Editor's note by Kim Su Rasmussen
The root cause of contemporary transnational adoption from Korea is the lack of a proper social welfare system. A recent report from OECD shows that the OECD-30 countries in average spend 20,6% of GDP on social welfare benefits (Adema & Ladaique 2009). A host of European nations including Sweden, France, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Finland and Italy spend more than 25% of GDP on social welfare. USA, which is not exactly known to be a welfare state, spends 15,9% of GDP on social welfare benefits, while Japan sits comfortably at 18,6%. In comparison, Korea spends 6,9% of GDP on social welfare benefits, which is the lowest percentage of all the OECD-30 countries. The only proper way to address the problems of transnational adoption from Korea is to increase public spending on social welfare benefits. Other solutions, including promotion of domestic adoption, are merely short-term measures that fail to acknowledge the fundamental causes of the phenomenon.
However, the question of increasing public spending on social welfare was carefully avoided at the series of recent public hearings on the proposed revisions of the current adoption laws in Korea. Several of the panelists, none of whom were adoptees or birthparents, argued for the continuation of the current adoption system with slight modifications, while others seemed genuinely uncertain about their own role in the process of revising the current laws. Among the audience, however, it seemed clear that the proposed revisions of the current adoption laws in Korea had but one purpose: to formally enable Korea to ratify the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) and thereby save the Korean government from embarassing international criticism. In many ways, the public hearings illustrate the alienation that many adoptees experience when returning to Korea. Adoption is discussed by a number of so-called experts without first hand experience, while the adoptees and the birth families are silent spectators to their own destiny.
The second issue of Journal of Korean Adoption Studies is loosely focused on alienation as an important, yet undertheorized component of transnational adoption. Alienation—both racial alienation in the West and cultural alienation in Korea—is one of the recurrent themes in Korean adoptee literature. As an effect of rigid assimilation into social envi-ronments that are predominantly white, many transracial adoptees have developed a racial identity best described as internalized whiteness. Crystal Lee Hyun Joo Chappell, a Korean-American adoptee who grew up in Michigan, describes the phenomenon: “I have Korean friends now who used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make their eyes bigger and rounder, or wore blond wigs or even dyed their hair blond. Ridiculous things like that. My way of dealing with it was to not look in the mirror much, I guess because I knew I wouldn’t like what I saw.” (Chappell 2000) In similar fashion, Kimberly Hee Stock writes, “I had been angry all of my life because I was an odd construction of a person: a Korean-looking girl on the outside, a Caucasian-sounding girl on the inside. I didn’t know who I was, and I was having a hard time accepting the parts I did know about myself.” (Stock 2007) These statements, while far from being exhaustive, indicate that transnational transracial adoptees are subject to extremely rigid patterns of identity formation that often result in racial alienation.
The notion of alienation, however, is not simply descriptive. It implies a future-oriented perspective leading to de-alienation. The process of de-alienation involves not only an intellectual effort to analyze and understand the root causes of the alienated situation, it also implies a practical effort to change the concrete situation. Theoretically, the notion of alienation enables us to synthesize a number of seemingly separate issues such as experiences of racialization in the West, the right to access adoption records, and the efforts to strengthen the unity of the transnational adoptee community. The most important perspective, however, might be to establish a clear link between a shared experience of alienation and the need to overcome alienation. How is adoptee de-alienation possible? What will de-alienation of the adoptee community imply? What are the specific strategies needed to achieve adoptee de-alienation on an individual as well as a collective level? These are some of the important questions that will continue to shape the transnational adoptee communities in the future.