The adoption industry legally erased my past but it didn’t erase it from my memory.
I had a family before being adopted.
I was born in Seoul in a family of 4 children. Being the youngest of the family, I was cherished by my family. My father worked in construction until he lost his job following a work accident that left his arm almost paralyzed. He could no longer rent a big house, so we moved twice not far from there. Around that time, my eldest sister married a rich man. The family income came from the work my mother did until she died on her way to bury my grandmother when I was six years old.
The insurance company gave us a substantial sum of money for the death of my mother which was caused by a bus accident. Some time later, my father lent money to his first fiance so she could pay an engagement ring for her daughter as well as her wedding. His fiance decided to not marry him using the pretext that she didn’t know he had two other children besides me and she disappeared without repaying him. My father was determined to find a new mother for us. He met a widow, an owner of tavern and rich, with two girls. I don’t know the reason but he also lent this woman money after they were engaged. Right after obtaining the loan, she refused to marry him and she never paid him back, pretending at last that she didn’t knew us. Meanwhile, my brother quit his studies and left us. To make matters worse, a couple whom my father lent money declared that they couldn’t pay him back.
As we became poorer and poorer, occasionally we searched garbage cans to find plastic, which we would sell. Despite poverty, I’ve never suffered any hunger because I could go eat with my eldest sister and my nephew at any time. Some time, my brother gave us some money and once a week, I had to go to Suwon by bus to get the money from the couple who owed my father. One day, my father asked my sister to accompany me so that she could replace me. The couple said they couldn’t reimburse us but they knew a rich family who needed a maid and they offered the job to my sister. My father refused this proposition and sent my sister back to Suwon to tell them to pay us back. Two days later, my sister was missing. I went back to look for her but she was gone to work for the rich people. My eldest sister was angry with our father about this news and she also tried to bring her little sister back, without success.
To save transportation cost, my father and I moved to Suwon where we had free housing. Every day, I had to go to the couple's house to reclaim the money they owed us. It allowed me to eat with them each day. We lived in extreme poverty but I was very happy, happy to live in the countryside surrounded by nature. My father was unhappy and desperate. He took me to see my sister to try to get some money of her pay from her work. While he was waiting in the street, it was my job to tell the employer if he refused to pay us, my father would take back my sister. I was the go-between, between my father and my sister’s place of work, until my father wasn’t where he should have been. I immediately thought that I was abandoned, I didn’t wait a second, I walked straight ahead until the night… and I ended up in a police station.
I told the policeman that I lost my father while we were visiting my sister. I gave the address of my former house in Seoul and I mentioned my eldest sister lived near there. I also talked about my brother to a son of a policeman. I was transferred to another police station that took me to a place for lost children. Within a week, I was interrogated again and this time, I told them my father left me in the street near my second sister’s home. Since I was abandoned, they transferred me to an orphanage.
At the orphanage, I gave my former address once more. I told them if they could take me there, I could live with my eldest sister and I could even go to my new house by myself. A lady promised me that she would do her best to find my former house. It was the first lie.
Three months later, a man came and asked the children who knew their addresses to raise their hands. For a third time, I gave my former address in Seoul. Of course, I didn’t forget to mention that my eldest sister was living near the house and that I could live with her. This man promised to come back after finding our homes. A week later, when he came back, I thought he would bring me to my sister. It was the 2nd lie.
He brought us to Saint-Paul’s orphanage. He was known to be the driver of the orphanage but maybe he was also the director since the only office of the orphanage belonged to him. Few days after our arrival, we were at his office in front of unknown men (employees of Holt Children's Service). The gentlemen gave us new birth dates and new ages. I was the only child to know her birth date which was August 13 but they also gave me another date in November. They ordered us to tell our new ages if someone questions us in the future. We find this game very funny because we were all younger by few months to a year. I didn’t know that this game was only another lie for the international adoption.
The other girls told us that we couldn’t go to school because we would be leaving to the USA soon. A lie! They could have sent me to the school if they wanted to! During my 10 months there, I was considered to be a newbie who wasn’t allowed to go to school because of my imminent departure to USA. I had no idea what the word "USA" meant, so I didn’t know that we were put up for adoption.
Meanwhile, I was happy because I was well fed and well treated (the opposite of the first orphanage) and I had many friends. From time to time, I was sad because I missed my father but I thought that this man (director or driver) was searching my former house in order to take me to my sister.
Several of my friends went to USA. I knew they left the orphanage forever; I also knew that USA was a rich country where rich American parents were waiting for us but I still didn’t know exactly what USA meant. We were talking about the USA as a country of fairy tale. For example: "In USA, milk flows from the walls", "In USA, toothpaste is red and you can swallow it like a candy." I began to dream of the USA while continuing to hope to be reunited with my father...
Finally, it was my turn to leave the orphanage. The nun took me to a place (Holt office). A social worker took me to USA .... Between Holt office and USA, only two minutes had elapsed! Actually, I wasn’t in USA yet but when I saw the modern house, I thought I was. Nobody explained me the word "USA". Lie by omission!
Lost but not abandoned.
Neither St. Paul nor Holt had written the information that I gave to them. Each time I asked them the name of my first orphanage, they refused to answer me. More than 25 years later, they finally accepted to answer me. I found all the information (that I gave myself) correctly written on the registry of the first orphanage, with my name, my age (Korean age), my first address in Seoul, the city of my new house and my father's name.
I was reunited with my family in 2001. I learned that I was not abandoned. They stopped searching me only after one day, thinking that I would come back by myself. My father died of liver disease in loneliness three years after losing me; I was his favorite child. My brother died in 1990 in an accident. My family didn't know I was sent to USA.
Those baby sellers lied and made up a (legal) paper to snatch me from my (birth) country and my (birth) family without their consent. The day Holt put me up for adoption, I became an orphan. I lost the family I had before being adopted;
the difference of culture and language has prevented us to stay together.
If I had been adopted at a younger age or if I did not have memory, the lies behind my adoption would have gone unnoticed. Parents of children who were adopted at a young age, can you say with certainty that there is no lie behind your adoptions?
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