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From Discovering Identity to Embracing Adoption Social Work

I already launched a podcast episode about this topic, which you can find on our podcast page, but I decided it might be helpful to write a blog post as well for those who prefer visual material over audio. Like I mentioned in my podcast, I hadn't planned on sharing so much about my personal life when I started working at A Family Tree. However, I believe it may be helpful for others who find themselves in similar situations or are simply curious about the diverse range of experiences within the adoption spectrum.

Early Beginnings:

To provide some context, I should mention that my dad was adopted from Korea in the 1970s. The details of his adoption have always been a bit elusive and I've heard different stories over the years: that he was abandoned on the street, found in a dumpster, found by the police, etc. I know now that mixed race Korean babies- fathered by American GIs stationed in Korea- were ostracized by their fellow Koreans and the adoption industry experienced much success placing these children with American adoptive parents during and after the war. In the wake of Japanese imperialism and the two wars that desolated Korea in the fight against communism, the adoption industry began expanding its reach to other marginalized groups including single mothers, impoverished families, and children with disabilities, going so far as to coerce parents into placing their children for adoption. As far as we know, my father is fully Korean, but given this information, I will always wonder if the narrative that my father was abandoned- the same story told to thousands of children that were adopted internationally- is true.

Although I'm unsure of his exact age when he was "discovered", it is known that he spent some time in an orphanage and later with a foster family, which I'll touch upon later. Eventually, he was adopted by his parents when he was around three years old. During that time, adoptive parents didn't have to travel to Korea; instead, my dad and many other Korean babies were flown from Korea to New York, where his family awaited his arrival.

Growing Up:

While growing up, my family didn't talk much about my dad's adoption, but I always knew he was adopted. Similarly, discussions about our racial identity were limited. My mom's side of the family is white, and my maternal grandfather emigrated from the Netherlands so I was consistently exposed to Dutch culture and heritage, which became familiar to me. Whenever someone asked about my background, as a young child, I proudly declared that I was Dutch, despite my mixed Korean and white appearance. This often confused people, but I couldn't remember the word "Korean" at the time. I have other memories surrounding my racial identity, like receiving Asian dolls as gifts from my dad's family and feeling so confused because I saw myself as white. There was an incident when I unintentionally made derogatory remarks about Asians, and was scolded by my parents. This experience and others led me to believe that being different was somehow bad, instead of recognizing that discrimination was the problem, not my identity.

Searching for Identity:

My dad's adoption has always played a gentle tune in the background of our lives. It didn't directly mirror the experiences of every Asian person in America, but it did shape my dad's lack of connection to his racial identity and cultural heritage, which subsequently affected my own identity. I don't blame him for not exposing us to these aspects because he never had access to them himself. Unfortunately, this led to internalized racism and shame. I've read stories of Asian immigrants in America who went through similar experiences and had to fight to reconnect with their culture. However, I've always felt like I've been fighting for something I never truly had.

Discovering my Path:

A few years ago, I came to Hawaii, drawn by its predominantly Asian community, in search of understanding what that experience was like. While completing my social work degree, I decided to delve into my adoption story and learn more about my dad's background. I started by researching the history of Korea, learning about its culture, and familiarizing myself with the adoption process. As I delved deeper into the subject, I realized that the emotional impact of adoption extends far beyond the adoptee and touches every member of the family. I became captivated by the complexities surrounding adoption, the profound effect it has on identity formation, and the various challenges adoptees face throughout their lives.

After completing my studies, I pursued a career in adoption social work to help other adoptees navigate their own journeys. My goal is to provide support, guidance, and resources to adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth families, assisting them in understanding the emotional and psychological dynamics of adoption. I also aim to advocate for policies that protect the rights and well-being of adoptees, ensuring they have access to their birth records and the opportunity to connect with their birth heritage if desired.

My own journey has shaped my perspective and fueled my passion for this field. It's not just about my story; it's about all the individuals whose lives are touched by adoption. Each story is unique, and each person deserves to be heard, understood, and supported. I hope that by sharing my experience and working in adoption social work, I can make a positive impact on the lives of those who are on their own adoption journeys.

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