Hyunju and Ruben Chappelhine

Hyanju Chappelhein: [00:00:00] I’m Hyanju Chappelhein and I grew up in Michigan and I currently live in the Bay Area.

Ruben Chappelhein :[00:00:06] My name is Ruben Chappelhein and I grew up in Colorado. And I also live in the Bay Area with my wife.

[00:00:19] Ruben Chappelhein: Well I guess at first it was it was awful. I mean I was adopted when I was seven. And immediately all the kids you know on the playground either want to fight me or just want to call me names. And so that was a very difficult struggle that first year and then a year later I was re-adopted by a family in Colorado and went through the same thing. I had to – it was a new group of kids you know, a bunch of heights bunch of names. And then things things change. You know as you get older the kids get used to you and you get you make some good friends. But there’s always that struggle. Of being Asian in a very white society. I mean I’m from Colorado Longmont Colorado where I went to high school. So that’s about as white as it gets and I don’t know. I I always felt like I was never part of my my my peers. Like their goings on their lives. I always felt like I was an outside observer because I always felt like in that environment. So not until I actually started hanging out with Korean American adoptees who I could actually identify with that I feel like I was actually engaging. I mean I feel like I started my life when I moved out here to the Bay Area.

[00:01:49] I mean even when I was in Korea in Korea I never felt like I was engaged because again I was a novelty because you know I didn’t speak any Korean and all the Koreans kind of understood that I was adopted and that any weird non-Korean mannerisms I had they would kind of stand and take it in stride. But actually other Koreans would get very angry with me and scold me for not knowing Korean or Korean customs. So it’s like this constant struggle throughout your whole life. And so it’s very confusing. I mean a lot of issues.

[00:02:27] And now – now it’s like I feel very comfortable just kind of hanging out with our Korean adoptee friends because it’s not so confusing and I think there’s like a mutual understanding that we can kind of act like whatever we want because we have this common bond and we know we’ve had it hard, you know in social situations anywhere else. So it feels like there’s like a nest here that we could kind of gather together and talk about our our lives in the future.

[00:03:02] But at least as far as where I wanted to live America won out because Korea didn’t have the amenities that America did. Plus I was so culturally American. My parents, my dad especially, really just lectured me and scolded and scolded all the Korean out of me because those mannerisms where he came from were actually very rude. The Korean mannerisms I had.

[00:03:29] So in Korea I felt very weird and I was really happy to leave when I did. But I was at the same time I was I was glad I learned the language again.

Hyanju Chappelhein: [00:03:41] You know what it was but. For me a lot of different things happened and I ended up finding my family in Korea. And then after I stayed in the home of my mother and got to know my siblings and spent time with my mother it finally made sense. What had been missing all those years. So I feel really fortunate that that whatever twist of fate led me back to them and I feel like up until now at the age of 33 my life has been about going back and forth between the States and Korea and literally looking for things looking for material with which to build my life. So it’s like I’m trying to find the lumber and the glass and you know the things whether they’re cultural or having to do with relationships or language but to find these things so that I can I can build a home for myself somewhere and this.


Hyunju Chappelhein: [00:00:00] OK. I’m Hyunju Chappelhein and I was born in Korea in the early 70s and adopted to the states in the late 70s.

[00:00:11] That’s a complicated answer. The easiest way to answer is that my birth father was killed in a train accident and at the time Korea was in such an economic, uh, the whole country was having such economic hardships that it was too difficult for my family to say.

[00:00:38] Oh OK. I was adopted with my older sister and younger brother and we came to the states together because our birth mother insisted that we stay together and we grew up in a small town in Michigan and our family included four Korean adoptees our older brother was adopted before we were and we were quite the site in Michigan four Korean kids and two white parents. So we had a happy living and I spent most of my life as a child thinking that I was a white person because that was the only real option available back then and the adoption philosophy. And it wasn’t until I went to college where I had more access to Asian Americans and realized that I was an Asian American. This began a whole process of self discovery and exploring what it meant to be Korean and finally being able to understand what it meant that I had an Asian face.

[00:01:54] And yeah. I was born as Hyunju and came to the states and my adoptive parents named me Crystal. So for most of my life I didn’t even remember what my Korean name was because actually if I tried to say it kids were just you know it was it was something that kids can make fun of. So I pretty much forgot my Korean name.

[00:02:24] But then when I was in college and started meeting more Koreans I rediscovered my name and started to feel more of an affinity toward my name and especially when I went back to Korea and met my birth mother and my birth family and saw the whole context of that – I have a name a Korean name and an identity and a complete family in Korea and a whole history of my own that my name had a much deeper meaning and value to me than just something the little kids would make fun of if I said it.

[00:03:02] So this May I officially, after getting married and changing my last name as well, I decided to officially go back to Hyunju. And I’ve been using that for about seven years anyway among my friends. And in the adoption circles so.

[00:03:22] American. That would make people very happy where I came from. So I had a very happy childhood. What I experienced growing up because really I didn’t know that there were other options. So with our immediate friends and family around us of course we are very accepted and treated like of course part of the community, part of the family, but when – with the broader community, you know, there would always be difficult things to deal with. And when you’re that young and you don’t know any other Asians and you don’t know how to talk about issues of race and there are very few people of color around anyway, it’s hard to try to process what’s going on.

[00:04:12] So I didn’t have the ability to understand what happened in my youth and to figure out what it all meant until I went to college and had more access to her.

[00:04:29] Yeah. My sister and I began searching when I was in college. My sister and I both have very vivid dreams but one dream she had while we were in college was that maybe our birth mother was dead. So we had a little bit of fear that we needed to search and to look soon. So we tried to contact our agency but they said it would take a year just to find her. And then I was at the time exploring my Korean roots and taking Korean lessons and being involved with Korean American organizations and attending Korean American church. So when I was on an internship in Kansas I met a wonderful family and the pastor of a Korean American church there. And he was going back to Korea for the first time since he had emigrated ten years ago. So he offered to find my birth mother, or to look for her. And he went back to Korea for a pastors conference. And when he was there he found her in two days,.

[00:05:45] When we went to America my sister was 7. I was almost 5 and my little brother was 2.

[00:06:01] One time on one of my later trips to Korea. We were taking a walk on this island near her house and she started singing a song and I I was smiling and it must be because I remembered her singing that when I was young and sometimes she really likes to play with my little brothers.

[00:06:22] One time in the back of my car we were driving somewhere and she and my little brother were in the back and she started singing Song Tokie (?) and playing with him. That’s a song about the rabbit and it was very cute. And at the airport when we first landed and we were expecting to see my birth mother and I think we knew our step dad was coming and maybe a translator. But my whole extended family showed up as well. So we are surrounded by this crowd of people all our relatives and their their children and husbands. But I recognized right away my two uncles and my grandmother who were standing a little bit off to the side. And I pointed at them and said Uncle in Korean. And they just their eyes just started flowing with tears.

[00:07:25] The first time we talked was after my pastor came back to Kansas and he had arranged the conversation. So after that conversation I was just I was literally jumping up and down. I was so thrilled. And then when we first met I mean for saw each other again at the airport. I just had this really deep cry come out and it was this I think it was this pain that I had never been allowed or never had access to before that moment when I saw her. So it was good it was. It was healing and it was healing for everybody. Our whole extended family to have us back and to see us and see how we’re doing and to be in contact with us again.

[00:08:14] For myself I think I do experience many of those feelings. I have times in Korea where I feel that I am I am so American and I’ve had trips where I felt where the culture just really was jarring to me in certain ways where it was difficult because of the language barrier and I’ve heard other times where I’m totally loving my time there and I don’t want to leave and I want to come back as soon as possible and where I feel so at home and I’m back surrounded by all these things. The neon lights and the hearing the Korean all around me and just being able to tap into everything that.

[00:09:04] My search came out of a desire within me and my sister. And when you have that kind of desire there is really no way to stop it I don’t think. And at the time that we were searching my relationship with my parents was really strong. I mean I had always had a close relationship with my parents but after I graduated from college. Yeah my adoptive parents. After I graduated from college they sent me a Valentine’s card that said something to the effect of more than anything we adored that you did when you were a little girl, we value your friendship as an adult. So basically you know they sent a.

[00:09:55] Grew up and in Korea. So my husband was in Korea studying at Yonsei (?) as many adoptees to trying to learn the language and actually having the times of their lives. Being a young person in Seoul and you know having access again to Korean food and excuse me and being able to finally day other Asians all of these things so, a very good friend he made in Korea was a friend of a friend.

[00:10:27] My friend also who had lived in Korea for several you know for several years off and on. She’s been back and forth ever since she was reunited a long time ago with her birth family. So it’s mutual friends of friends but it’s this whole there’s a very strong bond and connection that flows within the Korean adoptee community around the world I think. I mean of course we have our differences but yeah it’s a very good way to meet people. Well of course we meet people for social purposes and have fun. And in truth we all did a lot of growing up together I would say.

[00:11:09] You used to be are.

[00:11:13] Doesn’t that mean that that you know whatever your stereotype might be that adoptees are so different even within our own group so many different experiences and perspectives. Yeah I think if the broader community knew more about the complexities of our experience. Maybe they would have more understanding. I don’t know.

[00:11:43] Being an adult. And I mean I think overall the best thing about American society is that we say that we are that we are a country made up of all types of people and to be able to recognize and say as a greater society that each one of these experiences is American. And I’m just as American as somebody else who was born here and had their birth family their whole life. Yeah I think that kind of acceptance is what we need more of.