an open letter to mr. stephen thatcher, of Me & Korea

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.49.27 PM.png

In which I respond to Mr. Stephen Thatcher’s commentary from the Me&Korea May 2019 inaugural adoption conference. Mr. Thatcher is a Korean adoptee. Find his statement on page 93.

Dear Stephen,

It’s with great professional restraint that I don’t open my letter with a descriptive passage detailing my initial reaction to your Conference on Adoption essay. Instead, I’ve stepped back, breathed a few times, and hopefully composed myself enough to make myself cogent and clear.

Far from being representative and inclusive of Korean adoptees’ perspectives, your antagonistic and sweeping generalizations dismiss a swath of experiences in five judgemental pages.

Many Korean adoptees indeed encountered racism within their adoptive families and communities. This racism isn’t an “obsession,” as you described; it’s a societal fact that impacts how people of color identify themselves and develop self-worth. Evidence is not on your side, Mr. Thatcher, as color and racial issues–even within biracial and monoracial biological families–has well-documented negative effects. Please, feel free to ask for resources for this statement.

You also state:

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.13.54 PM

Wow indeed, sir, that you overlook a child’s rights when determining “worthy” placements. I’d reword this and call it “healthy” instead. If you truly care about these “orphans,” as you describe us, wouldn’t you agree that a racially competent home–one that can adequately support a child of color and their unique cultural heritage–would be best? I mean, you say it yourself:

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.30.44 PM.png

Obviously, no one with a heart wants children living on the streets. But we also don’t want them growing up blinded by their gratitude at the expense of their race.

You also claim adoptees “sensationalize” their experiences:

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.20.05 PM

Here’s where I’ll drop my professional courtesy and respond as myself:


In one word, you’ve handwaved a lifetime of struggle many Korean adoptees face. You dismiss it as unimportant, and downplay it as being propaganda to push an anti-adoption agenda; which is funny, because your agenda to disparage and smear other adoptees seems more community-breaking than people telling their truths.

Adoption needs these stories you find so unpalatable because if you truly want to improve it and make it better, we have to learn from our mistakes. And yes, in some cases adoptions were made to parents who had no business adopting transracially. Rather than spitting on the adoptee stories you believe are repugnant lies, you should embrace them. Humans run adoption agencies; humans are imperfect. We get blinded by love and charity but forget that bad things happen to good people and good people get rejected while sneaky ones get pushed through.

You’ve also seemed to confuse classist issues with what some adoptees are really saying:

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.29.24 PM.png

I can’t mindread, but this seems suspiciously like you’re referring to some adoptees as whiny brats unhappy they didn’t get the toys they wanted, instead of seeing their lives as cautionary tales. Again, I’m not a mindreader but it seems you are:

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.32.28 PM.png

No one can fully understand or appreciate why an adoptee might objectively look at their adoption and those of others with less-than-ideal outcomes and become against it. You, like me, can’t possibly know what “reality” any of us would face had we not been adopted. I found out my family regretted sending me away. I love my birth family. My adoptive family abused me. But I can still critically look at transracial adoption and understand that these things happen, but it’s on people like me–not myopic generalists–to fix it.

Having gotten this off my heaving chest, I wonder: Do you consider me anti-adoption? Based on my responses to you and work, would you judge me as having been so shortsighted I’d be unable to determine how “bad” my life would be in Korea and how great I had it in the United States?

You likely would, but unsurprisingly, you’d be incorrect. For all my adoptive mother’s flaws, she taught me what assuming means. I am not, in fact, “anti-adoption,” but do believe a firm overhaul of transracial and intercountry adoption systems need work. This work needs to be in the child’s best interest and based on sound, unbiased scholarly research and not rants against people with whom you disagree.

For my part, I am happy for you and your adoption outcome. I agree orphanages and institutions are not equipped for long-term childhood care. And, obviously, I agree that

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.43.56 PM

but what you miss is adoption is a result of a child’s loss. Adoption promises a better life. If adoptive parents are unqualified despite their best interests, are we really doing this orphan army justice?

I’d also like to close this letter by answering one of your (presumably) rhetorical questions:

Screenshot 2019-05-10 at 12.47.05 PM.png

Yes, I have. Yes, I do. And maybe you should do the same for those who see things differently than yourself.

Feel free to reach me any time. My lines of communication are always open.

Thank you,


my mission, examined

I’ve always been transparent and believe in disclosing my work and reasons for why I started this blog, and how I intend to continue.

I didn’t set out to be a writer. That was a profession revealed to me through your support. Initially, my goal–as it remains–was to compile an autoethnography of transracial adoption, using my life as the basis for a critical text on race, adoption, and the American family. I still intend to complete that book, one day. But it would seem, like any well-intentioned plan, my mission has slightly transformed.

I briefly put on hold my larger project, choosing instead to focus on building an audience (perhaps to prove to myself that people really do care?) so that, should I ever approach an agent or large publishing house for consideration, I could say, “Yes, people are reading this stuff!” In my quest to build a presence, I found instead a community rife with anger, misplaced blame, and desperation to be heard. Though my online interactions remained secondary to writing, I discovered my scholarly research would fit comfortably alongside this social discovery of truth.

At some point, I realized that I was an expert only on myself. I still had little working insight into the system still creating adoptees and their traumas; to remedy this gap, I recalled a book called I Speak for this Child, by Gay Courter. I read this several years ago, before my unfortunate hospitalization but after my slow awakening to adoption’s more sinister side effects. It described a woman’s experience as a Guardian ad Litem, or what is called in New Jersey and other jurisdictions a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA):

CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

Volunteering would be my next step to legitimizing my work, so I applied, went through training, and am now a CASA with an active case. (And yes, I know more about the child welfare system than before and I’m encouraged to only work harder.)

Throughout this time, I made and continuing to make new connections with the Asian American community. Although this wasn’t part of my initial strategy, I certainly welcomed these friendships and I’m thrilled at the relationships I’ve formed. It’s through these connections that I’ve cautiously re-examined my role as an Asian woman, questioning–finally–if my discomfort with my race was my fault, or taught. As I continue therapy and forging connections, I’m strongly leaning toward the latter.

What I’ve discovered is non-White community’s need for transracial adoptee voices, something I suspected before setting out on this mission but am content my hunches were confirmed. After all, transracial adoptees spent our lives entangled with Whiteness, not by our choice but by theirs, so the more reflective of us will understand our unique insight into power, privilege, and how both of those aren’t necessarily passed on to us.


Despite this forward momentum, I realized I hadn’t shared my reason for being here, and it’s possibly because I wasn’t exactly sure.

Because of the work I’m doing and the voices speaking up, I see a different future now.

I see a future where those separated from their original families, their rightful heritages, and their intimate histories will link arms while shouting a unified cry for change, rallying for a peace we never experienced.

I see us all, those adopted ones, rising upwards out of grief’s relentless torment, leaving our losses not behind but standing on them to build a stronger future for anyone following our tumultuous paths.

I see us casting stones, finally, at the windows that allowed others to only gaze in at us, trapping us with unrealistic expectations and toxic values, while we–the begotten–see the true weakness in those lies.

I see us gazing outward for the first time in our lives, strengthened by the comfort in our own truths. For once, we’ll stare directly at the policies and legalities and structures directly, seeing clearly they weren’t made for us, but about us.

And I see those who long since watched us emerge from a biology unknown listening as we proclaim ourselves no longer the world’s begotten children, the poor waifs, the needy.

I see them stopping to hear us, not as an angry spiteful mob but a chorus built by fearlessness; they will see us, not as victims of a broken system but as survivors whose towering strength demand they listen.

I see us finally fulfilling not someone else’s dreams but our own, working together with those who long since imagined themselves our keepers. And as we at last come to this victory, we will chant

We belong,
We belong,
We belong.


Perhaps this is idealism. Maybe, but I draw this confidence from you, the one who speaks up and the one who is forcing yourself to listen.

For me, I see myself one day standing together with my son, gazing toward a future where his generation and the ones after will be the instigators of a great empathy we ourselves still do not know. I hope one day my words and your words and those of so many others will coalesce into an apex of bravery, so our work will finally create a future revised.

And that, my friends, is why I do what I do. I will relentlessly pursue this work so our lives will matter to those who want to forget us. I will never soften a painful truth because if I survived it, those listening should survive its telling. I enjoy what I do, and I do it for myself, for you, and for those who will inevitably come next.

facing forward, looking back

I’ll admit it: My work is an unapologetic retrospective dissection of transracial adoption’s history from the 1950s up until my 1980s debut, with a strong tendency toward dwelling on the past to justify the present. I recognize the danger in doing this; I may be stuck gazing into the looking-glass while real progress blows by, making my viewpoints obsolete and discrediting the industry’s great strides.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Today I’d like to spend some time discussing how my experiences – and many others – shaped transracial adoption’s current landscape. Although my history may have been traumatic, I know that they weren’t all for naught.

However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do. Younger generations of transracial adoptees (TRAds) and their parents (TRAps) may have access to more resources than their forebears (Facebook, Families with Children from China, etc., are awesome), but it’s crucial to acknowledge the rocky path that brought them together.

In one way, this new generation of TRAds enjoys the United States’ overall improved racial awareness. What was acceptable several decades ago (Long Duck Dong’s character in Sixteen Candles, for example) would never fly today.

Yeah, not okay.

They’re living during an era of same-sex marriages, same-sex parenting, single parenting, and stay-at-home dads (which aren’t without their own sets of controversies but are a huge improvement over the past).  Thirty-plus years ago, none of this was openly discussed.

An adoptee’s inherent losses aren’t diminished, though; grief is adoption’s timeless quality. But the awareness of and the support for this grief marks the distinct contrast between TRAds now and TRAds then.

A conversation with a friend and TRAp of a South Korean boy reveals the differences between our experiences. Her adoption agency encouraged interactions with her son’s foster parents and even promoted writing a letter to the orphanage in case the birth family ever comes searching. This is in direct contrast to the proxy adoptions touted by the same agency in the eighties, when adopting didn’t require a country visit and were completely closed.

Also, homeland visits are encouraged by both agencies and parents and have become a right of passage for many adoptees. Since the overall income bracket of TRAds and TRAps has gone up since the eighties, such trips may be a reality – unlike for me, where it was described as a distant dream.

Based on my friend’s reports, modern TRAps realize the importance of emphasizing culture, versus back in my day when colorblindness was key. Again, this is a move in the right direction, but she pointed out that most of the activities are fairly superficial (as I proposed on ICAV’s site), like celebrating holidays or eating a child’s ethnic food. Still, this is more than what I received – I never even used chopsticks until I was a sophomore in college.

What’s important to remember – and from which I won’t waver – is that it wasn’t always this way. Early adoptees are struggling with the wounds left by a societal experiment gone awry; only now are we seeing the damage it inflicted. Not only that, but we must acknowledge that in transracial adoption, there will be a permanent racial gap between parents and adoptees, requiring a lifetime of sensitivity and compassion to keep from widening.

The beauty, though, is that we have the power to shape the system. We did an early tour of duty through a country that didn’t know how to handle us, yet we persisted; now we are qualified to speak about our experiences for the benefit of those who come after us.

So ironically, maybe those who called us lucky were right. We are lucky because our suffering has turned our lives into stories for change. Our loving but sometimes unprepared parents forced us to forge our own paths, to confront head-on the racism and disconnect we’d forever feel as outsiders; but we don’t have to dwell on this, to ruminate on it as the fate of our lives. We are the agents who can help rewrite society’s concept of family.

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!

i don’t hate my parents

There. I said it. So now that we’ve taken care of that, let me explain.

Two unshakable fears follow me from word to sentence to paragraph as I continue through this project. One includes being accused of parental ingratitude, unable to just accept my situation and grow up. The other involves being on the receiving end of the Internet’s wrath. I can handle that one.

But let’s sit with that first fear for a bit.

To an adoptee, “gratitude” implies being blissfully happy with your life circumstances, taking the good with the bad and accepting it over whatever the alternatives may have been. But it’s a loaded expectation. It silences a person’s ability to question their own upbringing. It’s also a powerful denial (and sometimes a way to blame the adoptee) of any unfortunate experiences.

So why the silence?

First, there exists in the literature an implication of the American savior complex. When I was adopted more than three decades ago, there was a persisting post-war mentality that our neighbors to the East were backward, third-world, and in need of American intervention. This attitude pervaded the original marketing materials for Korean adoption and helped satisfy America’s growing nationalism – after all, what God-fearing American citizen didn’t want to offer their home to a “Korean waif”?

Second, because of this climate, transracial adoption as a concept was publically viewed as the Ultimate Good Deed. Opening your home to a “needy” child certainly cannot be a punishable offense. But this glowing picture overshadowed the growing controversy surrounding the original Korean orphan advocate, Harry Holt, who was criticized for his unconventional adoption practices.

Nevertheless, the picture of the Asian as a “quiet, trouble-free, responsible and achieving people” persisted – and then I arrived. These jumbled assumptions provided for one loaded welcome, with high expectations and an underlying presumption of an eternally happy child.

But that’s just the problem – that child grows up.

And here’s where I am today – just an ordinary person with thoughts and reflections on her life, coupled with the desire to help validate others’ experiences. I happen to be adopted, but that’s not how I define myself. And neither should any adoptee, since that’s a label assigned to us that wasn’t of our choosing.

So now it’s my turn to tell my story, to stave off a history of puzzled expressions and intrusive questions and forced explanations of my personal history. It’s a validation for anyone who was ever confronted with an outright rejection of their tentative criticisms of their parents, family, or racial identity crises – you are not alone, you are not wrong, and to some degree, our struggles were predicted by concerned researchers over fifty years ago.

I will explore many of the concepts in each post in more depth in my book, but I hope you enjoy my ongoing thoughts and contribute your own so we can have an insightful conversation. I love hearing different viewpoints and your feedback will help me develop a better final product that’s really made for you.

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!

no, i’m not “anti-adoption”

This has become a point of contention for many people. I’ve decided to repost this just as a friendly reminder.

I am not an absolutist, especially in very human situations like adoption and race.

People must remember not to confuse critical discussion with opposition. Real change can’t happen unless we allow ourselves to think openly and analytically.


Updated 5/31/18

Before you angrily push the “share” button and furiously type a non-flattering explanation of my site, I’ll clarify my position: I am not anti-adoption, nor am I happily bouncing my way into that “pro-” category.

Thanks to the Internet’s uniquely divisive nature, I need to proclaim my stance in the most neutral, succinct way. And here it goes:

yawning cat - leusink
Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

I am “adopt transracially with extreme prejudice.”

This means:

  • Doing legit research (not just blogs, reddit groups, or other online echochambers)
  • Realistically evaluating your understanding of race and your attitudes toward it
  • Reviewing the community in which you live and objectively assessing its ethnic-friendliness
  • Reading perspectives from both sides of the adoption experience and anticipating potential issues

It also means really, truly sitting with your expectations for transracial adoption and really, truly, honestly appraising your ability to provide for the unique needs of a transracial child.

This may mean listening to anyone else but your family and friends and maybe hearing a transracial adoptee’s (TRAd) perspective, peppered with some honest-to-goodness academic research.

Since there are no hard and fast guidelines established yet for navigating these complexities, I’ll offer suggestions (not solutions) based on forty-plus years of research on the subject and leave you to determine what best works for your family. My hope is that you’ll find some common threads that pull it all together and pick out what works for you.

If you are considering transracial adoption,  this site’s for you.

If you are a transracial adoptive parent (TRAp), this site’s for you.

If you are a TRAd, this site’s for you.

If you are simply interested in exploring racial complexities and how adoption isn’t the solution to ending racial problems, then I think you’ll want to sit and stay awhile.

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!