Adoptee to U.S. seeks roots in Korea, views overseas adoption as a last resort
The homecoming tradition on Korea’s Thanksgiving day, hard-wired in the Korean psyche and culture for centuries, is so strong that it prevails over hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the road and boredom in jam-packed trains. In some ways it can be compared to the the mysterious homing instinct in salmon, who fight their way upstream against strong currents and even waterfalls to spawn where their own lives began.
No wonder the instinct turns poisonous if it is not realized, as some Koreans with no place to call home are left with a sense of emptiness and sorrow.
Beth Lo, a Korean adoptee looking for her biological parents, felt this sadness over Chuseok while other Korean adoptees headed home for the holidays.
“I think Chuseok isn’t as hard for me as my birthday, or the day I was found,” said Lo, 32, in a written interview last week from Minnesota, where she resides with her husband and their six children.
“But I definitely am filled with sorrow when I hear of other Korean adopted friends who are able to reunite with their biological families and go home for Chuseok and other Korean holidays.
“I am quiet about my loss, because I do not want my family to see me suffer,” she said.
The silent yearning brought her to Korea in late July when Seoul hosted the 2007 International Korean Adoptees Association (IKAA) gathering.
A writer and psychologist, Lo spoke at the gathering attended by more than 510 Korean adoptees from 17 countries. Her topic was mental health issues of Korean adoptees.
During her stay in Seoul, her second visit after a short trip in 1989, Lo searched for her biological parents, though she had very little information about her birth.
She put up posters in several areas of Seoul showing four photos taken at different ages.
The poster included contact information for Lo, but there was no response.
“Although I was prepared for it, it is still frustrating to not make that family connection,” she said.
Five months after being brought to Yongsan Police Precinct in Seoul on July 23, 1975, which she assumes to be her birthday, Lo was sent to her adoptive parents in Minnesota. The only thing she knows about her Korean heritage is that her name was Kim Hei-kyong, but she is not sure if that is the name her biological parents gave her. The police officer who received Lo called her by that Korean name, she said.
She was happy in her early years in what she called a “good upbringing.” But Lo later experienced confusion and struggles as an adoptee, issues that still plague her.
“I had a fairly happy childhood and felt like my parents loved me very much,” she said.
“My parents taught me that I was Korean and tried to expose me to Korean culture and people as much as they could,” Lo said.
Lo had a hard time when she was about 10 years old with nightmares, loneliness and homesickness. She yearned to be with her birth family, though her adoptive mother loved her very much.
“I have always felt like my birth mother may have abandoned me physically, but that spiritually, she never cut the umbilical cord,” Lo said.
That longing for her Asian origin led her to seek “connection with an Asian family,” and she married a Hmong, who had emigrated from Laos. Lo was a 19-year-old college student and he was an elementary school teacher. They met at a party, she said.
Based on her experience as an adoptee, she began her career as a writer while studying English in college. Then she began a master’s degree in counseling psychology, which she said is also related to her being an adoptee. She is currently completing a doctorate in clinical psychology.
“I wanted to contribute to the community in understanding how the loss of culture, family and country does have an effect on people, even as infants,” Lo said.
During the adoptees’ gathering in Seoul, Lo attended a demonstration organized by her friend and fellow adoptee, Jane Trenka. It was the first demonstration against overseas adoption by adoptees in Korea. Overseas adoption should only be a last resort, they asserted.
“I believe in social welfare reform and helping birth parents and single parents raise their children first, with domestic adoption second and international adoption third,” Lo said. Lo hopes to come back to Korea for the next IKAA gathering.
By Moon Gwang-lip Staff Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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