It is not unusual for adoptees of any race or ethnicity to explore their identity as an adopted person for a variety of reasons. Transnational transracial adoption can add a layer of complication to the identity journey of an adoptee.
A.D. Herzel is an internationally recognized artist, educator, designer and writer. She is also a Korean adoptee who explores her identity and creates community through her art.
Herzel grew up in a deeply religious household, and her adoptive parents were part of the peak of Americans adopting children orphaned during the Korean War. The origin of this type of adoption traces back to when Harry Holt and his wife Bertha adopted eight Korean orphans in 1956.
The Korean Adoptee Healing Project
Herzel was adopted in 1970 by a religious family that was inspired by the Holts’ movement to “save” the children. The family subsequently adopted three children: two girls and a boy. From 1970-1973 the family sponsored about 50 children. The children sponsored were also 100% Korean.
After Herzel’s adoptive mother died, she inherited the files and photos of these sponsorships. From these files Herzel has been creating The Korean Adoptee Healing Project which consists of portraits and pieces inspired by these untold stories. On the subject of the project Herzel says, “It has taken me 50 years to give light to the shadow of my adoption story. This current flowering moment, rooted and wrapped in the tendrils of history is seeded by the currents of global, religious and political history.”
It has taken me 50 years to give light to the shadow of my adoption story. This current flowering moment, rooted and wrapped in the tendrils of history is seeded by the currents of global, religious and political history.A.D. Herzel
Art and Social Change
Herzel has been teaching and creating for most of her life. She found that the forced isolation brought on by the global pandemic rather suited her, and allowed time for deep interrogation and self exploration as well as a profound connection with an ever-growing online community.
Herzel’s art is as personal as it is political. Being an American is complicated, especially at a time of increased hate crimes against Asian-American Pacific Islanders in the wake of the global pandemic. Media has not covered these stories sufficiently and although celebrities are speaking out, there is still an alarming rise in hate crimes against members of the Asian Diaspora.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted, “the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering” and urged governments to “act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.” Nearly a year later, hate crimes have spiked and the body count is rising.
In the U.K., Sarah Owen, a member of Parliament who is of Chinese descent, told Time Magazine in March of 2021: “It is relentless and has been particularly relentless this year, but we shouldn’t discount the fact that this was a problem well before the pandemic.”
“It doesn’t matter where it’s happening and it doesn’t matter who it’s happening to,” says Owen. “It’s felt by the whole of the East and South East Asian community.”
New Zealand’s race relations commissioner Meng Foon told Time, “Racism was always there. We’re not surprised by continuous racism that rears its ugly head.”
Can All Nations Work Together to Heal?
Asian communities face painful racism worldwide, despite the geographical distance from the U.S. where a recent violent deadly attack at a spa impacted the entire Asian Diaspora. The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center launched in March of 2020. The center tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning and child bullying against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Stop AAPI Hate received reports of nearly 3,800 hateful incidents during the first year of the pandemic.
A Decline in Transnational Adoptions
According to U.S. State Department adoption statistics, between 1953 and 2018, approximately 170,000 Korean children were adopted by families in more than 29 countries. Americans adopted more than two-thirds of them — 114,117 children. However, due to the Korean government’s effort to place children through domestic adoption first, the rate of international adoption has decreased significantly: In 2008, 1,064 Korean children were adopted in the US. In 2018, only 206.
Herzel is offering her art to Korean adoptees as a way to help process some of their grief and trauma while simultaneously creating a powerful traveling exhibit slated for 2022 that will undoubtedly grow the Korean adoptee support community, as well as join the larger conversation about place and belonging in immigrant communities across the globe.
My story though textured with facets, divets and spikes is no less uniquely pitted and rounded as every other American immigrant story.A.D. Herzel
For more information about A.D. Herzel and to stay up to date on “The Korean Adoptee Healing Project,” check out her website.