Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hubinette and Trenka on Transnational Adoption

I've quoted Hubinette here before without digging deeply into who this adoption scholar is.

Tobias Hübinette was born Lee Sam-dol in Korea. Adopted by Swedes, Hubinette, who earned a PhD in Korean Studies in the Department of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University, Sweden in 2005.
Along the way, he earned a BS in Irish Studies at the Division of Celtic Studies, Uppsala University.

Hubinette, like other adult Korean adoptees, looks critically at adoption, writing:

“In the 1950s, the practice [international adoption] was initiated as a rescue mission with strong Christian fundamentalist and particularly Lutheran undertones, while it came to be perceived as a progressive act of solidarity during the left-liberal 1960s and 1970s..... “

“For countries like Korea, the almost insatiable demand for children has created huge social problems. Intercountry adoption has destroyed all attempts to develop an internal social welfare system, and the position of the Korean woman has remained unchanged…. The expression ‘in the best interest of the child’ is used as a mantra by intercountry adoption proponents. It is a fact that intercountry adoption has always worked for the interests of adoptive parents and receiving countries, never for the interests of adopted children or supplying countries. If it would have been ‘in the best interest of the child’, then siblings would never have been separated, and every adoptive parent would have been forced to travel to the supplying country and pick up the child and at least tried to learn something of the child's language and culture.” 

“Contemporary intercountry adoption having flown in close to half a million Third World children to the West during a period of half a century has many parallels to the Atlantic slave trade which between 1440-1870 shipped 11 million Africans to America, and to indentured labor dispatching 12 mil-lion Indians and Chinese to the European empires between 1834-1922. However, a crucial difference is of course that slave trade and indentured labor be-long to history and are today almost universally condemned, while intercountry adoption is still continuing, perfectly accepted by Western societies and legalized through various international conventions.

There are indeed numerous striking similarities between the slave trade and intercountry adoption. Both practices are demand driven, utilizing a highly advanced system of pricing and commodification of human beings with the young and healthy as the most valued, as well as being dependent on the existence of intermediaries in the forms of slave hunters and adoption agencies and a reliable transportation system of ships and planes. Both the African slaves and the Third World children are stripped of their identities as they are separated from their parents and siblings, baptized and Christianized, losing their language and culture and in the end only retaining a fetishized non-white body that has been branded or given a case number.

“Especially the so-called "House Negroes" in America must be the closest parallels to intercountry adoptees as both are living with their masters, treated like their children and legally a part of the household and family. Finally, last but not least both groups are brought over only to please and satisfy the needs and desires of their well-to-do buyers, slave owners and adoptive parents respectively.” 
A critique of intercountry adoption” Transracial Abductees.

Regarding the effect on the adoptee, Hubinette adds: “assimilation becomes the ideal as the adoptee is stripped of name, language, religion and culture, while the bonds to the biological family and the country of origin are cut off. Adoptees who are consciously dissociating themselves from their country of origin and see themselves as whites are interpreted as examples of successful adjustments, while interest in cultural heritage and biological roots is seen as an indication of poor mental health or condemned as expressions of biologism and Nationalism. Recently, proponents of inter-country adoption have also started to attack the "politically correct" ban on interracial adoption.” [ibid]

Hübinette concludes that “[b]oth the slaves and the adoptees are separated from their parents, siblings, rela-tives and significant others at an early age, stripped of their original cultures and languages, reborn at harbours and airports, Christianized, re-baptized; both assume the name of their master/parent and, in the end, only retain a racialised, non-white body that has been branded or given a case number. ... These children were objects of rescue fantasies and relief projects for the European homeland populations and especially feminist and Christian philanthropist and humanist groups.”   “Between European Colonial Trafficking, American Empire-. Building and Nordic Social Engineering: Rethinking International Adoption From a Postcolonial and Feminist Perspective.”  A translation is available at:

While one or two commenters here have been critical of my analysis of adoption and slavery or indenture, I respect the words of  one who has walked a mile - nay lived his entire life - in ill-fitting shoes, and his devoted his academic career to researching these issues.

Jane Jeong Trenka, another Korean born American-raised adoptee who grew up in a town so lily whit the only Black person was a B; adopted by a white family.  Trenka who gave us The Language of Blood, in which she describes the demeaning Japanese occupation which took away Korean language, culture and people's names, has returned to her homeland and from there, she works with TRACK for reconciliation for Korean adoptees and writes in her latest book, Fugitive Visions; An adoptee's return to Korea:  

"Since the 'end' of the Korea War, up to two hundred thousand South Korean children - both documented and undocumented by the Seoul government - have been sent as legal 'orphans' to Western countries for the purpose of give them 'better lives,' and the paperwork was designed to give them  'clean break' estimated two hundred thousand international adopted koreans were active in the 'adoption community' in Korea..."

Trenka, who speaks with a gentler, more poetic voice than Hubinette, says:...the adoption agency exiled me for no crime except my birth..."  and, she says "there is a difference between a child with an orphan visa and a child whose parents are dead. Approaching zero is o the same as zero." [ibid]

Having found papers revealing that the adoption agency had sent her to the Netherlands in 1972 and that she had been naturalized as a Dutch citizen in 1976...while she lived in rural Minnesota... feeling all her life like a round peg in a square hole...I doubt Trenka would disagree with Hubinette, also a member of TRACK.

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