My name is ‘Kimura Byol”.
Listening to the experiences of overseas adoptee women(1)
Editor’s note: South Korea has a long history of sending its children abroad for adoption. The issue of overseas adoption is connected to issues of women’s and children rights, poverty and discrimination, and race and migration. By listening to the voices of women who grew up in other societies and then returned to the country of their birth, Ilda hopes to hear their experiences and the messages they hold for Korean society. This series is supported by the Korea Press Foundation’s Press Promotion Fund.
Intro: a letter to my homeland from Montreal
As an atypik asian adopted abroad a-gendered artist, activist and archivist.
Born from a Corean mother and a Japanese father in the land of the morning calm, I was adopted to Belgium at a young age as part of the first wave of Korean babies coming in the late 60s to Central-west Europe.
Because of Corean social stigma against women and religious beliefs, 220,000 Korean adoptees were sent for more than six decades since the Korean War, intentionally to Caucasian families in specific countries that had helped Korea during its war.
Fortunately, I made a short film at 20 that won a prize and helped me to be noticed by the Corean government. It led me to be invited to Corea.
After meeting with my birth-mother back in 1991, my activism started with meeting many adoptees, organizing ourselves to have a sense of community, making a place where people like us could exchange and not feel like the only one. I made the big move to live in Corea for 13 years (1993-2006) where I first learned a lot about that new society, and with friends and allies brought awareness about overseas adoptees adults returning to their birth-land. For a long decade I dedicated myself to adoptee’s rights (F4 visa, birth family search, etc.) and also developed my art practices.
Meeting more and more of the younger generation of adoptees who also wanted to change society for the better, I ‘accidentally’ had my first homosexual experience and it took me a bit of time for me to admit my difference. Corea was not the best country to welcome that change and so slowly, since coming out of the closet, I had a harder time navigating Corea. That’s why I moved out and established myself in Montreal.
A new place as a queer person of color. My intersectionality (overseas korean adoptee, intersex, queer) is keeping me busy to keep the fight against unfairness!
A trend in one town of Belgium ‘Adopt an Asian child!’
I like to be described and remembered as an atypik asian adopted abroad a-gendered artist, activist and archivist.
My name, now, is kimura byol-nathalie lemoine. When people ask me about my names, I have ready-made answers with 100 words. Here it is:
“Actually, I was born under that name but it was not officially recognized.
I was 'found' and declared by the name that had nothing to do with my first identity.
Then, I was adopted in Europe, where my Western official name came from.
The name my South Korean birth mother gave me is the English acronym for 'Bring Your Own Lesbian'. It means ‘star’ in Korean language. I prefer to be called by the name of my Japanese biological father which is pronounced in French ‘qui mourra‘ which means: ‘will die’. It's easier for French speakers to remember it.”
I am a Korean-Japanese adopted to Belgium to a childless Caucasian couplein 1969. That first year Boitsford, a Brussels ‘nouveau riche’ district in Belgium, welcomed Korean orphans on their soil. This specific area, also known for their Japanese Cherry blossoms (Sakura) trees, through networks of adoptive parents was blooming of Asian kids coming from Korea. Advertising was placed in family magazines to promote this new trend. Adopt an Asian as you would adopt a Chow-Chow. The White savior effect was working on the Christian guilt for their wealth. We were seen as a curiosity. More and more of us were stopped in the street while with our White parents, who talked and compared us.
My experience with racism in my adoptive family, at school and in society, made me blind because I was cautious, suspicious towards people and became introverted to escape from interactions with people as much as possible.
I ate my angst, kept it for myself until I left home at 13 years old, officially on my adoption papers 16 years old. I was officially adopted at age 4 and a half but I was really one and a half years old. Although it was difficult to live during my teenage years, I managed to keep up my spirit to survive in the best way I could: be safer than safe. I was working 2-3 jobs at the same time to pay for my school and my living expenses. At 15 years old (18 officially) I signed my first apartment lease. A very small space with no hot water. But I was free mentally and financially. I looked happy on the surface.
Attending art school, and learning about different art forms and styles, I was always brought back to my Asianness.- I was doing this way because I am Asian, I was saying this because I was Asian. I started to hate being Asian and developed an aesthetic of ugliness. Expressionism was the best way to express my anger and my dark thoughts on the meaning of life. I also was writing poems.
I was invited by Korean government, I felt so manipulated.
In the summer of 1988, I made my first short film Adoption at 20 years old. It won a prize at a film festival and all suddenly because of my given name, the Brussel Korean embassy asked me to see the film. They didn’t like the film because they thought I criticized Korea, although I hadn’t. . I was just reporting what Westerners in Europe were thinking of themselves.
A year later, they invited me to the first ‘Home Coming’ program designed for specifically ‘successful’ overseas adoptees. I was the only one in the program who was not an academic and also who didn’t want to be reunited with my birth family. My experience with the concept of family was not very bright. But I had the chance in this program to meet a Swedish adoptee who was the president of the first Korean adoptee association. It kind of intrigued me.
I came back to Belgium with even more anger towards Korea. I felt that hypocrisy to buy us back after sending us away for money was not very respectable and felt so manipulated once more.
A year later, in 1991, I was invited again to Korea. This time it was with the Ethnic Olympic Games called ‘Segye Hanminjok Chejeon’ that the Korean Ministry of Culture and Sport and Tourism was organizing for its diaspora. Through the Embassy again, they invited me to participate with the Korean Belgian team. This time they promised us to find our birth family. Until the end of the program they didn’t find my birth family and in the week left of my stay in the peninsula, I unexpectedly found my birth family. It was good and gave me strength and a better sense of self.
Published Oct. 16, 2018
Edited by Annie HS Kim
*Original Article: https://ildaro.com/8327
◆ To see more English-language articles from Ilda, visit our English blog(https://ildaro.blogspot.com).
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