Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Soldier's Last Flight

From Human's of New York's Facebook page:

"I was on a commercial flight yesterday, heading back from a visit to Atlanta, when the captain announced that the plane was transporting the body of a slain serviceman. I was sitting at the back of the plane, so when we finally arrived at LaGuardia, I had to wait several minutes for my turn to exit. When I finally stood up from my seat, the scene was surreal. The entire left side of the plane was empty. But everyone on the right side of the plane was still in their seats-- faces pressed against the window. I walked past thirty rows of seats before I finally found an open window, and could see what everyone was looking at. The soldier's name was Ibraham Torres. UPDATE: I'd encourage everyone to look at the top comment from Ibraham's friend."
Ibraham was born in Mexico. He immigrated to New York with his mother, with whom I worked with for six years. His life is among the thousands that inspire and motivate my interest and work regarding immigration (along with ICA-related immigration, including my own).

I last saw him with his son at that job just before I left for Korea. I'm not a fan of the "all soldiers are heroes" meme that came about after the Vietnam War era vets were so badly mistreated. Here in Korea nearly all men must do military service, and a lot of them would've loved to have gotten pardoned from that duty. So, to me Ibraham was much more than a soldier. He was his mother's baby, his baby's father, his little sisters' brother, and of course his father's son. For those reasons he should be honored. That he was a soldier is important, but a fact beside the main point.

Ibraham Torres 1988-2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

International Migrants Day 2013

"There are 232 million people living outside their country of birth, including myself."~
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Whether we choose to migrate, or it was imposed on us by other people, economics, climate change, or politics, we all deserve to live with dignity, in safety, and in peace. As a migrant across international borders, I especially urge both countries I have lived in to uphold the letter and spirit of the UN Declaration on International Migration.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Getting Documented

Migrating back  to Korea has given me firsthand experience with going through the documentation process. Because, even though I was born here, I am treated legally as a foreigner.  Just like in the US.

When I first arrived in Korea, I only had a tourist visa. I had to wait about a month to get my work visa. Without the work visa (or another valid resident visa) I was unable to get most things done. Foreigners in Korea need an Alien Registration Card (ARC). You can’t get one without a visa. Without the ARC I couldn’t get a cell phone. I couldn’t open a bank account. Because I didn’t have a phone, I couldn’t get anything delivered because the apartment building I lived in at that time had no door buzzer/intercom system (delivery men telephone recipients to open the door). I broke the cheap chair my apartment came with, but I couldn’t buy a new one at the first two stores I went to because they only display chairs. Then they order them for delivery to your house. I could use my US-issued credit card or ATM card to get cash, but I couldn’t get a credit card that would work with the Korean websites (and then there was the delivery issue again.)

Things are different in the US. There you can open bank accounts with a foreign passport and proof of address, like a bill. You can buy a phone and get an account without a bank account, credit card, or even ID. It’s not so difficult to spend money in the US.

All this and I should have an F4 visa which is for overseas Koreans. You have to prove that you gave up your Korean citizenship by showing an original naturalization certificate. When I left my adopter’s house back when I was 18, I didn’t take my certificate. I have a US Passport, which in my ignorable opinion, proves my US citizenship, but the government of the Republic of Korea doesn’t seem to agree with that logic.

Before I left the US (even before I got a job offer in ROK) I started the procedure to get a replacement certificate. I had no information about it. No certificate number, no date of issuance; I didn’t know which court swore me. I made an appointment at a USCIS service center in Suffolk County, NY. It would have been a 2-3 hour trip by subway, commuter train, and taxi, to ask what my “A” number was. That’s the file number that identifies you with USCIS, or their processor INS. I kept trying and got another appointment just 15 minutes away by subway. The agent there jotted it down on a notepad slip and handed my TWO A numbers to me. Plus the date that was on my naturalization certificate: 01/00/1980. Yes, that’s right January 00. Do you remember where you were on January 0, 1980?

I sent them the form and payment $345 and passport photos for the new certificate. They sent me a receipt for it and then I moved to Korea. I changed my address with them before I left. My friend who would be receiving the mail from them got a notice that I changed my address. Then I got a notice that they needed further documentation from me. I receive this notification via email. I didn’t know what kind of documentation they wanted. I waited. And waited. And called. And waited. They re-issued the letter and re-sent it. My friend received the letter, finally. They had sent the first letter to my address in New York after I received the change of address acknowledgement. Hrmph! They wanted proof that my name changed legally and they needed it 80 days after the first letter was issued. That gave me two weeks to get my marriage certificate, or an official copy, to them. Since I didn’t know how to get an official copy from Brooklyn to Korea to send to Texas, I just sent the original one to them via Korean express post and my Maine friend and USPS first class mail.

They acknowledged receipt and issued the decision that they will re-issue the certificate. I’m still waiting for the certificate. Hopefully in January 2014 I can apply for an F4 visa. To be continued…

PS People who were adopted away from the ROK can reclaim their citizenship, but that has advantages and disadvantages, particularly for adoptees. I probably will not be getting dual citizenship after getting an F4.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Returning Home

I haven't updated this blog in forever. There are thousands of "My Year-Long Teaching Adventure In the Land of the Morning Calm" blogs written by Americans and other foreigners. They gripe about the shower/bathrooms, lament about the scarcity of cheese, and make fun of the Engrish. There are scores of "Adoptees Return Home/Search/Reunite" blogs, too, so I'm not going to do any of those things. I have found Korea to be confounding in the practicalities, but easy to adjust to culturally, if you can divorce language from culture.

Since my last post I have returned to the country in which I was born. I'm no longer an immigrant, and again, I'm just part of a larger social trend. Korea is changing from a country of 'one blood' to a 'multicultural' one. Half of the children in the rural areas will be half (not fully) Korean soon. Migrants are coming from South and Southeast Asia to work on farms and in factories. There are Turkish entrepreneurs in Itaewon and West Africans selling the same stuff in the same way as in New York. There are the military personnel and contractors who live in the American bubble as they have since the middle of the last century. Then there are the English teachers and other westerners who are usually called 'ex-pats' rather than 'migrants.' Somewhere in this mix are the Koreans who come from the US, Australia, Europe, China, the former USSR and other countries as the children of emmigrants, refugees, settlers, and adoptees.

Although I'm not an immigrant anymore, I am here in Korea on a visa. I have no right to live and work here; I have to ask permission. To get that permission, I have to prove that I am a naturalized citizen of the US, the country to which I involuntarily immigrated. Ironically, though, in the US, I had a lot of privileges, while here I have very few: I am fortunate to look like a typical Korean person physically so I attract no unwanted attention in public. My other privileges include being a female-bodied straight woman, educated, earning a substantial income, speaking English with native fluency, and legal immigration status. I lack privilege because I am not a man, not thin, not married, not a mother, not rich, not a citizen, not a native Korean speaker, and not white.

Yes, one of the most difficult things about living in Korea is all the white men here. Because I'm living in Daejeon, not Seoul, I have only co-workers to socialize with, and at the university where I teach, more than 80% of the foreign professors are white men. In New York City, my friends and associates were mostly non-white. Being thrust back into white society is a culture shock I was not prepared for.

So, hopefully, after a long hiatus, I hope to be exploring the legalities of migrating to Korea; the non-Korean communities of migrants, especially in comparison to the ex-pat community; ex-diasporic Koreans; and the effects of colonialism and forced migration.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

American Concentration Camps

This review was written in 2010, but this story about another concentration camp reminded me of the film, so I decided to post it here. 

I watched Passing Poston at the Brooklyn Public Library at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon. The audience was small, about 25 people, including some people who were friends of the directors who were there to give a post-screening Q&A session, along with Dr. Gary Okihiro. About half of the audience was Asian or Asian American, and the rest of the people appeared to be white or Black.

The film raised several interesting points by interspersing recent interviews with former concentration camp residents, archival footage, and footage from the Indian reservation that was the site of the Poston Concentration Camp. The former residents of the camp had very different ways of reacting to their imprisonment: one woman was inspired by her experiences to produce visual art; another found her faith; and the only Japanese-American man in the film concluded that his Americaness was conditional. The representatives of the reservation where the camp had been situated saw the continuity of the disempowerment of minority groups by the U.S. government and although they did not speak about their individual responses, spoke of the benefits the Indians on the reservation gained as a result of camp residents’ work.

As the subject of concentration camps inevitably brings up comparisons with the more notoriously well-known Nazi camps employed during the Holocaust, I wondered why there were so few films about American concentration camps. I contemplated the disparity between the ubiquitousness of the Holocaust in Americans’ collective consciousness in contrast to the relative obscurity of American’s imprisonment of Japanese-Americans. I asked myself why the audience for a documentary like this was so small, yet films and lectures about the Holocaust I have attended had much larger audiences despite being in less accessible venues like the CUNY Graduate Center compared to the Brooklyn Public Library.

I asked the panel after the screening why this was the case, and offered the guess that Americans were reluctant to counter the myth of the benevolent U.S. government and of the infallibility of ‘Greatest Generation’ while the Nazis were iconic representatives of pure evil in American popular imagination. Director Joe Fox responded with the answer about a similar experience he has had getting the film distributed. He theorized that distributors assumed that the audience would be a small niche of Japanese Americans. Professor Okihiro forwarded that scholars have generally framed study of the era as an anomaly in American history and an interesting case of Constitutional law rather than as crime against humanity. This response led me to conclude that the publicity surrounding the concentration camps needs to be repackaged for it to enter into the American lexicon and become a touchstone just as the terms “Holocaust”, “Nazi”, “Jim Crow”, and “September 11th” have.

As the subject of concentration camps inevitably brings up comparisons with the more notoriously well-known Nazi camps employed during the Holocaust, I wondered why there were so few films on this subject. I contemplated the disparity between the ubiquitousness of the Holocaust in Americans’ collective unconsciousness in contrast to the relative obscurity of American’s imprisonment of Japanese-Americans. I asked myself why the audience for a documentary like this was so small yet films and lectures about the Holocaust I have attended had much larger audiences despite being in less accessible venues like the

While waiting to suggest this to Professor Okihiro, a man approached me to suggest that the reason the concentration camps have failed to capture the attention of the public was that Americans are just generally ignorant of history. He supported this idea by saying that many Americans who “watch American Idol and not people like you and me, educated, who watch PBS, and read” confuse the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I countered that while the public may not be able to distinguish between the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and the Pusan Perimeter, everyone knows the word for the Nazi genocide of the Jews; a lot even know two: the Holocaust and the Shoah. (Shoah is Hebrew for conflagration and Stephen Spielberg’s foundation to preserve personal histories of the Holocaust is named “the Shoah Foundation”.) The man replied, “Well, maybe in New York.”

Professor Okihiro’s reply to my suggestion was that we should use the term 'concentration camp' rather than ;relocation center,' 'detention center,' or 'internment camp.' "Relocation" and "internment" were euphemisms meant to paint a more benign picture for the benefit of America and for the protection of Japanese-Americans against hostile non-Japanese Americans. A detention center is for prisoners or criminals. Since the idea was to collect and contain people, the most apt term is concentration camp, despite its current association with the Nazi camps which should more accurately be referred to as death camps. Clearly by this point in the review, it is obvious I have adopted this point of view.

Again and again, I am struck by the ruthlessness of American colonialism and its treatment of people that it subjects to its self-serving rules. Passing Poston clearly demonstrates once again that the government changes the rules at will, and calculates moves that justify conspiracy theorists' claims about the hidden motives behind seemingly valid or reasonable actions and explanations. While American Indians and US-born people of Japanese descent are both Americans, the government carefully executed an old plan, according to Professor Okihiro, to relocate West Coast Japanese, while simultaneously building up the infrastructure of the reservation in order to be able to later force other Indian tribes into the area. The colonization of Indian lands by Europeans is indisputable fact, but more Americans would dispute that the Japanese-Americans are colonized as well, since they migrated to the U.S. The parallel excuses, though, illustrate how similarly these two disparate groups threaten American interests and therefore were treated the same.
 “one day I went to bed American, and the next day I woke up an alien.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs that has ruled over the reservations since the mid-nineteenth century also claimed that they were protecting the Indians, civilizing them, and assimilating them. The Japanese Americans were likewise assimilated and taught about American freedoms, protected, and contained on the same land as the Indians. It is often argued now that Roosevelt wanted to provoke war with the Japanese and further American interests in the Pacific. The very reason that there was a significant Japanese population on the west coast and Hawai’i is that American corporations needed labor. Again the government exploited that labor to fulfill its own needs and schemes. Between the similar stories presented to the public about why it was necessary to move and confine Americans of Indian and Japanese ancestry, a clear colonial relationship can be drawn. A further comparison between the similarities of experiences is captured up by the Japanese-American man who said that “one day I went to bed American, and the next day I woke up an alien.” He stated this in front of a mostly Indian and Latino audience on the reservation in Arizona that Poston was situated on. The audience applauded, easily identifying with it, according to James Nubile who related the story to us.

Passing Poston draws the lines connecting Japanese Americans and American Indians as disempowered groups unfairly treated and compelled by the government to be relocated. The story is nearly unknown and needs to be publicized so that Americans can move beyond the myth of a benevolent government and honorable history (with small anomalies that can be discounted as exceptions in a generally good and progressive path) to ensure that such an injustice never be repeated. This may require coining a different term or reclaiming "concentration camp." Since the USA PATRIOT Act was passed, and the detainment of thousands of innocents on suspicion of terrorism, it is critical to preventing the need for future apologies and reparations.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Involuntary Adoptee Immigrant

I am not second generation.
I was torn from my mother land.
Whether abortion or miscarriage,
I was not born American.

Maybe torn from legs forced apart
Or broken hearts
Or a nation knuckling under
Or shameful nonbrides
maybe anything
but I am of another land.

I am an immigrant.
A wetback, a wanderer
an interloper, a foreigner
with skin too dark and hair too long
missing my native tongue
playing a two-sided drum
in New York

learning from other immigrants' stories of love,
and triumph, and pain, and anger, and service,
and fear and hope

Watching Star-spangled banners whipping in defiance
against the foreign threat.
Knowing I'm 'Other,'
a problem

I can't sing "God Bless America"
or pledge allegiance to a flag-- (What a strange idea!)
because I know with a pen stroke I would not be here, American.

it's not fate or love or justice or mercy that brought me here
it was a greedy industry and a fluke
I could have been Dutch, a Swede, a Kiwi.
So it's not so special
I'm an immigrant. American.
I am not second generation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Intercountry Adoption: Orphan Rescue or Child Trafficking at Pepperdine University’s Law School

Intercountry Adoption: Orphan Rescue or Child Trafficking at Pepperdine University’s Law School

February 8-9, 2013

The two-day conference was held at a Christian university and reflected its hosts’ religious affiliation throughout. The opinions offered were setup to seem to opposing points of view, but were in reality they ranged from center to right-wing without really posing real challenges to the audience. The audience itself was mostly adoptive parents (who also were adoption professionals) with a small contingent of adoptees, some of whom were also adopters themselves. Other stake-holders who attended or spoke were policy makers from the Department of State and adoption practitioners. Everyone claimed to be concerned with the welfare of orphan children, but with differing ideas about how best to help them. That was the starting point. Natural families were not present nor represented.

It began with Elizabeth Bartholet against David Smolin in a plenary with the same title as the conference, “Orphan Rescue or Child Trafficking?” Despite her claim that she was the oppressed radical in the room during the first plenary session, Bartholet advocated for the most conventional and popular position: adoption saves poor orphans who are destined to languish unloved in institutions for their entire lives unless more married American heterosexual couples adopt them. Therefore, she argued, the system should be opened and liberated from regulation so more children could be saved. All the problems one hears about intercountry adoption, from loss of culture to scandals like the Artyom case, are really unimportant and happen so rarely (but are unfairly highlighted in the media) that they should not be allowed to stop ICA. Smolin, who presented first, argued that ICA is a system which must be reformed and preserved by regulation, transparency, and checks to cure it of the corruption, child-laundering, and exploitation due to the huge profits involved. As it is currently practiced, ICA is unsustainable, he argued. He also pointed out that some human rights are violated-- such as natural families’ rights to make decisions for their children. Finally he gently tried to point out that cultural arrogance can motivate people with good intentions to act unethically. Bartholet tried to paint Smolin as anti-adoption and part of the dominant voice in ICA, although he clearly is in favor of the practice, and is virtually the only prominent voice calling for more stringent regulation.

I wished a truly opposing voice were also heard in this debate. The real opposite of Bartholet’s mainstream view is not Smolin’s but that families are entitled to remain intact with a shared fate, regardless of the desires of outsiders, and despite their motives. I hoped that someone would point out that not only is ICA unsustainable in its current form, but also an unsustainable form of child welfare. Throughout the conference there were references to orphans, abandoned children, and poor/neglected/unwanted kids who needed families or whose parents “chose” adoption. No one talked about the role that colonialism, racism, capitalism, and (American-sanctioned) genocide has had in creating orphans and children living in dire circumstances, and what could be done to address these fundamental causes of children in need of families. Not one mention was made in the first presentation or in any of the sessions about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies through contraception or abortion, or how the US defunded family planning programs throughout the Global South during the Bush administration at the urging of right-wing Christians. Although Smolin hinted at women’s rights, the word “feminist” was not uttered.

And what about those families that children need? Those families better be two-parent heterosexual, legally married families. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, adult siblings, none of them count as families. Children are regarded as orphans if one parent is unpresent (not dead, just not around). Although one panelist, Jenna Cook, bravely pointed out that her parents are a couple who are both women, the assumption was that only a conventional nuclear family was legitimate in all the other presentations. This was made very clear by Whitney Reitz who works on Capitol Hill. She told a story which was meant to pull on the heartstrings: A 16 year-old mother had “chosen” adoption for her son, but he was "trapped" in Guatemala because its ICA program was closed after rampant corruption was finally unignorable. Why did no one point out that the argument that the interest in child welfare ought to extend to the mother of the pre-adoptee as well as the boy? Is she not entitled to a blissful life in the USA as much as her son? After all, she's also still a child. As Sara Darrow points out, though, only small children and babies are desirable imports to the US (or Canada), not their older racialized families. No, the reality is that the concern for child welfare is an excuse to separate young children and babies from their families, raise them as Christians, and make them into Americans. That boy's mother would not be truly American; she would be an immigrant. And because adopted children are supposed to be considered the natural issue of their parents, they are not to be treated as immigrants. 

The fact that the adopted children have a personal and national history is irrelevant. The session regarding adoptees' documented US citizenship traced the reasoning behind the Child Citizenship Act authored by adopter Mclane Layton. Although some adoptees, including American Indian Natives like Leland Morril, aka Leland Kirk, pointed out adoptees' connections to their first families and how such logic is harmful, the proposed amendment to the CCA of 2000 is based on the jus saguinis argument. Although the majority of the conference was debating (or not debating in Whitney's case, which went completely unchallenged) philosophical points of view, this was one breakout session that could have concrete consequences. The other was also about citizenship rights and adoption, but of those rights as they pertain to children prior to adoption.  

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs presented on recognizing the citizenship of children, or rather not recognizing it in order to facilitate adoption. The North Korean Orphan Refugee Act ostensibly helps 'stateless' children of mixed Chinese and Korean descent living in Jilin Province, China. The justification for the Act is that these children are stateless and unprotected while in fact they are Chinese citizens. The NKORA is a legislative tool to make more children adoptable by not recognizing the citizenship that children have as sufficient or legitimate. The nature of citizenship was also examined by Kathleen Bergquist who drew the same parallels I have between DREAMers and intercountry adoptees, especially concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (It was good to see my thoughts and reasoning validated by Dr. Bergquist!) 

 Drs. Kwon and Bergquists' presentations were the last I attended. I skipped many of the other sessions since they just didn't appeal to me. After sitting through one particularly bad presentation, "Meeting Biological Family," that was presented like Christian testimony about coming to Jesus that proclaimed the righteousness of adoption, I could not stomach "How Religion Informs Adoption Law: A Christian Perspective" and "The Christian Intercountry Adoption Movement."  However, because Bert Ballard, a friend and adoptee who I respect spoke on "A Christian Perspective", I did listen to his critique of the adoption institution's relationship with Christians.He offered a good list of questions that they ought to ask themselves. I tuned out his predecessor on the program though, and watched Louis C.K. instead. It was a good decision on my part. 

Almost anything can be justified by Christianity or religion in general. Mix in adoption, and I have little patience. In fact, after seeing where the conference was, I bought a tshirt to wear just for the occasion. It reads, "Secular Humanism: Saving the World from Religion." While skipping out on the most emetic sessions, I wore it proudly around the strange Twilight Zone of Pepperdine U. It's a world in which students don't congregate to smoke cigarettes, there are no undergraduate hippies or punks, and everyone looks like they've just stepped out of a J. Crew or Benetton catalog. I can imagine these squeaky clean kids going on mission trips to Uganda to volunteer at orphanages and later adopting a dozen of them to "save" the orphans, discussing with each other their calling by Jesus, and growing up to be one of the people attending a future conference, asking the same non-questions.