Understanding the Diaspora Experiences of Internationally Adopted Youth

By Adam Kim, Xiang Zhou, and Richard Lee

Scholars often refer to international adoption as the “quiet migration” because it is not viewed alongside more visible patterns of migration, such as voluntary immigrants, refugees, and international exchanges. But a common experience across all these forms of migration is the physical and psychological sense of displacement from one’s homeland – otherwise known as diaspora. The dispersion of the Jewish people around the world is a classic example of a diaspora, and more recent diasporas include Hmong and Somali refugees – many of whom now call Minnesota home. In our community outreach and qualitative studies with adopted youth and young adults, this diaspora feeling of displacement and loss is commonly described among international
adoptees as well.

We therefore set out to understand the diaspora experiences of internationally adopted individuals and other international migrants. We worked to create a way to understand the impact of this displacement on an individual’s identity, culminating in the development of the Diaspora Identity Scale. In our working model, diaspora identity consists of two distinct features – homeland yearning and co-ethnic solidarity. In the case of our work with adopted Koreans, homeland yearning refers to a real and imagined wish to return to Korea and psychologically feeling more complete living or traveling to the homeland. Co-ethnic solidarity refers to a belief that Koreans around the world should work together as compatriots.

In 2014, we surveyed over one hundred adoptive families – parents and adolescent children – using this newly constructed scale. We found initial support for these two features of diaspora: homeland yearning and co-ethnic solidarity. We also found diaspora identity is related to but distinct from ethnic-racial identity (i.e., a sense of identity that is built around membership to an ethnic-racial group), adoptive identity (i.e., a sense of identity that is built around being adopted) and thoughts about birth family (i.e., wondering whether you are similar to your birth parents). We have also surveyed other Korean populations, such as Korean immigrants in New Zealand and Korean international students in the United States and found similar support for diaspora identity. These findings are currently being written up for publication.

We are continuing to develop both our measure of diaspora identity and our understanding of the role of displacement on the identity development of internationally adopted youth. It is only with help from the International Adoption Project and families like you, that we were able to pursue this project, so we greatly appreciate your contribution to our research and that of the many other researchers involved.