My first hometown is New York City. My second hometown is Seoul— 나의두번제고향은소울입니다. I feel I can claim both cities and by extension the whole world: I’m a New Yorker, a Seoulite, and citizen of the world. I went to South Korea for the first time in October 1998. Although I didn’t plan on it, I stayed for over six years, and I adapted to everyday ways, like taking off your shoes before going into the house. I was adopted by friends who became my family, friendly faces who my became neighbors, people who became my community. So, in some small way, I can identify with Koreans that came to be adopted as children by American families.
Imagine one day you’re rummaging around in your kitchen “junk” drawer for a can opener or something. Instead, you find a pink hospital bracelet for a baby with a name on it, a Korean name. Ms. Katelyn Hemmeke found such a bracelet, with what was maybe her name: Minji Oh. She told her story to her fellow adoptees and supporters at the Research Center for Korean Community at Queens College conference: “Made in Korea, Assembled in the U.S.: Personal Narratives of Korean Adoptees” on Saturday, November 7th, 2015 in the Rosenthal Library auditorium.
Hemmeke told of her later anguish, not at being discriminated against in her life with her adopted white family and community, but at her Korean identity being erased altogether. She read from her essay entitled “Of Roads and Rice: Rewriting the ‘Non’-Story’ of Oh Min Ji.”
In 1953, after the Korean War ended with the signing of the armistice agreement, both the North and the South had to recover from the devastating consequences of three years of internecine conflict that had pitted brother against brother.
Tens of thousands of lives were lost and the two resulting countries had been laid to waste. South Korean widows and orphans struggled to survive. In order to save many of the children, and because of the cultural objection to adoption, the government allowed thousands of the children who had lost their parents to be sent to other countries to be adopted.
One of the participants talked about how the Korean government, after learning that the country had become notorious as the number one “baby-exporting-nation,” stopped the massive number of adoptions. Nicole Sheppard, born in Seoul, grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota– where the largest number of Korean children were adopted in the United States.