35 a generaTion of adopTees Ishida is part of a generation of adoptees who grew up overseas and are now return- ing to South Korea each year by the thou- sands. The 1970s and ‘80s saw the peak of international adoption in Korea, and since this generation has come of age, many have returned to seek answers about their biologi- cal parents. But of the approximately 80,000 adoptees who looked for their birth families between 1995 and 2005, less than 3 percent were successful. So why did the remaining 97 percent fail? Their search for their roots is mired by lan- guage barriers, poor record-keeping and fraudulent practices by their adoption agen- cies. Information was initially controlled by private adoption agencies and birth family searches were not regulated. The govern- ment tried to help by revising the adoption law, making these records public property, compiling a central database and giving adop- tees free access to their records, but there are still huge gaps in the revised law’s imple- mentation. Adoptees find their biggest hurdle in finding their birth mothers is insufficient post-adoption services. war and The adopTion boom With more than 200,000 children adopted abroad since 1954, Korea is one of the larg- est exporters of children in the world. Inter- national adoption typically follows a national emergency, and for Korea it was the war: Thousands of mixed-race children were born to American GIs and Korean women, and of- ten ended up abandoned. President Syngman Rhee considered the orphan boom so dire that he pleaded with the U.N. for help. “We are most anxious to send as many of our orphans to the States as pos- sible,” he wrote to the U.N. ambassador to South Korea in 1954. “In particular, we desire to have adopted those children of Western fathers and Korean mothers who can never hope to make a place for themselves in Ko- rean society. Those children should appeal to Americans even more than Koreans.” Harry and Bertha Holt, an American cou- ple, responded to a call from World Vision and embarked on a Christian mission to take such children to the U.S., far from the dis- crimination the youths faced in Korea. After successfully lobbying for a change in U.S. law, the Holts adopted eight mixed-race Korean children, eventually setting up an international agency in 1956 that sparked momentum for the first wave of adoption. In the meantime, the Korean government formalized a system for adoption, enacting the Orphan Adoption Special Law to facilitate international adop- tion in 1961 as an alternative to costly insti- tutional care. Between 1964 and 1972, four agencies including Holt imported some 6,000 children. Initially, 90 percent of all adoptions involved mixed-race children, but by 1970 most adop- tees were entirely Korean in ancestry. Rather than being orphans, the vast majority were children of unwed mothers. The government helped fund private maternity homes and adoption agencies to address child welfare problems, but a vicious cycle began: The lack of welfare prompted some to give up their children, while international adoption hindered the development of an adequate social wel- fare system. Even decades after the war when many mixed-race babies had been swept to the U.S., demand for Holt’s services remained high. They placed children in the U.S. as quickly as 3–6 months by 1983, which ap- pealed to U.S. couples who hoped to avoid the lengthy wait for an American child. By 1985, the country was sending more adop- tees abroad than any other in the world. Despite becoming a model for internation- al adoption, Korea falls short of some of the international standards for ethical adoption. According to a U.N. treaty on intercountry adoption, a child must be registered imme- diately after birth and has the right from birth to a name, to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, to know and be cared for by his or her parents. South Korea remains one of only two OECD countries that have not yet ratified the treaty. The country took one step toward subscrib- ing to the convention by revising its adoption law in 2012 to promote the preservation of biological families by granting more rights to single mothers and making birth registration mandatory. In addition, the law requires that Korea Adoption Services act as a central au- thority overseeing adoption policy and prac- tice. KAS is also required to prioritize family preservation and domestic adoption before turning to intercountry adoption, which can only be used as a last resort. Despite the government’s push toward domestic adoption, local numbers remain well below international rates. adopTee naTion Since the 1990s, an influx of adoptees have returned to their home country as grownups in search of answers. For most adoptees, their return is a temporary visit on one of the many “homeland tours” offered by adoption agencies, adoptee organizations or private companies. Others, like Ishida, choose to live in Korea for a longer period, but often strug- gle with adapting to Korean life and reconcil- ing their individual and national identity with their Korean roots. Before leaving Canada, Ishida hoped to re- discover certain aspects of Korean culture. “I wanted to have a certain level of Koreanness,” she recalls, but “didn’t realize how hard it is to be Korean.” Most of the time she feels that she is “just a visitor in someone else’s country,” but still refers to herself as Korean at times. “I’m Korean in Canada, but I’m not Korean in Korea,” she explains. While her race is noteworthy in Canada, it is only one of the many requirements for fitting the “Korean” identity. “To be considered Korean by Korean nation- als,” says Ishida, “you need to be a full-blood- ed Korean, live in Korea for more than 20 years, have family here that you actually know and interact with who are full-blooded Kore- ans, speak the language fluently and plan on living here for the rest of your life while following the social norms.” Considering this, she feels she will never be considered Korean. “I don’t know why it took me a long time to come to this realization. … People still call me ‘foreigner’ all the time.” We are most anxious to send as many of our orphans to the states as possible. in particular, We desire to have adopted those children of Western fathers and Korean mothers Who can never hope to maKe a place for themselves in Korean society. those children should appeal to americans even more than Koreans.’ President Syngman Rhee to the U.N. ambassador, 1954 ‘our presence can bring to the surface conflicted feelings about public pasts and private events Which Were traumatic for them — feelings most have WorKed hard at repressing. Koreans sometimes feel a lot of guilt over our involuntary exile, as they continue to send babies aWay for adoption as a method of saving social status after moral transgressions.’ Leanne Leith