Katy Robinson, Author

[00:00:00] My name is Katie Robinson and I’m the author of a memoir about my adoption experience called a single score picture a Korean adoptees search for her roots. I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah and currently I live in Boise Idaho. I was adopted from Korea and my experience is a little bit different from most adoptees because I was older. I was 7 years old and before my adoption i lived with my Korean mother and grandmother right up until the time of my adoption. So I came to the United States with a lot of memories about Korea and about my family.

[00:00:48] So my parents adopted me. It was 1977 and at that time adoptions were being done very differently in that agencies were advising parents to assimilate us into the white culture as quickly as possible. Give us American names and basically help us to forget about the past and start over in a new life. So I grew up very out of touch with my Korean identity. My parents had three sons biologically so I was the only Asian in my family the only one adopted and I was the only Asian person in my entire school from kindergarten through eighth grade. And by the time I went to high school there was only one other Asian American in our school and he was Japanese American. So I grew up very isolated from the Asian culture.

[00:01:42] Well I didn’t realize it was a problem until much later but how I dealt with that is that I try to assimilate as quickly as possible I think I learned English in about six months and in the process completely forgot Korean.

[00:01:57] I was in second grade in Korea before I came over and I could read and write. But by the time I learned English I had suppressed everything that I knew so that I could no longer speak. And besides there is no one to speak to. And I think after a while changed my identity and it really wasn’t until I left Salt Lake to go to school and I went to university in the Bay Area and I landed on campus at Santa Clara University which has an Asian student body population of about 25 percent. And for the first time I saw all these other Asian Americans around me and that was really when I went through the huge identity crisis. And I thought who am I and who have I been trying to be for all of these years and I realized that I had so suppressed my Korean identity that it was like getting to know myself all over again and seeing my face reflected in all the other Asian faces that I saw around me.

[00:03:00] I did a search for my Korean family 20 years after my adoption. So I was 27 when I decided and I was married. And I guess beginning to think of having a family of my own. And I guess it took me that long to decide to search because one, I was frightened of what I might find. And second I was really afraid of hurting my adoptive family. And I think that many adoptees feel this way that they put off searching for their family because they don’t want to hurt their American family.

[00:03:35] But I had the opportunity when I was 27 I was working as a journalist and I got a fellowship to travel around Asia and I was going to be in Seoul just for five days and I thought this is my chance. This is my opportunity. And I decided at that time to do a search. And I really didn’t know how to go about it.

[00:03:58] It was before my adoption. So we walked into the orphanage and we met with a social worker there and the only information I had was my Korean name which was Kim Jyun and the date of my adoption November 7 1977. And she took that information and started digging in this old metal file cabinet behind her and pulled out the folder with all of my adoption records. And amazingly she said your Korean father was here searching for you. Many years ago. We have an old telephone number and address for him. And I doubt he’s still there. But give us your information and we’ll contact you if we find out anything. And the next day I got a call from Miss Kim at my hotel room and she said Well we found her father and he’s going to come to your hotel at two O’CLOCK. Okay with you? And so that was kind of how it happened that I met my Korean father.

[00:05:02] So I met my father and it was an incredible reunion. He walked into my hotel room and the first thing he said to me was I’m so sorry that I couldn’t do my duties to you as your father.

[00:05:16] And I guess after our meeting I returned home and we wrote letters back and forth through a translator for about a year and then I had just this incredible overwhelming desire to learn more about my heritage and about my family and what it meant to be Korean American and to reclaim the language that I had lost. So in 1999 I got a fellowship to study at Craine University, Korean language full time and my husband and I moved to Seoul and we lived there for a year so that I could get to know my father better. I also met a half brother and a half sister and during that year I also continue the search for my birth mother unsuccessfully.

[00:06:04] Her now. Of course I would still love to meet her. But I think at some point you have to stop. I’ve done everything that I could to search. Yeah.

[00:06:20] I think the toughest issue as an adoptee continues to be forming our identity. You know I think I will never fit in completely. I will never be white. You know I never fit in or look like my adoptive family. And yet at the same time when I lived in Korea I realized I wasn’t. I was very American in my thinking and of course because I grew up here and I was raised to think like an American. And even the Korean people could tell right away that I hadn’t grown up there. So I think it’s learning to negotiate between those two worlds and realizing you’ll never fit in completely to one or the other. And you know with maturity and time I think I’m okay with that at times.

[00:07:11] I feel very Korean and I can see what traits I got from my birth family and other times I feel very American in my thinking and especially as a woman. So I think I flow in and out of those worlds. And I’m learning to negotiate that identity. And I see in younger adoptees that’s the hardest thing because when you’re younger I think you just want to belong to some group and have them totally accept you.

[00:07:38] The hurt of that as a young child and I think anyone any person of color and experiences varying degrees of racism and in my adult life it hasn’t been anything blatant. I think it’s more sense from ignorance and people saying things and that just comes from not knowing.

[00:08:03] I think Korea as a country and the people have very conflicting emotions about adoption. So when I lived there the reaction I got a lot when people found out was I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that you had to grow up without your culture. I’m so sorry that we couldn’t raise you that we can take care of you and that you grow up not knowing your family. And you know I didn’t feel pitied. I felt like that emotion really was genuine it was genuine concern and in many cases genuine sorrow. And so I think just as a country they’re so conflicted why there’s so many adoptees that go out of the country and yet at the same time they’re not really willing to make the sweeping changes necessary to stop adoptions, overseas adoptions. You say something like that.

[00:08:57] You know interestingly the community where I live most belong is the community of other adult Korean adoptees because we’re all in this similar situation and we think because personally I am happy that I was adopted. You know if I hadn’t been I was older I was 7 I probably would have grown up in an orphanage in Korea. So given that alternative I’m happy that I was adopted and I grew up very loved even though I wasn’t taught about my culture. I never doubted that my parents loved me and I was given every opportunity to do whatever I wanted to do with my life. So I think trans-racial adoption in my case was a good thing but at the same time I think it’s a very complex issue. And what makes it complex is that, you know parents just can’t. I think so many parents get caught up in, they want a baby they want a child and once they get that child they think the journey ends with that. And really that’s just the beginning because in any trans-racial adoption they can’t raise that child like they are white because they never will be. And I think parents have to teach them about their heritage and their roots and their culture and integrate that as much as possible into their family life. And I think that’s happening more and more.

[00:10:22] Well I think that was my greatest fear was hurting my mother’s feelings. And it just so happened that I met my father and my mother, so. I don’t know if it would have been different if I met my mother. But actually my American family was very supportive.

[00:10:37] And my mother came over to Korea when we were living there and stayed for three weeks and met my whole family and met my father and that really was a very sweet meeting because my father kept saying thank you so much for raising Katy. My mother kept saying thank you so much for letting me raise her and giving her to me. So they were extremely supportive. And I guess some of my fears maybe were unfounded about the search process.