Behind the scenes

Here are my answers to some pre live interview questions emailed to Hankyoreh21 magazine.  Points I particularly wanted to stress are in bold.  I have eliminated portions of some of my answers so as not to be so long, so you can just read the bold if you’d like to breeze through.

1. Let me know your experience as a adoptee.

I came to America in December of 1966…

…So I have spent the last two years of my life researching and confronting adoption head on.  And now that my children are grown and independent, I have come to Korea to live.  I have come to discover this culture that was denied me by my adoptive parents, even though I was forced to represent Korea my whole life – while knowing nothing about it.  I have come to face my fears of a foreign race and recognize myself in their faces.  I have come to find out what happened to me those missing two years before I was at the orphanage.  I have come as an abuse survivor and feminist, with empathy for my first family and hopefully forgiveness.  I don’t believe we can ever be a family now, but I wanted to at least say hello before it’s too late.

2. I heard you had some trouble with Holt Children’s Services INC. What was it?

Isn’t that interesting that they are incorporated?   So if you have trouble with them, you have to take on a multi-national corporation.  Being multi-national makes it very convenient for them, because Holt International can tell the searching adoptee that Holt International is limited in what they can do and must defer to Holt Korea or Holt (insert country here).  And then when the searching adoptee follows up on their requests and there has been no action, Holt International can say, “That is up to our foreign partner,” or “Holt Korea says there is nothing for you.  Sorry.”  So dividing and compartmentalizing their operations is a great tactic to eliminate transparency and frustrate the search effort.

When I first went to Holt, I was searching for a woman who was holding me in a photograph.  My adoptive mother told me it was my Korean foster mother.  I wanted to thank her for her fine early childcare, believing the imaginings of most western white people that orphans from Asia must have had prostitutes for mothers and that I was a child born in the absence of morals and relinquished at birth.  But my files (legally mine due to the law, not Holt’s generosity) revealed that I had lived with my own family for two years.  It is at this point that I began to think about the family I’d left behind and the country I’d been exiled from.

Holt International was very pleasant and their response to me (and most officially abandoned children) is that they have nothing.  “I’m so sorry.”  This, unfortunately, is where most adoptees take Holt’s word on faith, give up, and leave in despair.  Upon my further questioning, however, they revealed that the papers Holt Korea was looking at
said I was abandoned.  Earlier they had told me Holt Korea had nothing.  I realized that Holt Korea had to be looking AT something.  I kept finding inconsistencies between what they’d told me earlier and what they told me later.  So I pressed them for copies of the paperwork from Holt Korea and then they tried to tell me the papers weren’t important.  I felt that since these documents were about my identity, that it should be up to me to judge whether or not they were important.  But Holt International insisted they were nothing.  It wasn’t until I told them I was sharing my story publicly that they relented and sent me copies of my papers.

The “unimportant” paper from Holt Korea revealed a treasure trove of information.  It revealed the date I was taken from Wonju City Hall and taken to the nearest adoption center (March 7th, 1966), it revealed the name of the police officer who took me there, it revealed that my name and probably my birthdate were invented at that time, it revealed four days had passed before I arrived at Holt’s orphanage in Seoul, and it revealed another little girl the same age was taken to the same place at the same time.  And we arrived at Holt’s orphanage in Seoul at the same time, as evidenced by the asignment of two consecutive Holt orphan numbers added later:  4708 (me) and 4709 (the other girl).

Naturally, the thought occurred to me that we might be sisters, twins even, which was devastating to me, since I had never even considered that I might have blood siblings.  Holt said they would contact her for me, and then they changed their mind, which was even more devastating.  It wasn’t until I went public with their decision that they finally agreed to contact her.

Holt promised me a lot of things I had asked for:  to get a certified translation of this “unimportant” document, to assemble a list of orphanages in the Wonju area so I could interview people about those four days prior to coming to Seoul, and to contact girl 4709.

I never got an official translation, and I never got a list of orphanages.  Holt International told me Holt Korea says it is “not possible.”  Holt claims they contacted girl 4709, but I have only their word on that.  Holt also refused to give her a little note from me trying to ease the shock and assure her that I was only interested in ruling out that we were related and that I would not otherwise disrupt her life.  Holt said this would constitute contact on my part, even if there was no contact information from me on the note and even if Holt was the one to deliver it to her.

After all the months and many dozens of emails and phone calls trying to get Holt to follow through on their post adoption services, I found this lack of compassion on their part quite upsetting.  They always were pleasant.  They always said they couldn’t do anything.

What Holt DID do is send me a registered letter recently telling me my emails complaining weren’t helpful.  These are the kind of official tactics people use to intimidate others in preparation for lawsuits.  So if you pursue “unimportant” paperwork and pursue getting Holt Children’s Services INC. to follow up on their promises to you, this could be the result you receive.  The problem is most adoptees give up when Holt tells them there is nothing.

Prior to searching for information about my case, I naively believed all the adoption rhetoric Holt Children’s Services publishes.  Now that I am deeply involved in searching for my family and connected with several adoptee civil rights groups, I have come to believe Holt only helps adoptees as much as is required for their own favorable public relations.  And all of their lame inadequate efforts to expose adopted children to their culture is nothing but damage control.  And every step of progress any adoption activists make, Holt Children’s Service INC is right there stealing the limelight, putting a Holt media spin upon it as if they were the adoption activists.

But when you think about it, if all adoptees found their birth parents, that would put Holt out of business.   So I’d call that a conflict of interest.  Just like it’s a conflict of interest allowing Holt to hold all the records.  But you can take that one step further still.  It’s actually a conflict of interest for any INC to be acquiring children and shipping them overseas.

They want those of us who have had to live with the consequences of their social-engineering-for-profit to quit complaining that there is anything amiss and just shut up, and so they send us registered mail as a threatening gesture.  But there are somewhere between 160,000 to 200,000 of us.  And we are growing up. And we are educated critical thinkers. And eventually (it took me forty years) we will all begin to stop internalizing the pain of what was done to us and speak out to prevent more children from being exploited by adoption agencies. Our voices now are just the tip of the iceberg. How can we be silenced when more children are being harmed?

3. What do you think the bad aspect of adoption?(Think about your experience)

To me, adoption can bring out the worst in people.  The claims that people adopt out of charity are lies:  their purposes are inherently selfish and they’re adopting because they want to make someone love them.  (which isn’t totally so awful, but rationalizing the selfishness as generosity and then glorifying that act is not a good or honest way to begin a relationship.  And then we are supposed to be forever grateful for their kindness) But this love is always skewed because it was forced to begin with.  There is always an imbalance of power because our civil rights were violated in order for us to be present.  So even though we are loved, we are literally a captive audience, and we are forced to love our captors.  We simply have no other choice.  Some adoptive parents are lovable.  But many are not, and we still have no choice but to try and make life with our captors work because we are without recourse.  We can not put ourselves back on an airplane to Korea if things don’t work out.

Well, that’s not quite true because that’s what I’m doing now.  Only it’s forty years later…

We are told that we are loved just as if we were their own, because it is so obvious there is nothing natural about our acquisition.  We are given no chance to form bonds prior to our adoption and we are sent to live with strangers – l repeat, we are sent to LIVE for the rest of our lives WITH PEOPLE WE HAVE NEVER MET – to live in a foreign land surrounded by foreigners.  Can you imagine how alienating that is? And yet it is us, by merit of our eyes and skin, who must forever bear the burden of being the alien.

Far too many of us adoptees are objectified.  We begin our journey being objectified by our parents, who shop for us based upon whatever values decorate their narcissism and, in the case of inter-country adoption, whatever racist prejudices they think about positively and wish to explore and/or culture they wish to co-opt.  We are imported goods, and this objectification only gets worse because in a foreign land amongst foreign people we are always exotic items upon display.  And we become an object of desire that others want to taste and own, which perpetuates more consumerism of Asia’s children.  And this desire is sexual in nature, because we are vulnerable and easy to control, which is heady in a sexual way even if never acted upon, so we are fighting from day one of our new “better” life to protect our virtue. Of course, most adoptees do not have fathers that cross the line like mine did.  But I believe that underlying much of the delight most adoptive parents can barely contain is also something more sinister:  the delight of being an ultimate consumer, of owning another human being.

4. Other comment?

Yes. Oh Yes.

I would like to close by saying that even though the Korean war has never officially ended, the carnage and disruption to life which created war orphans is long over, so there is no longer any need for international humanitarian aid in the form of adoption.  Please end it.

Holt adoption agency began their career here (literally) as a Christian humanitarian effort.  But instead of providing disaster relief and then leaving when the disaster was over, they became an institution that never went away.  They discovered gold when their humanitarian efforts revealed a huge market for Korea’s children, and then children from other countries.  Procuring children became as easy as setting up a system of waste removal to dispose of children that society did not want to deal with.

To me, International adoption is criminal. I will quote myself from an interview taken of me as part of an honors thesis project:

The fundamental crime of adoption agencies is saving through surgery.  Instead of holistically helping countries, communities, and families survive through tough times, they surgically removed the child burdens.  They provide a release valve for the pressure.  But they didn’t provide for or care to look into what was causing that build up of pressure.

The fundamental crime of adoption agencies (and the willing adoptive parents) is helping only when it benefits themselves, and valuing the child as a commodity but not considering the emotional needs of the child or valuing the humanity that brought the child into being.

Valuing the emotional needs of the child. That means eliminating the radical disruption of sight unseen adoptions to foreign lands.    It means not sentencing that child to a life of being an alien outsider.  It means not also depriving a child of its culture and heritage. It means not further scarring a child who has already experienced profound heartache at a tender age.  It means maintaining what few bonds and connections the child does have, so they have some ballast in their emotional lives.

Valuing the humanity that brought the child into being
. That humanity is our natural mothers.  That humanity is women.  Adoption is a feminist issue, and we adoptees are the symbol and reminder of the position of women in society.  We are the negative indicator species measuring the health of Korean society.  And as long as there are adoption agencies in the absence of humanitarian crisis, it means Korean women are lacking the choices necessary to be valued and contributing members of society.

I believe it should be Korea’s goal to eliminate the needs for international adoption agencies.  It would be wonderful if the country who became the model for mass international adoption also could say to the world that they have learned it is wiser to take care of their own people well, and that they are enlightened enough that such callous solutions are no longer necessary.

Leanne Leith, Holt orphan 4708

More Questions After the Interview…

Q.  Would I be interested in becoming a Korean citizen?

A.  Maybe after I have learned the language.  Dual citizenship is interesting to me so I don’t lose all of the retirement money I have coming to me from all my years working in the United States, which I would lose if I gave up my American citizenship.

Q.  What do I hope to gain from living in Korea?

A.  (in addition to all that I told you about about learning what I lost, learning the beginning of my story, knowing the basic things EVERY person on the planet should know – their name and birth date, and owning the memories buried within me)

I want to help Korea figure out what is good about the west and what is bad about the west.  The west is just different:  it isn’t superior.  Korea needs to get a little self esteem.  There are many good lessons to learn, but there is nothing there worth sending your children there.

I also want to help Korea recognize the need to take care of its own;  to assist mothers in keeping their children.  Taking responsibility for ones actions deserves respect, and any social stigma for doing so is backwards thinking and unjust.  I worked hard as a single mom.  It is something that can be done, and it is something to be proud of.

Also, (don’t know where this goes) an appeal to (Korean) parents:

I was not adopted to be abused.   I was adopted and later abused. I was abused when my other siblings were not – and the only explanation for this is that they were biological children and I was not.

Not being blood offspring matters to people, no matter how much they claim they can love adopted children just as much.  Nobody can love your child the same way you can.  Nobody.  This little truth can make a huge difference in a child’s life.  And if you send your child away, there are no guarantees.   Please don’t take that chance.

And I don’t know if this is appropriate or not, but:

It’s good and right for Korea to tell the international adoption agencies to GET OUT OF MY WOMB.  Korea doesn’t need them.  KICK THEM OUT.

THIS is where Koreans should be saying, “Korea:  Fighting!”

ha ha ha ha ha!!!


btw, I am NOT against adoption.  I am FOR protecting children.  I am against victimizing women, exploiting women, lack of social services, coercion of people in a weakened state, the creation of orphans out of children who have family, the politics of “charities” that arise when their so-called non-profit livlihoods are threatened, the inherent racism of transracial benevolence, and the broadcasting and scattering of any seed far from its familiar culture and native soil.  And especially.  Especially violating a little person’s civil rights in the name of God.

ADDED:  Something readers might not know is that more boys are adopted out of the country than girls.  People assume that in a patriarchal society where Confuscianism and primogeniture still reign that it is the girls that are rejected more because they have less value.  However, it is the boys who are not of the same blood line who are rejected as unacceptable.  If you are a man here, you don’t want to raise another man’s son and support another family’s blood line, whereas female bloodlines will always be mixed and dispersed.  Therefore, a boy infant is a much greater social liability for a family when trying to get their unwed mother/daughter married off.  And you better believe it is about family pressure here, because marriage is the biggest stepping stone to gaining or preserving social status.  So we need to find and celebrate those brave women who fought this system and prevailed.  As women become career professionals and those old social structures have less relavence, it is possible to show this country that we CAN be single mothers and that the effort to be responsible for our actions is something to be proud of.

3 thoughts on “Behind the scenes

  1. I’ve always wondered why APs adopt from country x if they didn’t have any genuine interesting in country x’s culture or language. (eg. More out of obligatory interest than anything absolutely genuine.)

  2. It’s a weird dichotomy – to be attracted to something different than you, only to force it to assimilate to be like you.

    The obligatory interest probably comes from guilt or maybe a longing to rebuild the pre-assimilation differences that were so attractive in the first place?

    All of the above are weird, to my mind. But to have parents who are of a different culture yet obsessed with your birth culture is equally if not more creepy.

    And so we must suffer their cultural zeal. Or dance around their burdensome interest in our cultural connectedness or lack thereof. And try to reconcile the poverty of if with the assimilation yet isolation of being transracial.

    Again, I think the danger of transracial adoption is putting little people into the hands of those who objectify them as cultural souvenirs. Many children ask their parents, “why did you adopt me?” But how many ask, “why did you adopt me from ‘x’ country?” How many of them get an honest answer? And if they do, is the honest answer something too disturbing to handle?

  3. Dear Ms Suh Young-sook:
    Now I have read this list of questions and answers by you and understand more of your situation.
    What year did you begin your questions to Holt International? Their Post adoption services inproved over the years just as ours did here in Korea. It is too bad that you had such a hard time.
    I think your name is your own, because Suh is not so common, and you probably would have been able to tell people your name “Young-sook”, Since you came from Wonju, you probably came through the system for abandoned children, the police station.
    Have you been to Wonju? Sometimes it takes several days, as everyone wants to give your birth parents time to reclaim you. At 2 years old, you might have wandered off while your parents were visiting somewhere.

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