small world

An article recently appeared in the Boston Globe written about adoptive parents who over-do the cultural heritage thing. I instantly recognized the father in the family photo of the article as Mr. Hopgood, my ceramics teacher in (I can’t remember if it was late Jr. High or early High School) school.

OK. So one girl from Taylor lived her life in abuse and obscurity and four decades later, woke up (or nervous breakdown – whatever you want to call it) writes this blog. And another girl from Taylor becomes cheerleader and reporter and author on adoption, her book titled, Lucky Girl. Two sides of the adoption coin. Same town.

I remember her. She was probably about four or five when I met her. Her dad made me feel like I had some extra talent in the art, and then he would tell me – in total non sequitur – that he had an adopted daughter from China. That’s just great. I didn’t understand how that had any relevance to anything and chose to ignore it.

He kept telling me how he’d have to have me come over to his house some time. I thought this was a special honor, because he was a very popular teacher, and I imagined maybe we would work on some project together or maybe he would teach me some special techniques.

But the day finally came and I went to his cool house and met his beautiful wife and was deposited in his living room alone with Mei Ling. And then he and his beautiful wife disappeared and I was stuck there with a preschooler, a teenager who hated kids. Expected to lessen the actual minority of her existence. Expected to be some role model. Expected to help this child who had everything I didn’t have. Expected to give her something I would never have.

About an endless hour later he returned. I think he realized we hadn’t bonded, and his little social experiment was a failure. He drove me home and that was pretty much the end of my relationship with the coolest teacher in school.


My talks with Chinese adoptees and their parents are both irritating and interesting. They think their case is so different. But really, the model for international adoption is the same. Mei Ling is the beginning of the Chinese adoptees having to reconcile their birth culture with their skin in a new culture and make a different path on their own, and it is all the same as the Korean adoptee experience that preceded them.

Even the one child law has parallels here. There has always been female infanticide. There has always been throwing away children. There has been primogeniture for centuries. In China, the government’s limited resources dictates this. In Korea, personal economic pressures cause the majority to also have only one child. But here, nobody wants to adopt a boy whose blood is not theirs. Boys of other blood, second children, and children born out of wedlock get thrown away. It’s STILL all about blood lines here, and even domestic adoption is often “faked” as a pregnancy in pretense of the child being of the father’s blood. And then there is the horror of the “full” adoption – where the adopted child’s real mother and father are never recorded and the adopting parents names are entered instead. It is 100% erasure of the child’s real identity. Inside sources say something like 90% of Korean domestic adoptees have zero idea they were adopted…

Another thing the same is that international adoption has allowed the Chinese government to turn its back on its own citizens, shirk their duties on social services, and make a buck at the same time.

And adoption agencies have been there from the beginning, offering this relief, becoming the catalyst, making it more possible and more attractive as a “solution” to this problem of women being born in equal numbers in a patriarchal society.

Adoptive parents I talk to ask, well, then, what are we supposed to do? Give up on China?

Yes. Don’t let the patriarchy win. Don’t support their efforts to cleanse their world of females. “Saving” a few lucky girls means telling the patriarchy it’s okay to hate women. And nothing changes the view of women more than economic power. So if you really want to save China’s girls, give the women a dollar and help them turn it into two dollars. Just like Korea’s women are working and becoming more powerful and asserting their rights, Korean parents are learning that empowered women take good care of them when they are old. Just as good, if not better, than their spoiled sons.

4 thoughts on “small world

  1. Wow. Yes, a small word!

    I knew an adoptee in Korea – a domestic adoptee- when I was child.

    She was the adopted daughter of the owners of my sister’s house. I learned it from Marie one day. The girl knew she was adopted. It wasn’t a secret for anyone.
    The first day of my reunion, my sister and my brother in law talked me about that girl. They asked me if I remember her well and if I knew she was adopted.

    Also, when I was at highschool, I met a Korean who was adopted by Koreans (domestically). I can estimate she was adopted between 1950-1960. I don’t know the details of her adoption, but it wasn’t a secret for her either. At the time I met her (1982-83), she had already found her birth mother since a while and she had contact with both of her mothers.

    It means that the two domestic Korean adoptees that I met in my life were part the of 10% – or the exception to the rules.

    I think that if Korea had no international adoption to rely on (as sending country), these two adoptees that I met wouldn’t be exceptions to the rules.

    When I came back from Korea, a woman of 40+ at my former church had just discover accidently she was adopted and she was in shock.

    Before becoming receiving countries, Canada (and other western countries), had similar thoughts about adoption. Adoption was kept secret too. Women faked pregnancy too. Western countries have evolve regarding adoption because they had no international adoption to rely on.

  2. I asked a Korean once, what people did with unwanted children in historic times, before international adoption. The answer was that they sent the children to monasteries, and they became monks. I imagine this was true in China too.

    However, I believe most family troubles resulted in inter-family adoptions amongst extended families and may have never been recorded officially as adoptions.

    I learned during the filming of the SBS documentary that abandoning a child was and is illegal in Korea. The huge number of abandonments reinforce in my mind how adoption agencies were the catalyst for these. Without the promise of better lives and easing burdens, how many of those children would have been accommodated in some other way? Most, I believe…

  3. I also belive that even in my time, those who were not caught by the adoption industry (or who didn’t know about the adoption agencies) were placed their children in inter-family adoptions.

    My best friend Young-Sook has her cousin living with them. I knew the cousin was living with them since a long time, until her mother could take her back.

    I also believe without the adoption industry, Korean would have found other solutions such as boarding homes.

    At St. Paul, some children were placed temporarily:

    My best friend Young-Hee had contact with her mother who was working near the orphanage for the nuns; she could she her whenever she wanted. Her sister also visited her often.

    One mother took back her two children who were placed temporarily when her situation had improved. The nun responsible responsible of taking the to-be-adopted children to Holt’s appointments tried hard to convince the mother to leave them to the orphanage. Thanks God, the mother didn’t listen to her.

    Another mother came to take back her two children that she had lost. The nuns and the driver of the orphanage ran after them and brought them back. They took the mother alone to the office. At the end of the day, the woman left alone without her children, leaving a third child, her youngest, to the orphanage.

    Since I was expecting the driver to find my father, the two times, I prayed silently that my father don’t let them convince him to leave me; then, because I thought of poverty that I’ve known with him, I thought of orphanage friends, and I prayed that he leaves me to orphanage but visits me every day.

  4. “My talks with Chinese adoptees and their parents are both irritating and interesting. They think their case is so different.”

    Oh… I know. They think they can escape the “mistakes” of the past entirely.

    I tell them that abandonment is the one mistake they can’t fix – which started it all, and is therefore why adoption just doesn’t always work out despite reading blogs and message boards and the like.

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