How Korean adoptees went from being adoptable orphans to deportable immigrants
Since the early 1950s, over 125,000 Korean children have been adopted in the United States, primarily by white families. Korean adoptees figure in twenty-five percent of US transnational adoptions and are the largest group of transracial adoptees currently in adulthood. Despite being legally adopted, Korean adoptees' position as family members did not automatically ensure legal, cultural, or social citizenship. Korean adoptees routinely experience refusals of belonging, whether by state agents, laws, and regulations, in everyday interactions, or even through media portrayals that render them invisible. In Out of Place, SunAh M Laybourn, herself a Korean American adoptee, examines this long-term journey, with a particular focus on the race-making process and the contradictions inherent to the model minority myth.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with Korean adoptee adults, online surveys, and participant observation at Korean adoptee events across the US and in Korea, Out of Place illustrates how Korean adoptees come to understand their racial positions, reconcile competing expectations of citizenship and racial and ethnic group membership, and actively work to redefine belonging both individually and collectively. In considering when and how Korean adoptees have been remade, rejected, and celebrated as exceptional citizens, Out of Place brings to the fore the features of the race-making process.
SunAh M Laybourn is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Memphis. She is the co-author of Diversity in Black Greek Letter Organizations: Breaking the Line.
In Out of Place, SunAh M Laybourn tells a compelling story of the complex association between race, kinship, and citizenship among Korean American adoptees. This book would be terrific for any undergraduate course on the sociology of race, the family, and Asian Americans.
~Grace Kao, co-author of Diversity and the Transition to Adulthood in America
Engagingly written and impeccably researched, Out of Place offers an innovative analysis of how Korean American adoptees challenge widespread beliefs about kinship, citizenship, and race in America.
~Patricia Hill Collins, author of Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory
Laybourn’s pivotal work introduces readers to the idea of exceptional belonging—the granted but precarious inclusion experienced by many Korean individuals adopted into White families in the US. Her study provides a powerful framework with which to examine this type of belonging, outlining both the privileges and perils associated with White intimacies and describing how adoptees perpetuate, negotiate, and challenge such arrangements. A must read.
~Carla Goar, Professor of Sociology at Kent State University
Out of Place is magnificent. It is a meticulous study of Korean transnational, transracial adoptees’ particularities that unravels conflicting claims on identity and family while providing theoretical insight into the nature of belonging. Laybourn carefully chronicles a continuum of racialized national inclusion—from adoptable Korean orphans to easily deportable adults—whose citizenship remains contingent and revocable according to state whims.
~Victor Ray, author of On Critical Race Theory