29 April 2014

Only two pieces of paper

Forty-five years ago in Japan, my parents began and finished their adoption experience while living in Tokyo.

Today, I finally received word back from Holt. A couple of months ago,  I received a few pages from my American Holt file. Since that time, I have waited to hear from Korea. The email today said this:

“Attached is a copy of all the information about you from your file in Korea.  A copy will remain in our files for future reference.  Let me know if you have any questions about these documents.  
Unfortunately, the staff of Holt Children’s Services of Korea was unable to locate enough information regarding your background to begin a search for your birth family.  We regret that Holt Children’s Services Korea and Holt International Children’s Services cannot assist you in a search but will be happy to help you plan an independent search.  We received the following email: 
According the child report from you, and also the release paper in the file, the adoptee was placed in CBH from the Chong Yang ri police station on May 24, 1968.  She was later referred to Holt adoption program by CBH on the same day which was in cases of abandonment.  
I am afraid that there is no addition information to learn more about the background. Cheongyang ni is the correct spelling now, and it is a neighborhood located in Dongdae mun gu, Seoul city. 
Once admitted to Holt, 숙현 was placed in the care of a foster home, but there is no information about the foster mother in the record. 
The attached is a copy of the adoption file (only 2 pages). The adoptee’s current contact information will be updated in our file, and she may feel free to leave photos in the file for the future reference. 
I’m so sorry that we aren’t able to assist you with your search.  Because we want to support you any way we can, please feel free to contact us to talk about this assessment with one of our post adoption counselors.  Having a good support system, through friends and family, as well as Holt, is very important.  There may be many terms or references that are unfamiliar to you within the assessment, so please don't hesitate to contact us with questions or if you’d like additional information regarding the history, culture, or record keeping practices of the time.”
While Holt may have some sympathy for how I am feeling, I am baffled by an adoption that occurred primarily overseas but leaves only two small sheets of paper. See for yourself.

How can an agency place a baby with a foster family and have no record of said foster family? I like to think Holt vetted its foster families, and if so, that they had a record of what babies lived with which foster families. They had an address and names, because the couple who kept me those months before my adoption, took photographs of me, fed me and loved me. They cared enough to take photographs of my first birthday and portraits of me in my hanbok. They sent these photographs via the adoption agency to my parents … and yet, there is no record.

I am saddened by Holt’s response (and that I paid $25 for so little information), but I am determined now to seek more answers without Holt’s assistance.

05 April 2014

Rwanda, Inshuti

Tomorrow marks the twentieth anniversary of the genocide. In the summer of 1995, newly married, my husband and I made the long journey from Tennessee to Rwanda.

I have so many memories that it is difficult to type them out. (I have journals but am afraid to read them and face the naiveté of my youth.)

As a photographer, my ambitions were to capture life in Rwanda, post-genocide, but in reality, I could not. The stories and faces of Rwanda are forever imprinted in my mind, where they should be. Their stories should be theirs.

The people of Rwanda had lost so much … something I could never fully grasp and capture. So, instead, I spent my time connecting with people and listening to their stories. The Rwandans gave me joy and grounded me in a way I would never learn in the US.

With my Rwandan acquaintances, we created our own way of recording their truths … their lives, their losses and their triumphs.

In those days, I was able to have disposable cameras mailed to me. I handed them out to my Rwandan acquaintances and friends, and they recorded their lives. These images became precious to them, and some had never used a camera.

I am only in contact with three Rwandans from that time. Two have email, and one I am only able to contact him through an expat. Of the Rwandans I originally knew, two were murdered before we left the country and one died of AIDS in 2000. The other stories are silent except for the messages they wanted me to pass on to the world.

I failed them. Returning in 1997, I contacted Granta, Doubletake, the Guggenheim Trust, the Smithsonian … none took their causes. Today, I am reminded that the internet has afforded me a forum. Perhaps it is time to publish their words and struggles, but first, I will try to connect and ask permission again. Twenty years is a long time to wait.

As you reflect on Rwanda tomorrow, please don’t watch Hotel Rwanda, Hollywood’s glossed over account. If you want to know the truths, see HBO’s Sometimes in April.

For reading, try Fergal Keane’s Season of Blood. In it, you can understand the complex history behind the genocide. While race was a factor, there were other things at work … politics, power and class, enacted by the early Belgian colonists and based on the pseudoscience of phrenology.