Tony Kim, our Multicultural Lead Associate, shares his family’s journey of adoption in the June issue of KoreAm Magazine. Here is his story:
Before we married, my wife Erin and I shared a similar dream to one day adopt and have foster children. Not knowing how our life would unfold, our desire to expand our family in this way would lead us down a path that we could never have imagined. This path would be filled with many ups and downs, all of which sparked family and many friends to ask us if this whole thing was worth it. I’ll answer that after I share our story.
Five years ago, it was time to start the foster care and adoption era of our lives. We were married for 10 years, and we already had our beautiful biological daughter and son, aged 5 and 3, respectively. After the initial exploration, thanks to the Internet, we were quickly overwhelmed with the options. Would we go with a private agency or county? Would we adopt locally or globally?
Would it be a boy or girl? How old? What country? What health risks would we be open to? It wasn’t long until everyone was chiming in with his or her thoughts on what turned out to be a highly controversial topic. Many were compelled to share their concerns and horror stories of failed adoptions or nightmare foster care situations. Shaken but not discouraged, Erin and I had to filter through the noise to determine what would be right for our family.
While there were many private international adoption options, in the quiet of our heart, we felt the calling to in our backyard—heartbreaking. After a year of adoption and foster-care classes, we began to wait for this mystery child of 0-4 years old. And wait we did.
We specified that we wanted to adopt a child of mixed ethnicities. Since my wife is Caucasian and I’m Korean, our family was already blended. Oftentimes, biracial kids are seen as the “least desirable” since they end up being rejected from each of their cultures. We were already a “melting hot pot,” so we felt our home would be welcoming to a biracial child lost in the system.
The fateful day finally came, and we got the call. There was a newborn just 7 weeks old ready to go into a home right away. Before we saw a picture of Zephaniah, we knew he was already our child, which was confirmed once we held him in our arms for the first time. However, because Zephaniah was Cambodian and African American, we also knew this would be a challenging step for my family.
My first-generation parents emigrated from Korea just a year before I was born. They were determined to work hard, succeed and provide a future for me, but in their minds, that future didn’t include my adopting a child of a different race. At first, my parents ignored this epic event in our lives. I think they were just hoping that this would just be a fad for our family. For the most part, they were not directly opposed to it, but their silence said everything. Of course, their living in Texas certainly didn’t help, since we weren’t able to spend much time with them. We would send pictures and tell my mom exciting stories in hopes that she would reciprocate—which she did not in those early months. Fortunately, Erin’s side of the family fully embraced baby Zephaniah and supported us every moment of his life. But we both longed for my parents to accept him, even though we were not totally certain of his future.
Then one day we got an envelope in the mail. I recognized my mom’s writing, so it certainly raised an eyebrow as I showed it to my wife. We opened it to discover little cut-out newsprint squares. It took us a second to realize that they were coupons—diaper coupons! We were speechless. It was my parents’ passive but loving way of beginning the process of acceptance. Since then, we have felt their support. It hasn’t always been easy, but we are making progress as an extended family.
After a two-year process, the day finally came where Zephaniah’s adoption would be finalized. As our family stood in front of the judge in the courtroom, the mood was like a wedding. Vows were made that concluded with a pronouncement of our new family. Our friends, family and social workers erupted in joy, as we legally became a multicultural family of five. However, the bright spot was not just the chance to change Zephaniah’s last name to Kim, but to add someone else into our lives: his birth mother. Her life looked much different than ours, and at first glance, it would be easy to judge. However, before too long, we stopped seeing the differences and started seeing what we had in common. We both wanted a loving family, we both wanted to succeed in life, and we both wanted what was best for Zephaniah. We soon formed a special bond with her, and it wasn’t too long before we started spending holidays and special occasions together.
Our journey hasn’t stopped there. After Zephaniah’s adoption, we wanted to continue serving the “at-risk kids” in Orange County by opening our home to foster care. This meant that we would open our family to kids that needed a temporary home, while their situation was being resolved through Social Services. From this whole experience with Zephaniah, we felt strongly that every child deserves a family, and we wanted to provide ours even if it was for a short time.
Our first placement was a pair of young twins that we had for five months. After that, a second placement of twins would follow for about the same length of time. If my parents had a hard time with adopting Zeph, imagine their reaction, as multiple babies would make their way through our home! Fortunately, because of a solid support system of friends and Erin’s side of the family, we have not just survived, but thrived. We are now in the adoption process again and look forward to what life has in store for us.
After five amazing years, our focus has expanded to start advocating for Orange County foster children and to encourage other Asian American families to join our cause. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Korean American families have been open to foster care or adoption. The No. 1 concern we get from inquiring couples is “my family would never understand.” While there have been exceptions, it seems many Asian families, even second- or third-generation, still have a hard time imagining a child of a different race as a temporary or permanent addition to their family.
This is unfortunate. I believe Korean American families have the perfect heritage and perspective to be great foster/adoption parents. As a culture, we understand what it means to struggle. We have overcome major odds. We have left our homes to start new ones. We have learned how to adapt and embrace a new way of life. The immigrant story is the story of these kids. As Koreans, we can help them build that future. At any given time, there are an average of 3,000 children in foster care in Orange County. In contrast, there are about 100,000 Korean Americans living in Orange County. The math is simple; we can make a difference.
To answer the earlier question from our family and friends: Yes, every moment has been worth it. Not only has it changed the lives of these children, but it has changed the lives of our family. We hope our “melting hot pot” gets bigger in the years to come.
Feel free to contact my wife or myself for more information about foster care or adoption, at ErinKim76@gmail.com or TonyBryantKim@gmail.com.
Tony Kim | Multicultural Lead