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May 18, 2012 > Korean-American adoptee untangles identity switch

Korean-American adoptee untangles identity switch

Submitted By Tina Bobadilla-Mastel

In 1966, Cha Jung Hee was an eight-year-old girl at Sun Duck Orphanage who became one of the thousands of Korean orphans adopted by Americans in the years following the Korean War. U.S. military presence, Cold War politics and the realities of a war-torn society still struggling to climb out of the ruins made Korea the primary source for international adoptions by Americans, and it would remain so for many years. All such adoptions can present daunting challenges to adoptees as they come of age and try to understand their split heritage. But this story had a further twist.

For Cha Jung Hee, the good fortune of being whisked away to an affluent country by loving new parents masked even more troubling questions. For one thing, Deann Borshay Liem, as little Cha Jung Hee became known in America, wasn't an orphan. Lingering memories led her to discover that her birth family was still alive. And there was another buried memory. Liem wasn't Cha Jung Hee at all. She was Kang Ok Jin, another eight-year-old girl at Sun Duck Orphanage. Her identity had been switched with Cha Jung Hee's just before the latter was to be adopted by the Borshay family in California. She'd been instructed to keep that secret even from her adoptive parents. But why was the switch made? And what became of the real Cha Jung Hee?

In a follow-up to the Emmy Nominated "First Person Plural," filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem's "In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee" is a personal quest that raises questions about identity, memory, and paths not taken.

"For years, Cha Jung Hee was, paradoxically, both a stranger and also my official identity - someone unknown but always present, defining my life," says director Liem. "I felt I had to search for Cha Jung Hee finally to put my questions to rest by meeting her and finding out how she has fared. In the course of my journey, I met many women named Cha Jung Hee and through their stories imagine what my life would have been like had I stayed in Korea.

"Although I arrived in America walking in Cha Jung Hee's shoes, I can see now the path I've taken has always been my own. And if I look closely, I can see a glimpse of the girl I used to be and I can picture her stepping out of the past and into the present."

"In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee" will be screened at a special event hosted by the James Logan High School Ethnic Studies department. The screening will begin at 1 p.m. and be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, Deann Borshay Liem.

Admission is free, though donations are appreciated, which will benefit the African Cradle, a non-profit adoption agency licensed in California, specializing in pre- and post-adoption support, counseling and education. Homestudy services are provided for families throughout California. Refreshments will be sold before the screening, benefitting the JLHS Ethnic Studies department scholarship.

In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee
Saturday, May 19
1 p.m.
Little Theatre
James Logan High School
1800 H Street, Union City
(650) 461-9192

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