For every hour you travel away from Seoul, you also travel back in time a decade. There are less and less resources and it is more and more conservative. At this moment, in Daegu, a young woman is searching desperately for a place for her and her baby to live.
The young woman told the unwed mother’s home at first admittance that she wanted to keep the child. Five times the international adoption agency pressured her to give the child up while the child was still in utero. Five times. And this strong young woman still said no. How many unwed moms are not this strong? After the baby was born, she went to her pastor for help, and the pastor tried to convince her to give the child to him. And so, with no family to help her, no social services to help her, the unwed mother’s home merely wanting to exploit her, and even her pastor wanting what comes out of her loins, she is couch-surfing and looking for any way she can to keep her baby. As. I. write. this.
The Korean government has begun a new program to help Single Parents. It looks to be a great program. Unfortunately, it only helps Single Parents who were at one time legally married.
In a remote part of Jeju island, off the coast of S. Korea, is an unwed mother’s home. There is no t.v. or internet there. There is no job training. There are no real services to help a young woman should she want to keep her baby. But there IS adoption “counseling.”
An adoptee in her late 20’s tells how her reunion is the classic case of having to remain a secret. Her mother did not relinquish her. Her aunt took her and relinquished her. And so her mother was forced to create a life in her daughter’s absence, as if she’d never been born.
An adoptee sits and rots in jail in the U.S. Jane writes him regularly: she’s a saint. Odds are his mother did not relinquish him either. The trail back through time leads to an escort who took him to an adoption agency. These escorts were often paid by the agencies. These escorts were often midwives. These babies were often taken from their moms by the grandmothers or other family members. The midwife escorts could make money on both ends.
Another adoptee writes me and tells me her adoptee friend has been reunited with her mother. The mother said the adoption agency offered her money for the baby. I think the mom should know, since she was there…There was a period when my favorite international adoption agency purportedly offered $90 U.S. a head.
Now, can anyone TELL ME the PRESENCE of international adoption agencies doesn’t exert negative pressure in this country of my birth ??? I mean, can they really believe that? Even adoptees who grew up pampered and smothered with love?
No. I might have been convinced before, but not now. The truth is just shoved in my face all the time here.
You know, Koreans are prejudiced about adoptees: they assume we grew up pampered and are envious of us and our perfect English. And then they meet us and are clearly disturbed we can’t speak Korean and know next to nothing about Korea. They can’t fathom what an identity crisis really is, and it seems a small price to pay for luxury and perfect English (or French or…) and so the loss of identity can easily be dismissed.
But we didn’t “lose” our identity. Whether we had it great in our adopted families or whether we were abused in our adopted families; whether our new countries gave us opportunities or ostracized us; whether we assimilated or never fit in: we did not “lose” our identities. Our identities were TAKEN from us, and we were RIPPED from our country and quite often RIPPED from our mother’s arms under duress. Even me, a foundling: do you really think my parents would have left me on the street, in the middle of winter, if they didn’t know Holt was around collecting kids? No. My family was most likely torn apart by economic disparity. How much of the $500 my adoptive family paid for me could have gone towards preserving my original family in 1966 Korea?
This violence and assault to our person-hood (and our mothers) was done to us by our own country. It appeared first in the guise of aid from outsiders, which was gladly accepted to clean up some social problems, and now it is systemic and structural violence that is institutionalized.
And this violence is STILL HAPPENING TODAY. How many adopting parents even bother to come to Korea? How many have even seen their babies before picking them up at the airport? How many white people have those children ever seen in their lives? How many Korean words does the adopting parent know when they receive their baby? How many Asians will be in those children’s lives? The list goes on and on, and it’s a thousand little violences on top of the main violence that never actually goes away and is evident there every time you pass a reflection of yourself…
Today I was in the bookstore, once again trying to find resources to help me learn my lost native tongue, and I came across a cartoon history of Korea for foreigners. The history book ends with Harry Holt saving children after the war. It mentions the Holt’s continuing work with the handicapped and how Holt promotes domestic adoption. It fails to mention the staggering approximately 200,000 sent abroad for international adoption, the VAST MAJORITY not handicapped, and in the ABSENCE of war or famine or really any valid reason whatsoever.
You see, the real history of us 200,000 is always left out of history books. Because it’s not becoming. But it needs to be in there. But if it were really in there, then international adoption would come to a screeching halt. So there are forces preventing the real truth to be recorded. But it needs to end. Now. Not 60 years and 100,000 more babies. Because when Korean moms want to keep their babies, and when they turn for help, they shouldn’t be greeted by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
6 thoughts on “unfortunately, i couldn’t make this stuff up”
I was feeling so encouraged by the new push to support single mothers in Korea. Not now. Thanks for the caffeinated wake-up call.
Even the monetary support proposed for single moms is only for teen moms (and the majority of Miss Mama Mia activists are in their late 20’s and early 30’s, so they won’t get a dime for all their hard work)
But the legislation before the National Assembly is still an amazing work and very progressive and many of the proposals are even being incorporated even into the opposition’s draft due to the politics of falling birthrate here in Korea. So do feel encouraged and help spread the word that adoptees and single moms are united in preserving families, and that we’re getting things done. Err, rather JANE at TRACK, together with the COALITION of ASK and Miss Mama Mia are getting things done.
But there is a lot of work left to do…
The list could go on and on…
But the real work is humanizing moms and adoptees so Korean people will stop letting the adoption agencies take advantage of them and play on their shame when they are vulnerable.
Yes, the real work is so often in humanizing people. That is the biggest, most important work. And the hardest. But once people get it . . . success.
As long as prospective adoptive parents are lining up, the abuse will go on.
There are glimmers, though – another is Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, which is, if nothing else, sending a message that marriage and mothering are not inextricably entwined.
I would add that given the number of adoptees who learn they have intact families in Korea, married parents and siblings, plenty of attention needs to be paid to providing social support, and to ensuring that the “persuasive” social welfare folks don’t have access to struggling families.
my bad forgetting to mention KUMSN…
My god is right, Mei-Ling. btw, congrats on the article you wrote that’s been getting so much well-deserved attention. Send me the link so I can post it!