip Clay’s Funeral: Grieving for Him and For So Many

I never knew Phillip Clay, a Korean adoptee. I had never heard of him until reading about his suicide. I now wonder if his legacy, rooted in sorrow and tragedy, will be to awaken our own U.S. government to the travesty that is the denial of citizenship to all international adoptees.

The Korean television channel MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Company) aired footage from Phillip’s funeral. If this doesn’t break your heart, I am not sure what would. You will see other Korean adoptees, including Adam Crapser, who speaks eloquently about Phillip’s life and death. The video from the funeral is available here. My heart aches for Phillip and those who loved him. May he rest in peace and in power. 

Phillip Clay’s Funeral

What a price Phillip paid for having been adopted from Korea to the United States, an action that is supposed to be one of joy and a better life. Our American government deported him, because it does not automatically provide citizenship to adoptees who were under 18 as of 2001 (the year the Child Citizenship Act took effect), and whose parents failed to get citizenship for them.

Adam Crapser, one of many adoptees at Phillip Clay’s Funeral Service

Our American government, which approved Phillip’s adoption from Korea, which had all paperwork from the adoption agency Holt International and from his American adoptive parents, still  stands by and lets other adoptees be deported. Understand that those who were deported committed crimes for which they served time in U.S. jails.

 

Then, having been fully and legally adopted by U.S. citizens, they were deported, because they did not have U.S. citizenship, through no fault of their own.

Outrageous on every level. Unethical, irresponsible, and cruel.

I can only imagine that the countries of origin think about this. The U.S. has deported international adoptees not only to Korea, but to Brazil, German, India, Mexico, and many others. What kind of country sends back internationally adopted people to a country where they don’t speak the language, have no family and no connections, and can never return to the U.S.?

Here’s a thought for sending countries (as well as adoption agencies, nonprofits, government officials, and prospective adoptive parents–all those who are concerned about the decline in numbers of internationally adopted children): How about demanding that the U.S. government provide retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees before any other children are brought to the U.S. for adoption?

Many adoptees are angry with Holt, which I have been told had legal guardianship of Phillip. That is an arrangement I have never heard of, though it could well be accurate. In any case, there is increasing anger and action against Holt and other adoption agencies, which could be seen as complicit in the deportation of adoptees. The agencies may or may not have been adamant in insisting that parents get citizenship for their children. Adoptive parents must be held accountable for failing to get citizenship for their adopted children, whether through ignorance, neglect, or willful and cruel refusal.

For years, the U.S. Congress has been sitting on legislation to provide retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. Will they shake their heads, saying, “Yes, it’s sad, but we can’t do anything,” or will they say that adoptive families are legal and genuine families who deserve the same protections as other families?

Will it take more deaths to provoke action that grants citizenship to all adoptees?

Phillip Clay’s Funeral Service

 

More information about adoptee citizenship issues is available at Adoptee Rights Campaign.

I want to acknowledge Dear Adoption for sharing the video of Phillip’s funeral. I highly recommend Dear Adoption as a site for anyone open to learning about adoption from the perspective of adopted people. Brilliant, powerful essays available there.

 

 

 

Phillip Clay, Deported Korean Adoptee, Reported to Have Died By Suicide

I have seen this tragic news on several Korean adoption-related sites, including ASK Korea and Global Overseas Adoptee Link in Korea, which issued this press release on Facebook:

“PRESS RELEASE BY GLOBAL OVERSEAS ADOPTEES’ LINK 2017 MAY 23RD

Phillip Clay, a Korean American adoptee, who was deported back to Korea in 2012, was found dead on Sunday (21st) around 11:40 PM outside of an apartment building in Ilsan downtown about 35 minutes away (by bus) from his place. CCTV shows that he was alone in the elevator when he went up to the 14th floor from where he jumped.
His American adoptive parents as well as the US embassy have been notified.
All research shows that adoptees are overrepresented in statistics on mental health issues and suicide.

The funeral is hosted at Myungji hospital by Holt Adoption Services, the adoption agency that facilitated his adoption. Representatives from Korea Adoption Services (중앙입양원) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare 보건복지부 as well as several representatives of overseas adoptees from NGOs working with adoptees paid their respects.

“Philip was not well known in the community of overseas adoptees living in Korea and did not have a lot of friends here but his suicide affects us all deeply as we all came from the same circumstances and it could be anyone of us who chose to take our own life. Choosing to take your own life because you do not see any other way out to ease your pain and to die alone like this MUST affect anyone who hear about it,” said AK Salling, Secretary General for Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A’.L), an NGO run by adoptees in Seoul. “Sadly, adoptees didn’t get a chance to be involved in the funeral arrangements but we do urge adoptees to attend the funeral to pay their respects. The coffin will be carried by adoptees so at least in his death he will be surrounded by people who understood him, his own kind.”

He had a difficult life but this is not an isolated incident and must not been treated like an isolated case. Hopefully his tragic death will bring about some positive change in the outlook on adoption, post adoption services and the impact deportation has on an individual.

Adam Crasper, another deported adoptee, who arrived in Korea last year, also paid his respects today: “I am grateful to be part of a small group of adoptees and likeminded souls contributing to the betterment and welfare of the Korean adoptee community. I am because we are.”

(명지병원 3호선 화정역 line 3 Hwajang station area)
Although Philip was not a practicing Christian, Wednesday May 23rd at 1:00PM there will be a Christian ceremony at the hospital.

Any adoptees who wish to attend can gather at the G.O.A’.L office 10.30am and go to the hospital together. After the ceremony, at 5pm, G.O.A’.L will have a small wake at the office in Digital Media City, Seoul, Mapo-gu, Worldcup-bukro 44gil 37, 5th floor.”

 

I do not know what demons Philip Clay may have struggled with. The American Academy of Pediatrics did a study finding that adoptees are four more times like to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. Many people have written about the connection of adoption, trauma and suicide.

Neither do I know why Phillip Clay was deported. It is likely that he committed a felony (and served his time), did not have U.S. citizenship, and thus was deportable under immigration law. He did not have citizenship perhaps because his adoptive parents failed to get it for him. I understand he was in his early 40’s, so likely arrived here in the 1970’s, well before 2000, when citizenship became automatic for adoptees 18 and younger (though there is still significant paperwork involved). I have written many times about the need to provide all international adoptees with citizenship, to keep them from being deported. Korean adoptee Adam Crapser was the one most recently in the news, but there have been dozens deported from many countries. There are estimates of thousands of adoptees without citizenship. An adoptee from Guatemala recently learned she was not a U.S. citizen when she applied for a driver’s permit. All adopted persons need to have their Certificate of Citizenship.

The United States has failed far too many internationally adopted children (who grow up!) by not automatically providing citizenship to them. Legislation has been pending in our U.S. Congress for quite a while to confer citizenship on adoptees who arrived in the United States prior to the Child Citizenship Act. The Adoptee Rights Campaign and many others have been working for years to get legislation passed.

It is a matter of fairness: when internationally adopted children join their new families, they deserve all the rights and responsibilities of legal family members, as sons, daughters, sister, brothers.

May Phillip Clay rest in peace.

 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

On the Radio: Adoptees as Immigrants, via “Maeve in America”

Maeve Higgins is an Irish TV star and comedian, currently living in New York City. Among her creative projects is a series of podcasts about “funny, beautiful, and sometimes maddening immigration stories, told by the people who’ve lived them.” I recently had the pleasure of being the “context queen” on the Maeve in America episode, “The Amy Show: Seoul Searching.”

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Amy Mihyang Ginther is the focus of the show. She is a Korean adoptee, brought to the US at 3 months old. She has reunited with her birth family and has lived in Korea; you may remember reading her story in the New York Times: “Why A Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to Korea.” Amy and her mother were featured on the cover photograph.

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Amy is now an assistant professor in the Theater Arts Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. On the Maeve in America show, she shares stories about growing up as a transracial adoptee, returning to Korea, and working with students and others to develop effective voices, in performance and in advocacy.

Maeve invited me to be on the show because of my recent Slate article about Adam Crapser, the Korean adoptee deported from the United States a few weeks ago. We also talked about my being a transracial adoptive parent. Other voices on the show include the comedian (and Korean adoptee) Joel Kim Booster, and Maeve’s Jamaican-born foster-sister Aggie, who talks about her experiences in a loving Irish family, and the realities of hair and makeup as the only person of color.

My thanks to Maeve for including me, and especially for bringing light to the issue of adoptees as immigrants. Please go listen, and enjoy the show!

You can follow Maeve on Twitter: @maeveinamerica.

Let’s End the Deportation of International Adoptees

I have an article on Slate today: The Heartbreaking Way the U.S. Has Failed Thousands of Children Adopted From Overseas.

I hope you’ll read the Slate article, and then please urge Congress to pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act, S. 2275 in the Senate, and H.R. 5454 in the House of Representatives. It is long overdue.

Children have been arriving in the US for adoption from other countries since the 1940’s. Many folks–adult adoptees, adoptive parents, officials from the sending countries–are stunned to hear that citizenship has been automatic for adoptees only for the last 15 years, and then only for adoptees under 18 years old.

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Because of a 1996 immigration law, adoptees (and others) without U.S. citizenship are subject to deportation if they commit certain crimes, which can range from selling a small amount of marijuana to check forgery to assault and worse. Adam Crapser, adopted from Korea at 3 years old, has been in the news recently because he was deported to Korea about a week ago, at 41 years of age. There have been many others who have been deported (to Brazil, Germany Mexico, Thailand, Japan, and elsewhere) after having grown up in American families and thinking themselves to be Americans. The majority have not committed any crimes. Some are living in the shadows, fearful of what might happen to them.

That has to stop. They all deserve citizenship as the adopted children of U.S. citizens brought legally and transparently to the United States with the permission and oversight of both the sending country and of the U.S. government.

 

 

 

Light at the End of the International Adoptee Citizenship Tunnel

Adoptive parents and adoption agency professionals: Step up with adoptees. Insist on US citizenship for all international adoptees. Contact your Congressional representatives. Share this news.

There is now progress and hope that US citizenship will be granted to all international adoptees.

It comes as a shock to many people that, for decades, international adoptees were not granted automatic US citizenship. After all, the children were approved to leave from their country of origin for the purposes of joining US families as permanent legal family members. US agencies and the US government oversaw the process on this end, via paperwork, visas, and more paperwork.

However, until the year 2000, there was no automatic citizenship. If parents failed to file for their adopted children, the children were and are at jeopardy of having uncertain or no status in the US. Despite the intent of adoption–adopted children are part of the family, just like biological children of the parents, right?–and despite the various government approvals, some international adoptees never received citizenship.

Some found that out after they got into trouble with the law, served their time, and then were subject to deportation.

The sweet, cute children who pepper adoption agency ads and whose faces appear on adoption websites grow up. Some make terrible decisions. They deserve their day in court, and they deserve to be punished. They do not deserve to be deported, as adults, to countries to which they no longer have any connection: no language, no family, no friends, nothing, never to return to the US, the place that was supposed to be their forever home.

Many of us in the adoption community are hoping that this situation is about to change. S. 2275, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, has been introduced in the US Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Dan Coates (R-IN), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is very good news.

The bill closes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000: it would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted. It is highly significant for thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given the citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. It’s significant for deported adoptees who’ve had to deal with a lot of struggles for, in many cases, minor mistakes. It’s the first US federal law that is being addressed, crafted, and pushed through the legislative process with huge adoptee leadership.

Please help with the effort to get this bill enacted.

Contact your lawmakers and tell them that they should support S. 2275 . You can do so quickly and easily via 18 Million Rising.

Spread the word. This is not a done deal. The bill has to get through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then must pass on the Senate floor. Please share this news, and encourage others to contact their Congressional representatives.

Many thanks to the adoptees and allies who have worked tirelessly on this legislation. Let’s get this done.

 

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Interview With Korean Adoptee Soojung Jo, Author of “Ghost of Sangju”

“When I reunited with my Korean family, and finally learned the whole truth from Omma’s letter, it was like an implosion for me. There wasn’t so much a motivation as a need greater than breathing. It was like bleeding. Writing wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was something I could not stop myself from doing. Finishing wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity.”

Soojung Jo was three years old when she was adopted from Korea by a Kentucky family, and 37 years old when she learned the truth of her history and identity. Along the way she graduated from West Point and served in Korea. She became a mother to four children. And she has now written this powerful, evocative book. “Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation” is important for the adoption community. It’s bigger than that, though, because it’s a fascinating story, with powerful emotions, hard decisions, warmth, confusion, candor, love, discernment, and hope.

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More information is available at Gazillion Strong, including purchase information and Book Club questions. A new review by Mila Konomos at Lost Daughters is available here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Soojung about “Ghost of Sangju,” about writing, and about adoption.

Soojung, what writers inspire you? What books are you reading now? 

I’m borderline obnoxious about my passion for reading! As a writer, I’ve been powerfully influenced by some particular books that I think everyone must read: John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Karl Marlantes’s “Matterhorn,” Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son,” Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible,” and Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Also I love Hemingway’s voice, and I’m a shameless Stephen King junkie!

As for what I’m reading now, I always have a book on Audible, one or two on Kindle, and a hard copy in work. I’m listening to “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (Betty Smith), just finished “Americanah” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and just started “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” (Christopher Scotton).

What was the writing process like for you? What motivated you to write, and to finish, your book?

There was this accumulation of all the experiences and my primal but unexpressed emotional responses to them: being taken from my Korean family and country at age 3, my Kentucky childhood, the West Point experience, returning to Korea in the Army, becoming a mother biologically and then through adoption. When I reunited with my Korean family, and finally learned the whole truth from Omma’s letter, it was like an implosion for me. There wasn’t so much a motivation as a need greater than breathing. It was like bleeding. Writing wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was something I could not stop myself from doing. Finishing wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity.

The writing process was evolutionary. Although I had this story fighting its way out of me, I forced myself to be patient and learn a little about writing a full-length book. I read “Bird By Bird” (Lamott), “On Writing Well” (Zinsser), “On Writing” (King). I read interviews with memoirists I admired: Jeannette Walls, Frank McCourt, Cheryl Strayed. I reflected on what elements made the most powerful memoirs work. All these pointed to the same themes: Write without inhibitions, and then edit ruthlessly. Truth is the goal; nothing less will do. These rules sound basic, but they are far from easy. Do you know how hard it is to make one sentence flow into the next? To remove half the flowery words you’ve crafted into something that felt like a masterpiece but reads like a legal document? Even this interview should probably be edited at least five times just to make it readable.

But the most difficult aspect of good writing is achieving truth. Being honest. Sifting through the difficult layers and offering the ugliest parts of yourself to the story. Everything has already been thought and said in this world, so why should anyone care what I have to say? The answer is this: the truth is always compelling. A true, open story from a real and vulnerable storyteller always resonates.

Absolutely. What’s your next/current writing project?

Actually, I’m not writing at the moment. This book seared its way out of me, and I think I’m recovering a bit from it. I would hope everyone could experience something so consuming yet cathartic in their lives as this book was for me.

I said in my review of your book that I took breaks while reading it, given the poignancy of your search for your Korean family. International adoption is at a volatile, critical juncture right now, in South Korea and around the world. How does “Ghost of Sangju” fit into the complexity?

You are right—international adoption is having a pivotal moment, and this is largely due to the fact that a critical mass of international adoptees have grown up and spoken our truths. We have voices and we won’t be ignored. We are varied, complex, and our experiences and opinions range across a full spectrum. Mine is only one story, but it’s a challenging one that needs to be told because it shatters many traditionally held views. I hope that, without having to over-explain these complexities, readers will experience them as I did through my writing.

If readers come away from this book with an expanded view of what is really happening in international adoption, and an appreciation for the complexity of having lived through international adoption, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

How have your family members reacted to the book, as well as to your search and reunion?

Maureen, I don’t really know. I know what they tell me, but I don’t believe their words really touch on their true reactions. In words, they show support and love. But I’m not the only one in this crazy life going through complex, dissonant emotions about this. I can only imagine how my parents have worried, have regretted, have feared, and have wished that my story had been as straightforward as the agency had promised them almost 40 years ago. I’ve done my best to be sensitive to what they’re going through, but it’s not easy.

No, it’s not. Adoption can be complicated  If you could change policies and practices in international adoption, what would you do?

This is such a difficult question. I have many adoptee friends who are activists, but honestly I am not cut out to talk policies and practices. I know many others who are. I know things need to change, because so many elements of my own story still happen today and that’s unacceptable. I can’t say with authority what should be changed in policy. That’s not what my voice contributes. Instead, my voice speaks of little known truths and buried secrets, and I hope to use this voice to change hearts. Maybe those changed hearts can contribute to changed policies and practices.

I hope that too. What have you learned about yourself, about life, in the process of writing the book? Not so much the factual information as the perspectives, awareness, priorities.

Maureen, I learned so much in writing this book. This was no intellectual exercise! The first few revisions, I stuck to a story that I thought was acceptable. It was a bland, diluted version of my truth and it was terrible. My early pre-readers, my counselors and cheerleaders, asked, “Soojung, this is beautiful, but it isn’t you. Where are YOU in this story?” They asked me this question gently and often enough that I began to wonder myself, where am I in this story? That’s when the real work began, the work of digging into the most real parts of myself, my life, and my emotions. I had to let go of so much fear of showing this awful, beautiful story in all its grittiness. I learned that I, too, am gritty. I’m raw. I have so much strength and weakness and they terrify me, but they are real and therefore they are worthy.

The bland version of my memoir was okay, people liked it well enough, but the real version was amazing and people have responded so deeply to it. Likewise, the bland, pleasing version of myself is okay, but the real version is so much better. Does this mean I’m capable of being this true in real life? No, but at least I know it’s possible. It’s aspirational.

What would you like readers to take away from reading “Ghost of Sangju”?

Although the story is rooted in international adoption, there are universal themes of family, identity, and parenthood that I think all readers can connect to. I want readers to gain an understanding of a life that most probably haven’t lived. I also want readers to appreciate and respect the complexities of being an adoptee, especially international and transracial. I want readers to learn, and to feel less alone.

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Many thanks to Soojung Jo for this conversation. Congratulations on the publication of “Ghost of Sangju.”

International Adoption and Citizenship: Adam Crapser on the Eve of His Deportation Hearing

On the day before his deportation hearing, Korean adoptee Adam Crapser is the subject of a New York Times story today. You can read it here.

I’ve blogged about his situation here.

Here’s the bottom line: International adoptees brought to the US before 2001 were not granted automatic citizenship. If their parents didn’t get the children naturalized, some were able to become US citizens as adults. Some, though, found out that they were not US citizens after they committed crimes, served time, and then were subject to deportation back to countries with which they no longer had any connection. Adam Crapser is one of those adoptees. Adopted from South Korea, he suffered astonishing cruelty at the hands of not one but two sets of adoptive parents. He acknowledges he made bad choices, he was arrested, and he served his time. He is remorseful. He is now married and caring for his children. And he could possibly be deported back to South Korea, where he does not know the language, the culture, or any family.

New York Times’ writer Maggie Jones’ article online today is about Adam’s situation. She also writes about the history of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and the possible changes to laws that would make retroactive citizenship a reality for all the adoptees brought to the United States to be part of an American family. I am among those quoted in the article. Let’s hope for much-needed change that recognizes that international adoptees deserve all the rights and protections of the US government.

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Adoption and Tragedy: Requiem for Hyunsu

A child died recently, a 3-year-old boy, adopted last October from Korea. His adoptive father has been arrested for the murder. (Read more here: Washington Post) It is a tragedy, and it is an adoption issue. His name (because names matter): Madoc Hyunsu (also spelled Hyeonsu) O’Callaghan.

As an adoptive mother, my heart aches for Hyunsu. I think about his first mother, his Korean family. There have been powerful vigils held in Seoul, led by adult adoptees and others, bringing all kinds of people together for reflection and prayer about the loss of this little boy.

Via Jane Jeong Trenka www.adoptionjustice.com

Via Jane Jeong Trenka
http://www.adoptionjustice.com

There is much powerful information here at Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea.

There is a Facebook page In Remembrance of Hyeonsu. There is a virtual vigil taking place today, hosted by Adoption Links of DC. So many people, around the globe, are embracing this child.

An adult adoptee from China wrote an insightful, eloquent post on the great blog Red Thread Broken: “Honoring the Life and Death of Hyunsu O’Callaghan.” It’s so important to hear the perspectives of adult adoptees, especially perhaps around the death of an adopted child; their insight cuts close to the bone.

Here’s an excerpt from Red Thread Broken:

“Whenever there is an outpouring of outspoken voices in the adoptee community, dismissive comments from observers are sure to follow. These are some of the common thoughts that seem to be in question:

  • “Doesn’t it make you glad you didn’t get up in a home like that one?” – No, it doesn’t make me glad or extra grateful. Because my family came together in an alternative way, I shouldn’t have to feel appreciative my parents didn’t murder me. It should be my right, not a privilege to be in a safe home.
  • “Biological parents abuse/neglect/murder their kids, too.” – That’s a correct statement, but that fact shouldn’t allow us to ignore the severity of the same problems in adoptive homes.
  • “Adoptive homes actually have a staggeringly low rate of abuse … I mean crazy low…when compared to biological families.” – There is actually a long history of abuse and filicide in adoptee’s homes. However low you claim statistics to be, no child should be subject to abuse in their home. The fact that it’s happening at all means that it’s an issue.
  • “This is NOT an adoption issue.” – Hyunsu had no agency in what happened to him. He was placed for adoption in Korea. The agency matched Hyunsu with the O’Callaghan’s. Adoptive parent screening and home studies are not extensive enough. Adoption is what placed him in the hands of a murderer. This is most definitely an adoption issue.

It’s sickening to me that when a tragedy like this ensues and explicitly shows the brokenness of the international adoption system, people continue arguing the ways in which adoption is a miracle, a blessing, a glorious, romantic practice when it obviously had deadly consequences for this boy. It seems that many would rather spend their time justifying the adoption system and their way of parenthood than acknowledging the atrocities that could allow us to move forward with real reform to the system. A child who “loved his dogs, his big brother Aidan, and anything his parents made for him to eat” is dead because of the defective international adoption system. “He wasn’t dealt the simplest hand in life, but he found something to love in it every day,” the obituary said. Hyunsu’s short life should be honored, and sticking to the status quo by promoting an idealized culture around adoption certainly won’t do that.”

I added the bold to the words above.

My friend and fellow adoptive parent Margie Perscheid wrote this important and provocative post about why Hyunsu’s death is an adoption issue. There’s often a tendency in the adoption community to see these adoptee deaths as tragic and isolated, not linked with adoption. Margie explains, with compassion and fire, why Hyunsu’s death, and those of other adoptees, is indeed “an adoption issue.”

Hyunsu joins Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu, and too many others. May they rest in peace. May we not rest in the light of these tragedies. They are painful to think about, and it’s so tempting to pause, shake our heads, and then sweep the tragic event away. May justice be served. May we face terrible truths without fear, and work for genuine change, especially for vulnerable children.

Here are two of my posts about the changes needed: Reflections on Hana: Acknowledging the Failure of the Adoption Community, and It’s Time to Oppose CHIFF.