The Making of an Orphan

For a while one of Korea’s exports was its children.

April 1, 1951: Korean youngsters sit in a circle during playtime in United Nations’ orphanage on Cheju Island (AP/Photo)

April 1, 1951: Korean youngsters sit in a circle during playtime in United Nations’ orphanage on Cheju Island (AP/Photo)

It was an exodus of necessity as families were desperate to find better living situations for their children.

Although the 1951 war made orphans out of a lot of children, the economic crisis that soon followed, lasting through the eighties, saw Korean children adopted out to countries as far as the United States, Germany, and France, and making them orphans of a sort.  Separated from their culture, people, and language and entering into a crisis of identity and connection.  I think the fancy term for this is ‘displacement’.

I remember in college there was a course called something like THE DISPLACED PERSON that I didn’t manage to get into as enrollment was limited and, apparently, so was my writing at the time.  But I knew it was about me.

Jiwon at 3

Jiwon at 3

We came to NYC when I was around 2 and then I was sent back to live with my uncle and his family soon after as my parents decided that would be best being they were both working long hours to make it in the new country.

We are family

Coming to America

I guess you could say my uncle and aunt adopted me.  They tried to take care of me along with their three kids, making sure I was fed and clothed.  And my cousins were very loving towards me.  I thank them for that.  But though they did not beat me or make me empty out the cinder box, these people were not my parents.  Then as these things happen it was time for me to return to New York City after two years of living with my extended family.

Did you know you can be an orphan without actually meeting the official criteria?

Michael Holloway pictured as a child with his adoptive family  (Mu Films)

Michael Holloway pictured as a child with his adoptive family (Mu Films)

I wonder about the life I would have had in Korea.  Oh, I heart New York y’all, it’s a marvelous city to be in, displaced or not.  But a part of me was left behind in Korea and the search for that part of me through the years has defined who I am.

I wonder about all the Korean children who were adopted out to white families and how they must be searching too.  I especially find poignant the story of Michael Holloway who was adopted by a wonderful family in San Francisco and found out that he was an identical twin only when he became an adult.   His story is featured in a documentary titled GEOGRAPHIES OF KINSHIP (Mu Films).

Jiwon at 8

Jiwon at 8

We are neither here nor there.  We are here and there.

Read more on adoption and identity on:

Don’t We Look Alike

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