The Revolution of the Korean Adoptee Galaxy
Updated: Aug 7
by Mark Hagland
Photo by Greg Rakozy
We adult Korean adoptees were the first large group of adult transracial adoptees to connect with one another at scale—and look at what’s happened since then…
One of the transformational experiences of my life has been discovering fellow adult transracial adoptees, beginning with first discovering my fellow adult Korean adoptees (KADs). A flurry of what we called “mini-gatherings” began in 2000, leading to bigger, more elaborate, and in some cases also, more specialized, gatherings of adult Korean adoptees, and I’ve been fortunate to have participated in a number of them.
Things have evolved over the past two decades, but initially, there was simply immense joy for so many of us because at long last we had found our peer group, our community. Most adult transracial adoptees, certainly most older than about 25, grew up in considerable racial and social isolation, often the “only one” among all the kids they knew, or perhaps one of a handful of children like them.
What’s more, we Korean adoptees were the first large group of transracial, international adoptees, and, being members of that first wave, were among the likeliest to grow up in social isolation. As a result, our need to connect with fellow transracial adoptees was particularly intense.
The way that I describe my first “KAD mini-gathering,” is thus: growing up, I felt like a Martian who had landed in a spaceship—alien, strange, foreign, somehow “wrong.” But then I attended that first KAD mini-gathering in 2000 (when I was about to turn 40), and I felt suddenly like a Martian in a spaceship who had happened upon a convention of Martians in spaceships. I think that most people who aren’t transracial adoptees lack almost any reference point for such experiences of marginalization. Nor can most non-adoptees relate to the idea of finally, in mid-adulthood, finding one’s community for the very first time. It is quite a mind-blowing experience.
Initially, most of the gatherings were primarily social in nature; there was huge joy in our finding each other and spending time getting to know one another, and sharing our life stories with one another. Inevitably, though, over time, more and more gatherings became either thematic or more focused, and that was a natural, organic evolution.
What’s more, a growing number of KADs became involved in more organized communities, gatherings, and encounters, including via the KAAN Conference, a conference that I’ve participated in sixteen times so far, and one that has been a huge part of my own personal evolution as a Korean adoptee and as a transracial adoptee.
Of course, every individual is looking for different things in these gatherings, encounters, and organizations. Some have chosen to become involved in political and public policy issues, including helping international adoptees whose parents failed to obtain citizenship for them as children, to obtain citizenship, through legislation guaranteeing that right; or have become in issues such as, for example, South Korean relinquishment of babies and children to international adoption; or, in the social realm, helping adoptees with social and psychological needs to connect with social services geared to their specific needs, or connecting younger adoptees with adult and young-adult adoptee mentors.
All of these developments speak to a natural, organic evolution in terms of our connecting with one another. We KADs first, and then other transracial and international adoptees, have connected around an extremely wide spectrum of interests and concerns. The natural forward evolution of all of these forms of connecting has been extremely gratifying to me; it has reinforced how important our connecting as transracial adoptees really is.
As the “older brothers and sisters” to other adult transracial and international adoptees, many of the groups, events, and sub-communities we’ve created, have provided models for other groups of adoptees—Indian, Chinese, Latin American, etc., etc. It has been extremely gratifying for me to be able to share “tips” and perspectives with fellow adult transracial adoptees of all backgrounds, to help them create their own forms of connectivity as well.
And, in parallel to all of this activity, adult transracial adoptees, first, Korean adoptees, and then everyone, have been steadily building an incredible literature of transracial adoption—in our own voices. We’ve written articles, blogs, and books; we’ve created films, videos, documentaries; we’ve created our own fiction, poetry, and even hip-hop; we’ve created formally published and informally shared forms of expression.
When I first connected with other KADs in 2000, the literature of content created by adult transracial adoptees was relatively quite small. Twenty years later, that literature is very significant—and has been created in numerous languages.
One of the really satisfying things about all of this change has been watching as my fellow Korean and other transracial adoptees have found their voices, across an incredibly broad spectrum of perspectives, based on lived experiences. There is absolutely not any single “transracial adoptee voice.” Instead, our connecting with one another has led to a flourishing in the expression and sharing of the transracial adoptee experience. And it’s been wonderful to be a part of the group that in many ways and in many areas, broke the first ground—the adult Korean adoptees.
What I see now, in 2020, is a galaxy of connectivity and of expression. Not only is there no single voice, among KADs, but even less so among adult transracial adoptees more generally; the flourishing of all of our voices has in turn strengthened our community, in the United States and literally across the world.
And, as our connections have broadened and deepened, and as our literature has grown, we in the broader society have also been deeply involved in online connections, on Facebook and across all the available social media platforms.
I look back on the social isolation of my childhood, and I see a world transformed. Inevitably, this new world will help to support the adoptees just now entering adulthood, those approaching adulthood, and, down the road, those years away from adulthood. We transracial adoptees are a community as broad and diverse as any; yet our connectedness is remarkable, and speaks to our need to continue connecting with one another, even as our galaxy has become bigger, broader, and more complex and nuanced over time.
It’s been my privilege and pleasure to be a part of this social and cultural revolution; I can’t wait to see what will happen in the coming years. The journey has been exciting, and will only continue to be so going forward.
Mark Hagland was born in South Korea in 1960. He has been involved in the transracial adoption world for 20 years, as a speaker, writer, and participant. He lives in Chicago.