Within fairly recent history, Asia has become a major source of international adoptions to the United States and other countries. Following the Korean War, which ended in 1953, thousands of children were left without families as under-resourced orphanages filled to capacity. This inspired Western religious organizations and associations to organize the international adoption of orphaned children to the United States and Europe. Fueled by poverty and strict social values related to single mothers, family bloodlines and preferences for sons, international adoption from Korea continued well into the 2000s, earning Korea the nickname of “baby exporter,” a reputation that has caused a sense of national shame that I have witnessed firsthand when speaking to Koreans during my five years living in the country.
Similarly, in 1975 following the United States’ war with Vietnam, the U.S. coordinated Operation Babylift, a mass evacuation during the fall of Saigon which sent thousands of Vietnamese babies and children (many Ameriasian) into adopted homes in the United States, Australia and Canada.
And within more recent times, politics have forced China to participate in international adoption programs as the nation’s former one-child policy, combined with a cultural preference for boys, has overflowed the country’s orphanages, creating opportunities for foreign families to adopt. Of course, other factors have contributed to this trend as well, including social values and a lack of resources related to raising and educating children with special needs.
With all this being said, the issue of international adoption can be a very personal one, both for adoptees and their adoptive families. Stories of poverty, abandonment, cultural practices, and politics pepper the early histories of many who were adopted into foreign families as children. For thousands of international adoptees, the first few months or years of their lives consist of gaps of missing information that in some cases, have been falsely filled in with fictional narratives concocted by well-meaning but inexperienced orphanages, adoption agencies, or hospitals. Add to this the unique experiences one has living life as a child growing up within a family that clearly does not look like him or her and the challenges society thrusts upon these individuals, and in some cases, their adoptive parents and siblings. Challenges including racism, struggles of acceptance and issues involving self-identity—lessons that have to be learned but are not always easy to digest, especially when it is difficult to find others experiencing similar struggles.
There is no cookie-cutter international adoptee experience. Many families live very happy lives where for the most part, the fact that one or several members have been internationally adopted is a non-issue, while for others, adoptee bitterness toward birth parents or countries of birth have created pain and emptiness that in some instances, never are truly resolved.
While it’s important to acknowledge both the happy and sad stories involving international adoption, it is equally imperative to recognize the remarkable contributions international adoptees are bringing to our world today. This blog intends to cover the entire spectrum of the international adoptee world with a particular, but not exclusive, focus on Asia: the good, the bad and just how far many of us have come from being orphaned at an early age to growing up into valuable, contributing members of society. This blog will also chronicle my own journey in coming to terms with being an international adoptee myself. It’s been a lifelong journey with its own gaps and holes that has only resulted in more curiosity into what brought me to where I am today. In essence, this is the spirit of American Blends. And I thank you for joining the journey.
Why americanblends? Recognizing that Americans aren’t the only ones who have adopted internationally, I do realize the exclusivity the title suggests. No exclusion has been intended. As an adopted Korean-American who grew up in a blended family (with non-Korean adoptive parents and a sibling who was not adopted as I have been) the title simply captures my personal experience as an international adoptee. Korean by birth, American by upbringing, yet perfectly blended. And there are many out there just like me.
— Jodi Katherine, April 2015
(Updated March 2017)