Hübinette, Tobias. “Asian Bodies Out of Control: Examining the Adopted Korean Existence.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 177-200. Print.
In his essay Hübinette asserts that the experiences of Koreans adopted by Western countries after the Korean War has been largely overlooked by scholars in academia. He argues that these adoptees can be understood in terms of Gayatri Spivak’s conception of the “subaltern” because “up until recently they could not speak for themselves, represented as they were as mute physical bonds by supplying and receiving governments and as grateful rescue objects by adoption agencies and adoptive parents” (178). The international adoption industry framed Koreans as the “model minority” adoptee success story, declaring that above all other groups, they were the most well-adjusted to their Western lifestyles. It was only by the 1990s that the Korean adoptees began to speak for themselves and break out of their subaltern status. In his essay Hübinette specifically examines autobiographical narratives “taken from journals and magazines, books and anthologies, or from Internet homepages and sites as the adopted Korean movement is very much a virtual community” (178).
He emphasizes that for the most part these Korean adoptees grew up in entirely white families and communities, eventually learning to identify as white and perform whiteness. Hübinette ultimately challenges the popularly celebrated postmodern conceptions of hybridity and cosmopolitanism, suggesting that these Korean adoptees experienced great “psychic violence and physical alienation” as a result of their mixed-race and fragmented identities. Hübinette points to “the high preponderance of suicide rates, mental illnesses, and social problems among international adoptees “ as evidence of some detrimental effects of hybridity (179).
Hübinette begins his essay with some helpful historical background, explaining that international adoption was first configured as a “rescue mission” to “transfer mixed-raced children, who were fathered by American and other U.N. soldiers” during the Korean war “to adoptive homes in [the] United States and Western Europe” (170). He reveals, however, that it was also a highly politicized movement on the part of the Korean government, which was interested in “cleansing the country of mixed-race children,” counteracting the domestic problem of overpopulation and improving the country’s foreign relations with Western nations Korea hoped to be allies with. International adoption eventually grew into a profitable economic enterprise as well. North Korea, however, remained staunchly opposed to the initiative, denouncing the South for “selling Korean children to Westerners” (180).
Hübinette notes that most of these children have been adopted by “middle- and upper-class white couples or singles and have accordingly grown up in white suburban, countryside, or small-town communities and neighborhoods” (182). He emphasizes that “adoption ideology” has long encouraged adoptees to develop a “white subjectivity” because it promotes “racial harmony” and helps them succeed in a world that largely celebrates and rewards whiteness (185). Hübinette argues, however, that this is an extremely destructive ideology because adoptees are driven to disown their Asian heritage and essentially become “strangers to their own bodies” (186). He claims that the adopted Korean experience is particularly distinct because they are more or less entirely severed from Asian peoples and culture. Their exposure to Asian-ness is often Orientalist representations in American popular culture and they unwittingly internalize these stereotypes because that is the only way they can know their Asian heritage.
Hübinette notes that in the early 1990s some Korean adoptees began to publish personal narratives about their adoptive experiences, but “it was not until the mid-1990s with the breakthrough of the Internet that adopted Koreans started to be more visible and make themselves more audible in the public space” (182). He suggests further that this once invisible, highly marginalized group is beginning to organize nationally as well as globally. But beyond the optimism of this emerging politically active and supportive diasporic community, Hübinette reveals that the personal narratives by Korean adoptees are often fraught with pain and confusion. He suggests that the contradiction between their internally white sense of self and their external Korean body reflected in the mirror becomes a source of great psychic violence. Hübinette asserts that Korean adoptees often feel need to “perform whiteness even more intensely and often in combination with an over-exaggerated middle- or upper classness with the hope of being taken for an Asian adoptive child to a white elite family and not mistaken as a working-class Asian immigrant” (191). They also deliberately choose to not associate with other Koreans and more generally, other Asians and people of color out fear of tainting their already unstable white identity.
Unable to find a place where they can truly belong or cultivate a sense of comfort within their own bodies, Hübinette suggests that many Korean adoptees resort to suicide as a means of overcoming their fragmented identities and the painful disjunction between psychic white self-identification and their physical Asian-ness. He concludes his essay, ultimately “regard[ing] this acquiring of a white self-identification by adopted Koreans as a complete subordination to white hegemonic power and as a magnificent symbol of the final triumph of the colonial project” (196).