Here’s some highlights from Jeff Yang’s overview of PBS’s POV (Point of View) series on adoption (airing this month and available on their website as the series progresses), Born across borders, as seen in SFgate.com’s on-line magazine.
“What else can they do?” says Wang-Breal (Chinese adoptee and film maker). “She’s surrounded by white people in a very white town. She needs to make friends, she needs to do well in tests, she needs to read, she needs people to understand her. I grew up Asian in a small white town myself — I can relate. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of survival.”
On, “you would have ended up a prostitute”
“Making this film was fascinating,” she (Korean adoptee and film maker Deanne Borshay Liem) says (of searching for the other girl whose name and whose adoptive life she lived when their identities were deliberately swapped) “I got to meet all of these women who were the same age as me, but who’d followed different paths through life. And it really gave me a window as to how I could have ended up. One of the Cha Jung Hees I found runs a restaurant bar. Another is a farmer — she and her husband grow those Korean apple-pears, they have cattle, they raise honeybees. A third has had a variety of jobs; she was working as a wallpaper hanger when I met her. But they all were surviving — they all had kids in college!”
The experience of the search underscored two things for her: The first was that she could have survived, even thrived, had she stayed in Korea. (“Adoptees are always told that if they’d stayed in Korea they’d have ‘ended up as prostitutes,'” she says. “Well, that’s clearly not a given.”)
And on Adoption as a business:
“One adoptee I talked with told me that his parents showed him the picture that led them to pick him,” says Liem. “In the photo, he was crying and looked dirty. But he remembers that on the day he had that picture taken he was actually happy, and the photographer snapped a picture of him smiling. Then they put dirt on his face and forced him to change into raggy clothes, yelled at him, made him cry, and took a second picture. That’s the one his parents originally received. After his parents informed the orphanage they wanted to adopt him, they received the happy picture with a note saying ‘Look, this is how he feels now!'”
In a scene near the end of “Wo Ai Ni Mommy,” Jeff Sadowsky explains that Faith had recently asked him, “Why would you want a daughter from China?” His explanation: “Well, I’ve always been into things from China. I guess, from the martial arts — I’ve always been — I love China.” Donna quickly steps in to course-correct: “I told her, ‘I wanted a daughter, and you needed a family. We didn’t see you as being Chinese, we saw you as a beautiful girl who wanted a family.'”
Near the end he talks to a Korean adoptee friend who lives in Manhattan and found her birthmother living in Queens. It got me to thinking, maybe I should also send my story out to all of American, Australian & Canadian (the 3 top destinations for Korean Emigration) Korean communities. I mean, there I was living in Seattle for the past 24 years and the possible Kim Sook Ja has lived her whole adoptee life in Washington State, two hours drive away.
This adoption thing is SO BIZARRE and SURREAL at times, you can’t imagine how weird it is…
I mean, I’m living IN KOREA – how weird is that? And now back to the handwriting analysis and cross-referencing of names with the U.S. Census for an adoptee looking for her father with only an illegible signature to go by, and copy-editing my friend’s memoirs of her cherished life before adoption split up her family.