Adoptees reclaim Korean heritage

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Saturday, July 8, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

"A tree with deep roots

Stands firm in the storm"

– From a Korean proverb compiled during the 1418-1450 reign of King Sejong

Bug bites, yucky oatmeal, letters home, oh the joys of summer camp. For Melina Sutton, camp means something else. Beyond friendships and a chance to learn something new, the 7-year-old Everett girl has made a connection with her heritage.

Simone Sutton will never forget her daughter’s first taste of camp.

"It was the summer she was going into kindergarten. That first day, when she got in the car, she was so excited, she said, ‘Mommy, everybody looks just like me,’" Sutton said. "After the week was over, she cried."

Melina was adopted from Korea as a 4-month-old.

When Melina joined the family, Simone and Chris Sutton already had two sons, Michael and Blake, now 13 and 10. Asked about their desire for a larger family, Sutton said simply, "the heart has its own reasons."

The Suttons are a busy American family, caught up in the activities of their three children, who attend St. Mary Magdalen School.

"They’re very typical siblings," Sutton said, laughing about how Melina’s brothers get along with their little sister.

Melina won’t be around the house for teasing this week. The second-grader will go to Korean Culture Camp. Sponsored by the Seattle-based Korean Identity Development Society, the day camp runs Monday through Friday at Bothell United Methodist Church.

This year, Simone Sutton is serving as camp director.

"Kids who have been adopted from Korea go to reconnect with their heritage," Sutton said. Some 130 children, ranging from 5-year-olds to teens, will gather from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day to explore Korean culture through projects, guest speakers and games.

"They might study things that are found in a house in Korea, or learn about family relationships. They learn a few words, but that’s not the emphasis," she said. "Every day, they do a cooking lesson."

One menu item is kim bop. "It looks like a sushi roll, but instead of fish it has eggs, meat, radish, sometimes chrysanthemum or spinach leaves, rolled up in seaweed."

While all in fun, Korean games reveal something of the children’s homeland.

A popular seesaw game "is done not sitting, but standing on the ends of the seesaw and then jumping," Sutton said. "Traditionally in Korea, the girls were cloistered and couldn’t see beyond their walls. In this game, the one going up would jump, as if looking beyond the walls. They’d wear a ceremonial gown called a hanbok."

Guests from the area’s Korean community will demonstrate dance and martial arts to campers. They’ll meet Janet Wong, author of "The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children," and other acclaimed books. A representative from the Korean Consulate in Seattle will attend closing ceremonies Friday.

Teen campers go on outings and hear from older adoptees, some of whom have taken homeland tours.

Tim Holm, who is among the first generation of children adopted from Korea, leads tours, along with his wife, Kim. The Mill Creek man was 2 when he was adopted by an Oregon couple in 1959 through Holt International Children’s Services, an adoption agency with headquarters in Eugene.

Holm traveled to Korea in 1977, the third year the agency sponsored homeland tours. He’s been involved ever since and also participates in Korean Culture Camp.

"For children in the first-, second- and third-grade level, it may be the first time virtually everyone looks like them," he said of the camp.

"For older children and teens, the appeal is the idea of meeting other kids with the same thoughts and ideas about being adopted or looking different," said Holm, who is half Korean, half Caucasian, a child of the post-Korean War years.

In August, the Holms will take nearly 100 families to the land of their children’s birth.

"It’s very emotional for everyone involved, being able to see the clinic where they were born, or even the doctor who delivered them," Holm said. "When we grow up in another country, we don’t have that connection. To see the hospital where we were born is a neat thing for us."

Kim Holm, Korean born and raised, is supportive of her husband’s work with adoptees, and proud of parents here who help their children know their native land.

"I’m from Korea, I go back every year, and I thought I knew everything about Korea," she said. "But these people (adoptive parents) study a lot."

A co-worker of mine is on maternity leave. Before she left last month, we had a cake in the office and sat around swapping parenthood stories. She and her husband were headed not to the hospital, but to the airport. Their 4-month-old Korean son is now home with his new mom, dad and 2-year-old brother.

The 2-year-old happens to be my toddler’s best buddy at day care. My little guy misses his slightly bigger pal. They are peers, into everything, two of a kind. My son will learn about his roots. So will my friend’s sons.

"I really appreciate what the families do for their children," Kim Holm said.

For adoptive parents such as the Suttons, the cultural journey is also a gift. "It’s not just for the children," Simone Sutton said. "It’s nice to meet other moms who are just like me."

Contact Julie Muhlstein via e-mail at, write to her at The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206, or call 425-339-3460.

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