Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reading Scheduled in Seoul

Fulbright Forum 
  7:00 P.M. on Friday, August 21, 2009 
R.S.V.P. by Tuesday, August 18

The Korean-American Educational Commission warmly welcomes you our eighth Fulbright Forum of the 2008-2009 program year with Fulbright Junior Researcher Misty Edgecomb.  

"Small Fish: Searching for Wartime Seoul and the Birth of International Adoption"

Open to all, the Fulbright Forum serves as a periodic gathering for the Fulbright Family at large, including past and present grantees and friends of Fulbright.  Please reply to Emily Kim Goldsmith (executive.assistant@fulbright.or.kr) by Tuesday, August 18 to confirm your attendance.  Regrets do not need to RSVP.  This month's Forum will be held at 7:00 PM sharp on Friday, August 21 in the 6th floor conference room at the KAEC Building in Mapo-gu, Seoul, with a snack reception to follow in the 3rd floor administrative offices.  Please visit the KAEC website for maps and directions (http://www.fulbright.or.kr/en/kaec/map.php).  

To respect both the audience and presenters, late arrivals will not be allowed to enter after 7:05 PM.


Tens of thousands of Korean children were orphaned or separated from their families when war gripped the peninsula in the early 1950s. Choi Kyung Hyun, born in Seoul in 1948, found himself among them, spending his days on the streets rather than in school, and sleeping at the home of a local prostitute. The child of a Korean mother and an American soldier father stationed in Korea following WWII, the boy who called himself "Jimmy" had no place in Korean society of the time. Without a Korean father, he appeared on no family record, so legally speaking, this mixed-race boy did not exist. But Jimmy found a family in Paul Raynor, a 24-year-old bachelor American soldier from rural South Dakota. Raynor violated direct orders, risking court martial, to sneak Jimmy into his billet and secretly adopt the boy under Korean law. Such adoptions were then banned by Army policy, and American family law had few provisions for single fathers. With Seoul in chaos just 50 or so kilometers from the front lines, and much of the nascent Republic of Korea government still being organized, navigating the Korean system wasn't much easier. At one point, Paul seriously considered just sneaking Jimmy home in his rucksack. Ultimately, his perseverance paid off, and Jimmy's was one of just four international adoptions recognized by the American government in 1953. This historic adoption and its contemporaries paved the way for thousands of American families to adopt from overseas, prompting countless cultural and societal shifts (some good, some bad) and forever changing the practice of adoption and the definition of family.


Misty Ann Edgecomb
 is a journalist from Maine, who has spent the past three years researching and writing Small Fish: War, Fatherhood and the Birth of International Adoption, the story of her father-in-law's historic adoption from Korea. She heard the story of Jimmy's adoption from her husband, Caleb Raynor, on their first date 11 years ago, and has been fascinated with finding out the truth behind the family legend ever since.Edgecomb held staff reporting  jobs at the Bangor Daily News and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle before returning to graduate school at theUniversity of Oregon in 2006. Small Fish was begun as her graduate project, and has been expanded during her time as a Fulbright junior research grantee in Seoul. She hopes to find a publisher upon her return to the United States this fall. For more information, visithttp://smallfishbook.blogspot.com.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Seeking Choi Un Sun

With my time in Korea running out, I'm finally on the trail of those who made this adoption happen. I've spent the past year working around the edges of this story, researching the locations and the context, and the experiences of others ... but in essence, this is what we came to Korea for - to trace Caleb's dad's story. Jimmy's immigration files arrived from the United States today, and as I'm looking through the photocopies, I'm just amazed at the wealth of information and all the potential leads. 

We now know the address where Paul and Jimmy lived at Seoul City Command, so I plan to go exploring later this week to find out what that neighborhood looks like now. We also have an address (which Caleb's grandpa told us may well have been a fake) where Caleb's dad was supposedly born. Paul went to see a laywer (whose name, I now know thanks to the immigration file, was Moon Kwang Il) for assistance in tracking down where Jimmy was born since that information was needed to process the adoption. Moon came back with an address, so Paul went out looking for the location. It was an empty lot, in a neighborhood where all the homes had been bombed into oblivion, so Paul always suspected that Moon selected it as a location that he could lie about without getting caught. Either way, I'm going searching for the spot.  

We have a wealth of new names - translators, witnesses, government officials, and maybe even the name of the prostitute (although she says she's a "rice dealer") with whom Jimmy was living when Paul met him. There's a testimony from her, describing how she came to find Jimmy and why she decided to allow Paul to take him. It may be more clever fakery by Mr. Moon, or it may be the truth. The only way to find out is to attempt to track some of these people down. At the very least, I hope I can figure out whether anyone with these names ever actually existed. 

Finally, the documents mention a woman named Choi Un Sun, who would have been about 80 years old in 1953. She claimed to be Jimmy's maternal grandmother, and told the story of his mother's death. Is this more fakery to facilitate the adoption of a child with no knowledge of his origins or could this actually be accurate? Caleb's grandpa did tell me about sending an Army translator friend out to the markets with pictures of Jimmy, in hopes of finding the boy's family, and he said that they located Jimmy's grandmother, and that it was from her that he heard about Jimmy's American father. If the story is true, might Caleb be able to use this information to find distant relatives here in Korea??? I know that after 50 years, finding any of these people is a long shot, but today, after endless months of dead ends and disappointment, the potential glimmering there amid these photocopied pages is nothing less than exhilarating!

Below, I include images of what I believe are Jimmy's original Korean adoption papers and family register. I hope to have them translated soon, in case they contain additional details that were not included in the "official" Army translation done in 1953. The copies are a bit fuzzy, and I think there are Korean letters and Chinese characters, as well as some Japanese text, so it could be a little tricky, but definitely worth the the effort!