Orphaned and homeless Haitian children need help as their country recovers from last month’s earthquake. But do they need new parents in the United States? Not so fast, warns writer Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean “orphan” with living parents who was adopted by a Minnesotan family.
Trenka’s memoir, “The Language of Blood” (Borealis Books), covers the child’s side of the trans-racial adoption experience. Until recently, most literature on the topic of adoption focused on the experiences of the adoptive parents. Trenka’s book explored the disconnection and complexities involved in growing up Asian in a dominant white culture, and the pain involved with severing and reconnecting the bond between birth mother and child — and birth country and child.
Her new book, “Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea” (Borealis), continues her story; in 2004, she returned to live in Korea. She’s also become an activist for adoptees hoping to reunite with their birth families, and hopes that her experiences serve as a warning to well-meaning people looking to adopt from Haiti or elsewhere.
MinnPost: What concerns you about people adopting orphans from Haiti now?
Trenka: I think what has been everyone’s concern, from the U.S. Dept of Homeland Security to UNICEF to private individuals such as myself, is that amid the panic and very human desire to save children, that children would be misidentified, trafficked, or unnecessarily separated from the adults who can and should take care of them. This is a real, valid concern. For instance, I read an AFP article today that said child trafficking gangs are trying to sell foreigners orphans for as little as $50. However, on the positive side of things, it seems that the general public has learned lessons from the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and there is more awareness of the dangers of people involved in adoption acting in a way that may be well-intentioned, but would actually have detrimental consequences.
MP: What do you think adoptive parents of children from situations like Haiti don’t understand?
JJT: I feel there is such a lack of imagination. What I mean by that is, if you could imagine yourself being in the shoes of, say, a Haitian mother who has been separated from her child, and who is desperately searching for that child, you would not rush to airlift that child out of the country for adoption. If you could imagine yourself in the shoes of that mother, you would be working feverishly for family reunification and accurate identification. You would be working on building infrastructure in Haiti. You would be concerned about not just children, but also the adults. A little imagination could go a long way toward building a world that is more equitable, where everyone — children and adults — is given the tools to work towards improving their own lives and that of their families and communities.
MP: What about orphans from non-emergency situations overseas, such as international adoption hotspots like China, Central America, or Eastern Europe?
JJT: Even in non-emergency situations, ethical adoptions depend on everyone being honest, and let’s face it, people are not always honest. No matter how upstanding and transparent the system is in the “receiving country,” the “sending country” might be a different matter. Numerous well-documented scandals have erupted regarding the places you mentioned because of corruption in sending countries.
Corruption has not been as well-documented in South Korea, which has been nicknamed the “Cadillac” of the international adoption industry because of its supposed legality and transparency. Yet so many reunited adoptees — I would say the vast majority of them — whom I have met say that they found something wrong with their records. But it exists, and that is one reason I am working for TRACK. The corruption exists as misinformation on records, as well as the South Korean system of procuring children for adoption, which is a system in that it utilizes a web of unwed mothers’ homes, hospitals, and clinics that funnel children of unwed mothers to adoption agencies.
When Americans adopt from Korea, they enable that system of patriarchy and prejudice to continue, and they prevent a better social welfare system for family preservation from developing.
MP: Your first book delves into some of the challenges international adoptees face. What other books would you recommend to other adopted kids — or to their parents?
JJT: Some favorites of mine for adults are “Beyond Good Intentions” by Cheri Register, “Adoption Healing” by Joe Soll, and of course, “Outsiders Within,” which I co-edited with Julia Chinyere Oparah and Sun Yung Shin. For a really wonderful bibliography of good children’s literature, I would like to recommend my friend Sarah Park’s website.