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Korean 'orphans' find long-lost family, hope after CBC report on falsified adoption papers

Mi Hwa Taylor was only four years old when she was sent from South Korea to Canada for international adoption in 1975. She was adopted by a family in B.C. (Submitted by Mi Hwa Taylor - image credit)
Mi Hwa Taylor was only four years old when she was sent from South Korea to Canada for international adoption in 1975. She was adopted by a family in B.C. (Submitted by Mi Hwa Taylor - image credit)

For half a century, Kimberly Taylor believed she was an orphan. But she recently discovered this wasn't true.

In fact, when she reunited with her long-lost Korean family this winter, she learned they had been searching for her for decades.

Born in South Korea, Taylor was adopted by a B.C. family in 1975. She was four years old.

Now 53, she says she was empowered to question her origins after reading a CBC News story about Korean adoptions published in September.

"When I read the article … I just kind of fell to the floor and just cried," Taylor said from her home in the B.C. Interior.

"It mirrored everything that I had been told all my life," she said. "The narrative I grew up with was that I was abandoned as a baby … that there [was] no family."

Submitted by Mi Hwa Taylor
Submitted by Mi Hwa Taylor

The CBC investigation looked into a dark chapter in Korean-Canadian relations, after the Korean War, when children were adopted into this country — in many cases, falsely registered as orphans in order to be fast-tracked abroad. It's estimated about 3,000 so-called Korean orphans have been adopted in Canada since then.

CBC uncovered that federal and provincial governments in Canada knew of red flags and contradictory adoption paperwork as early as the 1970s, but calls for a full-scale investigation into Korean adoptions went ignored.

Several of those "paper orphans" have since learned they were stolen from their biological parents, while others discovered their families were still alive and searching for them.

'I needed to know the truth'

Taylor said that after she read the CBC story, she began questioning everything she knew about her past.

"I needed to know the truth," she said.

To do so, she contacted Leah Kim Brighton in Toronto, who was featured in the story. Brighton, who had been stonewalled by her Korean adoption agency for decades, reunited with her biological parents in 2007.

She is now helping others do a birth search, by connecting with their Korean adoption agency and pushing for more paperwork, and sharing resources for other investigative avenues, like genetic testing.

Brighton assisted Taylor on how to do a DNA test. Within weeks, Taylor got a match. She discovered she had two older sisters and that her family had been looking for her.

"I was just beside myself," she said.

In December, Taylor flew to New Jersey, where one of her biological sisters now lives, and reunited with her extended Korean family.

She will never forget the moment they embraced at the airport.

"They saw me and ran towards me and we just cried," Taylor recalled. "They were saying, 'My sister, my sister' and 'Oh, my daddy.'"

They told Taylor she looked identical to their father.

"It felt like I was coming home," she said. She calls it her Christmas miracle.

Submitted by Mi Hwa Taylor
Submitted by Mi Hwa Taylor

"I could almost feel like cracks ... were being filled and healing," said Taylor.

"Those really dark holes that you worked a lot of years to cover up — and it was like there was just sunlight beaming into [them]," she said. "It was probably the ... best moment of my life."

A process of 'coming out of the fog'

Taylor has since learned the truth behind her adoption.

She found out that her mother passed away when she was three. Relatives took Taylor and her younger sister in Seoul and brought them to an orphanage while her father was out of town, in the "hope that we would have a better life."

"When he came home, we were gone," Taylor said, tearing up. "It really broke him for most of his life."

WATCH | 'Am I an orphan?' Korean adoptees begin questioning adoption papers after CBC story:

Taylor said her father and sisters tried to search for her by going to Korean orphanages and adoption agencies. They were looking for a girl named Park Mi Hwa.

Unbeknownst to them, the adoption agency had given Taylor a new name — Kim Young Soon.

"Of course they couldn't find me because … I was given a different name and a different birthdate," said Taylor, who is legally changing her first name to Mi Hwa.

Brighton, who runs a non-profit called Asian Adoptees of Canada, said Taylor's reunion with her family "still blows me away."

"I think about how quickly that all transpired, it's really phenomenal," she said.

In the past few months, Brighton says many adult Korean adoptees across Canada are coming together and are beginning to have difficult conversations since reading the CBC story.

She describes it as "coming out of the fog."

"[It's] a side of the adoptee experience that a lot of people don't really wish to explore, because it is challenging," Brighton said.

"I commend adoptees fully for having the courage to recognize that maybe this story that they understood as their truth … is not accurate."

"That's really hard."

'I've been given hope'

Since the publication of the CBC story, Brighton has received numerous requests from adoptees asking her to help them start a birth search. That includes Katarina Parmestal.

Adopted by a Swedish family in 1970 at the age of three, Parmestal never once questioned her origins — until now.

She said she was "in shock" when she saw the CBC report. "I was like, wow, can this really be true?"

Parmestal, who moved to Canada in the 1990s, is just beginning her search for answers, with Brighton's help. It's difficult, however, because she doesn't know the Korean language.

Submitted by Katarina Parmestal
Submitted by Katarina Parmestal

She has only limited details about her past — the name Choon Soon, a possible birthdate and that she may have lived on the streets of Seoul until she was brought to an orphanage.

"I don't have much information, but I just want to try and see — can I find some information? Do I have a birth family in Korea or am I an orphan?" said Parmestal. "Because I've always been told that I'm an orphan."

She says she has something to look forward to, as she plans to do a DNA test and contact her adoption agency in South Korea for more documents and answers.

"I've been given hope," she said.