Last night I watched a third documentary on PBS told from the point of view of an adoptee. In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee is different from the two previous offerings—Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy and Off and Running—because the subject of the film, Deann Borshay Liem, is also the filmmaker. In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee is Liem’s second documentary about adoption, building on themes introduced in her first film, First Person Plural.
I don’t know if it’s possible for me to watch any documentary about adoption without feeling great sorrow. In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee is no different. For me, there is no adoption story that doesn’t contain, at its center, a profound sense of loss. (I wrote my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, to help me process the overwhelming emotions I felt about adopting my own daughter.) Although I’m writing this piece the day after watching In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, I still feel sad and depressed.
That said, as an adoptive parent, I have learned so much from hearing the stories of children and adults were adopted. My sincere hope is that my generation of adoptive parents continues to learn from the experiences of the first wave of parents and children, who share their stories with eloquence and candor.
Deann Borshay Liem grew up as Kang Ok Jin in an orphanage in Korea, placed there by her mother, a widow who struggled to support her five children. In the same orphanage was another little girl, Cha Jung Hee, who was receiving monthly letters from her American sponsors, the Borshays. Days before the Borshays requested to adopt Cha Jung Hee, the girl was taken from the orphanage by her father and not returned. Rather than disappoint the Borshays, the orphanage directors substituted eight-year-old Kang Ok Jin, by pasting her photo onto the passport of Cha Jung Hee, and sending her instead. The orphange staff warned Kang Ok Jin, soon to become Deann Borshay, not to reveal her true identity. (more…)