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Suzanne Johnson

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Suzanne Johnson was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1966. She was adopted by an American military family and raised in Minnesota. In 2008, Suzanne began researching her adoption and uncovering the truth about her childhood.

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My name is 임선번 (Im Sun Boon). This is my adoption story.

I was told that I was found abandoned days after birth in Seoul, South Korea. An orphanage took me in until I was adopted by a military family.

Once I arrived in the United States, my adoptive family raised me based on the guidance they received from the adoption agency. During the 1960's, American adoptive families were encouraged to continue life normally, not to provide any special care or attention to their adoptive children. Holt advised my aparents I would assimilate and learn their new culture and language. Almost daily I was reminded by one of my afamily that Koreans were poor, my real parents were poor and had I remained in Korea, I would most likely have starved to death. I grew up with much shame about my birth country, culture and family. It wasn’t until I was 17 that my afather claimed he was also my biological father.

In 2008, I began researching my adoption in depth. I began with the adoption agency that had brought me to the United States: Holt Children’s Services. For six months, I spent 5 to 8 hours a day researching adoption, Korea, and my heritage online and through email. Understanding the history of the Korean War and basis for the origin of international adoption out of Korea helped me become aware of my own adoption story and possible reasons I was relinquished by my biological family. In addition, I wanted to prove whether or not my afather was also my biological father, but I encountered several different roadblocks when attempting to validate the story he relayed to me. Whenever I had a lead, it seemed like I met even more obstacles. Therefore, I decided to complete a $600 DNA test, which scientifically proved to me I was not actually biologically related to my adopted family. After that day, I started uncovering more lies that surrounded my childhood.

Throughout the process, I discovered several gaps in my adoption story: most likely my birth date and birth name were created for adoption purposes only. The information passed on to my afamily from the the adoption agency about being been born in Seoul and finding me within days of my birth were lies.

With more research, I discovered some truths. I found out that Korea did not belong to the Hague Convention and in turn were not compelled to authenticate paperwork, including birth records for international adoption. I was able to obtain information from my adoption file which mentioned I had possibly lived in Daegu until I was 2 years old and then moved to the Ilsan orphanage in Seoul because I was determined to be “adoptable.” With no identifying information about my childhood, I felt lost, but with each document I received from Holt Children’s Services, I found a piece of my past.
Even with these pieces, I know that the story is far from complete. I realize some of the information I have now may be false or incomplete, possibly lost forever. I discovered I can’t believe anything that is in my adoption file. The only thing that I know is real is that I was in this Ilsan orphanage and was transferred from another in Daegu.

My hope since 2008 is to find someone with whom I shared my childhood with until I was adopted for almost a year. I only have a photograph of my friend from the Ilsan orphanage. My adoptive mother recalled that she might have been adopted and moved to Minnesota by another military family. With the new lead in 2009, I contacted John, a representative for “Korean Bridge,” a non-profit organization with the intention to reunite orphans with their birth families. The organization offered to put me on the show “I miss this person” in Korea to try and find her and my biological family. On July 7th, 2009, I appeared on the program, but found no answers.

I have found solace in other Korean adoptees with whom I can share similar experiences. By learning about my birth country, its history and culture, I have been able to feel a sense of pride, replacing much of the shame I was raised to believe.