“Where are you from?” It’s a common question asked of Minnesotans who are Korean adoptees. “Here!” is their common response.
Since the mid-1950s, 13,000 to 15,000 children from Korea have been adopted by Minnesota families in communities, where often no one looked like them.
Kim Jackson and Heewon Lee’s dream was to document this Korean adoptee community. “We are a part of Minnesota history,” Jackson said. Minnesota has the largest Korean-adoptee population in the United States.
At a dinner one evening the two friends, who also share a background in graphic design, discovered that they each had similar thoughts about creating a book to capture this history.
“We realized that Minnesota had not documented its very large population of Korean adoptees,” Lee said. “We are actually this population of immigrants. We are this silent immigration that has not been acknowledged before.” Coming to American as children, “we get enveloped into our families and community,” she said.
“HERE”-a book of photographs taken by Jackson of over 100 Minnesota Korean adoptees-is what emerged from that spark of an idea over dinner. Each individual’s photo is paired with a concise documentation, a validation: American name, Korean name, birth date, arrival date and city where the photograph was taken. Woven into the pages are several oral histories, conducted by Kim Park Nelson, representing experiences of adoptees growing up and living in Minnesota. Jae Ran Kim sets the context of the history of Korean adoption in Minnesota in the book’s introduction.
Lee, who worked with Jackson on designing the pages, used simple elements of line and color. “The colors are from a specific architecture in Korea. [The lines] have spaces in between them, rather than having them all touch, they represented how we’re all together but we’re all separate, from families, from motherland. It felt like DNA to me, too, like family trees. It reflected how I think we are as a community,” Lee said.
Isolation, identity, validation and reconciliation are common themes in the adoption stories, according to Jackson and Lee.
“From my point of view it seems a lot of [adoptees] are still isolated-many are in small towns or more rural areas. There is this sense like you’re the only one,” Jackson said. “I grew up in the city, in northeast Minneapolis, but I still felt like I was the only Korean in my own world. It’s a balance,” she continued, “because you also have this connection to other Korean adoptees in the community.”
“Finding a community is important,” Lee said. “A common thread for a lot of us who have been adopted, has been to reconcile with the fact that we are different. Coming up with the connections we have with family and connections with other adopted Koreans, trying to figure out how that all works. Each person sort of tweaks that. There’s a whole range between isolation and community.”
Jackson and Lee’s hope is that through this visual and oral history documentation people will understand and acknowledge this dispersed community of Korean adoptees. They feel that “HERE” is the start, hopefully, of a series of books. “Documenting our community validates our identity as a part of Minnesota history,” Jackson said.
Do you have a Korean adoptee story to share? You can enter it in the public television, Point of View (POV) website at www.pbs.org/pov/chajunghee/share_your_story.php