Oral Histories

Interview of Stephen Morrison

One of the first wave of Korean adoptees to come to the U.S. Creator of the Mission to Promote Adoption, which is known for changing adoption culture in South Korea.
Series:
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Topic:
Asian American History
Interviewer:
Cline, Alex
Interviewee:
Morrison, Stephen
Persons Present:
Morrison and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Morrison’s church the ANC Onnuri Church in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research; musician. Cline prepared for the interview by conducting extensive research on the history of Korea and of Korean Americans, particularly Korean immigrants who settled in the Los Angeles area, via books, periodicals, and online sources. He also consulted with advisors who are closely connected with L.A.’s Korean American community and who are acutely knowledgeable about it, including attorney and activist Angela E. Oh and UCLA associate professor of anthropology and faculty member of UCLA’s Center for Korean Studies Kyeyoung Park. Assistance from series interviewees such as Johng Ho Song and John Lim also frequently proved invaluable.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Morrison was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
Length:
5.7 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Series Statement:
This series includes full-life histories of a number of prominent Korean Americans who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965. The series focuses on the remarkable growth of the Korean American community in Los Angeles; that community’s impact on the history, economy, and culture of the city; and the development and evolution of Koreatown, the only such officially designated community in any city in the world. While concentrating largely on Korean immigrants who are part of the so-called 1.5 generation, or immigrants who relocated to the United States from South Korea while still relatively young, the series also includes influential members of the L.A. area’s Korean community who are first- and second-generation Korean Americans.
What Morrison knows of his parents and birth family—How he and his younger brother wound up living on the street when he was around five years old—His younger brother is taken in by someone, leaving Morrison, until Morrison is taken to a local orphanage—Memories of his home city of Mukho in Kangwon Province—He is admitted to the Holt Children’s Services orphanage at age six—A knee problem requires surgery—Reason Morrison was not taken in by the woman who took in his brother—Regrets about how he treated his brother when they were homeless—Major Korean media efforts to reunite Morrison with his family members fail—His return to his home city decades later—Incidents when he and his brother were living in a hut under a bridge as children—The first orphanage he went to after living on the street—The orphanage director—First moments upon arriving at the Holt orphanage provide his first experience both seeing a Westerner and eating American food—Harry Holt—Life at the Holt orphanage—Morrison’s longing for family—The profusion of biracial children at the Holt orphanage in Ilsan—Discrimination against biracial children in Korea, particularly black Amerasians—American GIs who befriended the children in the orphanage—Learns about the Korean War and United States military presence in Korea once attends elementary school—U.S. military maneuvers near the orphanage in Ilsan.
Absence of a system to take care of Morrison and his brother after their father was jailed—Morrison and his brother’s Korean names—The Holt organizations emphasis on placing Amerasian orphans makes Morrison’s adoptability more uncertain—Feelings when children at the orphanage were announced as being adopted—How the children were prepared for new lives in the United States—Early encounters with American food at the orphanage—Joy at a temporary reversion to traditional Korean breakfast foods—The fate of orphaned children who were never adopted—Morrison offers tribute to those who sacrificed on behalf of people like him—Unadopted orphans unceremoniously dismissed from the orphanage once they turned eighteen—The emotional and mental state of Morrison and children like him while in the orphanage—Infants at the orphanage—Morrison is told he is finally being adopted just before turning fourteen—His adoptive family—How he came to be chosen by his adoptive family—Life at the Holt boys home in Seoul during his last two years as an orphan—He flies from South Korea to San Francisco before winding up in Salt Lake City.
Morrison’s feelings upon leaving Korea and the orphanage in 1970—His arrival in the United States, where he is met by his new father—First airplane flight—He leaves San Francisco with his father for his new home in Salt Lake City—Puzzling encounters with worn clothes and a dilapidated car—He meets his new family at his new home—His new mother’s attempt at making kimchee and fried rice for him—Reunion with an Amerasian orphanage mate, now one of his brothers—The source of his Western name Stephen—Impression his parents’ affectionate relationship had on Morrison—Beginning to reap the benefits of a happy family life—Father’s family background—The story of how his parents met and got married—How his parents came to live in Salt Lake City—Morrison and his new family travel to the East Coast and back on a five-week summer vacation trip—He meets new family relatives on the trip—Improvement in his English language skills after the trip—Americans’ lack of awareness of Korea and Koreans in 1970—Changes in South Korea after President Park Chung-hee’s administration—Current events in the U.S. and Korea in the early seventies—The family relocates to the tiny town of Dugway Proving Ground in western Utah—Morrison begins to excel academically, particularly in mathematics, physics, and related subjects—His emerging interest in subjects related to space exploration—He attends Purdue University, where he ultimately graduates in aeronautical engineering—His father is hospitalized during his final week in college—Returning home, Morrison presents his diploma to his hospitalized father—His father’s clandestine payment of his college tuition—Morrison returns the favor later by sending his parents on a trip to Southeast Asia—His father’s expressions of love for Morrison during his recovery from open-heart surgery—Profound impact of his parents’ example on his own life.
Racial issues during Morrison’s teen and college years—How he spent his free time while at Purdue—He realizes a need to actively regain his Korean language and cultural fluency while in college—Korean versus Caucasian girls—He accepts a position with Hughes Aircraft Corporation in the Los Angeles area—He receives a fellowship to get his graduate degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California, which Hughes pays for—His first encounter with Koreatown in L.A.—A prolonged period of inner questioning about the meaning of his life’s suffering leads Morrison to begin to understand what he feels is the purpose of his life—The ultimate fate of orphans in Korea—In 1995, he resolves to try to do something to change adoption culture in Korea, resulting in the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea (MPAK) in 1999—He marries and starts his own family, which ultimately includes a son adopted from Korea—Common reactions of Koreans toward his status as a former orphan/ adoptee—Morrison’s view of Korean adoptees who became bitter about losing their culture through their adoption into Caucasian American families—His wife’s family’s acceptance of him—The evolution of his relationship with his adoptive parents—He integrates himself into the Korean American community in L.A.—The role of the church in the Korean American community and its future in relation to mainstream American Christianity—The adoption issue in the Korean Christian community—MPAK’s outreach to non-Christians in South Korea—The current status of orphaned children in South Korea compared to what it was during Morrison’s youth there—The declining population of present-day Korea.
Morrison’s feelings about his American name—How questions about his identity were resolved—Passing his name onto his children—His experiencing of Caucasian American culture from the inside—His feelings about some aspects of traditional Korean culture upon his reintroduction to it as an adult—The 1992 Los Angeles riots—Impact of the ’92 riots on the Korean American community—Morrison’s advice to the African American community—Koreans’ and Koreatown’s lack of unity—The church as the potential unifying force in the Korean American community—The future of the Korean American church—Morrison’s children and how he is raising them culturally and spiritually—The inspiration behind his starting MPAK—He becomes determined to try to de-stigmatize transparent adoption in South Korea via the media and annual MPAK conferences—How MPAK has been credited with changing the adoption culture in Korea over its ten-year existence—MPAK ultimately receives support from the South Korean government—Koreans versus Korean Americans on the issue of adoption—Morrison’s defense of transracial adoption—His busy daily schedule—A recent adoption success story in which he was actively involved as an advocate—Changes in age restrictions for Korean American adoptive parents—Impact of celebrity adoptive parents on attitudes toward adoption—Morrison’s pride in being an American—Korean Americans’ contribution and potential contribution to mainstream American culture.