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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com.
Aubrey Fitzgerald says
Janine is one of the brightest and most experienced voices in the real-world of Adoption. I find that I benefit enormously from my correspondence with Janine and her sister, Jenette, via Adoption Truth & Transparency Worldwide Network for several years now. In a world of lost identity, Janine and Jenette do the important work of empowering human beings without judgement, enabling members of an adoption triad to find themselves and to find peace. Without Janine, my sons and I would still be lost.
Reading Janine’s books are a source of acceptance for me. As an intercontry adoptee myself I am always looking for insides to help me reflect on my own story. And adoptee centered books are very hard to find. The first book I read, twins found in a box, it was like gaining not only one but two voices of the big sisters, that I never had growing up. This book helped me understand what happened also to me while growing up. They validated my feeling, feelings I could have never pointed on or express myself during childhood or teen years, but were so deeply true, the words were healing for me. She wrote a beautiful coming of age story, because she allowed herself to be vulnerable and to capture a very truthful version of a child’s mind and heart. Which is very rare to find, because most of us look back on childhood with the judging eyes of our adult narrator. It is a book about complicated family relations as much as about being adopted into a white family. It is written as naturally as it is for us Adoptees growing up in this complex and often impossible situation. It is the book to dive into the the deep waters of the intercountry, interracial adoptee experience. The second book a search for a mother missing was a gift that arrived before I left for my own search, going back to my home country for the first time, where I was able to find my mom and also portrait and interview docents of first mothers. This book was my company navigating this life changing experience, it was the touch of a soft hand held for encouragement and voice of reason making sense of something that was just happening around me. Being adopted your life experience has an isolating uniqueness, where people can support and be understanding but cannot really explain to you what’s going on. Janine and Janette make sure through their books and their work in the adoptee community they lead with pure love, that we receive the guidance that we younger Adoptees not only need but also deserve.
Kevin Minh Allen says
Thank you, NWAW, for covering Janine’s writing career and decades-long advocacy for adoptees. I have been a long-time fan of Janine’s work, and each time she releases a book I’m thrilled with the prospect of reading it. The Vance Twins’ Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network is an incomparable resource for anyone wanting a critical perspective of how the adoption industry deeply affects individuals and communities.
The author’s work is a must -read. For a non -adoptee, it makes you rethink the meaning of family and culture. For an adoptee, it is affirmation of one’s experience and a sense of universality.
Wow, inspiring! Janine is doing great work!
Young-wha Coulter says
I have known the Vance Twins for some time now and love them dearly. Janine’s books are fantastic. Reading her books and feeling her emotions is like seeing into my soul and the identity issues that I’ve gone through my entire life as a Korean adoptee. I too know nothing about my birth family and desperately want to find them. When I picked up Janine’s book Twins Found In a Box many years ago was during the time when I was starting to figure out what it means to be Asian, what it means to be Korean, and most importantly what does it mean to be adopted. Her book solidified and woke up feelings that I had been struggling with my entire life. Transparency is so important when it comes to adoption and unfortunately there is very little or non at all. With Janine’s research and writing she has cracked open the truth about international adoption. She is a pioneer in our adoption community, a pioneer as a female Asian writer, and a pioneer in finding the hard truth about child trafficking for adoption. Janine and Janette thank you for leading the charge!!!
Carol K. says
I’m not surprised with the level of wisdom and understanding in this interview because I read Janine’s first book, ‘Twins Found in a Box, Adapting to Adoption’ in the l late 1990’s when she first published. I was always amazed with her writings through her story telling. She writes beautifully but not only that she educates on the heart of the issues in a must empathetic. I’m very proud of Janine for being so selfless and being brave enough to give her all. She writes with compassion, heart, and soul. She gives a platform to the underdogs of adoption. Thanks for helping many adoptees and families-of-adoption-loss and helping them get their stories out of their systems. Through writing and/or sharing their story she is helping people heal by letting go of pain and suffering that is typically stored in one’s body when one keeps in one’s own truth. The Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network forum that the Vance Twins started is a a great educational space and a place specifically for human rights Activists to share their work. I’m definitely a fan!
Thankyou NWASIANWEEKLY for covering the important work done by the Vance twins! It’s so vital for the adoption arena to include and elevate the voices of those impacted most – us, the children who grow up and have our own opinions and views on the mechanisms and process that created our life as we know it. Please continue to listen to us and ask that policy & process includes our views! There are many many adult intercountry adoptees around the world all speaking out for truth and transparency in adoption like the Vance twins. You can find many of these individuals and groups (specific to intercountry adoption) listed at https://intercountryadopteevoices.com/adoptee-led-groups/
Janine has been one of the reasons I do what I do. Her story, her perseverance, her fight for justice and those touched by this crazy thing we call adoption is why I do what I do.
I meant her a couple years ago….we exchanged books and ideas. Her support for my growth as a writer, author and speaker has been unwavering.
I am so proud of all she and her sister do for the community and for the adoption world. She has been a guiding light…She has given so many a platform to tell their stories.
May her light never go dim!
Ken Lee says
Although I’m not adopted I’m very close to several people who are part of the adoption community. Janine Vance’s message about truth and transparency is an important one for everyone to think about and act upon. An individual’s personal story and journey is the most important asset that any human being can own and treasure. I implore everyone to listen with an open heart and mind to the truth about adoptees Ken Lee, VP Michael Wiese Productions
Lorraine Dusky says
As a mother who was told in 1966 that there was no way that I would ever be able to find my daughter, or have her find me, I understand the unquenchable thirst that adoptees have to know their original families–mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on. It was the opposite of my unstoppable search for my daughter.
I so greatly admire the work that Janine and Jenette Vance have done to make known the terrible injustice that was done to perhaps a hundred thousand Korean children. As once sat through a movie about the Korean adoption hegira in a roomful of adopted adult Korean adoptees; the tears could have mopped the floor, and it brings tears to my eyes just to remember that moment.
I applaud the work of the Vance twins and urge anyone with an interest in adoption to read their books; Adoption History 101: An Orphan’s Research, or, Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists, The essays are brutal and breathtaking. Not all international adoptees will be so deeply affected or undeniably curious, but that does not alter the truth of their quest and the problems of so many
Dea Pearce says
I was 58 years old before I figured out I was allowed to feel and say out loud any of the feelings and emotions I had about being an international Adoptee. That is when I decided to try looking into what being Korean was all about. Up until then, my entire life in America consisted of trying to blend into my middle America, Caucasian environment. I did it very well too I might add.
When I began my search using the internet, I was blown away by all the information available at one’s fingertips. It was actually a case of overload at first.
In the beginning it was all about connecting with others just like me. We had walked the same walk and talked the same talk. Gradually, I began to research other areas of international adoption.
Enter the Vance sisters. I picked up a copy of Janine’s The “Unknown” Culture Club: Korean Adoptees, Then and Now https://www.amazon.com/dp/1512331538/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_xEIlDbBQFZ9ND.
It was as if my closed eyes had been opened. As they say today in the young persons vernacular, I was Woke.
To me the dark side of adoption was never in my mindset. It has changed the way I think of adoption and while I personally am still happy to be here rather than there, I have my mind opened to both sides now.
The work Janine Vance has tirelessly given her time and energy to bring forth so that others may see the truths is so appreciated. If we don’t see the entire picture, we really don’t SEE the picture. I am so thankful to she and her sister for painting that canvas full of truths.
You see, it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.
Renee Gelin says
I have been connected with Janine and Jenette for the past 7 years and have watched their drive to raise awareness and support other adoptees and the adoption community.
Many statements made in this interview are also spot on for domestic infant adoptions in the US.
I know, because I am a first/natural mother of adoption loss. Specifically the statements around ‘antiquated adoption laws created by adoption agencies, their followers, and special interest groups’. You see, many states seal adoptee birth records upon adoption finalization and in many states no one – not even the adoptee who had no voice in the decision – is able to obtain their original birth certificate with their first/natural parents’ names on it.
This is keeping a secret that should never be a secret – because it is that person’s truth. Non-adopted persons can obtain their original birth certificates – why can’t an adult adoptee?
I’d like to address another issue she mentioned regarding her adoptive parents knowing little to none about the process of how the girls came to be ‘available’.
This is also something that still happens today – even with the so called ‘open adoptions’. Prospective adoptive parents are coached on how to converse with a potential birth mother.
The focus is completely on the prospective adoptive parent’s journey of how they came to adoption, and the details of how the pregnant Mother came to it.
Expectant Mothers are not informed of the adoption process and neither are the prospective adoptive parents. The education on trauma to the adoptee and the natural family is beginning to get some attention, due to the awareness being raised by adoptees and first/natural mothers who are living it, but not in any depth by the adoption entities.
In private domestic adoption, the adoption entities, attorneys and facilitators all hold the knowledge. There is no transparency. There is no regulation. There is no reporting available for adoptions handled through private entities.
What there is a lot of is MONEY.
The money even varies based on different factors; the race of the ‘available’ child, the income of the prospective adoptive parents and whatever fees the adoption entity wants to charge.
Rarely are prospective adoptive parents provided a detailed breakdown of all the ‘fees’ they are paying. For example ‘birth mother expenses’ is a very very gray area. Because the laws are set up preventing the prospective adoptive parents from paying the Mother directly for pre-birth expenses (and rightly so), the adoption entity is the ‘pass-through’ and they handle all the money that exchanges hands. The prospective adoptive parents don’t ask the Mom how much money she received – that is a taboo topic. So all the knowledge of it is held by the adoption entities – the middle men/women if you will.
There are 30-40 couples waiting for every infant that becomes ‘available’ in the US.
This makes prospective adoptive parents as vulnerable as the pregnant Mother dealing with her crisis pregnancy because neither one is completely educated on the process.
I know because it happened to me.
I started a national grass roots all volunteer organization to educate and provide transparency to this process. Our mission is to ensure Mothers and prospective adoptive parents are fully educated on the adoption process and to ensure Mothers are not applying the permanent solution of adoption to their temporary situation. We ensure that they understand their rights, what adoption trauma is and how difficult it is to find adoption competent therapists who understand it. We explain what ambiguous and disenfranchised grief is and how it will affect the natural family for generations. Most importantly we explain what persuasive coercion looks like and how it can be used against Mothers in their very vulnerable time of their life.
We provide resources and mentoring in addition to the education and have a nationwide network of hundreds of Sisters ready to go and a moments notice.
Society doesn’t think about this side of adoption. Thank you for giving these two wonderful women the chance to reach others who may need to hear their story. It is so very important to listen to the adoptees and the first families. The adoption narrative has been set by adoption entities and adoptive parents for far too long.
When we know better, we do better. ~Maya Angelou
Mirah Riben says
The Vance twins, Janine and Jenette, are doing very important work on two levels simultaneously:
They help the adoptees and their families reconnect and reunify, allowing both to fill in the voids and erase the endless wondering with reality – feeling whole!
At the same time they are spokespersons to enlighten the public as to the truth of the adoption industry which is far too embroiled in exploitation and corruption.
The author of this article has used the phrase “legitimate providers.” And therein lies the problem. Even the most ethical adoptions are arranged for the purpose of providing, or supplying, a much sought-after commodity. In other words, instead of being focused on children in need and what is in their best interest, adoption facilitators and agencies are focused solely on meeting the “needs” of the paying clients. The children become a product and their families disposable, discarded packaging.
We need to put the needs of families in crisis first and help the family find the resources they need and find the children the best placement possible seeking extended family first, and members of the local community or country before shipping children overseas to a strange culture
It is never in any child’s best interest to sever their familial ties and disallow them knowing the truth of their origins.
This then is the work of Janine and her sister and others in the global adoption community .
Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry
Allen Majors says
Janine, thank you for your work in making more whole, more real, more true the picture of transracial-transnational adoption. Your voice is critically important to enlighten thinking about the money, privilege, and power connected to the exploitation of vulnerable populations.
Kyung Sook Jung Haveland says
Janine Vance one Serious, Honest, Sincere Woman, kind, with a very Big Heart, only Goodness is pouring out, she has become one Voice for “The Many” whome Not yet dear to speak their minds.
I am so glad on her behalf, since she has worked so hard for this through many Years. She has written book after book and finally the Eyes of the World are set on her and her Truth about this Multiple Billion Dollar Business World Wide.
The Adoption Community always needed her voice, and many Thank her Today, with her Great Achievement, I raise my glass from the Land of the Vikings and Thank her from the bottom of my Heart and Soul.
For being one Beacon out there for Many to Follow, and Together we may Flip the Script One day.
Love you and wish you Good Luck with Future Tasks to come.
But for now rest well and Enjoy the Fruits of your labour, you have so Earned it.
You lead the way and you shine your light where there before was little hope, it’s like a match, we lit it and it needs something to make a true Fire. You lit Hearts out there with Hopes of Human Rights for the Future.
Love and Light, from an Activist from The Land of the Vikings.
Marilyn Murphy says
Truth Transparency & Community – I wish you both every success, and hopefully
somehow there will be a breakthrough for you both and you will find your family.