The legacy of American militaristic adventures includes an American soldier who fathers a child with a national of another country. In the case of Korea, mixed-race children were considered as a blight upon the blood-line, unworthy of being Korean. According to the system of census taking that existed in the 1960s, in order to be entered into the family registry, the child had to be fathered by a Korean man.
Children born of foreign fathers were unable to be registered, and therefore ineligible for essential government services, such as education and medical care. From the beginning, the bureaucracy conspired to erase knowledge of them from existence.
Korean women were crucial to Korea’s struggling economy, bringing into the economy desperately needed U.S. dollars. Though prostitution was ostensibly illegal, the government not only tolerated but abetted it. U.S. military and Korean local and national government officials coordinated efforts to regulate prostitution and monitor sex workers for sexually transmitted diseases. Both countries saw the sex trade as vital to keeping the massive contingent of U.S. troops in the country contented, and these women’s presence was deemed essential to the national economy.
The government making a profit off of women’s bodies did not stop with the sex trade. When these women had babies, another business opportunity presented itself. Americans like Henry Holt and Pearl S. Buck offered to take these unwanted children away. It turned out that white couples in wealthy nations would pay money for them.
And how do the profiteers make the export of children morally palatable ? By reframing the narrative from that of poverty, prostitution and military adventurism into one of rescue and redemption. By extirpating the past, doctoring documents, and rebranding the children as orphans.
These Korean children were not orphans. They had a mother. And a father, too, though most of these men returned to America before their progeny were even born.
An article in The Korea Times describes the lies that one woman discovered were her adoption file. Her father father was not Caucasian but Mexican American and she had Native American and Latino roots. Her mother’s name was an alias, the Korean equivalent of Jane Doe.
I know somewhat how that feels. I knew that Georgia Tann did not always tell the truth about the children she was placing for adoption to the prospective adoptive parents and so it was easy for me to see where she fudged (thankfully, the actual facts had been preserved because she was not yet covering her tracks at the time).
So back to the Korean woman’s story. Decades after the first children were adopted out, the Korean court system is being forced to confront the many legal issues that have arisen due to dubious adoption practices. The country is forced to accept back adoptees who have been deported from their home countries because their adoptive parents neglected to naturalize them.
Unlike Korea’s other major exports, adoptees are human beings. Cars, phones and refrigerators do not wonder about their origins, but human beings have a deep, innate need to know from whence they come. Korean adoptees are returning to Korea to search for their family, learn about their culture and recover their identity in ever increasing numbers. They are demanding answers, reform, legal equality, and their basic human right to know our origins.
By declaring these children orphans, the Korean government sought to erase them from their national history. By these adoptees searching to know their roots, they are bringing the dark truths to light.
One could say that knowing from whence you came is the universal adoptee calling.
You can read this woman’s essay here – Rewriting The Adoption Narrative by Alice Stephens