South Korean adoptees start group

The organization members hope to support each other and share experiences.

Heather L. Mueller

Twin sisters, Lea and Rae Green, moved from South Korea to St. Paul in 1988.

This past summer, the first-year University students started meeting other Korean adoptees at the University via the online social networking Web site Facebook.

Soon after meeting, eight of the new friends formed the Korean Adoptee Student Organization, creating a place for adoptees to share their experiences.

The group hosted its first event, “Creative Expressions of the Korean Adoptee Experience,” on Thursday night at Yudof Hall. The event featured art, music, photos and spoken word inspired by adoptees’ life experiences.

“It’s something this school needs, especially because Minnesota has one of the largest populations of Korean adoptees in the world,” Lea Green said.

More than 13,000 Korean children have been adopted by Minnesota families since the 1950s, according to Children’s Home Society and Family Services of Minnesota.

South Korean adoptee Mayda Miller, a communications studies senior, performed three songs on guitar at the event. One song, she said, is about balancing the different cultures in which adoptees identify.

“Adoption can be traumatizing for some people,” Miller said.

Adoptees might experience discrimination in both Korean and American cultures because of racial and cultural stereotypes.

Lea Green said she became angry and “started seeing things through a racial lens” as a teenager. In high school, she said, she used art as a way to make statements on race and adoption.

“The only thing harder to talk about than race is money,” she said.

Lea Green said living in Pioneer Hall after attending the diverse Saint Paul Highland Park Senior High School, has made her feel like a minority.

“Not seeing anyone that looks like me is scary, honestly,” she said.

Growing up, the Greens’ parents supported their exploration of Korean culture but tried to shade the twins from negative views on adoption.

Now as an adult, Lea Green said she has sought out other perspectives on international adoption, race and Korean culture. The Green sisters have also started to learn the Korean language.

“It’s a big deal to be able to choose who and where I’m getting my information from,” Lea Green said.

She said she was not ready to seek out her birth family in high school, but now she wants to know the truth about why she was put up for adoption.

“I think that we’re told a lot of things when we’re younger, like your birth mother was a prostitute,” Lea Green said. “All we can do is speculate.”

Julia Goplen, an Asian languages and literatures sophomore, met her birth mother, brothers and sisters in 1997.

Goplen said it is rare to successfully find birth families because of the shame surrounding adoption. In Korean cultures unwed mothers are shunned.

“One of the biggest stigmas is that the babies that are put up for adoption are unwanted,” Rae Green said. “I don’t think that’s true at all. We were wanted babies.”

Laura Pientka, a biology sophomore, found some answers when she met her South Korean birth family in July.

Pientka began her search through an adoption agency. She discovered her parents were still married and that she had two older sisters and a younger brother.

Pientka, who was born prematurely, was given up for adoption because of her mother’s ailing health due to pregnancy, and her adopted family’s financial situation.

“To me it was a good choice and I don’t feel they have anything to be sorry for,” she said. “I am thankful for their choice.”

Pientka’s adopted parents and birth family communicate regularly through letters.

“It doesn’t really feel like I have two separate families. It’s kinda like I have one really big family,” she said. “I feel so lucky to have two good families that love me.”

Pientka plans to visit her birth family in December.

She said the campus organization members have been able to support each other during their searches and share their experiences.

“Sometimes I can’t believe it’s my real life happening. It just doesn’t feel real,” she said.