By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent
JS Lee is a Korean adoptee who’s “adoption was wrought with a variety of abuse.”
“We are a traumatized people, deeply sensitive to being outcast or feelings of rejection,” said Lee in an email to AsAmNews.
Christina Cho had what she described as a “happier upbringing” raised by two parents who adopted her and brought her to the United States from Gunsan, Korea at 15-months-old.
She said her parents Joan and Arthur Johnson “Always told me to be a proud Korean American.”
Both Cho and Lee expressed opposite opinions of Blue Bayou, director and actor Justin Chon’s latest film about a Korean adoptee who faces rejection by his adoptive parents, gets in trouble with the law, and is threatened with deportation.
The film became embroiled in controversy when deported adoptee Adam Crasper accused Chon of taking his story and using it without his permission. Some have called for a boycott of the film.
Cho said she reacted to the criticism with an “eye roll.”
“I was very surprised. I didn’t expect that kind of reaction at all,” she said. “It sends a clear message in regards to an issue some adoptees have faced-deportation.
Lee on the other hand, accused Chon of having a “savior” mentality.
“What happened to Adam was wrong, regardless of Chon’s good intentions,” the author said. “The bulk of what Adam has endured was due to a lack of agency. To now use his story—without consent, credit, or compensation—is a gross injustice.”
Chon earlier this week spoke to Rebecca Sun of the Hollywood Reporter about Crapser during a conversation produced by Gold House.
“It’s his story along with many others,” he said. “Adam got a lot of publicity for this issue. You can’t really speak about this issue without acknowledging that he is a part of this whole thing. I’m talking about a community that has been very vulnerable and has dealt with something extremely traumatic. I tried to treat it with the utmost respect possible.”
Lee does not doubt Chon’s sincerity, but believe he was the wrong person to tell the story.
“I don’t feel he was right for the job. I can’t help but notice the typical power and savior dynamics at play. He jumped in to lead without garnering a deep understanding of who we are, what we need, or which efforts we’ve already put in place.”
Cho, who is a playwright, believes the controversy reveals a deep divide in the Korean adoption community.
“It’s a shame it’s like that. It us vs them,” she said. “There’s no listening to one another. There’s no talking to one another. It’s bickering back and forth. That has made me back away from the adoptee community.”
One thing most Korean adoptees agree with is the importance of the Citizenship Act of 2021. Authored by Rep Adam Smith (D-WA), the bill would grant citizenship to all adoptees regardless of age. A similar bill passed in 2000 granted citizenship only to those under 18 at the time. Smith is himself an adoptee.
Unfortunately for many adoptees, their adoptive parents failed to take the necessary measures to acquire citizenship for their children. The Citizenship Act would take care of that. The New York Times reported in 2017 that at least half a dozen Korean adoptees have been deported due to their parent’s failure.
“Most fail to grasp that this country continues to fail those taken from our homelands without our consent to be raised and assimilated into white America,” said Lee. “To later be sent back to a land where we don’t speak the language, have no family, or an ability to operate in the culture—can be, and has been, a death sentence for some.”
Chon acknowledged his movie failed to issue a call to action at the end of the film in support of the Citizenship Act. He realizes that was wrong and blamed it on his own ignorance about politics.
Both Lee and Cho say they support the Citizenship Act. Lee urges people to write their congressional representative and ask for their support of the bill.
“Ultimately for me, my goal for this film is to expose something that has been swept under the rug for decades,” said Chon. “I’m just hoping to give it a platform so it gets attention. It’s a true place of compassion and trying to give this issue a voice that something can change.”
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