Korean-American Deaf Adoptee Shares Her Story
Kami tells her story as a Korean-American Deaf adoptee, recounting the touching moment her mother identified her out of a group of newly arrived babies. She also covers a few other adoption-related issues.
Each Adoption Experience is Different
Hi, my name is Kami and I’m a Korean-American Deaf adoptee. I was asked to share about my adoption experience. Every adoption experience is different – some are good, some are bad, some adoptees want to return to their home country. I’m blessed to have a wonderful family and great parents. I also have a sister – both of us were adopted from Korea, but we are not biologically related.
Korea Didn’t Allow Deaf Parents to Adopt
Going back to how all of this started, my parents had wanted to adopt a baby for a long time. After they connected with Catholic Charities, they saw my name and picture on a flyer. At that time, my name was Hye-Mee Park, which the Korean orphanage had given to me. Once my parents let the adoption agency know they were interested in me, the adoption process started. This involved a social worker visiting their home to make sure it was a suitable and good home, then interviewing my parents. Everything went well and they were approved. Next, more tests were run to confirm that I was Deaf, because at that time Korea didn’t allow Deaf parents to adopt hearing babies. They held the view that Deaf parents couldn’t raise hearing babies, which is obviously not true.
Korean-American Deaf Adoptee Was Mistaken for a Hearing Child
On the day of the test, I was 10 months old. It happened that I looked in the direction of a phone that rang at the same time, which caused everyone to think they had been mistaken and I was actually hearing. Remember, the technology for testing hearing was not as advanced back then. My parents were heartbroken when the agency informed them that they probably couldn’t adopt me. To their great relief, however, more tests were run and it was confirmed that I was Deaf after all. Interestingly, a blood test that I took years later showed that I carry the Connexin 26 gene, which is a Deaf gene. This means that one of my biological relatives is Deaf or carries the Deaf gene.
First Encounter with Adoptive Deaf Parents in Chicago
Anyway, on the day I flew to Chicago, my parents also flew there to meet me. Only one of them was allowed to go into the airplane, so my mother went in. She saw all the babies sitting in the airplane and tried to figure out which one was me. Her instincts told her that one particular baby must be me, because out of all the crying and distracted babies, I was the only one sitting there quietly. When she checked the name on my wristband, she discovered that she was right!
Korean Diet and US Citizenship
My parents brought me home and fed me a Korean diet for a while, so as not to upset my stomach by introducing different foods too soon. Some of the food I was fed included strawberries with rice and soy milk. When I was three years old, I became an American citizen. My parents paid $50 for this, while today it costs $700-800 to become a US citizen. Since I was too young to take the citizenship test in court, the judge asked my mother the questions instead. She answered them easily because she used to be a social studies teacher. There were questions like “Who was the first U.S. president?”, so of course, my mother aced the test, and I was pronounced a U.S. citizen.
Bullying Experience as Korean-American Deaf Person
After this, I started my education at a Deaf school. This was a tough experience for me. Back then, most of the teachers hadn’t received the right training or been given the resources to teach children. Most of my peers and teachers and staff at the school were white. My peers would make racist slant-eyed gestures and call me stupid. That was when I was between 5 – 9 years old. Of course, I would arrive home from school crying. I wondered why it was wrong to be different. I even wanted to become white and didn’t understand why I had to be born Korean. Now, in contrast, I love being Korean and my identity is strong. People are much more accepting of diversity and we have more diverse people today. Teachers have better training on how to work with children and the curriculum and resources are improved. Times are different now.
Deaf Parents Open about Adoption
While I was growing up, my parents were always very open about my adoption experience. They explained everything to me and showed me the forms that my birth mother filled out for the orphanage. Both of my parents’ full names were on them, their ages, and the reason I was given me up for adoption. My mother was 20 and my father was 21 at the time My father was 5’ 10” tall, while my mother was only 4’ 8” tall. I’m 5’4” tall, right in the middle. Both had ended their relationship before they knew my mother was pregnant. Because they felt they were too young to become parents and raise a child, and Korean culture looked down upon single mothers, they decided to give me up for adoption. It has been a blessing for me to live here in the U.S. While it would be nice to meet my birth parents one day, this isn’t something that I have an extremely strong desire to do. I’m very content with my life right now.
Politically Incorrect Signs for China, Korea, and Japan
I’d like to share a few things that I seem to run into quite often. I often see some of my friends and other people still signing “China” like this (shows two index fingers pointing to outside of eyes; two C-hands on either side of eyes), “Korea” (shows two K-hands on either side of eyes), “Japan” (shows two J-hands on either side of eyes, shakes head “no”). This is pretty offensive. Use signs such as “China” (shows index finger moving across chest and down), “Korea” (shows bent B-hand touching top and bottom of side of head), and “Japan” (shows open and closed index fingers and thumbs moving away from each other). Don’t use the old signs.
Korean-American Deaf Adoptee asked Inappropriate Questions
Second, I get this question often: People ask me, “Where were you born?” or “Are you from far away?” They assume I’m a foreigner. Some Korean people are born in the U.S. and are Americans. Not all are born in Korea. White people don’t ask other white people where they were born. It’s important to think about how you frame your question.
Another question I get often is from straight people who are curious about gay couples having children. They ask, “How do you plan to have children?” or “Will you use IVF or IUI?”. That’s a personal question. Some gay couples feel comfortable and open about sharing this type of information. It’s okay if a close friend asks me, but it’s a different story if someone who isn’t a close friend asks. Most people wouldn’t ask a straight couple how they plan to have children or if they would use IVF/IUI. There are so many different ways to make babies. Straight couples do use IVF/IUI, but they don’t get asked that same question. Again, be conscious about how you frame that question.
Third, people often ask me if I’m from North or South Korea. If I had been born in North Korea, I would be stuck there because no one can leave unless they sneak out. If they are caught, they will be sent off to a forced labor camp. It’s really a blessing to live here. Thank you for watching!
Video description: Kami is sitting on a white sofa with a blanket over the back, and wooden shelves and a window behind her. She is wearing a black top and signing her story.