Debra Johnson, Author

Debra Johnson: [00:00:00] My name is Deborah Johnson and I am an adult Korean adoptee from Minneapolis Minnesota. I grew up in Minneapolis. I was adopted from Korea when I was almost five. I was originally in the Seoul City baby home. And then after a short period of time I was tra…

[00:00:28] I’m the youngest of five. I’m the only adopted child in my family. I have three sisters and a brother. My father was a Lutheran pastor. He’s retired now and my mother was a full time homemaker. She has since passed away and I think that they really wanted to add to their family. I also think that after hearing a presentation about all the needy children in the street children in Korea they were really touched and thought that they could provide a good home and a good family for a child who needed one. I’m 44.

[00:01:05] I’m 44 and they destroyed all their records so I don’t really have a story like I was left at a police station or in a park or anything like that so there’s not enough detail that would be recognizable to anyone. And I’ve sort of toyed with the idea of you know doing you know newspaper or TV but I just hasn’t hasn’t felt comfortable to me that feels really public and I’m to yeah I’m kind of this is a really private issue for me. And so that hasn’t felt like a comfortable avenue for me.

[00:01:46] But defining that for me is prejudice or racism. There were obviously overt sort of the mean teasing things that kids say to each other. And I think as I got older it was more a sense of not being included as opposed to, I mean kids in high school don’t you know tease each other with racial things very much. But you don’t get invited to things you don’t participate in things – that was more my experience.

[00:02:21] I have two children I have a 19 year old daughter and a 17 year old son.

[00:02:35] I think the toughest issue for myself as well as many adoptees is really trying to figure out how to deal with the grief and the loss that creates adoption. And for years we never talked about it in adoption. People didn’t want to think about it. And I think as a society particularly Western society we’re really bad at that. We’re very much about oh don’t think about it or get over it or just move forward and we don’t have good rituals we don’t really respect that process and we see it as a weakness or was in different ways every day. And one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is sort of that inherited grief that our children have and the loss that they have they have a lost generation as well. They don’t know their Korean grandparents they don’t they don’t know things about their Korean culture and heritage because how as adoptees do we pass on to them something that was never taught to us. And so some of us did the quick study thing and tried to figure that stuff out. A half a step ahead of them. But in all fairness they aren’t getting probably the true nature of their cultural roots sort of undiluted in that sense.

[00:03:57] And so I think that that’s that’s a continual piece of how do you manage that without letting it overwhelm you. So then it kind of swallows up your life. And yet acknowledging it and giving it it’s place in your life so that it’s not a repression that pops up and harms you later on down the road.

[00:04:21] Yeah I do. And it’s little things to belonging. And I also know there are other things that happen when I go to a Korean cultural events and I see little kids learning how to drum and how to dance and those things like I never had that opportunity. I missed out on that I don’t I mean I was 30 years old before I ever even saw that stuff. And yet it really resonated with me and I felt it. And I thought ah all those years that I missed out on that and that that really is mine. And I felt entitled to it but I felt resentful that it had been withheld from me.

[00:05:05] I guess I don’t have a clear cut opinion about trans racial adoption. I think it exists. It’s something that is not going to go away. I really believe that there are people there are families that can parent trans racially and do a really good job. I think it’s a lot of hard work and I think it demands that they think and parent in a way that for many of them sort of goes against their natural instincts. And so I think that it takes an ongoing effort on their part to remain attuned and connected to what their kids need and that it doesn’t come easy for them.

[00:05:53] I think there’s a lot of people who don’t do it very well, who don’t try, Who don’t know. And by no fault of their own they just don’t understand. And those are the kids that I really worry about because they are like two generations ago how I grew up really isolated. And what’s difficult is then when they reach adulthood they’re really unprepared and many of them flounder in a pretty devastating way. And I think the parents feel bad about that. I think that kids feel terrible and nobody can understand what went wrong and it’s kind of like well, wow. You know some of this should have been done from the very beginning and you can’t really go back and start over again. Like the cat’s out of the bag so to speak and you have to do damage control at that plane. And so for families who are willing to make the commitment to do the work to reap the rewards I think it works. I think that it takes a lot of conscious effort though.

[00:07:19] Well I think there’s there’s two parts to that. It’s, I think it has to go back to the kind of the dichotomy of identity and part of identity is how other people perceive you. And we are a country that takes people literally at face value. You are what you look like. And the more you can sort of reconcile yourself with that and feel comfortable with that. Not that it’s right or wrong it just exists that way. To deny that you’re Korean American that’s just foolish.

[00:07:51] That’s like me saying well tomorrow I’d really like to be you know African-American. So that’s what I’m going to be tomorrow. Well that’s not possible. And so I think we need to really reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are Korean. We were born in Korea we look Korean We’re American we live in America. I think internally and for your own sort of sense of realistic connectedness if you need to add the adoptee hyphen in there you can do that. I don’t choose to do that because being adopted isn’t the way I necessarily define myself. It’s how I answered in my family. It explains some of the issues that I have in my life but it isn’t one of the structures that I hang my life around. It is a part, an important part of who I am. But it isn’t the way that I would go and move through the world and want people to identify me through that.

[00:09:02] The history of Korean adoption really has its roots in the Korean War and after the Korean War there were many children who were left literally homeless orphans on the street. And there were organizations within Korea and then probably the most visible was Harry Holt (?) who came from Creswell Oregon who was an American who – his life was transformed because he felt a calling literally to help these children. And he literally spent his life savings building an orphanage in Illson (?). And he himself and his wife adopted eight of these street children and really felt that his mission in life was to make sure that at minimum that these children had a safe place to live.

[00:09:53] And at maximum that he would find loving families for them. And so that’s sort of how it evolved as far as international adoption and that there are other agencies that have roots in a very similar sort of one man one mission kind of story. But I think his was the most visible because he was an American. And how unusual for someone to spend their entire fortune helping children in another country.

[00:10:35] I think that the issue of trans-racial adoption is something that we all need to pay attention to and that I’m not I don’t want to make a judgment of whether it’s right or that it’s wrong. But those of us who are in the adoption community need to remember that we have to be there to support the children and by helping the families not by shaming them or making them feel bad about what they’ve done or telling them that they’ve done something bad but to really support them. It’s kind of a done deal at that point and that the best we can hope for is that they figure out how to parent their children in the best possible way and that we work really hard at making sure that the children and the adoptees have a solid foundation to build their lives upon and that any part that we can play and that as adult adoptees I think is really important to remember.