By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Imagine for a minute that you don’t know who your mother is. Now imagine that you are that mother, and you don’t know what became of your daughter.
Imagine the questions that the daughter would live with on a daily basis. Why did my mom give me up? And imagine that mother, possibly plagued by regret, and very likely thinking of her lost daughter.
For Janine Vance and her sister, Jenette, these are not imaginings, but everyday life. Adopted into the United States from Korea when they were very young, the two women have next to no information about their original family, and very little detail about the circumstances of their adoption. In order to answer her own questions, and those of other adoptees not only from Korea but around the world, Janine has spent years researching the questionable practices of adoption agencies. She has written books on the topic, and formed a support network for those in similar situations. She calls her research and the collection of resulting books that also includes her memoirs, The rEvolutionary Orphan Collective.
Doubtless there are legitimate providers of children from other countries to the United States for adoption by U.S. parents. Yet what Janine suspects, is what her research points to: an adoption machine that hints at human trafficking, evangelical agendas, and, at the very least, taking children from those less advantaged to give to the more advantaged—for a profit.
“The primary concern I have about the current adoption procedure for children, whether from Asia or Africa, or anywhere in the world, is that it is based on secrecy in order for it to be effective and profitable,” explained Janine. “It has been created by various churches and based on shame. It has exploded into a network known as the Evangelical Orphan Movement and used as an effort to proselytize to other people’s children. It generates massive amounts of money for profiteers or adoptioneers. It ignores the rights of children as enshrined in the original intent of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child…Korean children are not the only children exploited by the industry, but…there are several mass child migration schemes that have plagued communities, particularly organized by various religious entities, starting as early as 1618. It continues today because no one knows the crisis exists.”
Now, imagine that you don’t know who your mother is, and you will never know. There is no way for you to find out. For Janine, “adoption is an intrusion upon my basic right as a human to know and have access to my blood-related biological family. My two daughters should have a right to have relationships with their Korean grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and potential nieces and nephews. Adoption law has completely severed them from my side of the family.”
Adoption records, in the case of the Vance twins and many others, are sparse or nonexistent, perhaps deliberately denying adoptees the chance to find out about their real parents and the chance for a reunion.
“Thanks to antiquated adoption laws created by adoption agencies, their followers, and special interest groups, my twin sister and, like other global adoptees, do not know the details of our placement and we are not allowed to know,” Janine said.
The adoption company that brought Janine and Jenette to the United States is located in Portland. All Janine’s adoptive parents knew was that children were available for adoption. To make matters worse, the adoption process for Janine and her sister did not even include being made U.S. citizens. The twins, who had been in the United States since 1972, did not find out they were still “aliens” until their adoptive mother passed away from cancer in the late 90s.
According to what Janine has discovered, “The adoption agencies did not ensure that children would be naturalized upon their entry into the United States because it is assumed today by many intercountry adoptees that this would have more than likely slowed down the adoption, more governmental processing would have been involved, and of course this would have reduced facilitator profits.”
Today, at their home near Seattle, Janine looks after her adoptive father who, in 1984, fell 100 feet while hang gliding, sustained a traumatic brain injury, and became permanently disabled. As co-founders of Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network, one of the largest adoptee groups on Facebook, with currently almost 7,500 members, Janine and her sister also care for, in a sense, other adoptees who seek support and information about the circumstances of their adoptions.
As the United States recently celebrated the Fourth of July, Northwest Asian Weekly asked Janine what it meant to be free.
“I would consider myself an independent soul and one that belongs to the earth, so any day celebrating freedom is a great day,” she answered. Janine details the search for her mother in her second memoir, The Search for Mother Missing. As part of her efforts, she has submitted her DNA to a police station in Seoul, as well as to FamilyTreeDNA, with no results so far. Janine was in South Korea looking for her mother in 2004 on August 15, which is the nation’s Independence Day. A portion of the chapter of her book, titled “Freedom Day,” reads, “I’m still holding on to a wing and a prayer that Omma has possibly seen our photo in the newspaper articles and contacted the adoption agency, who in turn contacted someone who tells her we’ll be back at the Sofitel this afternoon—after all, it’s Freedom Day. How appropriate the reunion would be!” Janine added in conversation, “Still to this day, I hope that our Korean mother has been able to free herself from any guilt inflicted upon her by an industry that needs to ignore the poor to appease the rich. Independence day for any nation—or any individual—is a sacred day!”
There are many ways to assist Janine in her efforts to shine the light on adoption practices and help adoptees know the truth about their origins.
Janine’s books, such as Adoption History 101: An Orphan’s Research, or her anthology, Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists, are available on Amazon.
Donating funds to Janine’s research or to other organizations she recommends, such as Against Child Trafficking, are also options.
To help Janine and her sister, or help an adoptee and parent of loss retell their story, you can email Janine at email@example.com. If you are on Facebook, feel free to “like” Vance Twins or visit their website at vancetwins.com to stay informed of their latest activities.
“I am merely a former ‘orphan,’ and now a researcher and philosopher, but I believe in the power of truth, transparency, and community,” said Janine.
“Adoption trafficking is a problem that only a rare few know about. My twin and I would love to have your support.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.