By Anna Blades
Adoptees’ group in Sweden provides a sense of family to members.
This article is the third in a series about intercountry adoptions. While over 160,000 Korean children have been adopted abroad since the 1950-53 Korean War, it is believed that many cases have infringed on relevant laws or violated children’s right to know the truth about their filiation. The series will review such violations in transnational adoptions of Korean children and elsewhere, and discuss receiving countries’ moves for their own investigations. This series is co-organized with Human Rights Beyond Borders. ― ED.
I was born in 1966 in the district of Gwangsan in Gwangju, and adopted to Stockholm, Sweden, when I was two years and four months old. The name given to me by the adoption agency was Kim Hak-bo, but I have no information about my biological parents or my background, so the first years of my life have been more or less erased.
Today, I live with my husband and youngest son in Nacka Strand, a suburb of Stockholm. We also have another son, a daughter and three grandchildren. As my adoptive parents were not very loving and often argued, my own family is very dear to me and represents a firm foundation that has given me a sense of security and belonging that I lacked during childhood.
My life in Sweden is very good, but I have always had an emptiness inside, like a black hole in my heart that I could never fill. Until I had children of my own, I was angry at my biological parents for sending me away. But when I became a parent myself, I understood that it must have been a very hard and difficult decision. So I have forgiven them. But feelings of sadness remain.
As an overseas adoptee, you lose your roots and sense of belonging, which makes you feel vulnerable. When I’m in Sweden, I look Korean, and when I’m in Korea, I feel Swedish. I feel great sorrow for the loss of Korean language and culture. Moreover, I think a large number of immigrants in Sweden in recent years have seen increased racism among the public, and adoptees are included even though we know only Sweden and Swedish culture. In this way, we suffer a type of double rootlessness and alienation ― not only from Korea but also from Sweden. Considering these difficulties, it’s not a coincidence that in Sweden, adoptees are among the largest groups to suffer from mental illness.
Nowadays, with social media, posts about the Korean adoptee communities pop up in all kinds of Korea-related topics, such as Korean food or cooking, entertainment, cosmetics and language. It’s much easier to find information about Korea and its culture. But when I was adopted, it was so difficult to find any information about overseas adoption or Korean culture as the internet wasn’t available at that time. There were only a few books in the library. I couldn’t ask my mom and dad because they didn’t know anything about Korea, and I felt bad about discussing my biological parents with them. During one visit to the library, I learned about a Korean school at a civil hall in Stockholm. There, I met three adoptees.
We were young and curious at the time. We wanted to help others who were in the same situation and had questions about their background. There was a desire to exchange adoptee experiences and knowledge about Korea, thereby finding a missing part of ourselves. This friendship led us to establish Adopterade Koreaners Forening (AKF), the Adopted Koreans Association, in October 1986. Tragically, one of the co-founders passed away a couple of years after we formed AFK.
When we started this association, we didn’t know we would keep it going for more than 35 years, nor did we realize that AKF was the first transnational adoptee association in the world started by adoptees. When I reflect on how this model has spread across the globe with adoptee associations in nearly every country, I’m proud to be one of the four co-founders of AKF.
As AKF has grown, so has its purpose, mission and activities. In addition to social events, which remain the largest part of our work, we offer lectures on topics related to adoption, identity, Korean culture, origins and birth family search. AKF has also been one of the associations working with the recent government expert panel investigating thousands of foreign adoptions, including Korean adoptions.
Since 1953, there have been almost 10,000 adoptions from Korea to Sweden. Korean adoptees were the first and are the largest group of adoptees, and although the numbers have decreased, Sweden continues to receive children from Korea. Swedish society has a belief that its use of adoption saves children from poverty, and it was the encouragement and support from the state that enabled adoptive parents to adopt on such a scale.
We feel it will be hard to uncover the real explanation for the lack of oversight in our adoptions, as well as find those responsible, but we recognize that at least the government has concluded that adoptees’ opinions must be heard. We noticed that the government seems to recognize the points we raise, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The investigation team has asked for extra time to spend on this matter. They have visited some sending countries, including Korea. Some of the political parties, who weren’t willing to discuss such matters in the past, are now willing to talk with the adoptee communities and we held a seminar at the National Assembly of Sweden in May.
I hope all the adoptees will have the right to access their own background information and adoption records. We want a national archive where the papers are stored and a national department where we can find psychological support in adoption, free DNA testing, origin searching and abolishing the statute of limitations for charges against child abduction.
Today, AKF serves as an important forum for adoptees and acts as a bridge between our two worlds of Sweden and Korea. It represents a safe space where we can find understanding and a sense of belonging. Through our exchanges and support, we’ve developed life-long friendships, and some of us have even found our significant others. In other words, AKF has become more than an association; it’s become a family, a family that some of us never had.
Anna Blades is one of the founders of the Adopterade Koreaners Forening (AKF) in Sweden. She is also an artist and she held an exhibition titled “Motherland” in Seoul in May together with 27 other adoptee artists.
Original article published in The Korea Times
The article above was edited into an article from an interview. The original unedited interview is below:
- Can you introduce yourself and your organization, AKF?
My name is Anna Blades, Anna Rossander as unmarried and I was born in 1966 somewhere in Kwangsan/Gwangsan in South Korea. I was adopted to Stockholm in Sweden when I was two years and four months old regarding to my papers. I have no information about my biological parents nor my background, so my first years are more or less erased. My given name in the adoption agency in Korea is Kim Hak Bo. Today I lives in Nacka Strand, a suburb to Stockholm with my husband and our youngest son. We also have another son and a daughter and three grandchildren. I grew up as an only child and spent a lot of time alone. My adoptive parents were not very loving and often argued. In my childhood, I struggled to adapt and blend in, and I felt that I would always be grateful for my life in Sweden. I withdrew and dreamed away in the world of books and art. Painting has always given me comfort. Therefore, my own family is very dear and important to me. To start my own foundation to stand on, to have a sense of belonging and a secure harbour. My life in Sweden now is very good but I have always had an emptiness inside. It´s like a black hole in my hart I couldn´t fill. Sometimes I glens the door to it and all the feelings are bubbling up and I can feel very lonely. I have never tried to open it for full because I´m too afraid where it will take me. Until I got children of my own I was angry on my biological parents because they sent me away. But when I become a parent by myself I understod that it must have been a very hard and difficult decision. So I have forgiven them but I still have the feeling of sadness. Beeing an overseas adoptee is a struggle to fit in. When I´m in Sweden I look Korean and when I´m in Korea I´m feeling Swedish. It´s a big grief that I lost the Korean language and the Korean culture. My adoptive parents were not interested in keeping it for me. When I was young the Swedish government didn´t support language classes for adoptees but nowadays you can have it. I’m proud to tell that I am one of four founders of the AKF, Adopterade Koreaners Förening – Adopted koreans association in Sweden. And for a couple of years, I’m back as a member of the board again. AKF is the very first association world wide for transnational adoptees started by adoptees and was established in October 1986. In 1986 when all started, in that time there was no internet to search on and it was so difficult to find any information about overseas adoptions and or about the Korean culture.
I couldn’t ask my mum and dad because they didn’t know anything of Korea and I couldn’t speak about my feelings with them, and at the same time I felt bad if I had spoken about my biological parents. I felt very alone with my thoughts. So my only clue, was to go to the library where I founded a note about the Korean school on Medborgarhuset (House of citizens) here in Stockholm. There I met Mattias Tjeder, LenaKim Arctaedius Svenungsson and Jessica Ekstrom who unfortunately no longer is with us. She passed away in cancer after just a couple of years. We were young at that time, we were curious and we wanted to make it easier for others in the same situation who had questions about their background. To exchange experiences of being an adoptee and knowledges about Korea. To find out a missing part of ourselves just by observing others in the same situation, like a reflection, contributed to the start of AKF, I think. AKF is an important forum for us adoptees. It is like a bridge between our two worlds. A safe room where we can find understanding and a belonging. Where we have made new friends for life and got new sisters and brothers and some even found their husbands and wives. This is more than an association, it is a family. A family some of us never had. As the time goes by AKF’s purpose, focus and activities have expanded. In addition to social events, which are still the largest part of the business, we work with lectures on topics related to adoption, identity, ethnicity, Korean culture, origin and searching for birth families, and not to forgot, Korean cocking classes. In 1986, at that time we didn’t know we would keep going for more than 35 years and that we were the very first association in the whole world for those who are adopted. That’s really such an amazing feeling! The concept has spread and now there are associations in almost every country who have international adoptions and not only from Korea.
- Can you explain the situation of intercountry adoption in Sweden? (For example, please feel free to discuss such topics as history, demographic features, social impact, adoptee communities, etc.)
The Korean adoptees are the first and largest group of adoptees in Sweden. In Sweden there have been almost 10 000 adoptions from Korea from 1953 until now and still there are adoptions from Korea, but the numbers has decreased a lot. The years in which most adoptions were carried out were in the 70s to 90s. And the adoptees are spread to the whole country. Nowadays with social media korean adoptions community’s pops up in all kind of topics like korean food, cooking, k-pop, k-dramas, k-beauty, korean language classes, traveling to Korea and so on. It’s so much easier to find facts about Korea and korean things today. Back when I was adopted there were only a few books in the library. Where I grew up, there was just one more girl who were adopted in my school. She was also adopted from Korea. I think both of us felt a bit different from the other kids. But as kids you want to blend in so we didn’t played back then. But when we were around 20 years we run into each other and started hanging out. I think that the large number of immigrants in Sweden in recent years has increased the racism of the common man, and among them we adoptees are included even though we do not have the original culture and language, we only know the Swedish system. In that way we become extra rootless and outside. As an overseas adoptee you lost your roots and belonging that makes us vulnerable and we are a large group who suffer from mental illness.
- Can you explain about the investigations into intercountry adoption problems in your country? What do you expect the investigation to accomplish? How do you hope the government responds to the results of the investigation?
Through the years the adoptions agency has had their own structures and rights to proclaim all adoptees personal acts. They can ignore the adoptees wishes to get all their adoptions-papers. The Swedish society have had the imagination of saving children from poorness trough adoptions. It was encourage from the state and the parents even got contribution to be able to adopt. We are a couple of organisations and associations who are working as an expertpanel within the investigation and we are happy to notice that our voices now are heard and that the government seams to look at the things we points out. The investigation team have asked for an extra time to spend on this. They have visit some of the countries of adoption, including Korea. Some of the political parties has also updated the problem and are willing to discuss it with the adoptee community’s and we had a seminar at the National Assembly of Sweden in May. We think it will be hard to find out the really explenation how the adoptions not were correctly controlled and who are in charged for that but that they come to the conclusion that the adoptees opinions need to be heard and accommodated. I hope all the adoptees will have their rights to their own background and their adoptions journals. We want a national archive where the papers are stored and a national department where we can find psychologist experts in adoption, free dna tests, root search, and expired statute of limitations for abducting of children