The First International Gathering of Korean Adult Adoptees was held in 1999, Washington, DC. This three day event invited Korean adoptees from all over the world. About 500 of us came together to spend time sharing our experiences. For many, it was the first time being in a room where they entered as an adoptee and as a Korean person. For one portion of the event, we were divided by age and given an opportunity to have more intimate discussions with peers.
We hear from Jim Milroy, Group II participant next. Oftentimes the dominant voice in adoption is female, as more female babies and children were adopted internationally. IAMAdoptee is grateful for Jim’s contribution not just to get the male perspective, but because he has a narrative that seems timeless. He speaks from both the micro and macro level in the adoptee community with wisdom, urgency and kindness.
Left: Jim in the First Gathering directory, Top Right: Jim (top middle) with “fellow brave group 2ers” from the First Gathering, Bottom Right: Jim with fellow adoptees searching in Korea
Basic Biographical Information
Name(s): James Elwood Milroy
How do you identify yourself?
Where were you adopted from, when and about how old were you?
Seoul-Nov 1, 1960 at 9 months
Would you share if you know information or remember any aspects of the life you lived before adoption?
I know nothing
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, and went to High School/College in South Dakota. I currently reside in Omaha, Nebraska.
What is/was your profession?
Solutions Consultant for Telephony
How did you learn about The Gathering? What compelled you to attend? Were there any expectations you had about the event?
I was involved with Holt at Summer camps and went on a Trip to Korea with Holt employees..and such and knew several people and the ones who organized the event. I had met several adoptees and knew of the special bond. The Gathering enabled us to finally get together with people our own age and discover we were never alone..just lonely. That was my expectation. It exceeded my expectations by a million miles.
What memory remains with you of this event?
Many memories. Most lasting is when you meet someone for the first time who has never really talked with someone just like us, who is your same age. The Gathering started with a view from the agency (Holt) and well-intentioned parents and social workers. The magic of the event was that we, as adults, took it upon ourselves to make it our event on our terms. Eventually many of us held our own events.
Has there been any lasting impact of The Gathering in your life now?
Yes..I am still close to many of the people I met in DC, camps and subsequent events.
How have your thoughts on being adopted changed or evolved over the last 20 years?
For the most part they are the same. I am not disappointed by any means in my adoption. Like any parenting, it’s the luck of the draw and I got very lucky. This country’s attitude towards immigration and religion has not come as a shock to me, as I have seen this all my life. I think those are the two vital components of early adoption from Korea, versus fertility today. But when adoptees hear others told to “go back where you came from” it’s time to take action and use our complex experiences to defend others. I’d like to hear the adoption community voice on these issues.
I have found that being adopted and the way I privilege that part of myself has ebbed somewhat as I have gotten older with other aspects of self being more important, like being a parent. Where does being adopted fit into your life these days?
I am reminded of my adoption when I am with my siblings, and not my children. Adoption is extremely personal and not shared with anyone other than like-minded adoptees. It does not play a factor in my daily life, or raising my children. I am proud to be who I am, and that is in large part to my personal adoption experience. My non-Korean siblings empathize with me, but do not fully understand what we witness. The irony is that growing up I felt it would have been much better to have been white in the world I lived. In today’s world I am grateful that I did not grow up to become a big fat white male.
What is going on in the adoption community you wish would get more air time?
The community needs to take a stance against Trump and all the filth he stands for.. or suffer the consequences of becoming like the silent American Jews during WW2. The video that circulated of the Korean adoptee beaten by his white southern family should be required viewing by ALL potential adoptive parents. When I shared it with my sibling they had no idea. Had I been adopted by some of my cousins..I would have had the same experience. I have always maintained we need to have a gather of adoptive siblings. They too were passive in the adoption decision. Racism-hidden and overt within the Korean adoptive family should be topic numero uno.
What is the best part of being an adoptee?
There is no best or worst part in my mind. I think that is how our parents should look at the process, but not us. We are their gift..just like our children. It’s that view that separates the person who abandons, adopts and is adopted.
What is the hardest part of being an adoptee?
Not knowing anything about my birth family, or why I was abandoned.
Is there something of the Korean culture you have incorporated into your daily life?
Not that I am aware of.
If you’ve been to Korea, please finish this sentence – Next time I go to Korea, I…..
Will take my kids.