Beyond Infantilizing Portraits: South Korean Adoptees Speak Out

Korean Expose – by

Perhaps the world’s best-known Korean adoptee today is Adam Crapser. After living in the U.S. for almost four decades, Crapser was deported to South Korea late last year because his adoptive parents had never filed for his American citizenship.

The twists and turns of Crapser’s story were splashed all over the news: his traumatic childhood and abusive adoptive parents; his criminal history and earnest attempts to turn his life around; his legal battles to stay in the U.S.; and, ultimately, his deportation to South Korea, where his birth mother struggled to learn English as she waited for her son.

Crapser’s tale is certainly dramatic, and it is important to recognize the reality of struggles like his. But the media’s dramatization of such cases can create a one-dimensional narrative of adoptees, often as helpless victims without a clear sense of identity. Others portray adoptees as eternal children, fixating upon grainy black-and-white baby photographs from orphanages or adoption agencies.

More than 200,000 Koreans have been sent overseas for adoption since the 1950s. Because the roots of adoption lie in the post-Korean War humanitarian effort, there is still a common perception of adoptees as orphans who should be rescued, pitied or regarded with guilt.

“When you tell [Koreans] that you’re adopted, they immediately say they’re sorry, speaking collectively for the country,” said adoptee Hojung Audenaerde.

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