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.
The largest group of young adult Korean adoptees in 1999 were those born in the early 1970s. Kathy Carney Sacco, from Group 4, shares her memories and thoughts of The Gathering and being adopted. Kathy was memorable to so many of us because she was expecting her first child at the event!
Name(s): Kathy Carney Sacco
How do you identify yourself?: I always respond to people “I was adopted from Korea”
Where were you adopted from, when and about how old were you?
Arrived to the US 12/24/76
5.5 years old
Would you share if you know information or remember any aspects of the life you lived before adoption?
Yes, I remembered a lot.
We were poor and raised in a two-room building made out of cinder blocks. Open spaces acted as windows, no running water and no bathroom.
I don’t have good memories of my birth father. He drank a lot and was abusive to my birth mother. I have flashes of memories of my birth mother being carried on her back. She let me sleep on the warmest part of the floor when it was cold.
I remember the village where I lived was next to a military base. There was a playground area where I would swing very high on a swing. I remember being taken to the orphanage in a cab and the subsequent foster home that we stayed in until coming to the United States.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
We lived all over the United States due to my father’s job. We were generally in rural communities where my sister and I were the only Asians.
What is/was your profession?
How did you learn about The Gathering? What compelled you to attend? Were there any expectations you had about the event?
I learned about The Gathering through my job as an adoption social worker. I connected to Susan Cox at Holt and connected to Also-Known-As.
What memory remains with you of this event?
Being in a room with 400 other Korean adoptees!!!
Also, I was six months pregnant with our first child.
Has there been any lasting impact of The Gathering in your life now?
The Gathering opened my eyes to the potential and power of our community. It also gave me indispensable friendships that began because of The Gathering.
How have your thoughts on being adopted changed or evolved over the last 20 years?
Yes, my views are no longer black/white ie adoption is the best/worst solution. I worked in adoption practice for 11 years and then adoption policy for 8 years. Adoption is a solution for some children to have a permanent family. However, there needs to be strengthened policies and procedures that protect parents, families and children from fraud and corruption. We also need a comprehensive child welfare system that includes prevention and support of children and families from prenatal through college.
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?
Adoption is a part of my identity. But I am currently glad to have a break as being part of my professional identity.
Are there any thoughts you have about the adoptee community then and/or now?
I am so glad to have the reflection of 20 years from The Gathering. As younger generations of intercountry adoptees are maturing, I hope they learn from history to not repeat our mistakes and re-invent the wheel. I also hope earlier generations will be willing to mentor. It is in sharing our stories that things will be made better for ourselves and future generations.
Is there a conversation in adoption you would like to have more of?
How to support adoptees better in their search journeys
What is going on in the adoption community you wish would get more air time?
The need for post adoption services and need for counseling services
What is the best part of being an adoptee?
It’s hard to say what is the best part of being an adoptee. It’s just an inherent part of who I am. I know adoptees think about the loss of birth family and birth culture. I thought about those things too. But now as a middle-aged adult, I realize if I had not been adopted, I wouldn’t have my husband and daughters. I wouldn’t have my some of my closest friends if not for adoption.
What is the hardest part of being an adoptee?
As an intercountry and transracial adoptee, the hardest part of being an adoptee is being viewed as “other.” Sometimes I get tired of sticking out in my extended family and in the community as being one of the few Asians. It is also coming in full force again with the racist and xenophobic messaging of the current president.
Is there something of the Korean culture you have incorporated into your daily life?
Food! Food! Food!
If you’ve been to Korea, please finish this sentence – Next time I go to Korea, I…..
Next time I go to Korea, I will:
- visit my birth family
- eat lots of Korean food
- go shopping for glasses and sunglasses that actually fit my face
- check out the restaurant El Pino by Korean adoptee, Chef D