Korean-American adoptee aims to map ‘Geographies of Kinship’ across the globe
Growing up in 1960s Fremont, California, Deann Borshay Liem imagined that she was the only Korean in a white family across all of America’s vast suburbia.
But, as the girl who was sent at age 8 from a Korean orphanage to be adopted in the U.S. slowly discovered, there are almost 200,000 more like her throughout the world. Hearing some of these others adoptees’ stories has helped her understand herself and realize that she was not alone.
The now 55-year-old documentary maker used film to unravel her own tangled life story in two award-winning productions. And she is now raising funds to record the dramatic homecomings of other Korean diaspora.
Korean-American Michael Holloway is pictured as a child with his adoptive family. (Mu Films)
Liem traveled the world meeting hundreds of Korean adoptees as she filmed two autobiographical documentaries.
The Emmy-nominated “First Person Plural” (2000) follows the discovery that her birth mother was still alive in Korea, leading to an emotional meeting between her biological and adoptive families.
Later, “In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee” (2010) saw her featured in Korean media as she explored the decades-long deception which began when she was sent to America in 1966 holding the passport of a girl named “Cha Jung-hee.” Instructed to keep her true identity secret from her adoptive family, it was only when she returned to Korea as an adult that she could seek the real Cha Jung-hee with whom she’d shared an orphanage all those years ago.
Both these personal accounts have been broadcast across the U.S. on PBS, but Liem is working on a new documentary, “Geographies of Kinship,” to reveal the remarkable stories of others like her around the world.
Deann Borshay Liem
“Korean adoptees have grown up in just the most unexpected places,” she said.
“There are about 11,000 Korean adoptees in France, about 10,000 in Sweden, and thousands more throughout countries such as Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and even in Italy and Luxembourg.”
She has already filmed the story of biracial adoptee Estelle Cooke-Sampson, who revisits the orphanage she lived in until her seventh birthday, before being adopted by an African-American soldier.
Another narrative follows Emma Anderson, a Swedish adoptee who visits Korea for the first time and unexpectedly reunites with her birth mother, discovering family secrets along the way.
Meanwhile, Michael Holloway is in San Francisco when he meets his birth family via webcam on a live TV show, discovering that he has an identical twin.
Liem hopes that such stories ― “poignant, sometimes tragic, other times full of irony and humor” ― will resonate with adoptees, adoptive families, and birth families to help them resolve the issues of identity that she also had to work through.
“I really struggled with reconciling my two families, two cultures, and finding my own place and voice in the world.
“I think adoption is a life-long process. It’s not a single event that happens when you’re a kid and then ends. It’s a process that a person continues to deal with, in different ways, as we go through the different phases of life,” she said.
“Regardless of where we are in the adoption journey, my hope is that this film will help give voice to experiences that are sometimes just too difficult to put into words, and allow all of us to reflect on universal questions of identity, assimilation, kinship and belonging.”
For more information go to: www.mufilms.org.
By Kirsty Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org