When Gazillion Voices’ parent company Land of Gazillion Adoptees, LLC (LGA) partnered with CTQ Media and Publishing in 2012 to release Parenting As Adoptees, the companies’ founders – Kevin Haebeom Vollmers and Adam Chau – did not plan on doing additional books, at least not in the immediate future. Adam and Kevin both had other aspirations, goals, and projects that needed their attention. Nevertheless, in the last two years, LGA and CQT Media and Publishing have worked with The Lost Daughters collective on Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and Peace and Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston to publish The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of an Adoption Activist. On their own, CQT Media and Publishing recently made available The Translation of Han, a thoroughly enjoyable collection of poetry by Dr. Hei Kyong Kim, and LGA, along with a Korean adoptee writer and two Korean adoptee illustrators, is developing the first Korean adoptee K-drama/science fiction/fantasy/graphic novel-esque project called Marked. In short, within a few years, somehow LGA and CQT Media and Publishing became an adoptee publishing house. And its founders are absolutely happy about that.
LGA and CQT Media and Publishing are gearing up for additional books. They include a compelling and beautifully written memoir by Soojung Jo and the first Vietnamese adoptee anthology – Vietnamese Adoptees 2.0. For your reading pleasure, we give you chapter four of the memoir and excerpts by various authors from the anthology.
From the upcoming memoir by Soojung Jo
Omma’s letter, May 4th, 2014
Then one day, my cousin found me on a small street by chance. Subsequently, my sister found me at the kidnapper’s house and took me to the hospital for an abortion. Then I stayed with my sister for few days. After my sister went to work, I went to my kidnapper’s house. My sister came to the kidnapper’s house and pulled my hair and beat me. Neighbors tried to stop my sister from beating me, but she shouted at them, “Would you keep calm if your younger sister lived with this old SOB?” When my sister tried to take me back to her home, I told her that I preferred to live with the kidnapper.
A few years later, I became pregnant again and went to my sister’s house. This time my sister accepted me as I was, but I could not remember many things since I was kidnapped. I could only remember my sister’s beating. Anyway, at 1:00 p.m., on February 15, 1977, I gave birth. It was cold day, and my baby was born at a maternity home in Myeonmok-dong.
Brett and I celebrated our one-year marriage anniversary in the same week that I returned from my Army assignment in Korea and moved into his little apartment at Ft. Hood, TX. Although we had been married a year already, we barely knew each other. We got busy getting to know each other right away – so busy, in fact, that we found ourselves pregnant within a month.
I had never wanted to be a parent. In the letters we sent across back and forth across the Pacific Ocean, we had debated about when to start having children. My argument was simple and consistent: we shouldn’t.
For me, the notions of family have always been complicated. I had spent a lot of my youth laying in that white daybed in my yellow bedroom, and though I had dedicated most of that time reading dark novels or writing bad poetry, I had also sometimes contemplated the meaning of family. The definition of the word evaded me like fog.
Most adults I know cannot pull apart the concepts of parental love and biological kinship from the child’s perspective. Many adults I know have not experienced love and biology as mutually exclusive concepts and are therefore deeply ingrained to combine them in the same way we insist that oranges must be the color orange. Those who were raised by biological parents don’t always realize that “parent” carries multiple definitions – the roles and actions of a person who nurtures, loves, and parents a child vs. the spiritual and almost instinctive way that the parent is biologically linked to the child. Even if one does understand this duality at an academic level, the deeply personal and emotional implications cannot be understood until the two concepts are cleaved apart.
Because my biological narrative was broken, I had come to understand at a fundamental level that I was not unique – I was any child from any orphanage, and my family didn’t need me, they just needed a parentless child. I was a replacement child, and therefore replaceable.
I couldn’t make sense of why people should care about each other just because they were related by blood. To a person who doesn’t have blood relatives, blood is meaningless. Mothers leave their daughters and strangers claim other people’s children. In my world, people changed their minds about family, and therefore nothing was safe or lasting. In my world, I was just as related to everyone as I was to no one. Within that framework, it just didn’t make sense to have children of my own. Not only that, it felt a little irresponsible because I was not qualified to teach someone else how to be family.
The day I first suspected I was pregnant, I immediately purchased a two-pack home pregnancy test. When both of those proved positive, I went back to the store and purchased two more. It took five positive tests to convince my brain what my body already knew: I was hosting an alien invader.
I slipped into a numb terror, ashamed of my own stupidity in allowing this to happen. Hadn’t I stated for months that I didn’t want to have kids? And yet here I was just one month into cohabitation, and in the Texas heat I was literally barefoot and pregnant. I despaired at the prospect of becoming a mother, and then I anguished at being the type of person who would feel that way. I took my shame and piled it up on the floor in the middle of our apartment and wallowed around in it. I pulled it up around my neck and head like a blanket and hid inside it like a thief.
Then I made a decision. I decided that my opinion on the topic didn’t matter, for when had I ever gotten a vote? Family – whatever that meant – was not something you chose, it was something that was chosen for you. So I would do what I had always done – act a good daughter, good wife, and now good mother.
I crawled from my nest of shame and set my head on straight. I wiped away tears and fears, folded them into a tissue and flushed it down the toilet. Then I set about the business of making the news a joyous surprise for Brett.
Three hours after the World Trade Center fell, I lay on a table in the Darnell Army Hospital with an ultrasound wand smearing clear, warm goop against my still-flat belly. The room was dark and small, the ultrasound monitor throwing a cool green glow throughout. Brett and I watched the technician closely. She smooshed the goop this way and that, pausing occasionally to clack on a computer keyboard or screen print certain angles of the grainy black and white image on the monitor. I strained to see, but I couldn’t decipher any comprehensible form in the images that were supposed to be the alien in my belly.
Finally, the ultrasound tech stopped and faced us with a broad grin. She moved the mouse arrow on the monitor and pointed at various white speckle blobs on the screen.
“There we are! Here is the profile, and here is the butt, and the legs.”
She then drew a circle around what looked like three short lines on the screen.
“And that tells us… Are you sure you want to know?”
“YES!” Brett and I replied. We don’t like surprises.
“Well those lines tell us you have a girl. Congratulations!”
A girl. I held that thought for a moment; I let it float clear and alone in my mind before all the other thoughts rushed in after. A daughter, like me.
The months went by and my belly grew. I looked as though a tight, flesh-colored, 20-lb watermelon was hung on my 4’11” frame. When the child inside me went into her calisthenics, that watermelon became a tsunami. I understood how Sigourney Weaver must have felt in Alien just before the monster sprang from her stomach.
Near the end of my pregnancy, I recalled the promise I had made to my two roommates a lifetime ago at West Point – I was the first of our plebe trio to become pregnant. By then I had completely lost touch with Sharla and hadn’t had contact with Kris in years, but I sent an awkward photo to their last email addresses I had on file. (Continue reading)
Excerpts from the upcoming Vietnamese Adoptees 2.0
Anh Đào Kolbe
It is the year 1970 and America’s attention is captured by President Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization Policy offering hope that their sons would be returned home and the control of the war returned to the South Vietnamese Army of The Republic of Việt Nam. Civil Rights political activist and long time Black Panther member Angela Y. Davis is placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List in connection to a murder she did not commit and African-American writer Maya Angelou publishes the first of her autobiographical essays, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In pop culture The Beatles break up and music legends Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all die at the age of 27.
Kev Minh Allen
By labeling me with “dust of life”, “war waif”, “war trophy”, or “Saigon street urchin”, society props up and defends the simplistic notion that the Vietnamese were in no position to take care of me, let alone their own, and that it was up to well-meaning Westerners to carry me out of the country in order to give me a proper upbringing. These labels serve to obscure the decisions and actions taken by the U.S. government and its allies, that either directly or indirectly contributed to the failed state of the Republic of Vietnam, and place the responsibility of my orphan status upon me. While historical amnesia sets in, everyone settles on the platitude that children have a right to a family and a stable environment, thus, ignoring the fact that over 6 million tons of bombs (the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs) were dropped on Vietnam, a country roughly the size of New Mexico. Such an atrocious amount of munitions aimed mainly at the rural, agrarian regions of the country left countless children without parents and drove millions of people into urban centers that had barely enough resources for resettling these internal refugees.
I was taken from Vietnam five years before the end of the war, but those images have become like memories. Since early childhood, scenes similar to the chaotic evacuation sequence in Miss Saigon have been beaten into my brain by television, movies, and photographs. For most of my young life, Vietnam was a war, Saigon an evacuation, Tet an offensive and I had escaped it all. Vietnam as my birth country ceased to exist. In a way, I also ceased to exist.
In 1970, my adoptive father was serving his second tour in Vietnam. According to my adoptive mother, they both had decided to adopt a baby girl. They had already had two boys and thought a girl would make a nice addition to the family. Mid-year, my father completed his tour and brought me home to live with his family. They lived in a small town that sat just northeast of Dallas. I’m uncertain of the details of what immediately followed our arrival. All I know for certain is that before the year was over, my parents divorced and my father moved away.
My second trip, though, was a result of myself having being othered as a banana by the Vietnamese community. To them, as an adoptee, it felt that I could never live up to their expectations of being Vietnamese. In 2005, I embarked on this journey to better get a handle on what is it to be Vietnamese and have a better grasp of Vietnamese culture and history. I left in 2006 more enlightened, more secure in my knowledge of Vietnam’s rich culture, but no less Vietnamese. The exercise was purely academic. I was othered again, as Viet Kieu. I brought a tacky Viet tourist tee-shirt back then, and hung out at Vietnamese bia hoi cafes.
Sometimes, I feel like I am a recovering crack addict. But I have this obsession to stay clean (from self-destruction), to stay afloat from the darkness. Life itself remains my continuous rehab. Just when I think I have come so far and I feel really great about myself, something happens that throws me off the rehab wagon. Whether it is that I am racially profiled on some level or someone says an off-handed comment that unexpectedly offends me, I immediately find myself front and center in that spotlight of insecurity. I am left, once again, to grapple with the question of who I am on that very core level of identity. Most often than not, moments like these sneak up on me, but leaves me spiraling out of control for a few days until I can find some (emotional) life ring to hang on to and get my confidence back in place again. It is always emotionally draining.
But these moments are no longer the norm. I would say that, aside from an occasional thunder storm, most of the dark clouds have lifted. For the most part. I no longer hate who I am. Yes. Hate. I hated being Asian. I wanted nothing more than to be anyone but who I was. Now, at the end of the day, I like who I am. Yes. Like. And on a superb day, I may even love who I am. I have worked really, really hard to get to this spot, and it still remains a work in progress. But overall, I am proud of who I have become and continue to become. Sometimes, it is still a struggle, and sometimes I still fall off my wagon. But I now know how to get back on and I am doing better at letting those who love me to help me when I struggle. And that segues into the next chapter. TRUST.