This picture shows South Korean babies given up for adoption. Between delivery and placing them with a foster family, these infants usually spend their first few weeks in the adoption agency’s nursery, where a handful of caregivers look after them.
Faces of Adoption
A photojournalist, herself a Korean adoptee, presents the very intimate moments shared with her by birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.
story and photographs by JEANNE MODDERMAN
It was clear when I started this project on Korean adoption that I could not be an objective photographer. That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try. As a Korean adoptee trying to tell this story, I wrestled with how I could document all perspectives. I wanted to portray the facts, but also capture the humanity of this sensitive topic. I admit my adoptee status granted me special privileges in photographing this project. I was able to gain access to very personal and intimate moments because the subjects took comfort in the fact that I had some understanding of the situation. Still, I was unprepared for much of what I witnessed.
I’m not sure you can ever prepare yourself to watch a mother give away her 5-day old infant and the absolute despair that ensues, or see an adoptive family meet their daughter for the first time, or witness an adoptee reunite with her birth mother after searching for seven years. These experiences directly affected my own adoption story. After meeting one of the birth mothers, she made me promise to search for my own mother. It’s what she hoped her own child would do.
I wanted to cover the longing of many adoptees to return to their birth country and the result of some making their lives there. There is a large community of Korean adoptees from all over living in South Korea. As one who lived there for over a year, I can attest that it’s a time filled with complex feelings and emotions, often a struggle to decide how you fit in, but also a security in being with people like you. Working on this project opened my eyes to the many faces of adoption and allowed me to see it from new points of view. From the birth mothers, to the foster mothers, to the adoptive parents and, of course, the adoptees, there are so many stories out there waiting to be told. Continue Reading »
Time to Lead
Kevin Haebeom Vollmers founded the online magazine Gazillion Voices, so that adoptees like himself can help shape the discussion around adoption issues.
by JAMES S. KIM
The Land of Gazillion Adoptees blog, as popular as it was, was never meant to last. That is to say that its founder, Kevin Haebeom Vollmers, a 36-yearold Korean American adoptee from Minnesota, always had in mind bigger goals for the online adoptee-centric space, started in the summer of 2011. And, as the blog continued to thrive, bringing important topics and views in the adoption community to the forefront, Vollmers and his team slowly began laying the groundwork for the next stage in evolution: Gazillion Voices.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign that saw total pledges exceed the original goal of $15,000 by over $3,000, the team launched the first issue of the subscription-based, online-only magazine in August 2013. The inaugural Gazillion Voices featured a two-part cover story, “Ripping the Tape Off,” by Mary Martin Mason and Joy Lieberthal Rho, who shared their stories and views on how far adoption issues have come in mainstream discourse.
Subsequent issues have delved into such topics as destructive behaviors in adult adoptees and the “Baby Veronica” case, involving the four-year custody battle over an American Indian baby between the child’s biological father and white adoptive parents. The magazine also includes podcasts, photo essays and video interviews with adoptee artists, authors, chefs and scholars who research adoption.
When Vollmers spoke to KoreAm last month, Gazillion Voices was three issues in, and future prospects for the publication looked promising. Continue Reading »
Lean on Me
Inspired by the influence of his older adoptee sisters, Brian Conyer starts a mentorship program for adopted youth.
by YOUNG RAE KIM
Brian Conyer, adopted from Korea at age 1, grew up in a blue-collar family in Detroit. His father worked as a truck driver, and his mother juggled working part-time at an adoption agency and going back to school. Although money was tight, his parents, who are white, did all that they could to provide for him and his two older sisters, also adopted from Korea. They even uprooted the family from a tough neighborhood of Detroit to North Carolina in order to provide more opportunities for their children.
“As a child I didn’t have a better understanding of money and how much things cost. I wanted to play all these sports and all these different activities,” said Conyer. “And they never said no; they always said yes.”
In high school, when Conyer was unhappy in the area’s public school, he asked his parents if he could attend a private school. Without hesitation, his parents took out loans to send him to one of the most expensive private schools in that area. Continue Reading »
Is There Anybody Out There?
This past spring, L.A.-based rapper and Korean American adoptee Dan Matthews began searching for his birth parents. What he found would change his life. An album and web series, both to be released next February, document the dramatic story about loss and discovery, identity and family.
by STEVE HAN
A beam of light blinded Dan Matthews for a second as he pushed open the squeaky door of the adoption agency in Seoul. After a moment, four people came into view. They were sitting around a table, and one of them abruptly jumped up, ran to him and embraced him.
It was his mother — his birth mother. A slight woman with kind eyes, she started sobbing uncontrollably, and didn’t stop for almost 20 minutes.
Matthews was meeting her for the very first time, but he didn’t shed a single tear.
“This will sound heartless, but I had no emotional attachment,” Matthews recalled.
Born Park In Soo, Matthews was 8 months old when Lynne and Jim Matthews adopted him. The Caucasian couple raised him in Camarillo, California, a quiet suburban town about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. They were the ones with whom he celebrated birthdays, played catch and who taught him how to ride a bike. It wasn’t until March of this year when Matthews, an L.A.-based rapper who goes by the name DANakaDAN, wondered if it was finally the right time to search for his birth family. Continue Reading »
Bring it On
Armed with talent, drive and a remarkable ability to self-critique, FOX 11 sportscaster and Cage Talk host James Koh is a man on the rise.
by STEVE HAN
photos by MARK EDWARD HARRIS
Get better. Fox 11 sportscaster James Koh lives by those simple words, and they may help explain how he became a four-time winner of the Emmy Award, the television industry’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars, even before he joined Fox Broadcasting Company’s West Coast flagship station last year. Koh is Fox 11’s sports reporter and anchor, and the host of Cage Talk, L.A.’s only local sports TV show on mixed martial arts, which comes on when there’s a (free-to-air) UFC fight on Saturdays.
“Every single day, I wanted to get better,” said Koh, speaking of his early years breaking into the broadcasting industry. “That’s still how I am.”
Frankly, the 33-year-old hasn’t been on television that long. He started in 2008 at local news station KBAK in Bakersfield, Calif., working as a journalist and fill-in anchor. Two years later, he assumed the same duties at KSWB in San Diego, until Fox 11 nabbed him in March of last year. Continue Reading »