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From Orphan to Adoptee

U.S. Empire and Genealogies of Korean Adoption

2014
Author:

SooJin Pate

From Orphan to Adoptee

Korean adoption as the sine qua non of U.S. neocolonialism in South Korea

SooJin Pate explores the ways Korean children were employed by the U.S. nation-state to promote the myth of American exceptionalism, to expand U.S. empire during the Cold War, and to solidify notions of the American family. In From Orphan to Adoptee we see how Korean adoption became the crucible in which technologies of the U.S. empire were invented and honed.

Complicating existing studies on Korean adoption and Cold War militarism, From Orphan to Adoptee shows how practices of transnational adoption required first the production of the ‘orphan’ as an available commodity open to transfer. ‘Orphans’ need not be parentless at all. By demonstrating that ‘orphans’ were made through various forms of militarized humanitarianism in the years leading up to the Korean War, Pate offers us a counter-history that profoundly changes our understandings of the relationship between U.S. empire and adoption. An original and exciting book.

Mark C. Jerng, University of California, Davis

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.

From Orphan to Adoptee

SooJin Pate is visiting assistant professor at Macalester College, where she teaches critical race theory, immigration, and postcolonial approaches to the study of U.S. history and culture.

From Orphan to Adoptee

Complicating existing studies on Korean adoption and Cold War militarism, From Orphan to Adoptee shows how practices of transnational adoption required first the production of the ‘orphan’ as an available commodity open to transfer. ‘Orphans’ need not be parentless at all. By demonstrating that ‘orphans’ were made through various forms of militarized humanitarianism in the years leading up to the Korean War, Pate offers us a counter-history that profoundly changes our understandings of the relationship between U.S. empire and adoption. An original and exciting book.

Mark C. Jerng, University of California, Davis

Pate’s work is wide-ranging, highly compelling and certainly an incisive addition to American studies, transnational studies, and orphan/adoptee studies.

Asian American Literature Fans

From Orphan to Adoptee

Contents

Introduction: Challenging the Official Story of Korean Adoption
1. Militarized Humanitarianism: Rethinking the Emergence of Korean Adoption
2. Gender and the Militaristic Gaze
3. Marketing the Social Orphan
4. Normalizing the Adopted Child
5. "I Want My Head to Be Removed": The Limits of Normativity
Epilogue: Tracing Other Genealogies of Korean Adoption

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index