I was flipping through channels on the TV last night and discovered a documentary on PBS made by a Korean adoptee, Deann. The film is titled First Person Plural and you can see the trailer and maybe even the whole film here. In it Deann tells her life story. She was born in Korea in the post-war period when many families were struggling. She lived in an orphanage and was adopted to a loving American family when she was 9, and raised as an American child. Her Korean culture and heritage was not embraced (as was the norm in the adoption world), and she was loved as much as her siblings (her were the parent’s biological children). Deann had faint memories of Korea and a road from the orphanage to a house, but when she started to talk about those memories with her parents, they told her it was just a dream and not real (as they believed). So, those memories faded even more and were eventually lost. She enjoyed a happy childhood and college experience, but once she moved out and lived on her own, her memories started to surface. They would pop into her mind while she was sleeping or in the middle of the day – with no warning. She even had one experience where she was driving and suddenly a ghost-like image who looked like her Korean father appeared next to her in the passenger seat. She rushed home and ran into her house, and the image followed her. Deann eventually came to realize that these thoughts or things that were popping into her head were in fact real memories. She was afraid to mention them to her parents and became rather depressed, not knowing how to reconcile her two lives. She started to wonder if she did have a family in Korea and was not actually an orphan when she was sent to America.
Deann looked through her adoption paperwork. The two pictures she had from Korea of herself as a child looked like different children. One was her, but the other child (about the same age) looked much different. Both photographs had her Korean name written on the back of them. She decided to write to her Korean orphanage some 25-30 years after she was adopted. She later received a response not from the orphanage, but from her biological brother who told her she was missed and had a whole family in Korea wanting to see her. It turns out that her biological father died when the family’s 5 children were young. The mother had no means to support the kids, so at the urging of a friend, the 3 youngest children were sent to the orphanage for meals, etc. They often visited with the family. Maybe families lived this way. But, at the time, adoption was becoming a business. Deann’s American parents had been sponsoring an “orphan” at the orphanage in Korea and they had become pen pals. Over the course of a couple years, the American family becamse quite attached to this girl who they had never met, and they decided to adopt her. A few days before this girl was to be sent to America on a place (that’s how they did it back then), this girl’s biological father decided he didn’t want her to be adopted and took her form the orphanage. The orphanage needed the adoption funds to help care for the other orphans residing there and so they secretly sent Deann in the other girl’s place. The American family never knew the difference (the language barrier played into it all). The orphanage had asked Deann’s biological mother several times if she would like to place her daughter up for adoption and explained how she would have a better life in America, given an education…… She finally and painfully consented, but when Deann too the place of this other little girl to be adopted at the last minute, the mother never got to say goodbye to her daughter……
In the film, Deann and her adoptive parents went to Korea to visit with the Korean family. There is very real and emotional footage of the Korean mother telling her daughter what happened. The Korean mother was obviously distraught for the 30 years that she was without her daughter, but glad to see that Deann was well loved in America. In the end Deann came to realize that the Korean family she always dreamed of as a recently adopted child, would never be. She was glad to know her Korean family and it helped with her identity issues, but ultimately she didn’t fit there either. They looked like her, but she was so culturally different than them, and they didn’t speak the same language….. Having her American parents meet her Korean family and travel to her birth country – helped them understand her more and opened up more diologue about Deann’s identity struggles. It brought them closer together, but still Deann feels like a split person – “First Person Plural.”
When I visited the website, I discovered that there is another film by Deann airing on PBS next month – documenting her attempt to find the child that she replaced in her adoption and whose identity she was given – Cha Jung Hee. You can see the trailer here. I’m excited that several adoption films are being shown on PBS in the coming month.