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From Orphan to Adoptee

From Orphan to Adoptee: U.S. Empire and Genealogies of Korean Adoption

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    From Orphan to Adoptee
    Book Description:

    Since the 1950s, more than 100,000 Korean children have been adopted by predominantly white Americans; they were orphans of the Korean War, or so the story went. But begin the story earlier, as SooJin Pate does, and what has long been viewed as humanitarian rescue reveals itself as an exercise in expanding American empire during the Cold War.

    Transnational adoption was virtually nonexistent in Korea until U.S. military intervention in the 1940s. Currently it generates $35 million in revenue-an economic miracle for South Korea and a social and political boon for the United States. Rather than focusing on the families "made whole" by these adoptions, this book identifies U.S. militarism as the condition by which displaced babies became orphans, some of whom were groomed into desirable adoptees, normalized for American audiences, and detached from their past and culture.

    Using archival research, film, and literary materials-including the cultural work of adoptees-Pate explores the various ways in which Korean children were employed by the U.S. nation-state to promote the myth of American exceptionalism, to expand U.S. empire during the burgeoning Cold War, and to solidify notions of the American family. InFrom Orphan to Adopteewe finally see how Korean adoption became the crucible in which technologies of the U.S. empire were invented and honed.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4102-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[vii])
  3. INTRODUCTION Challenging the Official Story of Korean Adoption
    (pp. 1-20)

    Consider these two images. Both pictures were taken in South Korea. Figure 1 is a still image from a film produced by the Department of Defense on Christmas Eve in 1953, five months after the Korean War ended in a cease-fire agreement along the thirty-eighth parallel, or the demilitarized zone.¹ It features three orphans held in the arms of servicemen from IX Corps who organized a Christmas party for them. The second image was featured in a 1955Lifemagazine article to document the inauguration of Harry Holt as the founding father of Korean adoption via the unprecedented adoption of...

  4. 1 MILITARIZED HUMANITARIANISM: Rethinking the Emergence of Korean Adoption
    (pp. 21-40)

    Taking the figure of the “GIs and the Orphans” as the entry point for my investigation into the genealogies of Korean adoption, I use this chapter and the next to explore the material conditions of possibility for such a celluloid composition. What factors made possible the presence of displaced Korean children in the arms of American soldiers? What conditions transformed these casualties of war into trophies to be admired and celebrated? What circumstances brought these disparate groups—American GIs and Korean orphans—together so that by the end of the Korean War, their interaction with each other increases rather than...

    (pp. 41-72)

    The Korean War Children’s Memorial (2003), which sounds like a site honoring the displaced children of the Korean War, is actually a memorial that valorizes the American armed forces. Founded by Korean War veteran George Drake, the memorial and its accompanying website were created in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Korean War as a way to “hono[r] the American servicemen and women who, during the Korean War and the years following, rendered compassionate humanitarian aid to the children of that war torn nation.”¹ The website houses over 1,000 photos and over 1,000 stories to promulgate the men of...

    (pp. 73-100)

    If the first two chapters explored the material conditions of “GIs and the Orphans,” then these next two chapters investigate the conditions that made possible the image that has become the dominant face of Korean adoption: the “Holt Family Portrait.” For this particular chapter, I focus on the following questions: What factors enabled the transfer of Korean orphans from the arms of GIs into the arms of average American civilians? What motivated them to act? In other words, what inspired these civilians to care for and “save” the displaced children of South Korea through transnational adoption? What conditions allowed white...

    (pp. 101-126)

    So far, I have identified the material conditions that have made possible the emergence of the Korean orphan. I examined the construction of the Korean orphan in the militarized scene of the orphanage, in the fantasies of the U.S. military, and in the humanitarian desires of American civilians. In this chapter, I return to the orphanage to investigate further the material conditions that enabled the configuration of a new American family, as depicted in the “Holt Family Portrait.” Specifically, this chapter concerns itself with how an orphan becomes an adoptee. How does a seemingly unwanted orphan become a desirable Korean...

  8. 5 “I WANTED MY HEAD TO BE REMOVED”: The Limits of Normativity
    (pp. 127-154)

    In her award-winning and celebrated memoirThe Language of Blood(2003), Korean adoptee writer Jane Jeong Trenka theorizes Korean adoptee identity by way of a recipe. She writes:

    Home chef, the modern alchemist, starts not with base metals but old chicken hearts and livers, broken backs and flightless wings. . . . Extract the undesirable parts; accent the desirable flavors. Serve up consommé, chicken liver pâté with toast and apple rings, aspic in half-globes with carrot flowers suspended in amber.

    Consider another recipe: Start with a girl whose blood has been steeped in Korea for generations, imprinted with Confucianism and...

  9. EPILOGUE Tracing Other Genealogies of Korean Adoption
    (pp. 155-162)

    As a genealogical investigation of Korean adoption, this project has offered multiple beginnings, entry points, and divergences concerning the discourses that have shaped Korean adoption.¹ In an attempt to unsettle the dominant narrative of Korean adoption as a natural consequence of the Korean War and as an institution of normalization and successful assimilation, I situated Korean adoption within militarized humanitarianism, the geopolitics of Cold War Orientalism, and the radical politics of queer kinship formations. By attending to the shifting political, economic, and social conditions that have shaped Korean adoption, I not only destabilized its relationship to the Korean War but...

    (pp. 163-166)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 167-200)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 201-210)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-211)