Sun, Sep 07, 2008 - Page 14 News List

[ PAPERBACK: US ]Born into one culture, growing up in another

‘Once They Hear My Name’ details the struggles of Korean children who were adopted and raised by white families in the US



From hearing “is he yours?” asked to a white mother walking with her Asian child, to playground taunts of “slanted-eyes” and unfair assumptions about being good at math, nine Korean adoptees tell their stories of growing up in American, white families in Once They Hear My Name: Korean Adoptees and Their Journeys Toward Identity.

As children, the book’s featured adoptees, now ranging from age 25 to 53, said they did not need to look too hard to figure out they were different from others in their families. How they dealt with the differences — and the experiences these divisions produced while growing up — varied widely from person to person.

When Marilyn Lammert, an adoptive mother, traveled to South Korea to meet her son’s biological family in 1996, she met other American adoptees searching for their birth families along with some who had moved back to Korea to work or go to school.

As Lammert and Ellen Lee, a Korean-American friend who traveled with her, heard their stories, they sensed a common theme of longing for an identity and a strong desire to know more about their Korean roots. The visitors were amazed by the different paths that the adoptees took to get them to that point.

The two decided to interview Korean adoptees and collect life-experience stories that might help other adoptees through the struggle of being born into one race or culture but raised in another. Mary Anne Hess edited the taped interviews into the first-person accounts that make up the book.

The editors note that there are more than 100,000 Korean adoptees in the US. The oldest are now senior citizens and the youngest are still babies.

“They are part of the largest group of children ever adopted across racial, cultural and geographic lines,” according to the book. The oldest came home with US soldiers stationed in South Korea after the Korean War (1950-1953); the youngest are infants babies still coming over today.

The US Census Bureau reports that South Korea is still the largest single-source country of foreign-born adoptees under 18 years old, at about 48,000 children, according to the book. But China, Russia and Guatemala are the top home countries for adopted children now entering the US.

“As these children grow, they and their parents can look to the long-time experience of Korean adoptees for guidance in coming to grips with the difficult questions of identity formation in families that transcend racial and ethnic categorization,” the book says.

The adoptees’ stories share similar traits of being teased as children for being different — many grew up in rural areas or places without large Asian populations — and seeking a comfort level about being adopted. At the same time, there are remarkable differences.

Some adoptees’ parents went out of their way to teach their children about Korean culture, either through books, Korean food, special camps or trips to their home country. On the other hand, at least one adoptee “never had a bowl of rice.”

Some had adopted brothers or sisters while others had siblings who were the biological children of their parents, creating an entirely different complication. Some families talked openly about adoptions while others did not really discuss it. Some families stayed together while others were separated by divorce or death of a parent.

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