Happy 17th Birthday, KAAN!

common ground


On this day in 1998, a group of Korean government leaders, Korean-American leaders, adoptee leaders, and adoptive parent leaders met in Sacramento for a leadership summit that led to the founding of KAAN. “We brought prominent invited leaders from across the United States to speak, and they spoke eloquently. Yet, as a grass roots organization, KAAN has always felt every voice in the adoption community has value. We allowed all adoption community members in attendance at the leadership conference to speak if they wanted to do so, because the network we were forming would belong to all of us connected to Korean adoption,” writes founder Chris Winston in her book, A Euro-American on a Korean Tour at a Thai Restaurant in China.

As we continue to grow and mature an as organization, this vision still guides us. Our 17th annual conference features a host of insightful speakers, some well-known…

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Am I Being Paranoid? Being a Woman of Color in Academia

SIUE Women's Studies Program

Today’s post comes to us from Prof. Saba Fatima.  Earlier this semester, Prof. Fatima gave a lecture as part of the Women’s Studies Event Series entitled “Women of Color in the Academy and Epistemic Doubt,” and it was one of those lectures that made all of us in attendance think about issues in new ways.  I also left thinking how lucky I am to have colleagues like Saba–smart, wonderfully articulate, and fearless.  In this post, you’ll get a bit of all of that.  

This blog post builds on the talk Prof. Fatima’s gave at SIUE this March, and advances her ideas as she prepares for a talk she is giving at a conference entitled “Exploring Collaborative Contestations and Diversifying Philosophy,” co-sponsored by Hypatia, the leading feminist philosophy journal, and the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women.  (The SIUE Women’s Studies Program is happy to be joining the Philosophy Department and…

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Advice to my Younger Self #4theNextGen #FliptheScript

A few weeks ago two undergraduates working on assignments at institutions on the respective coasts interviewed me. Their questions centered on my lived experiences as an adopted person who grew up in a predominately white environment. They also sought to better understand how I locate my civic engagement within the broader adoption community. But more importantly, their questions prompted my interest concerning the advice I would give to my younger self.

This desire to provide guidance also was shaped by participating in the inaugural video in new series from the An-Ya Project, the Lost Daughters, and KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network) in my capacity as KAAN’s Assistant Director. The series aims to engage with adopted and fostered youth as well as members of the wider adoption constellation. In many ways it serves to complement the edited volume Dear Wonderful You (2014) published by the An-Ya Project. Please see the press release for more information.

Below is what I would say to the younger me:

  • Be fierce. Feed your hunger for knowledge. If it was not for my personal passion to learn more about Asian American history and American militarism in Asia, I would never have gained knowledge about the No Gun Ri and My Lai massacres in Korea and Vietnam, respectively. My knowledge of internment would have been limited to the high school curriculum. My passion for history and increasing my comprehension of the Korean War would have been stifled. At the same time, I would never have stumbled across websites like ModelMinority.com or Monolid To fourteen-year-old girl in the suburbs of Western New York these sites quenched my thirst for Asian American community.
  • Your birth search is your search; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. As I noted in my interview, be assertive and tell individuals that while you appreciate their help, this is not their search. To this end, be clear that comments such as “don’t you know your birth parents could die” are hostile aggressions that make assumptions that all adoptees search at the same time. This is not to minimize the loss experienced by adoptees or birth parents that discover that their birth parents or children, respectively, have passed on. Rather, this aggressive comment illustrates the emotional manipulation that occurs in conversations between adoptees and non-adopted persons. To threaten the potential death of a parent positions the adoptee as somehow deficient for not searching immediately. It also does not recognize that birth search is a complex journey for all parties involved. But more importantly, what we fail to realize is that not all adoptees elect to search. Instead we have come to see search as a natural part of the adopted person’s experience. The assumption that one searches implicitly renders those who do not search as pathological. At the same time, we cannot make assumptions concerning why adoptees decide to embark on a birth search.

This advice is what I told my younger self as I spoke alongside fabulous, strong women affiliated with the An-Ya Project and the Lost Daughters – Diane Rene Christian, Mei-Mei Ellerman and Amanda Transue Woolston. Yet, there’s two other pieces of advice I wish I could have told my eighteen-year-old self:

  • Anyone who tells you that they “feel bad that your parents are white” undermines your lived reality. This microaggression assumes that there is only a singular Asian American experience. But don’t be surprised if you encounter this comment. Do feel empowered to stand up for yourself.
  • There is not a single authentic Asian American experience. I entered my undergraduate institution with the hopes that I would “find my Asian self.” I joined the Asian Student Association. I chartered the first Asian-interest sorority in the District of Columbia. And yet, what I realized during my final semester of undergrad is that Asian Americans represent a multiplicity of experiences. Rather we’re part of a broader constellation of histories woven together as a result of a legacy of anti-Asian sentiment in the US, American imperialism, and Asian American activism.

As I witness generations of adoptees coming together across space, place, and time on deterritorialized and asynchronous platforms (e.g. blogs and Facebook) as well as through synchronous medium such as Twitter, I remain hopeful. Adoptees are seeing themselves part of a broader community. They are witnessing adult adoptee voices being centered and honored as legitimate experiences in adoption-related debates, research, and conversations.

Meeting Philip Goldstein: The Adoptee Enters Abraham Lincoln Middle School

Adoptees on Twitter and Facebook were abuzz about Fresh Off the Boat’s episode eight, “Philip Goldstein,” which aired on primetime Tuesday, March 10. While excited about seeing an adoptee entering this Asian American production, a palpable disappointment seemed to be felt by folks who thought it failed to accurately portray the nuances of adoptee identity.

I suggest that the disappointment over the episode is similar to communities of color regarding the one-dimensional portrayals of Walter and the school janitor in previous episodes. Viewers are only privy to Eddie’s perspective. My hope is that we will see more of Albert Tsai’s character (Philip Goldstein). (Note: I loved him as Bert in Trophy Wife. He’s one of the younger representations of male Asian adoptees seen in television as both Bert and Philip).

I will grant you that the episode was not perfect regarding its representation of adoption. However, I do think it did get some things right. They exposed stereotypes/archetypes that plague Asian Americans.

  • We pretend race doesn’t exist. Case in point, Principal Hunter does not want to say that Philip is Chinese in his office as he’s talking with Eddie about the new student
  • We believe all Asians look the same
  • All Asians are best friends with one another
  • Racial microaggressions may be perpetuated by those in power (e.g. Principal Hunter’s idea of the Pacific Rim Club)

But more importantly we witnessed an exploration of cultural identity and how adoptees become enmeshed in the culture of their adoptive families. We also see how Philip conflates Jewish religious identity with whiteness. In other words, the traditions of Judaism serve as an avenue for the adoptee – Philip – to claim and exercise his culturally white identity.[1] Philip serves as an exaggerated archetype for adoptees’ cultural whiteness. I contend that Philip embodies adoptees’ desire for acceptance within their adoptive families. Lacking access to Chinese culture, Philip latches on to the one culture that he is exposed to – Jewish culture and whiteness. In doing so, Philip seeks to be that perfectionist adoptee, becoming the model adoptee – one that believes in his (cultural) whiteness in order to mask the visible racial difference. By performing Jewishness, Philip presents viewers an over-the-top, in your face portrayal of adoption as the erasure of positive ethnic/racial identity.

In their performance of “whiteness,” adoptees represent what Butler describes as “an ideal that no one can embody” as the parody of “whiteness” fails in its mimicry.[2] For the adoptee can never be white in that he/she will never gain “white” physical countenance, even if he/she obtains cultural whiteness. To this end, Tobias Hübinette contends that adoptees’ pastiche of whiteness is similar to the performances of “ethnic drags and cross-dressers, transvestites or even transsexuals or the transgendered who are troubling, mocking and parodying supposedly fixed racial, ethnic, and national identities and belongings.”[3] I locate my analysis of Philip within this understanding of adoptees’ whiteness. Viewers are left with a palpable discomfort by his dis-identification with Eddie and more importantly, Chinese culture. The juxtaposition between Eddie Huang and Philip is never more evident than when Philip rejects Eddie’s food in favor of gefilte fish and then Jessica Huang’s snack that she included in her son’s lunch. Due to this performance of whiteness, Kevin Vollmers suggests that in this particular episode, Fresh off the Boat underscores how adoptees are not “Asian enough, ” for example.

Even as his performance of whiteness fails, all is not initially lost. Philip is read as the perfect Chinese son in the eyes of Jessica Huang, even if he does eat her food. His musical prowess and academic success make him more of a match for her than Eddie. But this honorary “Asianness” comes crashing down when Philip leaves Eddie alone at a theatre believing that he lost his new friend. Coming face to face with Philip at the Goldstein home, Jessica Huang proclaims: “You’re not a good Chinese boy.” Nicole Soojung Callahan notes, “[T]hat is a really loaded line when it’s directed at an adoptee.” Specifically it addresses adoptees’ insecurities concerning their authenticity as Asian Americans. In other words, that because of his adoption, Philip is not really Asian. While we know that this is not the case, these words can have damaging effects on adoptees’ psyches. Yet this inauthenticity also may arise for Asian Americans who find consider themselves to be culturally white or American and are called twinkies or bananas.

We cannot believe a single show will capture the nuances of all Asian American experiences. However, I remain hopeful that Fresh off the Boat will further develop Philip, so viewers can witness the tensions and complexities of adoption. Viewers have witnessed the writers tackle whiteness head on, so perhaps there is a chance to see the whiteness associated with adoption unpacked. After all, viewers finally saw the sliver of character growth with Walter as the episode ended with him and Eddie bonding over the Beastie Boys.

[1] In her memoir Invisible Privilege (2000), Paula Rothenberg deconstructs whiteness and Jewish identity.

[2] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 139.

[3] Tobias Hübinette, “Disembedded and Free-floating Bodies Out-of-place and Out-of-control: Examining the Borderline Existence of Adopted Koreans,” Adoption & Culture: The Interdisciplinary Journal of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture 1, no. 1 (2007): 143.

Announcing A New Collaborative Video Project

I’m excited to be participating in this great video series.

common ground


Brought to you by:
The AN-YA Project, KAAN, The Lost Daughters

Dear Wonderful You, #FliptheScript: For the Next Generation will be a campaign which reaches out, via video and social media, to the upcoming generation of adopted and fostered youth. Beginning March 2015, weekly videos will be posted on the AN-YA Project’s YouTube Channel. Videos will feature adoptees (current members of the collaborating organizations) who will answer the question “What would you say to a younger you?” The purpose of this project is to compile a broad spectrum of adoptee reflections and wisdom which offers support and encouragement to our youth. This campaign will run until November 2015.

The public may participate in this campaign, via social media, using the hashtags—
#FliptheScript; #4theNextGen


The AN-YA Project is a collective writing project featuring the works of adoptees & adults who were fostered as youth. Its mission…

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Difference, Development & Transracial Adoption

Allies and Agitators

Recently, we were interviewed for a magazine article about transracial adoptive parenting and we decided to offer our written response to the interviewers questions here in full:

It’s not the same or as if, it’s different. If we think from this perspective then everything in adoption is normal.

JOY: There is nothing simple about adoption. If we accept that understanding adoption, race and identity is on a developmental continuum over an adoptee’s entire lifetime, then we see that an adoptee’s work is never done but evolving. The concept of the perfect checklist for an adoptive parent is void. There is no one checklist on how to do these conversations “right”, just like there are no two adoptees who are the same, no two families that are the same. I believe it is important that non-adopted white adoptive parents and the larger community understand the essential and expectable path that…

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Why I #ThinkOutsidetheBabyBox: Let’s #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes

Since the recent US release of the documentary, The Drop Box, the adoption community has been buzzing about its mischaracterization of the actual conditions in South Korea for unwed mothers and their children. Focus on the Family is sponsoring the limited American theatre release. Allegedly aiming to aid the “most vulnerable members of society,” The Drop Box positions itself as the fail-safe option to prevent children from life roaming the streets of South Korea. Pastor Lee (who maintains the drop box) and the filmmakers reinforce an outdated Christian American trope concerning orphans and children of unwed mothers.

Faith+Love+HopeThe South Korean baby box is out of step with UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, who have called for the end of this outdated practice.[1] Committee member Maria Herczog notes: “These boxes violate children’s rights and also the rights of parents to get help from the state to raise their families.” Specifically, as noted by The Guardian, “baby hatches violate key parts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which says children must be able to identify their parents and even if separated from them the state has a ‘duty to respect the child’s right to maintain personal relations with his or her parent’.” In her paper, “Anonymous Relinquishment and Baby-Boxes: Life-Saving Mechanisms or a Violation of Human Rights?,” Claire Fenton-Glynn finds: “[T]here is a need to reassess the way in which society deals with the issue of child abandonment, placing a greater emphasis on the rights of the child, and achieving a real balance between these and the rights of the mother.”

In her article on the baby box and Pastor Lee, Stephanie MacDonald reports: “The children will most likely live at orphanages until they turn 18 or 19. They cannot be adopted internationally because they haven’t been formally relinquished and Pastor Lee said it is not common for them to be adopted in South Korea.” To this end there is not a guarantee the child will become registered which is critical for the child to legally exist. This is not to say that registration of an abandoned child cannot occur under Korean law. Jane Jeong Trenka points out the existing Family Registration Law’s Article 52 (Abandoned Children) was used to falsely register adoptees to enable their international adoptions.

Furthermore, you also have to wonder who is actually abandoning the children. To assume that only biological parents are the ones giving up the child would ignore decades long practices of family members and acquaintances that have relinquished children without the biological parents’ consent. This has been widely documented through personal narratives within the Korean adoption community as well as in the international adoption community more broadly. Arguably, the baby box sets up a system that will continue a legacy of falsified international adoptions and what David Smolin calls, child laundering – the misuse of current international adoption system to illegally remove children from birth parents and “use the official processes of the adoption and legal systems to ‘launder’ them as ‘legally’ adopted children.” To this end, Shannon Heit asks:

Over the past 60 years, Korea has sent over 200,000 children for adoption, and many of our birth records, like mine, were falsified or altered. Because of this, the success rate for birth family searches is a mere 2.7 percent. Is Korea going to repeat this record of human rights violations or work to ensure that this never happens again? If the intention of those arguing to revise the Special Adoption Law is truly in “the best interest of the child,” shouldn’t they be listening to the voices of adoptees? 

To read more from SFacts about unwed mothershannon Heit about the baby box, check out: “Why I am an adoptee who is against the baby box.” And yet she is not alone in advocating against the baby box as a viable option for child abandonment. During the Los Angeles screenings of the film, Adoptee Solidarity Korea – Los Angeles is hosting a #ThinkOutsideTheBabyBox teach-in. The featured images in this post are from their teach-in materials.

Adoption should not be the first option nor should abandonment. As I have written about before, adoption is a reproductive justice issue. We should be advocating for women’s rights to parent in South Korea and around the world. This means learning more about the work of organizations like KUMFA (Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association and their allies, including Adoptee Solidarity Korea and TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community in Korea). Currently, the South Korean government’s rate of support per month, per child, is as follows:

  • Family group home facility: 1,070,000 won
  • Child welfare facility (orphanage): 1,050,000 won
  • Foster care: 250,000 won
  • Domestic adoptive parents: 150,000 won (unconditional)
  • Single parents, including unwed and divorced parents: 70,000 won (only after proving they fall under the poverty line)

Why are we inhibiting South Korean women’s right to parent? Why are individuals advocating abandonment over family preservation in their support for the baby box? And finally, what does it mean that supporters are complicit in creating a new generation who lacks access to correct information concerning their biological families?

Ethical adoption practices are needed if adoption remains an alternative to motherhood. At the same time, we should be supporting family preservation. Adoption cannot serve as the only social welfare safety net for low-income families or single parents. We need to work to dismantle what I call the transnational adoption industrial complex (TAIC) – a neo-colonial, multi-million dollar global industry that commodifies children’s bodies. The TAIC encompasses how the Korean social welfare state, the orphanage, adoption agencies, and American immigration legislation facilitate the development of transnational adoption between the two nations.[2]

[1] Please note that South Korea is not the only nation who still maintains baby boxes. In fact, the State of Indiana is currently deciding on whether or not it too should introduce this method of child abandonment.

[2] My examination of the transnational adoption industrial complex will appear in forthcoming issue of Journal of Korean Studies. I will share the link once it is available online.