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MLA 2011

Friday, 07 January, Los Angeles

363. Telling Life Stories of Korean American Adoptees: Testimony, History, and Politics

5:15–6:30 p.m., Olympic 1, J. W. Marriott,

 Presiding: Marianne  Novy

  1. “Projecting Life Stories into Histories: Korean Adoptee Narratives and the ‘Forgotten War,’” Mark Jerng
  2. “Speaking for, as, and about Adoptees: Genre, Authenticity, and Testimony,” Eli Park Sorensen, Univ. of Cambridge
  3. “Rewriting National Routes in Jane Jeong Trenka’s Fugitive Visions,” Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Saint Olaf Coll.

A short business meeting will begin at 5 in the same room.
Korea is the birthplace of more transnational adoptees than any other country. Originating just after the Korean War, adoption from Korea has now resulted in a population of about 170,000 adopted Koreans, of whom two-thirds are in the US. Most of them were raised when adoption aimed at assimilation; but many of their personal narratives have described bad effects of this policy and have contributed to a current trend to see adoption differently. In recent years, aided by the Internet, Korean adoptees have become an organized political and social group; many of them have been meeting together (for the past ten years in large international Gatherings), returning to Korea, sometimes in governmentally sponsored “homeland tours,” sometimes longer, and telling their life stories in published creative writing, film, and the visual arts. Thus they form a literary subculture, but one of interest to other transnational adoptees as a model of community, and one whose stories of upbringing have often served as cautionary to parents of other transnational adoptees.

The papers on this panel will discuss how writers have used narratives to create community, promote political change, connect life stories to national history, and beaer witness to trauma. They will also consider questions of authenticity and genre-consciousness, and link these narratives with the work of Korean adoptee visual artists and attempts by Koreans to re-evaluate the Korean War. In addition to Fugitive Visions, other works discussed will be Deann Borshay Liem’s new film In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, Thomas Park Clements’ memoir The Unforgotten War, and Marie Myung-hok Lee’s novel Somebody’s Daughter.

Mark Chia-Yon Jerng is an assistant professor  at the University of California, Davis. His book Claiming Others: Transracial Adoption and National Belonging is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press this fall. Eli Park Sorensen is a research fellow at Cambridge (U.K.), is currently writing a book about autobiography, Korean adoption, and postcolonialism, and is on the edidtorial board of the Journal of Korean Adoption Studies. Jennifer Kwon Dobbs is an assistant professor at St. Olaf College and is guest editor of the third issue of the Journal of Korean Adoption Studies, on the theme of community. She has done activist work in Korea with the ngo Truth and Reconciliaton for the Adoption Community in Korea, and is collecting oral histories of unwed mothers to help their new organization, Korean Unwed Mothers and Families, change Korean adoption laws. Marianne Novy will chair the session.