Interviewed by Miae Kim
Thomas Park Clement: [00:00:00] I’m Thomas Park Clement and I am from Bloomington Indiana. Well let me see as many adoptees. I’m not sure exactly what date I was born. So it was somewhere around 1950 1951. And at the latest nineteen fifty two and as you probably know the war started in June 1950 and the cease fire was around July of 1953 and I have quite a few memories from that period. I have a theory that if your childhood is fairly uneventful then you will have a hard time remembering back to an earlier age. But because of the war it was so eventful that I can remember when I was 2 and 3 years old.
Thomas Park Clement [00:01:06] The, my, I lived with my birth mother and father for approximately four years. And when I was around four and a half years old my father disappeared and then right around that period my mother had brought me to a street corner and told me to look down the street and not turn back. And that was the last time I saw her. So I was living on the streets for a while. I have no idea how long until I was found by a Methodist missionary nurse and I am half and half. So she was on the lookout for – we call them hop hoppers which is half Caucasian half asian children and she brought me to an orphanage and I was there for perhaps two years and then Congress had passed a acceptance of international adoptees in 1957 and I was adopted into the U.S. in 1958.
[Thomas Park Clement 00:02:28] OK and they lived in North Carolina at the time. My father was a executive for General Electric and my mother was a housewife who spent a lot of time with personal projects like UNICEF and other things. I had in the family, I had one brother that was a year or two younger than I was, a new sister That was just born, and then a an older sister who was 9 at the time.
Thomas Park Clement[ 00:03:11] Well in the 1950s as you probably know there was a lot of open prejudice and most people didn’t know the word Korea or Korean. So and there were very few of us here in the 50s and we lived in North Carolina perhaps six months and then my father got transferred to Pittsfield Massachusetts with the General Electric Company and we left in Pittsfield for around 20 years. And in Pittsfield that was a little bit less racial prejudice than North Carolina but it was still there because I think there was one other Korean person living in the whole city at the time. Y.
Thomas Park Clement [00:04:11] Es I remember the airport I was in Idlewild Airport the New York Times came and took a bunch of pictures. I came with a little girl that was her name was Mia and she was adopted by a family by the name of [00:04:32] Canadas(?). So we both walk down the stairs of the airplane and met our new parents for the first time.
Thomas Park Clement [00:04:47] Oh I I still do have an identity crisis. It’s it’s odd that I met many Korean adoptees. They don’t belong to Korea because they were exported out and. And then the adopting countries they have experienced so much prejudice within the new country that they don’t feel completely accepted by it so they’re kind of world citizens that are that are floating with without a specific country identity.
Thomas Park Clement [00:05:33] I think so. It’s it’s almost like there’s there’s a parallel universe. For instance if I can’t comprehend how what it’s like to know exactly how old you are. I have friends who say I was born at 12:30 on 1973 and May 5th at General Hospital. And that is an amazing thing to me. I can’t even conceive of that. And I also can’t conceive of growing up and having your birth mother birth father around constantly let alone siblings. And so you grow up with a different orientation to the word family or the word birth or family tree and concepts like that.
Thomas Park Clement [00:06:29] Isolated and alienated. But an interesting thing happened to me when I came over. I was older I was around 7 years old and I could only speak Korean and I didn’t understand the concept of other countries and other societies and languages and customs. So I boarded an airplane and literally 24 hours later no one could understand me and I could not understand anyone else. So I thought that overnight I had just gotten incredibly stupid and this inferiority complex lasted with me for I would say until I was in my second year of college and I started chasing courses then I realized that maybe I wasn’t stupid as I thought all my life. I would say acceptance of where people are. There is a very odd. Most Korean adoptees don’t know how to speak Korean. They don’t care to and because of their outside appearance people automatically think that they use chopsticks or there.
Thomas Park Clement [00:07:48] Bruce Lee. No taekwondo. And you know all the things that are associated with Korean people and just by their names they are not they are not Korean people. They for instance I know have a friend in California and of them this is their first time that they’ve ever gone back and you know 20 30 40 50 years. So it tends to be a very emotional experience. And the time that I went back I think it was in 1998 the group was comprised of professionals from all over. They were lawyers writers presidents of companies. And it was a pretty unique group. Some of them weren’t in the entertainment field. And we met with the president to talk to them about Korean adoptee issues or bring them out into the public in Korea. Adoption is something that people don’t talk to about there. They’re either ashamed of it or they they try to avoid it even when Koreans in Korea adopt children they oftentimes don’t tell anybody that the child is adopted. And in the meeting the president had said that he was ashamed that over two hundred thousand Korean children were exported from the country and that they couldn’t take care of their own. And it’s it’s an odd thing because Korea is not a poor country but it more has to do with the customs and policies that they have within the country. Children of unwed mothers. It’s socially unacceptable so they give the children up for adoption or at the poverty level is such that the parents can’t afford to keep the children so they drop them off at a police station or a street corner or an orphanage.
Thomas Park Clement [00:10:14] And for me you know the whole well I guess some of it may be in between the lines that the book that I wrote and the unforgotten more and what I stayed in there is that although you’re adopted into a family that loves you and instills their value system in you there’s an underlying feeling that you are aghast that everything is temporary and I know that if I knew that if I had felt that growing up that it had to be something that was shared by other adoptees and as many of them do they live life and struggle with all these strange nonverbal issues. And then at some age and it’s different for everyone some people you know wake up when they’re 18. Some people don’t wake up until they’re 50 but somewhere in between those ages everyone starts waking up and all the questions started rising who are my parents what am I doing here. Why was I given up. What would a life life been like if I had stayed in Korea. And these are quite these are unanswerable questions. It’s virtually impossible to find your birth parents in Korea. There’s a language differential. Most of the birth mothers don’t want to be found. They’ve gone on with their lives and you’re a secret. So I guess after after a while and after Yeah I don’t I don’t think I have anything to add. I would I would say you know there’s. If you’re if you’re drowning that what you need to do is you need to raise your hand and make contact. You need to start yelling.
Thomas Park Clement [00:12:50] And so I would say to adoptees no matter where they are that it’s connectivity they have to do something to get connected and whether it’s through the net or whether it’s traveling out of an isolated area into a more diverse place then you really need to take those steps you can’t just stand there and get bogged down by all the unanswerable questions. So I guess that’s what I would have to say.