Hi Dad!

Gratuitous photo from when my dad and his wife visited me in Minnesota one year ago. We went to the Minnesota State Fair, St. Catherine University, the Spam Museum, Mill City Museum, James J. Hill House, Minnesota History Center, Mall of America, Punch Pizza, Lake Calhoun, and of course, walked across the Lake/Marshall bridge. Enjoy! ^^

Social Change in Modern Korea

Yesterday was awesome on several levels: hung out with my former UCLA TA (Dr. Paul Y. Chang), guest lectured for his class *Social Change in Modern Korea* on the topic of *Transracial Korean Adoption: History, Issues & Representations*, ate 팥빙수 with my dear friend Kyunghee at 청계천 (see image header and read “about the header” on my about page), and had dinner with my cousin Banghee’s family. And then ate 팥빙수 again. Awesome, I tell you.

I gave my website address to Dr. Chang’s students, so I’m posting this entry just to say HELLO to you all! I really enjoyed chatting with you during the break and after class. For more information about transracial Korean adoption, check out the links on the left sidebar (under Adoptee Organizations and Adoptees Speak) or feel free to email me (spark@stkate.edu) with questions.  Study hard and good luck on your finals! ^^

(No) Reservations

I’m (re)reading the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and am (again) dumbfounded by what reservation the Republic of Korea holds to Article 21:

States Parties that recognize and/or permit the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration and they shall:

(a) Ensure that the adoption of a child is authorized only by competent authorities who determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures and on the basis of all pertinent and reliable information, that the adoption is permissible in view of the child’s status concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned have given their informed consent to the adoption on the basis of such counselling as may be necessary;

(b) Recognize that inter-country adoption may be considered as an alternative means of child’s care, if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child’s country of origin;

(c) Ensure that the child concerned by inter-country adoption enjoys safeguards and standards equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption;

(d) Take all appropriate measures to ensure that, in inter-country adoption, the placement does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it;

(e) Promote, where appropriate, the objectives of the present article by concluding bilateral or multilateral arrangements or agreements, and endeavour, within this framework, to ensure that the placement of the child in another country is carried out by competent authorities or organs.

And I have to throw in how much I love Article 17, especially 17c:

States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.

To this end, States Parties shall:

(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;

(b) Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;

(c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books;

(d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;

(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18.

The Girls Who Might Go Away

Yesterday I attended a really interesting seminar by Dr. David Smolin, professor of law at the Cumberland School of Law. The title was:

 Child Trafficking, the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, and the Korean Adoption System

Smolin discussed at length Korea’s (perpetual) intention to scale back its international adoption program. He said the first priority should be family preservation. In order for that to happen, Korea has to change its view of the unwed mother; that she is indeed a mother, and that a mother and child do constitute a family. Second, if family preservation is not a viable option, then domestic adoption, and then international adoption as a last resort. (Note: as it is, Korean children cannot be sent for international adoption unless the agencies have first looked for a domestic placement for 5 months.)

HOWEVER. He made the really important observation that domestic adoption may not be a simple replacement for scaling back the international adoption program. In the United States, between the 1950s and 1970s, unwed mothers were “sent away” to unwed mothers homes to give birth to their children (The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade, Fessler 2006). The babies were then given up for adoption, and the mothers “went back” to their lives. The adoptive families pretended “as-if” their adopted children were their biological children, and the birth mothers pretended “as-if” they hadn’t given birth. Currently in Korea, the majority of domestic adoptees are written into the family registry as biological children, meaning it’s “as-if” they are the biological children of their adoptive parents. If Korea goes down this track, it has great implications in terms of secrecy and truth, the integrity of the documents, and the identity formation of the adopted person. As well, it reveals a great deal about where Korea currently stands on its views of a family formed by adoption. Apparently, it’s standing where the US was in the 1950s.

I was really intrigued by Smolin’s talk and am interested in learning more from him. Obviously, adoption from and in Korea is very complex, and a solution to these issues will not be easy. As I said in my previous post, we’ll see how things go.


My boarding ticket said this is my 12th trip to Korea. I don’t remember when the first couple were, but counting backwards, I know at least these:

  • 2010 Research trip
  • 2007 Research trip
  • 2006 Library and Information Science study abroad program/IFLA
  • 2005 Tour with Maja
  • 2003 Fun/family
  • 2000 Fun/family
  • 1998 Daewoo trip
  • 1995 Fun/family
  • 1992 Fun/family

It seems, as the years go by, and as I am now an adult, each trip becomes more work-intensive, but I love my work, so it’s not so bad.

I’ve been in Korea for about 28 hours and am already pretty well adjusted to the time difference, although around 4pm – which is 2am in Minnesota – I almost fell asleep. To stay awake, and because I intend to be fully immersed in my research during these next 5 weeks, I started reviewing some Korean adoption texts, and as always, it has definitely kept me on my toes.

The International Korean Adoptee Resource Book (Overseas Korea Foundation 2006) reports that adoptees visiting Korea most desire to conduct birth family searches. According to multiple surveys, approximately 3/4 of adoptees are interested in searching. The Resource Book therefore suggests that “OKF (Overseas Korea Foundation) needs a policy that supports adoptees in searching for their birth families” (49). As well, The Book repeatedly states that the government needs to be more supportive of granting adoptees access to their files. However, The Resource Book also reports that “lack of information was the biggest drawback concerning the search for birth family” (50).

Approximately 2.7% of querying adoptees (or, 2,113 of 76,646 counseling sessions) were reunited with birth relatives (622). Granted, the queries could have come multiple times from the same adoptee, but isn’t 2.7% rather low?

So I wonder, is it the lack of information, or the denial of access to information… or the falsification of information?  Given what I’ve read, heard and observed, I suspect it’s all of the above; the information may be there, but it is concealed until the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) person grants access. Or the information may have been fabricated in order to create what Deann Borshay Liem calls an “orphan template” (In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee 2010). Or the information may not have been provided in the first place, in which the “lack of information” would surely be a travesty. In any case, more and more adoptees return to Korea, with one of their goals being to conduct a birth family search. We’ll  see what they find…


I hope my research can be one factor in increasing this number.

Catching Up

sparky & Tommy

I said in my recent post about the word “exotic” that I would recap my thoughts from the Children’s Literature Association conference, but things have piled up since then! Apologies to my readership.

So instead, I will post links to an ongoing conversation that includes my good friend Dr. Thomas Crisp – I figure this sort of makes up for the lack of a ChLA post because we hung out at ChLA ^.^

These four conversations, among many, are really interesting to read consecutively. I hope you’ll read them in depth, but basically here’s an incredibly bare bones outline: Aronson states that creating children’s literature awards for which one criteria is that the author be a member of the community that the award reflects actually results in books being recognized for qualities outside of the book itself. Pinkney responded to Aronson, and I’ll just quote her: “Little is being taken from white writers who cannot receive a CSK or Pura Belpré Award, but denigrating these awards because of their criteria takes something significant from the members of communities who can win these prizes. Attacking these awards insults the creative talents of those who have won these prizes and the committees who work so hard to select the winners for their works.”

Mind you, Aronson and Pinkney had this conversation in 2001.

Fast forward to 2010, when Ellen Wittinger writes an article in The Horn Book Magazine that even though she is an author of both LGBTQ and straight stories, because she identifies as straight, she is no longer eligible for the Lambda award – and she’s sort of whining about it.

Arthur Levine, editor of Arthur A. Levine Books (Harry Potter! Lisa Yee! Scholastic!), commented on her article, stating:

I think it’s a good, valid, and fair thing for any group to establish an award that recognizes the contributions of people in that group. I also think that it’s a fantastic thing to encourage the production of literature that reflects the true diversity of our culture, and speaking for myself, from a multiple-minority perspective, I’m only concerned with how real, how authentic the characters (and their settings) FEEL to me, which has more to do with the writer’s skill and empathy and sensitivity than anything else. (In other words, Ellen, you’re exactly gay enough for me!)

I guess, from my perspective as an editor and a reader, I also see, in practical terms, how far we have to go before our literature even begins to reflect the complex world of TODAY, let alone the comfortably integrated, harmonious world I wish my child to see.

And then my good friend Dr. Thomas Crisp commented on Levine’s blog:

I think it is outrageous for Wittlinger to claim that “as a straight author I am at a disadvantage when it comes to announcing my books to their intended audience.”

Wittlinger claims that “I was just too darn gay for that town.” The problem was that her books were too gay. It’s clear that her sexual identity was widely known–even the head librarian states he notified the district office that she was married to a man and had two children. She was not too gay–that treatment was not about her, it was about her books. LGBT authors face this discrimination about their books and about who they are as people. Wittlinger identifies half her novels in print as having LGBT content, which means that half her books depict normative sexual identities: she can be invited to schools and libraries on the basis or recognition of those books.

Well said, Thomas, well said.

I’m really interested in following this conversation because I’ve recently stepped down from serving on the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award committee (because I’ve served 4 years and need to focus on writing, not because I don’t love the award!), which has absolutely no stipulation about an author’s background or insider/outsider anything, and have already served one year on the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association’s Literary Awards committee. APALA’s goal is “to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit” and our guidelines state, in contrast to the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré stipulations, that “Works must be related to Asian/Pacific Heritage, not necessarily written by or illustrated by an Asian/Pacific American. The individual must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident” (bold emphasis mine). When I realized this, I was really sad because I would like for our award to honor both a member of our community and the stories we tell. It’s not about being essentialist, but about honoring those in our community who may not be recognized by society at large – which is still mostly white.

Anyway, I’ve given you a tiny snapshot, and the conversation is still going over at Levine’s blog, (including responses by Wittinger herself) so please take the time to read through the comments. And enjoy the photo – I hardly post photos, but I couldn’t resist on this one!