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Once They Hear My Name

Korean-American adoptees talk about their experiences growing up in a predominantly Caucasian world.

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“When I got to college I said I was adopted, right off the bat,” says Todd Knowlton, a 33-year-old Korean-American adoptee. “It doesn’t bother me, but once they hear my last name, people always ask uncomfortable questions.”

The new collection, Once They Hear My Name: Korean Adoptees and Their Journeys Toward Identity edited by Ellen Lee, Marilyn Lammert, and Mary Anne Hess, echoes Knowlton’s sense of the disconnect shared by many transracial adoptees.

In the 1950s, long before Angelina Jolie and Madonna put transracial adoption in the headlines, Korean children were already arriving on US shores to join predominantly Caucasian families. According to various estimates, some 100,000 to 120,000 Korean adoptees reside in the United States alone, with a 50-plus-year history of becoming Americans.

According to the US Census Bureau, even with the rise in adoptions from China, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, Korea remains the largest single-country source of foreign adoptees under the age of 18.

The nine voices represented here are all those of adults, with ages ranging from 25 to 53 and a variety of backgrounds and chosen professions. Regardless of individual circumstances, certain similarities are clear.

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