Meeting these Incredible HAPAs

I had the most amazing time meeting up with these amazing Korean adoptees at The KAD Diaries photo shoot a few weeks ago! These were a few of the first children adopted from Korea. They identify themselves as HAPAs. They are mixed race, Korean born. HAPAs were conceived during Korea’s US occupation. Many American GI’s had relationships with Korean “camptown women.” The babies conceived out of these relationships were mixed race babies, now known as “HAPAs.”

These babies were often shunned by society because they were mixed race and because they were often conceived out of wedlock. When a Korean woman became pregnant out of wedlock, she was often ostracized and left to fend herself. Without any guarantee of employment or any type of government or social assistance, these women often relinquished their babies to orphanages because they couldn’t support them.

The Holt family was one of the first groups to see the need to care for these babies and began coordinating international adoptions of these mixed race babies to families in the US. And this began international Korean adoption into the US.IMG_20150929_010319

Don Gordon Bell was one of the children on the first plane from Korea carrying these precious children in tow. He was adopted into a family with English-Scottish heritage and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Don, Nancy, Katherine, (pictured above) and I were able to share a meal together with a few other Korean adoptees during the weekend I visited LA for the KAD Diaries photo shoot. It was incredibly meaningful to be able to share stories with others who can relate to being a Korean American adoptee. Each of us have his or her own unique story.

The top featured image was shot by the talented, David Patrick Valera. It captured the moment I shared the video of my birth family reunion with Nancy and Katherine at our meet up. It was a really beautiful moment for all of us.

I’m so happy and grateful to connect with other Korean American adoptees. I’m really thankful for Zeke Anders putting his heart and soul into the art project, The KAD Diaries, and for bringing us all together.

Meeting up with these incredible people makes me feel proud to be a Korean American adoptee. I know I am in the company of some truly amazing people!

If you would like to follow The KAD Diaries photo project, check out the official website: or follow the project facebook page!

To learn more about Don’s amazing life story, check out his blog at I know you’ll be glad you did!




The KAD Diaries Photo Art Project

Last weekend I had the amazing privilege of traveling to California and collaborating with Zeke Anders, an LA filmmaker and fellow Korean Adoptee. Last year, Zeke filmed an award-winning vlog series entitled, American Seoul. The YouTube link is available on my Videos tab. This vlog series beautifully opened up a window for viewers to see an inside glimpse of what it was like to be a Korean American adoptee. Venice Arts

This year, Zeke is creating a photo art project to share the stories of Korean American adoptees around the US through portraits shot in the Venice Arts studio in Venice, CA. Adoptees traveled to the studio from all over the nation to participate in this meaningful project.

Each adoptee had the opportunity to choose to stand in front of the American flag, the Korean flag, or in the middle of the two. After our portraits were taken, we participated in a video interview to share some of our thoughts on the topic of adoption. on set KAD Diaries

It was really meaningful to be able to participate in a project like this to share my experiences as a Korean adoptee and to hear other adoptees’ stories. Growing up, I was the only Korean girl in my circle of friends. I was one of two Korean girls in my school. I was the only Korean adoptee that I knew. Now, I know a ton of other Korean adoptees, aka KADs, who can relate to my experiences! It’s been really neat connecting with other KADs. Each of us has a really unique and powerful story. It’s definitely a special community for me.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to meet Zeke Anders, award-winning filmmaker and all-around great guy! I love meeting artists who are passionate about their work and who love telling stories in a beautiful way. I love how this portrait series adds beauty to the idea of being adopted when adoption is often attached to a negative stigma. The details surrounding being adopted is something we, as adoptees, typically grow up not enjoying sharing. In contrast, this project gives each of us a selfie with zekecreative, artistic outlet where we can express our stories freely while simultaneously adding beauty to the painful and challenging moments we experienced as adoptees.

While in LA, I spent a lot of time in Koreatown! So neat to go to different restaurants where the signage and menus are printed in Hangul (Korean) as well as in English! I visited the Line Hotel, which was really fun and exciting. Friday night beats and an energetic crowd with the largest number of stunningly beautiful Koreans I had ever seen in one place. The crowd was 99% Asian.

wi spaI also visited Wi Spa, a traditional Korean spa.  Patrons relax there for hours– or even overnight! There were different saunas on a co-ed floor and a gender-specific floor. The co-ed floor housed saunas lined with various purification elements like salt, jade, and clay where you can relax and allow the heat and elements to detoxify you. The all-female floor had a steam sauna, hot whirlpool tub, cold whirlpool tub, and places for massage and other spa services. This was a really great experience– and just like the spas in the Korean dramas! santa monica studio

The KAD Diaries meet up and my time in Koreatown was really neat because I didn’t feel like I was in the minority at all. For the first time on such a large scale as this, I just felt like being Korean was the norm. And sometimes that’s a great feeling. During my trip, I was able to sneak away to do some aerial training at a great studio in Santa Monica where I flew on some hot pink silks. I also had the amazing opportunity of training with a stunt coordinator at Hollywood Aerial Arts doing 2-point wire work. While harnessed in, the trainer hooked me up to a stand where I could practice flipping forward and backward in the harness and flying on my stomach and back using my core muscles! Then, he took me up on a mechanical lift up to the rafters, 25 feet in the air! I was able to run and jump 10ft in the air with the push of a button. Such a fun experience. Definitely a neat change from my super strength-reliant aerial silk work.

Venice BeachEven though my trip was jam-packed with high energy meet ups, photo shoots, and fabulous LA nightlife, I was able to sneak in some chill downtime at the magical Venice Beach drum circle and to relax poolside. Definitely a fabulous, memorable trip! I love LA! It was so great to experience the best the city has to offer with newfound friends and fellow Korean adoptees!



Featured image (top) courtesy of Don Gordon Bell

Korean Adoptee Meet up in St. Louis

Within the past year, I joined a couple of Korean adoptee Facebook groups and met the most amazing adoptees from all over the US. It was in one of these groups, that I met April—a really lovely soul. This beautiful girl was abandoned in a marketplace in Korea when she was 5 years old. She still remembers her grandmother releasing her hand for the final time. She can still taste the salt of her tears and feel the grit of the dirt and her hair as the wind blew these across her mouth. April still flashes back to this moment when she hears her own beautiful little daughter cry for her. Such a profound moment in her life. Definitely something that has been a part of her past. But, April has not let the hardships she’s faced define her. She is stronger for her experiences. But she doesn’t dwell on them. She is one of the most incredibly loving, open, funny people I’ve ever met. She is married and has two beautiful children. Her family lives in St. Louis.

Last year, April began opening her home for Korean adoptees to meet up from all over the US. I had the most incredible time meeting up with the best girls and guys last weekend at April’s house. All of whom were Korean adoptees, like me! There were a bunch of Korean adoptees from St. Louis and the midwest, including Michigan and Ohio. A few from Texas, and my friend Gina from LA. It was so much fun to share similar stories of growing up in white families in white neighborhoods and to hear all of their European last names. I told everyone how I recently jokingly told someone she could call me, “Hey you!” and the woman thought I was telling her my Korean name: “Hei Yu.” Others had similar funny stories.

Some girls reunited with their birth families already. Many discovered their entire back stories were wrong. This can definitely shake a person to the core and is something that many adoptees can relate to. One girl reunited with her birth family and decided to spend a couple of years in Korea to get to know more about her Korean heritage. Another girl just started the process of searching for her birth family, so she’s really nervous about how everything will pan out. A few people shared that they never had a strong desire to reunite with their birth families, and they are okay with that.

We went out to a Korean karaoke bar and laughed when only two out of twenty of us knew enough Korean to work the controls. Thankfully, we were all okay singing out to English songs. There was kimchi. There was soju. There were beautiful Asian features. We were as Korean as it gets for Korean adoptees.

april, gina, me

I brought two pairs of shoes with me that I’ve been trying to give away for the past 6 months. They were two sets of gorgeous pumps –one metallic chrome and one bright turquoise. I haven’t had any takers because no one can fit into these gorgeous heels—my feet are very small. I even posted them on an online Facebook yard sale in my area with no luck. I brought them to this gorgeous group, knowing most of my Korean girlfriends would have similar frames. When I brought my shoes out, I immediately found new owners for these bombing shoes. So funny how such little things can make such a difference in normalizing my own petite features.

This meet up was so incredibly meaningful to me in my own personal journey. It’s amazing to think that I’m in such great company in my own personal experiences. So nice to feel the camaraderie and warmth of other Korean adoptees.

It’s amazing to me that in our shared experiences we all had an instant bond. I love getting to know new people and sharing stories. It definitely creates a special community where one can really feel that she belongs. One of my newfound friends described our meet up well by saying, “I have a tribe, a place to belong. It’s something you can’t really explain in words… it’s an experience. One I truly treasure.”


#mytribe #adoptees #koreanadoptees #stlouis

The Moment I Lost my Bio Family

In reconnecting with my bio family last May, I had to process a lot of intense realities. One was the idea that at one point–one epic moment in time, when I was literally in physical transition from the hands of my bio family to the arms of my adoptive family, there was a transitional moment where I was utterly and completely alone. A single little baby– without a family, without a home, armed with only the clothes on my back. At this solitary moment, I was an orphan. Somewhat destitute and on my own. This cosmic moment in time is something that all adoptees share. It’s not something I ever dwelled on. And yes–one could actually say that at that transitional moment, I actually had two families, so double the love and all that. Which was also absolutely true. But on the other hand, quite literally at that transfer moment, I was at square one. Alone. Helpless and penniless with only the clothes on my back to call my own. It was like counting along the number line used in school to illustrate transitioning from the negative integers to the positive ones– there was always that point of transition at zero that indicated the neutrality between this major shift. At that moment, I was at zero, as my prior life was ending, and my new life was beginning.

For me, this moment happened when I was dropped off at the foster care lady’s house. And figuratively, in the lawyer’s office when my bio dad signed the paperwork to hand over guardianship to my adoptive family. I’ve never really thought about this monumental moment until this past year. It’s definitely a defining moment in each adoptee’s life. There were the psychological and emotional ramifications of being utterly alone. But even more than that, I have been really thinking about the open realm of possibilities that my life could’ve taken in that singular moment in time. What if I was raised by a different family than my adoptive family? Would I be the same person? Choose the same career? Marry the same guy? My head has been spinning over the past year with all of these questions. Reuniting with my birth family prompted me to ask myself these really challenging questions. I did a lot of soul searching. I came to a lot of conclusions so far.

I do believe that most things happen for reasons. Maybe not all, but most things. In these monumental moments, our lives shift and take unexpected turns. But, ultimately no matter who we are in life– adopted or not, we all must learn the responsibility that lies in being who we were meant to be as individuals regardless of who our families are. We must choose the life we want to live for ourselves regardless of whether or not we are alone or surrounded by the biggest family on the planet. The events and people in our lives certainly shape us, but they most definitely do not define who we are. We are so much more than the stuff that’s happened to us. And we are definitely so much more than what the people around us make us out to be. Whether we are adopted or not, we all must go through the same process of learning who we are for ourselves and by ourselves. We are each individual people who must live out who we were meant to be in the world regardless of others, and at times, even in spite of others. So, in essence adoptees get a jump start on that road to self discovery as an individual, starting as little babies.

Growing up as adoptees, we are never given the luxury of the notion that “this is how you should be, because you take after so and so” or “that just runs in our family.” So, growing up we are constantly learning who we are, on our own! This can be a daunting process, but it’s not impossible. Ultimately, no matter who your family is, or who you are surrounded by– every individual has his or her own free will.

I can remember moments in my life where I had to take a stand and be the person who I was meant to be, even if that meant not doing exactly what I was told. One moment that stands out in my life was when I was a senior in high school. In my adoptive family, my mother desperately wanted me to go into the medical field. Most of my adoptive family thought I should become a nurse, because after all, that is what all of my female cousins did. Many adult family friends told me I should become a doctor. I entertained these ideas, and entered college as a pre-med student. Since I wasn’t complete sold on the idea of becoming a doctor, I simultaneously completed a volunteer experience during my first semester of college at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where I was able to obtain real life exposure to patient care. The program was called “Patient Partners.” Basically, I went into patient rooms, armed with a survey asking patients how their stay was at the hospital. Easy enough. I went into the volunteer program with hopes that I could gain an idea of what it would be like to be a nurse or a doctor. I lasted one day. The experience served its purpose, and I was a fast learner! In that brief experience, I learned a really quick, valuable lesson: I was not meant to be a nurse or a doctor, regardless of what my family wanted. And this volunteer program was an experience that I sought out myself. I had done well. Lesson learned– able to move on.

One thing I realized through that volunteer experience was that in a career as a doctor, I felt that I would more quickly stick a needle in someone than actually talk with them. For me, this objectified and dehumanized the whole experience of wanting to go into a career where I could make a difference people’s lives. Later on, through probing out different careers I landed on the idea of a speech language pathologist. I could still use the medical and scientific knowledge to work with clients to regain parts of themselves lost after injury or illness. But, I could actually spend time working on regaining some of the skills that are unique to the human experience– eating and speaking. An ER doctor could spend 30 minutes pumping on a patient’s chest and ultimately bring her back from the brink of death. This is an extraordinarily commendable feat. But, sometimes, these patients are shells of the people they once were. And that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to work with patients on the things that make life worth living– connecting with others and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures– like eating a piece of decadent chocolate cake or sharing stories. I’ve been practicing medical speech therapy for seven years now and absolutely love the work that I do with patients. This was definitely the right career choice for me. I am really passionate about my work, and I take a lot of pride in what I do. I really love seeing my clients make gains to be able to eat and speak again.

These are the types of invaluable lessons that every single individual on the planet must learn! Being an adoptee sometimes muddies the water a little bit, and can make learning these lessons of self discovery a little complicated. But I want to encourage every adoptee that it’s not impossible. You can do it! It takes hard work, determination, and a lot of exploring. But through and through, by and by, you will learn more about yourself, the world, and where you fit in. It’s a lifelong process– not only for adoptees, but for all humans. And no one ever feels like he or she has fully arrived at total self-discovery. But the beauty is that you get to decide who you are and how you want to design your life. And if you don’t like something about the way your life is headed, you can redesign. It’s magical, really.

Good luck! I’m rooting for you!





Korean Adoptee NYC Meet up: The Lovely Stefanie B.

I had a wonderful time this weekend meeting the amazingly beautiful and very talented Stefanie B, and her dog, Billy Lee, at their lovely apartment in NYC. It was a rainy dreary March day in New York. But as soon as I met Stefanie, I felt an instant ray of sunshine and a real warmth that lasted well into the night. She is literally one of the most beautiful people I have ever laid eyes on. So much so that it is hard to believe that she was ever terrorized for the way that she looked growing up as a biracial Korean child in Korea and then as a biracial Korean adoptee growing up in the states. She has the most amazing dark hair highlighted with shades of grey, which Stefanie proudly owns as her own “fifty shades of grey.” She believes in embracing the beauty that you are at whatever age you are. And that aging can be done gracefully. She has a warm glow with golden skin that looks like we are in the dead of summer. And her smile could stop any man in his tracks. But even more than that, this lady has class, artistic flair, and a beautiful warm soul.

Her apartment was decorated with her own personal artwork and a collection from other artists. She has completed art work for other Korean adoptees, including portraits of them as children with their biological mothers or in their native Korean homeland. These incredible pieces are deeply moving, capturing the emotions behind what it means for an adopted child to be seen with their biological mothers. These portraits are sometimes based on real photographs of biological families taken decades prior. Others are based on memories from greater than 20 years old of what the adoptees remember their biological mothers to look like. Others are based off of only an intuition or a feeling of who these unknown mothers are. Regardless of the inspiration, her artwork never ceases to move me to tears. Stefanie’s artwork is so powerful because it’s often the only portrait that exists of the adoptee and his or her biological mother. All of Stefanie’s artwork is created, under her Korean name, Jacky Lee.


This portrait is a drawing of a young Korean adoptee based on a 1973 photo of her as a baby. A photograph that she only received in 2010. The drawing of her mother, or “omma,” was a depiction that Stefanie portrayed from the heart and essence of this young adoptee, as there were no photographs of the young mother available. Such a beautiful piece.

Stefanie also does 3D Nano eyebrow artistry– transforming brows using a technique akin to traditional Japanese tebori. Stephanie hooked my brows up! We ended the night with a yummy dinner at a local noodle shop. I love New York. And it’s even better experiencing the city with a newfound KAD sister.

Stefanie was five years old when she was adopted from an orphanage in Incheon. She still remembers the last day she was ever with her biological mother. Her mother cried a lot that day, and told the man at the school that she “wouldn’t be going to school today.” Having these memories of her biological mother, she’s never questioned that her bio mom loved her very deeply. Stefanie was adopted by an American family stationed in Japan. They later moved to California and eventually settled in St. Louis. As an adult, Stefanie moved to New York where she currently resides. Stefanie has never reconnected with her biological mother. But she’s carried the memories of the first five years with her biological mother with her even to this day as a special part of her past.

Stefanie said that many biracial children were birthed out of American GI’s coming to Korea and impregnating Korean “camptown women.” These were sex workers who provided their services to American GI’s in “camptowns” located near the American military bases in Korea beginning in the 1950’s. Stefanie said that racism toward biracial children in Korea was so horrific during the time when she was a child, that biracial children had to attend secret schools to keep from being terrorized, bullied, and even attacked.

While working her tebori magic on my brows, Stefanie shared a few YouTube videos documenting some of her experiences as a Korean adoptee. Stefanie recently returned to Korea this past year through a Mosaic HAPA trip, which was videodocumented on YouTube. We watched the video and the tears were flowing. This video was so touching. During the trip, Stefanie was able to meet a biracial Korean popstar named Insooni. Insooni shared her own story about being bullied for being biracial so much so that she had to drop out of school at age 15. Despite such adversity and racism, Insooni has went on to have a successful singing career and also founded a special school in Korea for biracial children. Growing up as a biracial Korean adoptee, it was often difficult for Stefanie to find real acceptance in Korean circles and black circles both in Korea and in the US. Meeting Insooni and seeing her success despite her differences was incredibly powerful for Stefanie and the other adoptees on the HAPA tour. Stefanie referred to her as her “Hero.”

After meeting and getting to know this incredible woman, I can honestly say that Stefanie is one of my real life heroes. I admire her strength, beauty, and poise. I’ve loved spending time chatting with her about shared experiences as Korean adoptees, and hope it’s the first of many more meet ups with her!


Mosaic HAPA Korea Trip, “Hero” Video







The Korean Adoptee Facebook Community

I’ve met some of the most amazing Korean adoptees from all over the US through facebook groups I’ve joined over the past year. It’s amazing to connect with others who can relate to my adoption experiences. It’s an amazing community with a lot of 1424748294536bright, talented, wonderful human beings. I’m so fortunate to have them in my corner. It’s been an invaluable support system. Each and every one of them have incredible stories to tell. Stories that will make you cry. Stories that will make you laugh. It’s so powerful to share stories. I’ve been inspired by each and every one of them. A couple of the girls I’ve met reconnected with their biological families. They said it took them years to process their reunions. Extremely validating to hear– especially in the early weeks after reconnecting with my family when my head was still spinning. One of the girls I met discovered she had a biological twin brother who she was able to reconnect with. Another girl I met is considering searching for her biological family, but isn’t sure yet. Totally understandable.

One group I joined was a Korean Adoptee War Paint (make-up) group. This has been such an amazing Annie - KAD War Paintgroup to be a part of because we share all of our beauty secrets with each other for our gorgeous Asian features. This has been extremely meaningful for me to see these gorgeous faces who look just like me! It’s so neat to see beauty in their Asian features. Growing up with my very white adoptive family in a predominantly white neighborhood, the only Asian girl I ever saw was when I was looking in a mirror! My family told me that I was beautiful, and I think somewhere deep inside I felt that way– but I mainly just felt different a lot of the time. I was the only Korean adoptee I knew in any of my social circles. So, in essence, I was different. Being different is both beautiful and challenging. It’s nice to be different. But there is definitely something to be said about Hannah KAD War Paint FB Groupcommunity. These girls are rocking out their Asian beauty! And I love it! I love seeing their faces and trying their make up tricks for Asian eyes. Community. Solidarity.

Another group, a Korean adoptee Writing/Quotes/Poetry/Lyrics group, is an amazing group where we can share experiences or just express whatever we are feeling. It’s incredible to hear from others. It’s been an amazing outlet. I love connecting with other people. The more I do, the more I see how much we all have in common. The groups are great for asking questions and for being resources for others within the community. Topics include logistics of birth family searches, traveling to Korea, adoptee meet-ups, culture, language, and how to navigate being an adoptee or adoptive parent. I would encourage any transracial adoptee to join an adoptee fb group. It’s been an invaluable community for me.


Photo collage created by Layne Fostervold.