Washington state adoptees are privileged to have an amazing local resource and support community through the Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington (AAAW). Unlike many other adoption support groups that usually separate according to ethnicity, AAAW opens its doors to Asian and Pacific Islander adoptees of any kind. Founded in 1996, AAAW seeks to provide a place for camaraderie between adult adoptees through cultural programs, events, and a soon-to-be-launched youth mentoring program. The latter will be the first adoptee mentoring program in Washington state, pairing kids between the ages of 8 and 18 with a cluster of adult adoptees. The program will kick off next month with the intent of providing adopted children with peer groups and role models.
Jenny Kelly is the current president of the AAAW Board of Directors, and she was kind enough to spend her Sunday afternoon with me for this latest photo essay. When I first pointed Jenny out at the South African tea house we chose to meet at, I admit that I was a bit surprised to see that she was of mixed race. Most of the other adoptees that I had been encountering for these photo essays have been of a variety of ethnicities, but I honestly had never stopped to consider the idea that mixed race children also face adoption. My curiosity about Jenny was temporarily quenched when she confirmed that her biological mother was Korean, and her father a Caucasian American. Just as I was starting to wrap my head around that idea, more interesting facts about Jenny began piquing my interest even further.
Unlike most other Asian adoptees I have encountered, Jenny’s story and background stood out as drastically unique from many other adoption stories. For one, she was lucky to have spent the first 10 years of her life living with her biological mother and brother in Korea. It turns out the main reason why the adoption went through was that mixed race children at the time were heavily discriminated against. Jenny did not suffer from language barriers or cultural differences, but instead from a general lack of acceptance from the Korean community. In this case, her mother’s choice to send her overseas was truly to ensure a better future.
I was both intrigued and saddened to hear about Jenny’s experiences as a mixed race child in Korea. Her stories make me wonder how older Koreans today are perceiving the idea that a majority of their children whom they gave up for adoption tend to marry people of different ethnicities. Another interesting piece of Jenny’s story was the fact that her adoption was open in the truest sense possible. She was able to communicate constantly with her biological mother, who also made a trip out to the U.S. to meet Jenny’s adoptive family. I cannot help but try to imagine just what the impact would have been if my biological parents would have had contact with me as I grew up. Maybe this childhood contact would allow many adoptees to forgo part of their identity crises and need to figure themselves out.
My afternoon with Jenny lasted much longer than I anticipated as I found out more about her and her work through AAAW. When I asked her what drives her in life, her answer was the ability to make connections with people. I can’t imagine a better place for her passion to shine through than at the head of the AAAW network.
~ Suzi Pratt