Holt unscathed despite suffering of thousands

The SBS documentary crew and I paid a visit to Holt Korea last Tuesday.  Unbeknownst to us, Holt has a couple of buildings.  The first building we went to didn’t house Post Adoption “Services” but did include a HOLT TRAVEL AGENCY.

My goodness, what other business ventures does Holt Korea have?  It must also have offices where, apparently, Foster Moms come with the babies prior to dropping them off at the airport, as we met a foster mom with a six or seven month old baby on her way to take a little boy to his flight to America…

The SBS producer wanted to know if I wanted to talk with the foster mom or see the baby, and no:  I did not.  I won’t tell you what I wanted to do, but it might have involved me getting arrested, so I thought it best to just stand and watch them drive off.

And so, we got back in the van and drove to their other building.

Now, I have no idea what their definition of a healthy family “support” center is.  Or even what their definition of “family” is in this case.  But it seems kind of ironic to me that it’s on the same sign as Post Adoption “Services.”  It’s also kind of sick to me that they have a guest house, because the baby’s new owners don’t live in this country, because they’re foreigners.  All three items on that sign seem like one-stop shopping, a multi-plex of services all centered around an anonymous child whose fate is in question.  This process of theirs doesn’t stop.  It just becomes more sophisticated.

I didn’t take a photo of the big multi-story banner Holt put up on the building behind the sign, but basically it is a photo of a young man in traditional Korean garb sitting on the floor at a table dining in a traditional setting, and it is celebrating Korean culture.  Again, disturbingly ironic to me as an adoptee that they sell the adoptive parents on Korean culture, when the babies will soon be stripped of it as soon as they get on the airplane.  Inside the Holt offices as well, are little artifacts of Korean culture everywhere. Things that will delight the adoptive parents but be forever lost for the children.  Things that will be totally meaningless to the children unless they come back here to live.  Even then, they will be academic concepts. A souvenir shop is not necessary I guess, since they’re coming home with the ultimate souvenir.

Even more sick is that Holt is blind to the fact that international adoption hurts those babies/little people.  They are so damned convinced by their own arguments that they are saviors doing God’s work, they think they are above reproach.  May they all be orphans in their next life, since that’s what it seems it will take for them to see anyone’s perspective other than their own.

When (if) you see Holt defend themselves in the documentary, I think their patriarchal attitude will be evident.  They have historically offered, “we have nothing to hide” even prior to anyone accusing them of that.  And I don’t believe they DO have anything to hide.  But they DO have a culture of paranoia and non-transparency, presenting theories as facts, being arbiters of what is and isn’t important, obfuscation of the facts, protectionist policies, and stone-walling attempts to gather information: so that tells me they have a conscience, they know they have things to answer for, and they are ashamed of themselves.

They are like children caught in a lie.  It’s easy to rationalize ones actions.  It’s easy to act in the name of God.  It’s easy to tell less than the whole truth.  (otherwise known as a lie) And once you have lied, you have to support that lie at all costs.  Until your life has become so complicated by the lie and you’ve invested so heavily in obscuring the lie that to confess would destroy your life as you know it.  And so the lie never existed.  But your entire life becomes tainted by the lie that never existed.  And it doesn’t matter who you hurt by denying the lie, because it’s better 200,000 children feel a loss of identity and culture than it is to admit you’ve done something bad.  Even if it weighs heavy on your heart.

Again, Holt, you say you are Christians.  What would Jesus do?  What did Mary do?  What did the Innkeeper do?  Did he try and convince Mary that giving Jesus up would be better for her in the long run?  Did he try and convince Mary that giving Jesus up would be better for Jesus?  Did he offer to broker a new family for Jesus?  No.  He offered to let them stay out of the cold for free.

And do you know why my family felt secure leaving my possible sister and me alone in the market?  Because the whole country knew that Holt took babies and sent them to what was supposedly a better life in other countries.  That’s the only reason.  HOLT’s PRESENCE is what made my abandonment an option.  And do you know what would have happened if you weren’t there?  I might have been malnourished, I might have had a hard life for a very long time, it’s true.  But without that option, my parents would have had no choice but to keep me or find someone in Korea who would.  Basically, HOLT’s PRESENCE was the catalyst for abandonment.

from dictionary.com:


1. Chemistry. a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.
2. something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.
3. a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.
4. a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.

It’s true I might have become malnourished and lead a hard life.  But I would have known my parents, my country, my culture my language, and somebody here would have loved me.  You took advantage of a nation during times of hardship.  You really should feel a deep deep sense of shame for this.

As catalysts, you’ve managed to live unharmed and even put a spin on the mass scale separation and dislocation of thousands of children into a saint-like activity.  But the chickens are coming home to roost.  The time for making excuses is over.  The apologies are long overdue.  The time for restitution is now, and you can start by making it easier for adoptees to find out ALL the information about themselves.  And please put an end to giving this gift that keeps on hurting.  Please stop exporting babies.

ADDED:  The comment thread on this post is worth checking out…

16 thoughts on “Holt unscathed despite suffering of thousands

  1. I’m hoping it will all be covered in the documentary to be aired Saturday – a picture says a thousand words, and also it is easier for me to comment and give background information on the documentary, than it is for me to relate the entire odyssey.

    So revealed in this post is that I was probably abandoned in a marketplace. In addition, I am probably a year younger than thought before. Girl 4709 is definitely not a twin, but there is nothing conclusive to rule out her being a sister. All will be revealed in the documentary and what we had to go through to get that information.

    And the odyssey continues…

  2. [I won’t tell you what I wanted to do, but it might have involved me getting arrested]

    ROFL… that made me laugh so hard!

  3. What a story. I look forward to hearing more from the documentary.

    “Catalyst” is an interesting word to use to describe the system. As an AP I have flipped back and forth between thinking I met a need and created a demand that I have perpetual whiplash. And now and then I wake up thinking they are both true.

    I hadn’t noticed your relationship to Holt until now. That is who we went through back in 2002. I probably should have acted on it, but to be brutally honest I didn’t know what to think at first, then got to the big “J” part of some video of their and from that moment forward I found them a bit creepy. Well, more than a bit, but I’d hate to use the correct word on your blog.

    We worry about the information thing ourselves. We fuss over what we might do sooner rather than later in order to improve out children’s chances. There’s a scary step to take, but we will.

    Oh and yeah, nice writing. ;) I was thinking the other day that what is going on with me is I am post-guilt. The realization of what we did and the guilt that goes with that is winding down and determination to make the best of this becomes the prime motivator.

  4. Dear Ed,

    You know – I don’t really blame the pre-returning adoptee parents. Holt’s rhetoric is and was easy to buy into. But the new potential adoptive parents? Un-uh. They have the tools and the resources to research before they adopt and they’ve got no excuse for saying the ideas presented never cropped up. That’s why we returning adoptees and activist adoptees are so marginalized and resented – because people can’t claim innocence anymore. Unless they live under a rock, there is no reason why they can’t make informed decisions, which puts the responsibility upon them.

    So basically, I applaud you and of course, you’re doing all you can do since what’s done is done.

    It’s nearly impossible to talk about the profound issues surrounding adoption with those already in wait or those who have already received a child. But the majority of people haven’t adopted yet, so ANYTHING you can do to share your insights with that population would really help us care for children in a more humane manner.

  5. This post brings me back to the four times I was at Holt Korea.

    During my first trip with the 1989 Holt Family Tour, I was forced to watch the exportation of the unwanted babies at the Holt office. Since their exportation was the same day than the departure of the adoptees who were with the Motherland Tour, the adoptees themselves were the escorts of the exported babies.

    It was exactly like the day of my own departure in 1975. I can’t help crying when I think of it. The irony is that only few days before, the president at Ilsan Center made a “touching” speach (“touching” according to the APs) saying that Korea had no choice than sending us in the past, but that now, they no longer needed to send us to foreign countries. When I told you that during my 1989 trip to Korea, my hurt and anger resurfaced temporarily, it was at these two days, particularly at Holt Korea office, when I was forced to watch the departure of the babies.

    During the second trip, I went there myself to bring things to Ilsan, because I was so brainwashed to believe that Holt was behaving saintly and that every adoptions (except mine) were wonderful. Again, I saw the babies before their departure. This time, I saw them in the arms of their foster mothers crying not to leave them while the director (who brought me in the room without asking me if I wanted to go there), was praying for the babies. I couldn’t understand his prayer but I knew for what he was praying, he was praying so that the babies would meet their Lord Jesus! (Each time, I think about it, I hate Christians!)
    Like the first time, I needed to cry but I held back my tears.

    During my last trip I saw the foster mothers crying outside after dropping the babies at the Holt Korea office.

    I’m sure now you understand why I cried everyday while walking alone in Seoul streets during my two last trips.

    Each time I was in Holt Korea office (that includes the day they exported me in 1975), I felt like I was stabbed, and I’m still like I’m stabbed whenever I think of the four times I was in Holt Korea. It hurts me so bad that I wonder why Holt didn’t kill my body (Myung-Sook’s soul has already been killed) instead of exporting me to a foreign country.
    I hated Korea, Koreans and myself during more than 30 years, when the only thing that deserved to be hated is Holt.

  6. I realize that by now most anyone reading my comments must wonder if I’m a nut, but I have to say that when I read stories like yours, myung-sook, I sit here a very large and gruff looking man and I cry. There can be nothing more delicate than how we come into this life, and I know my sons will walk those same streets.

    teacher4708: I cannot believe how difficult it is to talk to virtually all of the adoptive parents I have met. We reach out to any we encounter and if we aren’t chased off by great differences in perception (religion primarily) we only end up seeing them angry because we dared to be open about what it is we are doing. This has been regardless of race. My wife had two unfortunate friendships with Asian women that adopted Korean children.

    The best I have been able to do is when people approach me that they are considering adoption. If they give me enough berth, they get the whole nine yards.

    The information coming from you and your peers remains the best chance we have for change. Or should I say that is where all of my hope comes from. I don’t see much it in other parents so far. I don’t know how to help them see their children for who they are and what they are going through without being defensive.

  7. Myung Sook’s story is so moving because she is so good at expressing her perspective. Every person touched by adoption or thinking about adoption should hear her stories.

    Ed, I didn’t mean for you to try and convince adoptive parents of anything – you are right – most of them are too defensive to be honest with themselves and their children. But there are others like yourself, Dr. Richard Boas for example (see video below) who think about adoption in a larger social context and who care about their own adopted children in a way that respects them as human beings.

    I think there is nothing stronger than the combined voices of adoptees and enlightened adoptive parents speaking with a world enamored by adoption as a benevolent act and to a world that doesn’t consider that families were broken to create children for export, or that society could be fixed to preserve families.

    Seriously – it is us together who actually practice what is in the “best interest” of the children.

    I really appreciate your presence and voice here.

  8. “Since their exportation was the same day than the departure of the adoptees who were with the Motherland Tour, the adoptees themselves were the escorts of the exported babies.”

    You know they charge the adoptive parents fees for escorts. I wonder if they refunded the money for those paid escorts that were replaced by exploiting adoptees for free???

    That is absolutely barbaric, making you escort those babies thousands of miles away from their motherland. I guess they hope they’ll pay them for their own motherland tour ten or fifteen years later in the future, curious to see what they were separated from.

    And you saw on the First Trip Home tour videos that they made the adoptees hold the “orphans.” My heart broke to watch the adoptees crying. Did Holt think that would provide resolution? (yeah, right…) Or was Holt using the adoptees? For what purposes to make them/us/you go through that, I can’t imagine.

    I think it takes a sick mind to have even come up with that…

  9. The most painful thing before seeing them climbing into the bus, was to see the older boy about 6 years old of the group with another boy younger than him. The older boy was hitting on the head of the little one who was crying non stop. It was like if was looking one of the most painful days of my life. I also thought of hitting a girl younger than me who was crying non stop, but because I was a girl, I didn’t hit her.
    I never forgot anything of that day. Every body were busy and talking aloud, it was noisy as the day of my own departure, and in this chaos the older boy and his little fellow were forgotten, just like I was forgotten by the adults, 14 years earlier. Then I saw the APs giving him little attention and saying no to him. I wished to beat them all, to take the boy in my arms and run away far. What I had forgotten were my emotions and feelings. It all came back that day.

    Yes, it’s a sick mind. They use the children, they will use the adoptees again and again, as long as they can.

  10. I was wondering if you would all mind copying and pasting your comments to my holtsurvivor blog, where I’ve also added this post, and continuing the discussion there?

    The reason I have compartmentalized into several blogs is because there are people who will look for Holt information that don’t care to learn what moving to Korea is like, and then for my adoptionsurvivor blog, there are those concerned with adoption issues who aren’t necessarily concerned with Holt.

    So currently, this is the locus of my stream of conscious writing for friends and family, and if there are things I feel relevant to the other two blogs, I re-post them there.


  11. it says i need to login to comment. i guess i need to take a wordpress account.

  12. I remember when we met our older son – at an airport. We thought about that for quite a while and decided that it might work out better if we did things that way so that we would be on our toes for his arrival. Yes, we regretted that.

    His escort was a very sweet older man. With him was his wife and a younger woman, both with other children. The young woman had a look of dire concern on her face. I never forgot that. I felt the wide gap between us because none of them spoke English and am only recently learning Korean.

    My wife travelled to Korea for our younger son. He is, by the way, the half brother of our older son. We heard from Holt that he was “in the system” and we decided we had no choice but for them to be together. My wife caused a bit of trouble at Holt in Seoul. She felt less than comfortable for some reason, and ended up carrying our inconsolable son quite a distance back to the hotel.

    She noticed how everywhere she went, Korean woman tried to help her. I’ve wondered if that was their natural inclination to resist their children leaving home.

    I have felt that sort of pain towards fellow children in distress in that I always felt guilty that I couldn’t protect my siblings when we were split up into various foster homes. To add the distance from Korea to here to that is beyond my imagination.

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