By Jonathan Hicap
Kara Bos was only two years old when she was abandoned in a parking lot in Goesan City in South Korea, about 110 km from Seoul, on market day on Nov. 18, 1983.
(Clockwise from top left) Kara Bos, aka Kang Mee Sook, in 1984 in South Korea before she was sent for adoption to the US; her arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Michigan in 1984 with her new family, Russell and Mariann Bell, with her brother Tim, sister Jenn and grandma Mary French; her fourth grade school picture in 1990 in Michigan; and on vacation with her family in The Netherlands in October 2019. (Photos courtesy of Kara Bos / MANILA BULLETIN)
Dressed in a red silk coat and red pants, she was found crying by a woman named Lee Jungbok, who turned her over to the chief of Goesan City. When asked about her name and age, she told them she was Kang Mee Sook and that she was two years old.
She was taken to the Hee Mang Baby Home orphanage and then stayed with a foster family, Mr. Choi and Mrs. Lee, in Cheongju City in North Chungcheong Province in South Korea for almost three months before she was sent back to the orphanage and stayed there for several months.
On Sept. 4, 1984, she was then sent to the Holt Children’s Services in Seoul, an organization that takes care of the abandoned and orphaned in Korea, which arranged for her adoption. She arrived in Detroit, Michigan on Sept. 25 the same year and was adopted by American couple Russell and Mariann Bedell, who also had two kids of their own.
“I don't have any memories of my life in Korea and definitely nothing of my birth family. I think I was probably too young to hold any memories, and with the trauma of being displaced to a completely new environment any memories I might have held would have been lost,” 38-year-old Kara told Manila Bulletin.
At an early age, she knew that she was adopted as “I am the only Asian in my family.”
Thirty-six years after she was abandoned by her Korean biological parents, Kara Bos wants answers.
On Nov. 18 last year, she filed the first ever paternity case in South Korea done by an international or overseas adoptee, which became her last resort to be legally recognized by her biological Korean father.
It was in January last year when she found a nephew/cousin by DNA test match through two DNA testing websites.
“We narrowed down our relationship to his aunt or grandfather and we confirmed in the summer of 2019 that his grandfather was more than likely my father. He is 85 years old and lives in Gangnam, but I couldn’t meet him or get his address so my search during the summer came to an end,” Kara said.
Last Feb. 29, Kara flew to South Korea to take a court-ordered DNA test at Seoul National University. Her assumed father underwent the test on April 6 and on April 16, the DNA test result came out with a 99.987 percent probability that he is her father.
Kara said “I didn’t have any rights to approach him since I couldn’t prove outside of this lawsuit that he was my father even though I had two foreign DNA tests confirming a relationship with his family. They wanted nothing to do with me, forcing me to use the court to mandate a DNA test for him so I could prove he is my father. And even still I’m being held from him by his current family from finding out my story.”
A court hearing is set on May 29 “where I will be taken up into his family register officially recognized as his daughter in Korea,” according to Kara.
Kara’s case is similar to Kopinos, or Korean-Filipino children, many of whom were abandoned and not recognized by their Korean fathers.
She was hoping to meet her father in Korea but it proved to be elusive because of her half sisters.
“His daughters refuse to contact me, and I still don’t know if he is the one ordering all of this or wanting this. I only hear about what his daughters want and do not want,” she said.
Kara said he wants to know everything about her background from her father, saying, “I want to meet him and hear why I was abandoned. I want to know who my mother is, but they will not let me meet him. His second daughter has said that she will agree for him to meet my lawyer but not with me.”
“He is my only link in finding out who my mother is as my adoption documents list only abandoned. This is injustice and shouldn’t be allowed. He should be the one who decides this and tell me himself if he doesn’t want to meet me,” she said.
In the last three-and-a-half years, Kara has spent at least €15000 (about $16,427 or P832,459) to search for her biological parents.
“The emotional toll this has had on myself and my family is unmeasurable,” she said. “I want my story told so that Korea understands the excruciating pain and rejection an adoptee has to go through even as an adult on their return to find out their birth story.”
She added, “Due to privacy laws and the lack of power, an adoptee has to go through undefinable measures to find their family, if they have the willpower and stamina to do so.”
Kara said her story is not the typical adoption scenario of parents putting their kids up for adoption because of poverty.
“To find out my oldest half sister was sent from Korea to an Ivy League conservatory school in the US in 1986 while I was sent two years before that in 1984 as an orphan wasn’t easy to swallow,” she said. “The issues with a society that won’t allow scandal or shame (children as a result of an affair or children born out of wedlock) to surface and therefore see adoption as the way out is a disgrace for a society that is seen as an economic giant and still hosts international adoption to this day.”
After the Korean War ended in 1953, thousands of Korean children were orphaned. The first international or overseas adoption of Korean children started in 1953.
In 1955, American couple Harry and Bertha Holt adopted eight Korean children, which was made possible after US President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Holt Bill, or An Act for the Relief of Certain Korean War Orphans, that allowed the couple to bring the kids to the US. The children arrived in Oregon on Oct. 14, 1955. US congressional records identified the eight as Joseph Han Holt, Mary Chae Holt, Helen Chan Holt, Paul Kim Holt, Betty Rhee Holt, Nathanial Chae Holt, Christine Kim Holt, and Robert Chae Holt who became naturalized Americans.
The following year, Harry went back to South Korea and established the Holt Adoption Program together with David Kim, which is now known as the Holt Children’s Services.
Data from Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare showed that from 1953 to 2019, there were 248,728 Korean children who were adopted. Of the total, international adoption cases were 167,864, or 67.5 percent, and domestic adoption cases were 80,864, or 32.5 percent.
A ministry report stated that before 2006, international adoption accounted for 69.8 percent of the cases in South Korea. The increase in share of domestic adoptions started since 2007. From 2009 to 2019, adoptions in Korea totalled 15,537, of which 6,306, or 40.6 percent, were overseas and 9,231, or 59.4 percent, were domestic.
By country of adoption, the US is still No. 1. From 2017 to 2019, of the total 1,018 overseas adoptions, 694, or 69.17, Korean adoptees went to the US followed by Canada, Italy, Sweden, and Norway.
According to Kara, the Korean government’s way of showing regret in sending thousands of kids around the world for adoption is to give adoptees “free language courses, an F4 visa, and a right to dual citizenship just shows the lack of understanding of what adoption means to us.”
“We need to know who our parents are, where we come from, and why we were abandoned and the Korean government doesn’t do anything to help us with that. We want truth, we want answers to our past,” she explained.