Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Home, Coming from Korea

Right off the plane, meeting mom and dad.
While working as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in the 70s and 80s,  I made dozens of trips to India and Korea with Americans for International Aid to bring 'home' children adopted by Americans from abroad. Here are photos of Chung, the very first boy I took to his new parents on November 10, 1977. Chung's family sent these pictures to me in a thank you letter several months after his arrival.  I had shared with them that Chung was very outgoing and had talked non-stop during the flight (of course, I understood not a word). His parents wrote:

  "We thought perhaps you would like to see how 'motor mouth' has changed. Grown six inches and   gained five pounds. Still active and still conning everyone he can."

In his parents arms as I catch a flight home.
They were in the process of adopting again, this time from the US.

While in Korea I often went for overnight visits to Father Keane's St. Vincent's Home for Amerasian Children in Byu Pyung. I slept on the floor alongside the children. (See Amerasians: "Dust of Life"). I watched Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding back in 1981on a tiny black-and-white television with several of the younger kids sitting on my lap. I thought, rightly so, "I'll certainly remember this moment in years to come."

The term 'Amerasian' refers to children born of Asian mothers and (mostly) US soldiers stationed Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian nations. They face discrimination by other nationals, often finding it difficult to find legitimate work. Why? They are considered American, not Korean or Vietnamese, and are sometimes denied citizenship rights. Outcast, abadoned, most never know their fathers and find life difficult.

A photo I took of Natasha in 1978 at Father Keane's
While viewing a TEDtalk recently I saw a link to a story told by photographer  Rick Smolan of a little Amerasian girl in South Korea.  Rick had met the girl, Natasha, while on assignment to photographh Amerasians in 1978 for TIME Magazine. Though only 28 and unmarried, he helped find her a home in Atlanta when her grandmother, Natasha's sole caretaker, died. I immediately recognized Natasha as a little girl as I had met at Father Keane's during one of my many visits.  Natasha's story as told by Rick is, to use a cliche, 'heartwarming.'

Lunch time at Father Keane's

 Over the years I probably escorted over 100 children from Asia and South America to their new homes in the US. I would spend anywhere between 20 hours and two days with the children depending on flights and connections. I rarely know what happened after  I handed the children over to their new families in Buffalo, Minneapolis, or Portland and hopped the next flight back to my home base. I did receive an occasional letter from a grateful parent within months of our arrival, but I wondered how they adjusted, what was school like, and what did they become?

While I was not in any way part of Natasha's story, it is wonderful to see what a beautiful and self-assured woman she has become and to hope that all of the children I escorted found happiness, security, comfort, and worth, in their new lives in America.

Here is "The Story of a Girl" by Rick Smolan.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know if this orphanage is still running? I can't find any current information on it, save for your blog. Please respond to me at Thank you so much.