' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Korean adoptees compete in their native country at Olympics; 'Seoul Sisters'--one adopted, one not--on opposing hockey teams

Monday, February 12, 2018

Korean adoptees compete in their native country at Olympics; 'Seoul Sisters'--one adopted, one not--on opposing hockey teams

As soon as I heard that two sisters would be competing against each other on opposing hockey teams at the Olympics, my brain said: Adoption.

Yep. That's it. At least two of the naturalized Olympians among the 19 from various countries competing in PyeongChang for South Korea are adopted, and competing for the land of their birth.

Marissa Brandt, 25, was born in South Korea, adopted in 1992 by Greg and Robin Brandt, who had been trying to have children for a few years without success. They applied for adoption--Minnesota is Korean adoptionland central--and were eventually cleared for adoption and received a photograph of a child around the same time Robin discovered she was pregnant. As many couples do, they decided to move forward with the adoption anyway, and have, as they stated in an interview, "twins." Six months after Marissa arrived in the US, her younger sister Hannah was born.

While growing up, the Brandts (no relation to my husband, as far as we know) did not shy away from the Korean culture, sending both girls to a culture camp where, Marissa told CNN, she was not interested in connecting to anything Korean: "My sister loved it because she loved the spicy food, the kimchi, bulgogi, everything like that. I really shied away from it. I didn't really want to embrace being Korean, I just wanted to fit in and look like my sister and not be different in any way."

Both girls took to the ice, and both would play for their different college hockey teams.  American-born Hannah missed out on making the American team that went to Soschi; Marissa didn't think about it. However, during her last year of college she received a call from one of the South Korean hockey coaches who lives in Minnesota. Would she be interested in playing for South Korea? She was, and two weeks later she was boarding a plane for South Korea. In 2016, after presenting her birth certificate and other paperwork, she was given South Korean citizenship and a passport. She will play with her Korean name on her jersey: Park Yoon-jung.

The Korean team--a mixture of players from both North and South Korea--does not really stand a chance of winning a medal, but the team did win a world championship for lower-division teams. As the South Korean flag was raised and the national anthem was played after that win, Marissa told the New York Times: "It really was in that specific moment that I became OK with who I was and where I came from."

The stories I read did not say where Marissa lives in the US, but noted that she and her sister consider each other their best friends. She stays in close contact with her sister Hannah, and adoptive parents via Skype. Marissa is married, but her husband did not go to PyeongChung. The Brandt parents will be attending, cheering the sisters on. Since it's unlikely the two teams will meet, their loyalties to one or the other will not be tested. The US team does have a shot at the gold, and will be gunning for the powerhouse Canadian team who beat them at the last Olympics in Soschi.

Marissa is not the only Korean adoptee competing for Korea: Jackie Kling, 23, a freestyle skier, was adopted by American parents in 1994 and grew up in Philadelphia. A ski trip took her to South Korea in 2014, and discussions began then with the Korean Ski Association about her competing for them in the upcoming Olympics. She also gained dual citizenship. A Korean website phrased it this way: she "recovered her original nationality," and competes under her original birth name, Lee Mee-hyun.

Jackie is upfront about hoping to locate her natural birth parents. She had tried before but was told the official who handled her adopted had died. Because of the rampant corruption that occurred during the great exodus of Korean children from poor families to wealthier western families, the truth of the official's "death" is as likely a coverup as not. Many Korean children were sent out of the country without their birth parents' permission; records were destroyed. Even if the official actually is dead, why is there no documentation at the agency itself?

While Jackie notes that all the competitors have a shared passion for their sport, she admits to a second motive for herself, as she is quoted at a Korean website: “But one of my other goals is to possibly find my birth parents. It would help me in any way.”

At the conference of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture in Minneapolis in 2016, attendance by Korean adoptees living in the state was high. The most poignant moments for me were a series of skits by a theater group with many Korean adoptees about their own experiences, as well as a rough-cut of a movie about the history of Korean adoptions by Deann Borshay Liem, who herself is a Korean adoptee. At both performances, it seemed to me that half the audience were in tears (including myself), many weeping openly. Deann made herself the subject of an earlier movie, First Person Plural, about her finding her birth mother alive in Korea. It was on PBS a while back, and I was fortunate enough to watch it then.

I know how much my own history about my ancestors has meant to me; I relish all the details that have come my way, I wish I had mined my parents for more information  when they were alive; I loved hearing that one of my grandmothers wrote letters to the local papers, and that for extra money she made bathtub gin during the Prohibition. I loved hearing about the strength the other grandmother had when her husband, my grandfather, turned out be a sexual abuser. Against the incredible pressure of the Polish Catholic community to stay married, she divorced him, and later remarried. I knew none of this history at the time.

For Korean adoptees, with less information than I have, and with questions they may not have allowed themselves to consider, it must be momentous for them to be in the land of their birth competing for their native country. I was not surprised to read Marissa's comments how as a young girl she was not interested in anything Korean, and simply wanted to fit in. I saw the same reaction of a young Chinese adoptee who visited China with her mother on a business trip when she was a young teenager. She was, her parents said, not interested in the least in the culture; they couldn't help themselves, they were pleased. However later the young women was hoping to go on a trip to China with a college group. Her adoptive parents did not forbid her going, and would have financed the trip, but their support was lukewarm. Without their help in acquiring the necessary visa--which would have indicated their attitude--she did not make the trip.

I was once a competitive runner, and ended up with a bunch of ribbons and medals for winning in my age group. I love the Olympics, winter and summer. I took myself up to Lake Placid in 1980 during the Olympics, and went to several events. I'll be watching these PyeongChung games with interest, and following the results of these two young women. I hope that not only they do well--Jackie says she is going all out, and will medal or flop--but I also hope that they find whoever and whatever they are looking for. A great many of the Korean children should never have been sent wholesale out of the country as they were. The story of Korean adoption is far from over.--lorraine

Hockey sisters Hannah and Marissa Brandt to represent US and Korea in PyeongChang

(Olympics) Freestyle skier looks to find birth parents through Winter Games

First Person Plural (film)

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  1. https://scroll.in/field/865859/olympics-bound-dutch-skater-anice-das-to-visit-india-in-search-of-her-biological-mother

    Or, The First Olympic skater from India...

  2. Just a note about destroyed or disappeared adoption records - has anyone else noticed how many fires seem to have happened wherever adoption records were kept? It's a suspiciously frequent occurrence.

  3. FMF has raised my consciousness so well—“adoption” was my first thought, too!

    1. Sure, it is a bit of a deformation, but if you know that different countries have different ways you can be born a citizen, you know, it's not that uncommon for people to have two nationalities, people adopted from the USA by foreigners keep their no good US citizenship, for instance, there is citizenship based on place of birth, place of main residence at birth, distant ancestry, nationality of father at birth, nationality of mother at birth, religion, marriage, of course adoption, and that is not counting the "bought" athletes... So, it's not that uncommon for athletes to have different countries they could have represented. As such it is not uncommon for siblings to end up representing different countries.

      In men's association football alone we easily find the following combinations in history: Germany/Ghana (halfbrothers, different German mothers), Albania/Switzerland, Guinea/France/Guinea (three brothers), Italy/Australia, Spain/Brazil, USA/RSA (after marriage to US wife), Netherlands/Surimam, France/Congo, Portugal/Angola, Italy/Uruguay...

  4. There always seem to be adoptees in the Olympics. I always watch and look for them too. Trump must be hating on these games. so many children of immigrants doing so well for the US like Chloe Kim.

    As to dual citizenship, one can get Irish citizenship if one or more grandparents came from Ireland. I could do it but never got around to it, do not have the documentation. But I do have the blood. Not sure about the Polish side.

  5. Lorraine, have you seen this news article. Please, if you can, give us your thoughts. Thank you


  6. Trump would enjoy the games because he is very pro "legal" immigrant as am I, being the product of legal immigrants who waited in line to come to this great country of ours. On another note, Trump is, as am I, very pro "real" birth certificates as opposed to the "fake" ones given to adoptees and altered for people who want to change their gender and get new certificates; Thus, I think Trump would be a very strong advocate for open records and truth in adoption. I'm hoping adoptees and first parents will take advantage of this.



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