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From Orphan to Adoptee

U.S. Empire and Genealogies of Korean Adoption

SooJin Pate

Publication Year: 2014

Since the 1950s, more than 100,000 Korean children have been adopted by predominantly white Americans; they were orphans of the Korean War, or so the story went. But begin the story earlier, as SooJin Pate does, and what has long been viewed as humanitarian rescue reveals itself as an exercise in expanding American empire during the Cold War.

Transnational adoption was virtually nonexistent in Korea until U.S. military intervention in the 1940s. Currently it generates $35 million in revenue—an economic miracle for South Korea and a social and political boon for the United States. Rather than focusing on the families “made whole” by these adoptions, this book identifies U.S. militarism as the condition by which displaced babies became orphans, some of whom were groomed into desirable adoptees, normalized for American audiences, and detached from their past and culture.

Using archival research, film, and literary materials—including the cultural work of adoptees—Pate explores the various ways in which Korean children were employed by the U.S. nation-state to promote the myth of American exceptionalism, to expand U.S. empire during the burgeoning Cold War, and to solidify notions of the American family. In From Orphan to Adoptee we finally see how Korean adoption became the crucible in which technologies of the U.S. empire were invented and honed.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Difference Incorporated

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Challenging the Official Story of Korean Adoption

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pp. 1-20

Consider these two images. Both pictures were taken in South Korea. Figure 1 is a still image from a film produced by the Department of Defense on Christmas Eve in 1953, five months after the Korean War ended in a cease-fire agreement along the thirty-eighth parallel, or the demilitarized zone.1 ...

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1. Militarized Humanitarianism: Rethinking the Emergence of Korean Adoption

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pp. 21-40

Taking the figure of the “GIs and the Orphans” as the entry point for my investigation into the genealogies of Korean adoption, I use this chapter and the next to explore the material conditions of possibility for such a celluloid composition. What factors made possible the presence of displaced Korean children in the arms of American soldiers? ...

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2. Gender and the Militaristic Gaze

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pp. 41-72

The Korean War Children’s Memorial (2003), which sounds like a site honoring the displaced children of the Korean War, is actually a memorial that valorizes the American armed forces. Founded by Korean War veteran George Drake, the memorial and its accompanying website were created in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Korean War ...

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3. Marketing the Social Orphan

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pp. 73-100

If the first two chapters explored the material conditions of “GIs and the Orphans,” then these next two chapters investigate the conditions that made possible the image that has become the dominant face of Korean adoption: the “Holt Family Portrait.” For this particular chapter, I focus on the following questions: ...

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4. Normalizing the Adopted Child

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pp. 101-126

So far, I have identified the material conditions that have made possible the emergence of the Korean orphan. I examined the construction of the Korean orphan in the militarized scene of the orphanage, in the fantasies of the U.S. military, and in the humanitarian desires of American civilians. ...

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5. “I Wanted My Head to Be Removed”: The Limits of Normativity

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pp. 127-154

In her award-winning and celebrated memoir The Language of Blood (2003), Korean adoptee writer Jane Jeong Trenka theorizes Korean adoptee identity by way of a recipe. She writes: ...

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Epilogue: Tracing Other Genealogies of Korean Adoption

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pp. 155-162

As a genealogical investigation of Korean adoption, this project has offered multiple beginnings, entry points, and divergences concerning the discourses that have shaped Korean adoption.1 In an attempt to unsettle the dominant narrative of Korean adoption as a natural consequence of the Korean War and as an institution of normalization and successful assimilation, ...

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pp. 163-166

When I was struggling to find a research topic during graduate school, I remember a professor telling me, “Write the book that you always wished you could have read in college.” I started to reflect back to my undergraduate years, thinking about the holes and gaps in my own secondary education. ...


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pp. 167-200


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pp. 201-210

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About the Author

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Soo Jin Pate is visiting assistant professor in American studies at Macalester College.

E-ISBN-13: 9781452941028
E-ISBN-10: 1452941025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816683079

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Difference Incorporated