國 立 交 通 大 學
碩 士 論 文
Representing Transnational Adoption in
The Language of Blood and A Gesture Life
研 究 生：謝玉柔
Representing Transnational Adoption in
The Language of Blood and A Gesture Life
研 究 生：謝玉柔 Student：Yu-Jou Hsieh
指導教授：馮品佳 教授 Advisor：Prof. Pin-chia Feng
國 立 交 通 大 學
外 國 語 文 學 系 外 國 文 學 與 語 言 學 碩 士 班
碩 士 論 文
Submitted to Graduate Institute of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics
College of Humanities and Social Science
National Chiao Tung University
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of
Master of Arts
Hsinchu, Taiwan, Republic of China
學生：謝玉柔 指導教授：馮品佳 教授
Representing Transnational Adoption in
The Language of Blood and A Gesture Life
Student：Yu-Jou Hsieh Advisor：Prof. Pin-chia Feng
Graduate Institute of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics
National Chiao Tung University
Both The Language of Blood and A Gesture Life present counternarratives to dominant transnational adoption narratives which mostly emphasize the point that transnational adoption means social benefit for children and it is a practice of humanitarianism, love, generosity, and morality. In The
Language of Blood, the adoptee is bitter about being taken away from her birth family. Trenka directly
questions the practice of transnational adoption by presenting her lived experience as an example. In A
Gesture Life, there is a tension between the narrator’s nonchalance to the practice of transnational adoption
and the impact of the experience on the adoptee. Chang-rae Lee does not question transnational adoption by confronting the practice directly. By describing how the practice is taken for granted and normalized, A
Gesture Life questions what makes transnational adoption necessary.
This thesis is divided into four chapters. The first chapter focuses on examining of
Korean-American adoption, starting from a general review of transnational adoption history between Korean and the U.S. and the cultural background of the practice, and precedes to engage in a study on the gender dynamics within the practice, then to an overview on current researches on transnational adoption narratives, and finally to the social context of The Language of Blood and A Gesture Life. The second part consists of an examination of the dominant discourses of transnational adoption and a close reading of The
Language of Blood to analyze the clash between the representations of transnational adoption by the
adoptee and that in the dominant narrative, and to reflect on the movement of the female body within the practice of transnational adoption. Chapter three includes a close reading of A Gesture Life and an analysis of the protagonist’s experiences as both an adoptee and an adoptive parent, to study the sense of
un-belongingness, adopter-adoptee relation, and the exploitation of women’s bodies in the patriarchal ideology as involved in transnational adoption. Chapter four concludes the thesis with a suggestion that the transnational adoption narrative should be an open one to include more heterogeneous experiences in order
to educate people about what is involved and at stake in the practice of transnational adoption and to demand a rethinking on the practice of transnational adoption.
Keywords: transnational adoption, counternarrative, biopolitics, unbelongingness, adoptee, The Language
This thesis cannot be completed without Professor Pin-chia Feng’s guidance and support. As my advisor, she showed great patience and understanding helping me to overcome the challenges of life and of study. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to her.
Also, I want to thank Professor Ying-Hsiung Chou and Professor Shun-Liang Chao, who spent time sharing their insights with me and providing me valuable viewpoints. Their suggestion helped me to improve my thesis a lot.
Thanks to my friends who encouraged me to go through the moody days in writing, especially Chi-xin Chao, Shanon Chang, Wei-ling Dong, Momo Chang, Yie-sheng Wang, and Kevin Tang.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter One: Introduction--Historical and Cultural Background of
Transnational Adoption …...…….1
Chapter Two: Debunking the Master Narrative of Transnational adoption in The
Language of Blood ………...…..26
Chapter Three: “For the Sake of Children” ? : Transnational Adoption in A
Chapter Four: Conclusion………... …...…………72
Historical and Cultural Background of Transnational Adoption
Back in 1984, trans/international adoptions have been described by Richard Weil as “the quiet migration.” Unlike adult or group migration, the displacement of the transnational adoptees from one country to another was “quiet” due to the little attention that it gained (Weil 276).1
In most transnational adoption narratives, adoptee’s search for the self has been one of the major issues. As some argue that root tours (tours that adoptees take to return to their birth countries help complete their identity as a whole, others maintain that identity is not fixed, and it changes with circumstances and situations.
As a relatively new phenomenon started around 1940, transnational adoption has gradually become an important issue. With
psychological, political, economic, anthropological, and social concerns within the territory of international adoption and with the articulation of previously silent adoptees, more and more scholars start researching on the subject of international adoption. Thus, the migration is no longer quiet.
1 Richard Weil’s 1984 essay provides charts of the data of children flow and examination of the
phenomenon. For a detailed analysis of international adoptions, see Weil’s International Adoptions:
The Quite Migration.
The representation of adoption is a way of mulling over concepts such as family, kinship, and identity. It is also a means to reflect on social issues. Hence, transnational adoption/adoptee becomes a site where the story of an individual intersects with familial, social and national narratives. Both authors of The Language of Blood and A
Gesture Life focus on adoptees’ quest for the self. The experiences of the protagonists
in both works respectively reflect Korea’s past as a sending country and a strong
emotional lack inside adoptees. The lack drives them to start looking for a way out: either by blinding oneself with wealth, by adopting a child from foreign country as in the case of A Gesture Life, or by starting a root trip in order to reunite with birth family as in The Language of Blood.
The Language of Blood is a memoir of a transnational female adoptee. The
author tells how her experiences as a transnational female adoptee influence her quest for the self. Through a novelistic discourse, A Gesture Life depicts a male adoptee’s experience of being both an adoptee and an adoptive parent. These two works provide unique and important stories about the Korean American adoptees’ experiences of losses, erasures, and confusions. Critical reading of The Language of Blood mostly focuses on the feminized aspects of adoption. In her essay, “The Daughter’s Exchange in Jane Jeong Trenka’s The Language of Blood,” Eun Kyung Min applies Freudian psychoanalysis and Levi-Straussian anthropological theory of “daughter’s exchange” to interrogate the racial, cultural, national making of female subjects as transnational adoptees. Studies on A Gesture Life mainly discuss the social and historical
phenomenon of comfort women; issues of gender, race, and nation; and
post-colonialism. For instance, the adopter-adoptee relationship and the adoption writing are studied in Mark Jerng’s essay, “Recognizing the Transracial Adoptee: Adoption Life Stories and Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life.” Jerng elaborates Freud’s essay, “Constructions in Analysis,” and Lacan’s thoughts of transference to interpret the adopter-adoptee relationship. Eun Kyung Min and Mark Jerng have respectively applied Freudian psychoanalytic theory in analyzing adoption narratives. However, my reading aims to locate The Language of Blood and A Gesture Life in the wider domain of the imagination of global humanism in order to study the ambivalences, complexities, and losses in the practice of transnational adoption. By contextualizing transnational adoption within social and national narratives, I pay particular attention
to the complications of transnational adoption. The representations of transnational adoption in these two works are entangled with issues of gender, identity, and the adopter-adoptee relationship. Both narratives involve the adoptees’ life with adoptive family after they are adopted. And the authors probe into transnational adoption process and agencies. The issues above are seldom discussed in the dominant
narratives of transnational adoption. In addition to these specific issues, I would also like to investigate how gender ideology triggers the gender dynamics in transnational adoption.
My thesis is divided into three parts. The first chapter focuses on an examination of Korean-American adoption, starting from a general review of transnational adoption history between Korean and the U.S. and the cultural
background of the practice, and preceeds to engage in a study on the gender dynamics within the practice, then to an overview on researches on transnational adoption narratives, and finally to the social context of The Language of Blood and A Gesture
Life. The second part of my thesis consists of an examination of the dominant
discourses of transnational adoption dominant discourses, and a close reading of The
Language of Blood to analyze the clash between the representations of transnational
adoption by the adoptee and the dominant narrative, and to reflect on the movement of the female body within the practice of transnational adoption. The final section includes a close reading of A Gesture Life and an examination of the protagonist’s experiences as both an adoptee and an adoptive parent, to study the sense of
un-belongingness, adopter-adoptee relation, and the exploitation of women’s bodies in the patriarchal ideology in transnational adoption.
1.2 Historical and Cultural Background of Korean American Adoption
involving in transnational adoption. The United States has been a significant receiving country for transnational adoptees in the postwar period. In her essay, “Intercountry Adoption as a Migratory Practice” Kristen Lovelock indicates that there have been two waves of intercountry adoption, before the mid-1970s and after the mid-1970s. The first wave has been characterized as a humanitarian concern for children and also a philanthropic response to the plight of children due to Third World’s political upheaval, poor living conditions, civil wars, natural disasters and domestic family policies. The second wave of transnational adoption comes with a different concern. Partly because of falling fertility rates in the West and because of a decrease of the supply of domestic adoptable Caucasian infants, while finding families for children was a central concern in responding to the need of orphans and abandoned children in the beginning, after the mid-1970s, seeking adoptees abroad became the primary concern. With a retrospection on the development of intercountry adoption policy and practice in the United State, Canada, and New Zealand, Lovelock argues that national needs and the needs of the citizens in these countries have priorities over the needs of the adoptees (908). The demand for children in these countries determined the number of adoption. Thus, as the concerns of transnational adoption change with time,
intercountry adoption as a humanitarian gesture has turned into a system meeting the demand of childless couples; instead of finding families for children, the trend now is finding children for families (911).
In Korean American adoption history, Christianity plays an important role in encouraging this particular kind of trafficking of Asian children in both sending and receiving countries.3
3 For studies on transnational adoption regarding Christianity, see Choy’s “Institutionalizing
International Adoption: The Historical Origins of Korean Adoption in the United States,” 29-37; Feng’s “ Narratives of Transnational Adoption —The Case of The Language of Blood,” 422-23; and Hurdis’ “Lifting the Shroud of Silence: A Korean Adoptee’s Search for Truth, Legitimacy, and Justice,” 172-76.
Asians with Christianity, which can be dated back to the 1880s. The work that the missionaries enacted in Korea includes offering medical care, social service and resources, and translation of the Bible, which improved literacy in Korea. The relation between Korea and Christianity was furthered during the Japanese occupation. From 1904 to 1945, Christianity not only was taken as a form of resistance to Japan’s imperialism and enforcement of assimilation but also helped Korea in developing democracy and freedom. Moreover, after the Korean War, due to the fact that the media widely spread images of Korea’s poor living condition and miseries of war orphans, the U.S. sympathy and ethical concerns for these children’s suffering were raised. Through the media, the Korean War orphans were projected on the TV screen and American minds to condemn the evil deeds of the communists. As Rebecca Hurdis points out, the images are to claim “morality of Christian Americans and their desire to aid and protect the Christian culture of South Korea” (175). Under the influence of media and through the assistance of the U.S. missionaries, international adoption of Korean children becomes popular.4
American optimism is also one important cultural factor that affects the practice of transnational adoption in the United States. According to Marianne Novy, “Membership in the nation was a matter of citizenship rather than ‘blood’ would seem to predispose Americans in favor of adoption” (20). Therefore, the national motto, “out of many, one” has always been used to emphasize the nation’s ethnic multiplicity
Thus, Christianity first plays the role of maintaining U.S. social and political superiority in Korea. Then it summons the moral duty of Christian Americans to save the abandoned children of the War. Finally, it fosters the wedding of religion and adoption with the practice of transnational
4 In her essay, “Lifting the Shround of Silence: A Korean Adoptee’s Search for Truth, Legitimacy, and
Justice,” Hurdis provides her study on the development of Christianity in Korea. For more details, see Hurdis, 172-76.
(20). In a country that does not stress ethnic purity, adoption is a means of social reform, overcoming the fear of bad blood by encouraging potential parents to offer “good homes” for adoptees. Moreover, adoption, as a symbol of the American belief in choice and freedom, enables the birth mother to have a choice for a new start in life and fulfills adoptive parents’ longing for children. Adoption affirms adoptive parents’ ability to provide a family for children while it also solves the parents’ infertility.5
Declining birthrate, a steady rate of infertility, the availability of abortions, the civil rights movement, the difficulty for African American parents to adopt, and a changed social attitude toward unwed mothers who choose to keep their children are listed as the reasons why Americans choose to adopt and adopt transnationally. However, Americans who celebrate the choice and freedom with transnational adoption are often accused of being ignorant of humanity. The practice of adoption has been under attack for depriving a birth mother’s rights to raise her own children and for the exploitation of women and children when promoting the well-being of the privileged class in a capitalistic society.
More specifically, the factors that affect Korea’s transnational adoption programs after the Korean War are poverty, patriarchal ideology, social and familial opposition to single-motherhood, and the lack of social welfare.7
In her essay, “Transnational Adoption and the ‘Financialization of Everything,’” Trenka holds similar viewpoints, contending that adoption is all about the “freedom” and “choice” of adopters.” See also Novy, Reading Adoption, 20-23.
Korea has a history of being a male-dominant society. In this patriarchal society, Confucianism has been dominant with its emphasis on family tradition and filial piety; and it also affects both
individual behaviors and family. In such a cultural context, familial honor and dignity
6 Concerning the reasons why Americans choose to adopt transnationally mentioned above, see
Beribetsky’s Like Our Very Own: Adoption and the Changing Culture of Motherhood, 1851-1950, and < http://library.adoption.com/articles/the-case-for-transracial-adoption.html>
7 For essays related to Korea’s transnational adoption programs, see Dong Soo Kim’s “A Country
Divided: Contextualizing Adoption from a Korean Perspective,” 3-10; Eleana Kim’s “Wedding
Citizenship and Culture: Korean Adoptees and the Global Family of Korea,” and Hosu Kim’s “Mothers Without Mothering: Birth Mothers from South Korea Since the Korean War.”
has priority over individual accomplishment and failure. In the Korean society, emphasis on blood ties makes domestic adoption unpopular. The perception that heredity is the major determinant of child development still dominated the Korean society of the 1920s.8
Eleana Kim’s study on Korean adoptees points out that South Korea has the longest history of transnational adoption in the world. The history of Korea as a sending country has in fact existed for more than 50 years and can be traced back to the Korean War (1950-1953). After the War, transnational adoption between Korea and the United States was first legislated by both countries in order to rescue GI babies and war orphans.
It is also due to the emphasis on blood ties in the
male-dominated society that having a male heir to keep family lines and avoiding “bad” blood become significant. Culturally, bloodlines and pure lineage are of great significance to Korean people; hence “domestic adoption is stigmatized with the shame and illegitimacy of the mother” (Hurdis 177). Politically, “the Korean nation further supported unwed mothers’ illegitimacy by not offering adequate or tangible social welfare structures” (Hurdis 177).
Between the 1950s and 1970s, there was almost no restriction regarding adopting orphans and abandoned children in South Korea.10
8 See Bong Joo Lee’s “Recent Trends in Child Welfare and Adoption in Korea: Challenges and Fture
In addition, Kim observes that wars and their aftermath— poverty, and social
upheaval— were causes that pumped international adoption (63). While in the 1950s, Korean mixed-race babies were abandoned due to Confucian ideology of
consanguinity, during the 1960s and 1970s, poverty was the main factor that led to the
9 GI babies are babies born in Korea to American servicemen during the Second World War. 10
Kim cited this from Howard Altstein and Rita Simon’s Intercountry Adoption: A Multinational
Perspective. In her essay, “The Daughter’s Exchange in Jane Jeong Trenka’s The Language of Blood,“ Eun Kyung Min notes that many Korean “orphans” were in fact from intact birth families.
According to Min, “For reasons ranging from poverty to spousal abuse, the families placed their children in orphanages that proceeded aggressively to put them up for overseas adoption, sometimes even without full consent from their families” (130).
stream of transnational adoptions. In the 1980s, following South Korea’s economic development and increasingly disintegrated family and community functions, while the number of babies who were abandoned out of poverty was reduced, unmarried college-age women and teenagers continued to meet the demand in the worldwide adoption economy, especially that of the United States.11
The 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul is a turning point for the history of Korean international adoption. While GI babies and women carrying children out of wedlock became visible social problems, international adoption turned into an effective way of getting rid of the shame. However, as Korea considered hosting the Olympics as a symbol of their status as a developed country in the international community, American media report on Korea’s ignominy in exporting children became an obstacle, tampering with Korea’s effort in improving its international image.
11 For a detailed discussion on Korean birth mothers, see Hosu Kim’s “Mothers Without Mothering:
Birth Mothers from South Korea Since the Korean War,” especially 136-39.
Therefore, since the late 1980s, the South Korean government starts to take some measures not only to promote domestic adoption but also to eliminate the stigma as an export country of its own children. These measures helped decrease the number of transnational adoption, but transnational adoption began to boom in the early 1990s again due to economic crisis. According to Eleana Kim, since the 1990s adoption from South Korea has been under the sway of economic fluctuations and concerns about reputation. In 1990, among the 7000 cases of international adoption in the United States, 40 percent of the adoptees were from South Korea. In 2001, South Korea adoptees took 10 percent of international adoptions to the United States, ranking as the third biggest sending country following China and Russia; from 2002 onward, South Korea has been ranking fourth in the world in terms of the number of
See Eleana Kim’s “Wedding Citizenship and Culture: Korean Adoptees and the Global Family of Korea,” 64.
children adopted by Americans annually.13
In the Language of Blood, the author writes about what happened to the adoptees after adoption. The memoir begins with a letter from her birth mother. The letter is full of a birth mother’s apology to the adoptee and her gratitude to the
adoptive parents. It also tells us the reasons why Trenka was given away: poverty and marital violence. In A Gesture Life, the protagonist narrates his disappointment when seeing his adopted daughter for the first time. He is disappointed because of her complexion, which suggests that she is in fact a mixed-blood GI baby. By offering the reader the information of either the birth mother or the adoptee, the two works
provide us a connection with the historical context; and by doing so, the two authors deal with the issues derived from the impact of the transnational adoption. These issues will be probed further in the following sections.
1.3 Female Bodies and Transnational Adoptions
Transnational adoption is in fact both an individual act and a collective experience. For some people, the practice of transnational adoption is a social policy that deals with social problems, but others consider the practice as a form of
exploitation because it links American dreams of nuclear-family-building to the misfortunes of another family. This is to say, a country solves its social problems by sending its children away; and the solution to infertility problem in another country also relies on the displacement of children from their birth families and nations. Hosu Kim argues that the solution is actually a kind of closed transaction. As the practice of privacy that protects the identity of the adoptive family relies on the secrecy,
13 For more facts about international adoption, see Dong Soo Kim’s “A Country Divided:
Contextualizing Adoption from a Korean Perspective,” Eleana Kim’s “Wedding citizenship and culture: Korean adoptees and the global family of Korea,” Eun Kyung Min’s “The Daughter’s Exchange in Jane Jeong Trenka’s The Language of Blood, ” and a chart listing top 20 primary sending countries in 2000 and 2001, see <http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/FactOverview/international.html>
confidentiality also becomes important for transnational adoption. The policy of secrecy results in the lack of information about the Korean birth mothers, and it also results in the absence of the birth mother in the databank of the Korean government and in adoptee’s life. In order to explore this particular kind of transnational adoption from South Korea to the United States, what follows will highlight the relation between gender and transnational adoption.
A very strong preference for girl adoptees of adoptive families in the United States has been confirmed by both international and domestic adoption agencies. Thus there has been a huge gender discrepancy among the adoptees. On one hand, in the United States, whether the adoptive parents are childless couples or individuals, 70-90 percent of the adoptive parents’ gender requests are for girls. The preference for girls is also true for adoptive parents of all races, socioeconomic statuses, and ages. 52 percent of the children awaiting placement in U.S. foster care are boys. Moreover, from 1971 to 2001, 64 percent of the children adopted from U.S. foster care were girls, while only 36 percent were boys. On the other hand, during 1954 to 2000,
approximately 58 percent abandoned children in Korea were girls.14 Drawing on Dong Soo Kim’s study on Korean-American adoption, Lois Lydens points out that the gender imbalance comes with the correspondence between Korean cultural preference for male children and the preference of many American parents to adopt girls.15
As the gender preference is an important factor that causes gender imbalance, it is important to understand what is behind the specific gender preference. There are several reasons to explain why many adoptive parents prefer girls. According to Christine Adamec and William Pierce, to adoptive parents, girls are perceived as more
14 See Ingender, <http://www.in-gender.com/Help/About.aspx>
15 For a detailed study on gender preference, see Christine and William L. Pierce’s The Encyclopedia
of Adoption. New York: Facts on File, 1991. The study on gender preference in this book is quoted on
acceptive of parental discipline than boys, and adoptive parents tend to have an unrealistic image of an obedient little girl. Usually adoptive parents prefer to have an easier way in raising a child. The study shows that in potential adoptive parents’ perspectives, boys are often perceived as being more aggressive and easier to get into trouble, and girls, by contrast, appeal to the protective and altruistic side of people who want to adopt. In addition, adoptive parents expect girls to have more affective connection with them and to stay closer to the family even after the adoptees grow up and get married. Finally, the gender disparity in adoption may also stem from the expectation that an adopted girl would have less difficulties in blending into American society than a boy.16
The gender of the adoptees is not the only issue that is involved in the gendered dynamics within transnational adoption. In fact, the socially constructed gender role of the parents in both sending and receiving countries is also inevitably significant in transnational adoption. Transnational adoption is a highly feminized social practice. Birth fathers and adoptive fathers are marginalized. According to Wadia-Elllis,
On the other hand, with an emphasis on biological ties, in the male-dominant society of Korea, the high percentage of abandoned female children results from the gender ideology in which male children are preferred in the
patrilineal system. This kind of patriarchal society also gives low credit to single motherhood and domestic adoption.
Adoption, like motherhood has always been a women’s issue. It is women who give birth and women who have had their birth children taken from them because of cultural, political, or economic forces; and it is women who sometimes feel they must relinquish their birth child in order to protect that
16 For a detailed discussion on gender preference, see Christine Adamec and William Pierce’s The
Encyclopedia of Adoption, NY: Facts on File, 1991. See <http://encyclopedia.adoption.com/entry/
child. It is also predominantly women who choose or agree to take on the work of mothering another woman’s child as her own. And it is primarily women, adopted as infants or children, and birth mothers, who have created networks across North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand that support adoptees and birth mothers as they search for one another. And finally, women are at the fore lobbying for legislation that will enable all adoptees access to their birth records. (ix)
Both birth parents and adoptive parents are under the sway of social stereotypes and expectation. Both man and women face the difficulties in living up to socially prescribed gender roles.17 While the accusation of immoral sexual behavior has been laid onto the birth mother in Korea, infertility and childlessness has long been defined as a female problem.18
With regard to the relation between gender and transnational adoption in the United States, transnational adoption actually results from many factors: a declining birthrate, birth control, availability of legal abortion, a changed social attitude toward unwed mothers who choose to parent their children and growing social/cultural support for single motherhood.
Furthermore, motherhood in American ideology is also related to
transnational adoption. According to Nancy Riley, in the United States, motherhood is still “a central part of women’s lives and identity” (93). As Riley observes, in the U.S., the presumption of appropriate gender behavior for women is motherhood. Even if women have other roles in the labor market, they are expected to be mothers, to want to be mothers, to enjoy that role and to find fulfillment through their family roles.19
17 See Freeark et al., especially 87-98.
18 Amy E. Traver offers a study on gender and international adoption, including gender forces in both
receiving and sending countries, see <http://www.socwomen.org/fall08_fact_sheet.pdf>
In her essay, “American Adoptions of Chinese Girls: The Socio-Political Matrices of Individual Decisions,” Riley quotes Jean O’Barr, Deborah Pope and Mary Wyer’s anthology, Ties That Bind:
Based on the significance of motherhood in American ideology, Riley further argues that the concept that all women need to be mothers, and they need their children as much as their children need them is the basis of the ideology of motherhood in the United States. Women are in fact compelled to be mothers (94). Thus, motherhood is socially prescribed to American women, and for women who can not bear their own children, transnational adoption becomes a ready solution when white healthy babies are no longer available for adoption.
Meanwhile, as American women are required to be mothers, the gendered middle-class ideology is another factor that facilitates American transnational adoption. According to Ann Anagnost, with their improved social status, American women frequently link motherhood to self-completion (392). They not only celebrate the freedom and choice with transnational adoption, but also engage themselves in a classed relationship with their children’s birth mothers. As Sarah Dorow points out in her book, Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender, and Kinship, in transnational adoption a comparison between the plight of orphan girls in
patriarchal societies and their potential in the feminist West is often made to demonstrate the well-being and freedom of the privileged (190). Transnational adoptions turn out to be a product of the gender and class ideologies in the United States.20
When social norm has a great influence on individuals, women are not only expected to fit the U.S. ideology of motherhood, but also get criticized if they do not.
Either for childless women or for women who are unable to bear children in U.S., the practice becomes an alternative other than having a biological child when they have difficulties in meeting the social expectation of their gender role.
Essays on Mothering and Patriarchy, and illustrates Carolyn Morell’s Unwomanly Conduct: the Challenges of Intentional Childlessness to describe the relation between motherhood and adoption.
For a detailed discussion on gender and the receiving nation in transnational adoption, see <http://www.socwomen.org/fall08_fact_sheet.pdf >
Riley argues that women are often scorned and considered selfish and less mature if they choose not to be mothers, and “if their childlessness is involuntary, they are often pitied” (94). On one hand, the society does not tolerate women who do not fulfill their “responsibility” of giving birth to children. On the other, when women have
difficulties in fulfilling the responsibility, people impose their compassion on them. Thus the ideology of motherhood outlines what makes a woman and makes childless women become objects of compassion. Barbara Rothman designates motherhood as an “intimate, joyous, terrifying, life-affiming” identity (23). However, it is also this very concept of motherhood that brings criticism against childless women. Therefore, as transnational adoption is a socially acceptable option for childless women to become “normal,” the practice is also an opportunity for them to fit in their gender role as a mother.
In Korea, while Confucianism has been the dominant philosophy that dictates acceptable individual behavior and family structure, the ideology is also the cultural and national foundation of Korea that determines gender roles for Korean women. Male supremacy and filial obedience are what best describe the cultural identity of Korea. In her essay, “Re-membering the Korean Military Comfort Women” Hyunah Yang observes that in Confucian ideology, there is a double standard of sexual conduct. Women are expected to be chaste, and the ideal of chastity applies only to women. While women’s sexuality does not belong to themselves, women’s
relationship to men and men’s willingness to possess them define women’s virtues. Also, in her essay, “Lifting the Shround of Silence: A Korean Adoptee’s Search for Truth, Legitimacy, and Justice,” Rebecca Hurdis points out that it is through the exploitation “of women’s sexuality that men’s respect and dignity are safeguarded. The women who did not adhere to ideologies of Confucianism were socially and politically rejected, oftentimes leaving behind a trail of shamed mothers and unwanted
children” (176). The ideal of chastity not only regulates women’s behavior and sexuality but also helps form a double standard of sexuality. A violation against the ideal of chastity would bring social stigma.
In Korea’s official databank, there has been little information concerning birth mothers. According to Hosu Kim, on adoptees’ birth certificates, birth parents’ names are replaced with adoptive parents’. Transnational adoptions are in fact closed transactions due to the policy of secrecy, as mentioned before. Three figures have been identified as representatives of the birth mothers in the literary representation of Korea’s international adoption. They are military prostitutes, low-paying factory female workers, and runaway teenagers. The first category refers to women who have illicit sexual conducts with foreigners and also who are usually birth mothers of biracial children. These women carry both a woman’s shame and Korea’s national shame by violating the code of women’s virtues. The second category includes women who helped South Korea’s rapid economic growth with their productive labor in the 1970s and 1980s. They suffer unbearable working condition, limited income, and unplanned pregnancies. These women produce not only commodities but also babies for adoption. The third category refers to troubled teenage girls who are not ready to be mothers. Mostly, they do not have family or social supports to raise their babies.
In addition, Hosu Kim suggests another category of birth mothers: married women who give up children because of extremely poor living condition. Indeed, married women who gave up their children out of poverty or domestic violence are also the main reason for the boom of international adoption in Korea. These women have always been neglected from mainstream narratives because their experiences do not correspond to the stereotype of birth mothers. They are not prostitutes themselves,
nor are they single unwed mothers.21 Due to the traumatic past in the nation’s history and the pervasive stereotype and social stigma of birth parents, these birth mothers were neglected, and thus become absent in official documents and the memory of the Koreans.
1.4 An Overview of Researches on Adoption Narratives
In the introduction of Imagining Adoption, Marianne Novy points out three mythic stories of imagining adoption that pervade European and American cultures. They are “the disastrous adoption and discovery, as in Oedipus, the happy discovery , as in Winter’s Tale, and the happy adoption” (1). These plots prompt us to think about the nature of family and the self. On one hand, “adoption plots dramatize cultural tensions about definitions of family and the importance of heredity” (Novy 2). Through these imaginations about adoption, we get to realize how our society constructs the concept of kinship. These representations of adoption are also
responsible for the understanding of the relations among the adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. However, with these representations of adoption comes also the stereotype of imaging adoption. As Novy proposes, how adoption is represented in literature and media affects how people think about adoption; and the way literary works represent the experience might be shaped in part by the cultural images of adoption that are commonly known. Hence, the representation and the social/cultural backdrop are mutually constructing each other. The examination of adoption
narratives not only enable a reflection on how we imagine adoption but also help to develop more inclusive and open perspectives when trying to understand adoption.
Besides, in the wake of an increasing number of transnational adoptions
For a detailed study on birth mothers from South Korea, see Hosu Kim’s “Mothers Without Mothering: Birth Mothers from South Korea Since the Korean War,” 139-41.
during 1980 to 2003, more and more narratives about transnational or transracial adoption appear. The complexities of transnational adoption process, the emotional turbulence of adoptees, the competence of adoptive parents in raising children of different races, the bewilderment of adoptees about their identities, the quest for the self, and the experience of searching for birth mothers have drawn a lot of attention and become public concerns. More and more people, including adoptees, adoptive parents, social workers, facilitators, and officials, write about the narratives of transnational adoption. Sara Dorow points out that “the stories and activities that happen between adopted children and the people around them constitute what Hall (1996a) calls identification” (26). According to Dorow, “identification” is a process which happens between “individual psyches and the subject positions invented by culture, politics, and markets” (27). Narratives of adoptees and narratives told by people around them are the “the identificatory work between individual and collective, local and transnational, past and present” (27). Adoption narratives, comingling
personal experience and cultural ideology, became the intersection of the private and the public as they often deal with individuals and the society at the same time.
In addition to the process of identification in transnational adoption
narratives, Margaret Homans’s essay, “Adoption Narratives, Traume, and Origins,” links adoption narratives with narrative theories and trauma theories. In the essay, Homans explains that Western cultures “tend to equate biological origins with
identity” (5). In narratives such as Oedipus or Harry Potter, taking root trips seems to be necessary for adoptees to know both the origin and who they really are. However, these trips are often followed by disappointment because these searches can not lead to what they want: knowledge of who they are. Adoption narratives hence are often a process of approaching “an irretrievable past,” and a process of “making an origin” (7). It tends to create “plausible if not verifiable narratives” (7). In other words, the
identity narratives not only tell the experience of the adoptees but also invent the adoption story in a particular way because in the storytelling the adoptees often deals with the past and the present at the same time. To understand the social context of transnational adoption, thus, becomes imperative in analyzing transnational adoption narratives.
In fact, the scope of adoption history and practice appears comprehensive. The study of transnational adoption and transnational adoption narratives crosses disciplinary lines to include anthropology, history, politics, psychology, and social work. However, in Imagining Adoption, a collection of essays, which studies
representations of adoption in different media, such as films, plays, poetics, adoption rhetoric and novels, there is a common concern about adoptees’ identity. Some argue that identity is primarily biological; others support the idea that heredity and nurture are equally important. Some consider adoption as a personal and social good; others maintain that adoption is viewing adoptees as commodities within international power structure. As Marianne Novy concludes in her introduction of the anthology, “the techniques of literature and of literary and cultural analysis facilitate exploring its complexity” (12). Only with the examination of the strands of difference that characterize the adoptee and the story will we get to realize that the different
experiences in adoption. Experiences of transnational adoption are multiple, divergent and unique. These experiences can not be generalized because every story is unique. The value of these narratives is of unwavering significance because the
representations involve identification, and it includes a reflection of social
imagination of transnational adoption. Transnational adoption narratives are important also because we know that there is always more than what is said in the stories. The experiences of adoptees can never be encapsulated in a single text. Neither can these representations be comprehensive of the aspects involved in the issue of transnational
adoption. The practice of transnational adoption is closely connected to politics, social issues, and cultural contexts. It is also about the life of individuals. However, as the range of the study is extensive and inclusive, what are presented here are but a few of the most significant works on transnational adoption narratives. To study the
representation in the two texts, it is necessary to consider the psychological, cultural, racial, and social contexts within which they are conceived.
1.5 Contextualizing The Language of Blood and A Gesture Life
In her study on adoption narratives, Margaret Homans argues that “adoptive origins and origin stories are not discovered in the past so much as they are created in the present and for the present” (5). Likewise, Thomas King also says that “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (2). The truth about “exactly who I am” is a constant question hovering over adoptees’ mind. Hence, as knowing the origin or heredity is often linked to one’s identity, root trips become necessary to adoptees. On one hand, the presence of the adoptees and their trips unsettle the amnesia of Korea. On the other, however, as Hosu Kim suggests, in the dominant narratives surrounding returning adoptees in Korea, birth mothers are often generalized as they are all the same. Through the representation of media, adoption becomes the affect economy. Birth mothers are made into “the affective figure, encapsulated in a dominant narrative of adoptees as successful citizens and of foreign adoption as being unfortunate, but inevitably necessary” (143).22
22 Kim argues that “the affect economy connects the traumatic losses of birth mothers with the
adoptive parent’s desire for a child (often thwarted due to infertility). Increasingly, the figure of the birth mother is deployed as an affective pull, producing the adoptee’s desire to return to the motherland...” (145).
Women were exploited in the patriarchic society during the World War II and when Korea became industrialized. With this dominant narrative in Korea, they are exploited again as “‘affectively
necessary labor’ that ensures a successful adoption” when their children become political tools bridging Korea to the United States and global economy.23
In transnational adoption, both birth mothers and adoptees become objects of pity. According to Eleana Kim, Korean adoptees feel “discrimination from Americans and rejection both from South Koreans and Korean Americans” (70); therefore, they do not have the sense of belonging. Koreanness becomes a national, political, and cultural discourse interpellating adult adoptees into a productive role in global economy, and the adoptees become “reminders and remainders of South Korea’s Third World past, the ‘illicit’ sexual practices of Korean Women, and American cultural and economic imperialism” (72). Both the adoptee and the adoptive mothers are the specters of a repressed history. They are conveniently erased from Korea’s official documents, easily forgotten.
Jane Jeong Trenka was born in early 1970s, when South Korea emphasized economic growth rather than the development of social welfare after the Korea War. Sending children to another country for adoption is also one of the Korean
government’s strategies in dealing with social problems of poverty. As discussed earlier, in both Korea and the United States, the international adoption narrative has appealed to an affective relation between both birth and adoptive parents. While in Korea’s adoption discourse, birth parents were socially, legally, or psychologically forced to give up their children with an expectation of a better life for both the children and parents; in U.S. adoption discourse, adoptees are viewed as gifts from birth mothers. To Trenka, she does not see her experience resembling what was told in master transnational adoption narrative. She writes The Language of Blood because she feels the need to tell her story in her own voice. In her essay “Why Write,” she
23 “Affectively necessary labor” was a term that Hosu Kim quotes from Michael Hardt’s “Affective
Labor.” Affectively necessary labor is the labor that is essential to produce affects such as a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, or passion.
People always ask me why I write. Here's why: I write because the story I have to tell about my life is not the same story that I have been told. I write because I want to create a small mark on the historical record. I write because the master narrative is a master. I write because I refuse to be deployed to support someone else's agenda. I write to find the truth. I write so you will believe me. I write to remember who I am. I write to remember who my mother was. If my childhood memory is a site of amnesia, then I will make my adult memory a site of resistance. I will remember, I will remember, I will remember. I write, I resist, and I refuse to be erased.24
In transnational adoption discourses, adoption becomes affect economy. However, divergent voices come out from adoptees when the adoptees find their experiences diverge from dominant narratives and from the rhetoric of “the best interests for children.” For Trenka, to write is to resist being generalized and erased.
A Gesture Life represents another dimension of post-adoption narrative. The
context of the transnational adoption narrative in A Gesture Life is located in the first wave of Korea’s foreign adoption, in which biracial children are the majority of the children given up for adoption. Korea had been occupied and annexed by Japan since 1910. The adoptive father, Kurohata, or Doc Hata, is also an adoptee who was
brought from Korea to Japan before the World War II. It was a period of time when Korea was under Japan’s occupation. In fact, it is very unusual for a Japanese family to adopt a Korean child; therefore, as Chang-rae Lee says, Hata is “a part of a family that he could never belong to and be a part of.”25
24 Trenka puts this paragraph on a conducive blog. See <
Wherever he is, Hata always makes
http://www.wrestlingtheangel.com/archives /000556. html>.
25 In answering the question “How common is it, or was it, for a Japanese family to adopt a Korean
child,” Chang-rae Lee draws on his own study and make a comment which includes the information about Doc Hata. For Lee’s answer, which I will discuss in the third chapter, see <
great efforts to try to belong. The desire to be part of his environment drives him to join the army during the World War II. In his service, he meets a comfort woman from Korea, K. Hata, who develops a romantic love for K. However, in the end, K was murdered by other Japanese soldiers. As Chang-rae Lee said in an interview, Hata’s relationship with the comfort woman is one of the defining events in Doc Hata’s life. After the War, he moved to the United States and adopted a daughter, Sunny. Being a Korean orphan and mix-raced, as Lee says, Sunny is “taken in by a family or an adult who is not really thinking of her as a person, but as someone to fill out the house.”26
Without emphasizing humanitarianism, love, generosity, rescue narrative, the social benefit for children, and morality in the practice of transnational adoption, The
Language of Blood and A Gesture Life present counter narratives to dominant
transnational adoption narratives. The practice is no longer a blessing for both parents and adoptees. My thesis therefore intends to explore the nature of transnational adoption discourses, and study the representations of transnational adoption in these two texts.
With the narrator’s retrospect to the conflicts between the adoptive father and the adoptee, the novel prompts an inspection of the “best interest for children.”
In the next chapter, I attempt to investigate Trenka’s representation of her experiences as a transnational adoptee. Her memoir challenges the master
transnational adoption narrative constructed by agencies and adoptive parents. First, I will discuss the dominant discourse in transnational adoption. Discourses about the binary opposition between the sending country and the receiving country have normalized the practice of transnational adoption. While social workers and
facilitators become experts and knowledge producers of transnational adoption, the continuation of the practice is in fact supported by the reiteration of these discourses. Following this, I proceed to study the representation of transnational adoption in Trenka’s memoir. As Marianne Novy observes, adoption plots have been made into films, plays and novels. Adoption plots also appear in TV series like The Simpsons,
Grey’s Anatomy, and Sex and the City. As transnational adoption becomes normalized,
in Trenka’s memoir, with the inclusion of playwriting, crossword puzzles, myths and dream sequences, it reveals an adoptee’s desire to combine these different genres to construct an adoption plot in her own perspective. The presentation challenges the representation of master narrative and enables us to rethink the practice of
transnational practice. I will also examine the migration of the female body under the practice of transnational adoption in the memoir. Gender dynamics in both sending and receiving countries is deeply involved within the process of transnational adoption, and gender ideologies in different societies have defined what women are. Being stripped of her own culture and being displaced far away from her own race, Trenka, as a Korean female adoptee, has witnessed what has happened to both her adoptive and birth mothers. And she refuses to repeat their life stories.
In the third chapter, I will analyze the presentation of the transnational adoption narrative in A Gesture Life. I intend to study Doc Hata as an adoptee.
Belongingness has always been an important issue for him. For Hata, there is always a great yearning to belong: in Japan, in the military, and in his home in Bedley Run, America. The way that his language of successful assimilation in his narration and his gesture of being the number one citizen in the little town in America both reveal the fact that he can never possibly really be part of the American society. The
representation of Hata enables us to consider the experience of an adoptee after the practice of transnational adoption leaves him with little or no respect for where he was
from. Following this, I will delve into the relation between Hata and his adoptive daughter, Sunny. Oscillating between the past and the present, Hata’s narration discloses how his yearning for belongingness has driven him to adopt a daughter. As the relation between an adoptive parent and the adoptee deteriorates since the adoptive father refuses to regard his daughter as a person, the narrative suggests a reconsideration of the nature of transnational adoption. Finally, through the
examination of the novel, in the end of the third chapter I will focus on analyzing the relation between gender politics and transnational adoption. Hata’s expectation for women’s chastity, first in K, then in Sunny, reveals the gender ideology he has ascribed to. The way that Hata tries to have a family by adopting a Korean girl mirrors the exploitation of female bodies in the case of the comfort women. The gender ideology drives Hata to subjugate and control the female adoptee, and turns the female adoptee into a victim of patriarchy.
Experiences of transnational adoption can never be generalized. Likewise, the practice is never the only solution to social problems and family issues. Through the study of the representation in the two transnational adoption narratives, I argue that to accept the rhetoric of rescue, humanitarianism, love and generosity in transnational adoption without considering the loss of family, culture, and language for an adoptee is in fact a reproduction of the “banality of evil” because it is the reiteration of the discourses that support the continuation of the practice.27
27 Banality of evil is a phrase coined by
The language of “rescue” is hierarchical and dangerous because it assumes that there is a culture that is inferior or under-developed and thus must be rescued. Korean American adoption is a tale of racial and gender woe. We can not ignore the gender politics
Hannah Arendt. The phrase is incorporated in the title of her work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil and describes the thesis that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, are not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who accept the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions are normal.
within the practice of transnational adoption. Nor can we neglect the lucrative profit accumulated through the migration of the children in the world of global capitalism. The representations of transnational adoption in the two books debunk the myth of “happily ever after” in the master transnational adoption narrative. Therefore, in the end of the thesis, I would also argue that to support transnational adoption without reducing the need of transnational adoption, eliminating monetary incentives, and effecting real social changes is to support the extension of the exploitation created by patriarchy, racism, and imperialism.
Debunking the Master Narrative of Transnational Adoption in
The Language of Blood
There are so many books written by adoptive parents in first person, the narrator being the adoptee. My book is actually from the adoptee’s perspective, which may not seem all that big of a deal to someone who isn’t completely obsessed with adoption, but it is true that white adoptive parents and social workers have dominated the literature of adoption for fifty years. We desperately need more adoptees, of any opinion, to write and publish just to begin to correct this imbalance. It’s imperative that we speak for ourselves in our adult voices.28
~Jane Jeong Trenka In this chapter, I intend to explore how Trenka, as a transnational adoptee, challenges the master narrative of transnational adoption with her own lived experience. I will also analyze Trenka’s criticism of the idealized version of transnational adoption as represented in the master narrative, which, according to Trenka, is not reality but most possibly a fantasy constructed based on class, patriarchy, racial ideology. I attempt to study Trenka’s critique from three aspects. First, I will explore the nature of the master narrative of transnational adoption. The master narrative has been relying on the description of the polarities between sending and receiving countries for more than fifty years. And according to Trenka’s memoir, there is a discrepancy between what is told by transnational adoption agencies and adopters and the reality that transnational adoptees face in their real life. Hence, there is a need to rethink the nature of the practice. I will also study Trenka’s ambivalence toward her identity and then examine her choice to represent her experience in
divergent genres in the memoir. The employment of multiple genres embodies her struggle of identification. To Trenka, the memoir is a record of her experience of transformation, in which she has transformed from an adoptee who suffers from a fragmented identity into a person who has freed herself from the trauma and is reborn through her own writing. Furthermore, Trenka’s use of bodily symbols will also be analyzed.
To investigate how Trenka represents her own experience, I will begin with Trenka’s wish to speak as an adoptee. In The Language of Blood, Trenka writes herself into different characters: such as a doll which can be “returned” back to the store; a replacement of the “pink-skinned boy” with blue eyes and funny smile yet who has never been conceived; the rabbit “sitting right at the hunter’s feet” that has to remain perfectly still, or her stalker would find her; “a gook, a chink” in a white man’s society; a puppy that is eager to please her white parents but finds herself never good enough; the dragon which has never been accepted.29
Paradoxically, Trenka is also overly present to the adoptive parents as a reminder of their inability to bear their own children. As religious Lutherans, Trenka’s
This way of representation reflects her fragmented self and her sense of bewilderedness as an adoptee. Also, one of the focuses in The Language of Blood is the relationship between the adoptee and the adopter. To question the language in the master narrative of transnational adoption, Trenka dwells on the tension between people’s imagination of transnational adoption and the reality faced by the adoptees. To Trenka, her adoptive parents do not see her as who she is, so in the sense that Trenka is a replacement of the white baby desired by her parents yet who has never been conceived, she is invisible/ absent in the adoptive family.
For the reference of “pink-skinned boy,” see page 28. For the reference of “sitting right at the hunter’s feet,” see page 81. For the reference of “a gook, a chink,” see page 83.
adoptive parents follow Pastor Mattson’s advice — “God does not see the color of our skin,” and “He made us all the same in His image” — and adopt Trenka and her sister (25). The Brauers raise the sisters as if they were their own children. However, the adopters deliberately ignore the difference between them and their adoptive daughters. Furthermore, they also ignore Trenka’s need for family support. When Trenka’s
adoptive mother tries to sanitize the emotions out of Trenka, what follows after the sanitization is the adoptee’s “han” (恨/한)—an emotion consists of resentment, grudges, regret, angst, and grief (Lo 169). Trenka undergoes the experience of being unrecognized as who she is and suffers the emotional turbulence of “han.” Moreover, what frustrates her the most is that none of her experience resembles what is told in the master narrative of transnational adoption. In this regard, the disparity between the ideal version of transnational adoption as represented in the master narrative and the everyday reality for the adoptees is a recurring motif in The Language of Blood. Hence in what follows, I will first start with a study on the master narrative in order to further explore the contrast between the perfect image of a nuclear family as
presented in the master narrative and the adoptee’s “real” life as represented in Trenka’s memoir.
2.1 Accessing the Dominant Narrative of Transnational Adoption
I will start with the ideological discourses underlying the dominant narrative of transnational adoption, which includes gift rhetoric, rescue narratives, and
humanitarianism. According to studies on Korean American adoption, the practice links the expectation for building the loving middle-class nuclear family in Western society to the value of pure lineage and the ideal of feminine chastity in the
patriarchal society of Korea. It is also conceived as a repercussion of American imperialism/colonialism and Korea’s aspiration for economic growth and modernity
after the Korea War.30 Whereas in the United States adopting a foreign baby is an exercise of American assimilation in the name of rescue, sending children away from Korea is often read as a maternal sacrifice for a better life for both the child and the birth family in Korea. Moreover, when the “gift rhetoric” of adoption in the United States meets the notion of the American dream in Korea,31 the practice is also a means to fulfill Christian ideal of civilization and a reflection of Korea’s ingrained
Transnational adoption discourse and narrative articulated by adoption agencies and adoptive parents has dominated the literature of transnational adoption for more than fifty years. It is until very recent years that we hear the voices of birth parents and adoptees. For the past five decades, while birth parents were mostly absent in government documents and the articulation of adult adoptees remained largely unheard, both adoption agencies and adopters have assumed the responsibility to speak for the practice of transnational adoption.
The binary oppositions between the sending and receiving countries such as supply and need, repression in patriarchal society and freedom in liberal democracy, traditional and modern, started Korean-American adoption. However, it is the
reiteration of the binary oppositions that sustains the practice.
On the one hand, adoption agencies have been the “knowledge producers” on the subject of Korean-American adoption. According to Kristi Brian, three themes in the discourse of transnational agency characterize the language of these knowledge producers: “adopter-centered,” “culture-consuming,” and the tendency of treating the sending country, Korea, as “nonpolitical, cultural other’” (62). In her essay “Choosing
30 For the relation between transnational adoption and the imperialism of the United States, see Tobias
Hübinette. For the relation between transnational adoption and the aspirations for modernity in Korea, see Hosu Kim, and Eleana Kim.
31 The gift rhetoric views the child as a gift of birth mothers. In intercountry adoption sites where the
U.S. has been the dominant receiving country, the American dream refers to a promise of a better life for the adopted child. See Hosu Kim, 145-47.
For a detailed discussion on each notion mentioned above, see Kristi Brian, David Eng, Dong Soo Kim, Hosu Kim, Tobias Hübinette, Eleana Kim, Catherine Cerniza Choy.
Korea: Marketing ‘Multiculturalism’ to Choosy Adopters,” Brian argues that in order to meet “the consumer needs of the target market,” which are the needs of adopters in the enterprise of transnational adoption, Korean-American adoption social workers often take the stance as experienced adopters and understanding, sensitive facilitators to guarantee a successful adoption (65). In the discourse of the agencies, U.S.
domestic adoptions are more often than not overlooked in the information provided to potential adopters. In addition, the efficiency of Korean-American adoption is often a focus in the discourse of agency facilitators when they intend to promote transnational adoption. Thus, the practice overshadows other options for potential parents. E. J. Graff’s essay, “The Lie We Love,” corresponds to Kristi Brian’s points as she indicates that transnational adoption is promoted by adoption agencies because, in addition to religious belief and changes of demography,33
According to Brian, the agency facilitators of Korean American adoption also tend to link multiculturalism with the race awareness of adopters. In fact, the notion of multiculturalism is hailed in the United States and thus the race consciousness of the adopters is viewed as the embodiment of virtuosity and open-mindedness (Brian 70). In Brian’s words, with the offhand uses of culture and multiculturalism, culture is mostly reduced to race or traditions, and adoptees are viewed as carriers of culture or cultural commodities. Thus, race, or culture, becomes a guide to the adopters’
preference in their decision-making process.
the practice is also considered as a “safer,” “more predictable and more likely to success” plan than domestic adoptions for those who are eager to adopt.
In Graff’s essay, the changes of demography here refer to the declination of the number of the unplanned births, which is a result of contraception, abortion, delayed marriages. Reasons for transnational adoption that are related to the changes of demography can also be found on page 6 and 12 of this thesis.
However, as the United States embraces its ethnic plurality and uses the image of a melting pot as the national
For a detailed discussion on the assumption of race consciousness in culture-consuming parents in the discourse of adoption agencies, see Kristi Brian, 69-74.