We Are Not Who They Think We Are

Non-Fiction - Social Issues
100 Pages
Reviewed on 10/31/2018
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Author Biography

Janine Myung Ja is best known in the adoptee-rights circle as the compiler and co-editor of Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists and The "Unknown" Culture Club: Korean Adoptees, Then and Now. These anthologies serve to tribute domestic, transracial and intercountry adopted people and families left behind while validating their experiences and informing them of their rights.

Janine has written several feature-length screenplays on the transnational adoption experience and authored two books based on her own coming-of-age (and identity) Generation-X experience and her search for her Korean family as an adult. (Twins Found in a Box: Adapting to Adoption, and The Search for Mother Missing: A Peek Inside International Adoption) She can be reached at

Janine supports Against Child Trafficking’s (ACT) investigational work into unethical adoptions. She and her twin co-founded "Adoption Truth & Transparency Worldwide Network," a social media resource intended to validate and empower individuals, families and communities separated by adoption. She also cofounded:

    Book Review

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite

The admittedly concise collection of short articles compiled by Janine Myung Ja in the booklet Adoptees: We Are Not Who They Think We Are, while meant to introduce readers to the often-volatile subject of Adoptee Rights, actually delivers a huge and revealing punch way beyond its modestly stated agenda of presenting the alternative point-of-view to the more commonly accepted wisdom stated by professional adoptive institutions. The author is an active, compassionate voice for adoptees in general, asserting their basic and essential human rights – especially the right to be heard. One such revealing counterpoint of view: “Wisdom gained from experiences like hers provide evidence that "poverty-stricken" children do not have to be taken out of their "dire" situation, or nation of birth, to be happy.”

Including personal background information as well as story excerpts from other interested parties, Janine Myung Ja does not resort to angry diatribe in Adoptees. Rather, she presents a compelling, rational, highly-researched foundation for advocating an evolutionary appraisal of the adoption world, followed by an equal inclusion of adoptee voices in creating positive change in the system. What makes her collection so compelling is the deeply personal revelations of the writers regarding their unique experiences, the profoundly troubling reports (much understated) of mental and physical abuse, as well as the startling recognition of how severely adoption procedures and practices are weighted in favor of existing, profit-motivated institutions as opposed to adoptee rights and consideration. Prepare to have your comfortable preconceptions challenged. Plan to be grateful for these highly illustrative writings of Janine Myung Ja.

Jack Magnus

Adoptees: We Are Not Who They Think We Are is a nonfiction social issues book written by Janine Myung Ja. Janine was walking with her dad one afternoon in 2004, when she decided to bring up a subject she and her twin had been mulling over for some time now. They wanted to go to Korea on a quest to discover their birth family. The twins had been their father’s support system ever since his hang-glider accident in 1984 had left him with physical and mental issues, and they had always enjoyed a close and personal relationship with him, but Janine’s question brought him up short. He could not understand why his daughters would even consider such a quest. He didn’t like it, and he didn’t think their deceased American mother would have liked it either. The Gathering in Seoul was too momentous an opportunity for Janine and Jenette to miss; however, they couldn’t help but wonder if their family, their birth parents, would be there looking for them.

Adoptees adds a new dimension to the immigration issues that are so much in the papers these days. The author and her sister were among the thousands of kids who were taken from other cultures and brought to the United States on the premise that they were orphans, or from poor and illiterate families. Promises made to birth parents to be allowed contact with their children were broken for the most part, and requests like Janine’s were considered ungrateful and cold. Add to that the issue that many of these “orphans” who were adopted by US parents were never processed properly for citizenship and are currently under investigation by ICE. One of the adoptees described in this book was deported to Korea with no papers and no knowledge of the Korean language -- and he was a US veteran.

It’s hard not to get angry reading about the abuses perpetrated in the name of charity, the families shattered and the prevailing attitude that the door, once closed, should never be reopened -- unless it’s a citizenship issue. Somehow, those kids and their families became the victims of an often for-profit industry. Janine Myung Ja addresses these and other issues most eloquently in this survey work. Adoptees: We Are Not Who They Think We Are is most highly recommended.

Samantha Dewitt (Rivera)

The world of adoption is a complex one, where children come from all walks of life and all parts of the world in search of a better life and a full life. But are they actually seeking out any of these things? Are these children actually orphans or voluntarily given up by their birth families in the hopes of something better? The truth is that there is more to the story than even most adoptive parents know. And knowing the whole story and what it means for the child is crucial in their own success and happiness. Adoptees by Janine Myung Ja is the story of those who have been taken in, but also taken away from the lives that they could have had.

This is a book that looks at an entirely different side of the world of adoption. While many people think that they are saving these children, who would otherwise be entirely unwanted or neglected, there is an epidemic of adoption trafficking and children who have been ripped from the arms of loving and caring parents for a completely new life. The stories of these children and what their lives have become, whether with a healthy and happy home or a traumatic and dangerous one, are stories that need to be told. Adoptees by Janine Myung Ja is the story of children who have no understanding of their homeland and their birth families because of the current adoption process. But it is also the story of the parents who have lost their children without knowing how it even happened.

Maria Beltran

Adoptees: We Are Not Who They Think We Are by Janine Myung Ja is a book that explores the social issues of adopted children from all over the world. Not a lot of people know that many adopted children are not orphans, that some of them come from poor families tricked by adoption agencies into giving up their children. Janine and Jenette are twin sisters from Korea, adopted as babies by an American couple. Growing up in a loving family, they are supposed to be the lucky ones but the desire to know their roots gnaws at them when they're old enough. Manjula and Bhagya, on the other hand, are born to poor, illiterate parents in India and are adopted when they're old enough to remember their parents. Each adopted child has his or her own story and this book is a compilation of their stories.

Janine Myung Ja's Adoptees: We Are Not Who They Think We Are is an informative and revealing book that deals with the social issue of inter-country adoption. An adoptee herself, the author certainly knows what she's writing about. This is a book that tries to collect the various stories of adopted children from Korea, Africa, India and other countries, ending up in cultures and countries that are a world apart from where they originally come from. It also exposes the problematic adoption system that leaves some adoptees deprived of their basic human rights. Designed to inform all adoptees of their emotional and legal rights, this book tackles an issue that is mostly neglected by lawmakers from all over the world. And these are highly interesting and revealing stories that the whole world should know about!

Fiona Ingram

The topic of adoption is a minefield fraught with dangers. The topic of international adoption even more so. In fact, many adopted children never knew that their parents had returned to the child center in question, only to be turned away. Their child had already been adopted. Many children are adopted while still having families. Several high-profile adoptions have attracted problems, with Madonna’s controversial adoptions in Malawi highlighting the trauma when biological parents change their minds, but the adoptive parents still want to go ahead. Selling orphans to the highest bidders (especially prevalent in Ethiopia), and other corrupt tactics have been exposed and highlighted as this ‘industry’ draws more international attention. The dangers of innocent children almost being ‘trafficked’ in a way are revealed, with a chilling example given in this book of Korean-born Suzanne Jones, who was adopted by the cult leader Reverend Jim Jones. Suzanne, luckily, escaped the self-imposed massacre of 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana.

Adoptees: We Are Not Who They Think We Are by Janine Myung Ja highlights excerpts from other books by the author on the topic of adoption. This short book uses the author’s own experiences as an adopted child, with her twin sister, as well as the experiences of others to discuss key points. Janine and Jenette, Korean, were adopted by an American family and, from the author’s narration, appear to have had a happy life with loving adoptive parents. However, Janine’s book discusses cases where children have been permanently viewed as orphans, even once adopted, and were not supplied with the necessary documentation to claim their rightful place in a new society. Some adoptive parents, the twins’ included, are not happy about the idea of their adopted child wanting to discover their cultural roots (if a cross-cultural adoption) and/or meet their birth parents. Often the adoptive parents cast aspersions on the cultural heritage of their adopted children without giving them the opportunity to visit, explore, and see for themselves where they came from and what their heritage is all about. But sometimes it is not the homecoming one imagines… Another huge problem is that children adopted from another country by US citizens should automatically become citizens of the US, the country Janine writes about, but the trauma involved regarding ignorance of the law and possible deportation is harrowing.

Janine writes about her journey of discovery in a relaxed, conversational style, in a present tense first person voice, and this draws the reader into the conversation. The style is immediate and immersive. Janine’s love for her adoptive parents is very clear. Her dad was the “Top Swan,” a man of honor and integrity, a real straight arrow. Subsequent chapters are contributed by adoptees, also writing in the first person, and this enables the reader to feel as if they are sitting having a chat with the person relating their story. The stories are horrific and, as one can imagine, adopted children from other countries can be subjected to sexual and physical abuse. Another story relates the experience of a mother in India who unwittingly signed away her two daughters, thinking they would live in a comfortable hostel and have a better life.

Janine advocates for the right of adoptees to retain their own documentation, not to have their previous existence ‘wiped out’ by the stroke of a bureaucratic pen. The adoptee should have the right to explore their biological family and culture without being told they are ungrateful for what they now have, although in some cases the horrors of the new life far outweigh the disadvantages of the old life. Adoptees from another country may also suffer discrimination, a sense of displacement, and become targets of racial profiling. Janine calls upon adoptees and readers, in fact, to trust themselves and their instincts, to open their minds and to value themselves, not to look to others for validation.

I chose this book for review because I am an adoptive parent who decided to make sure my daughter stayed in touch with her biological family. I found this book to be a real eye-opener on the topic and extremely moving. While not every adoption will be a bad one for the child/ren involved, there is enough information in this short read to make the reader think deeply and research further by reading Janine’s other books. Many countries are now closing the doors to international adoption by US citizens, given the problems that have made their way into the press (for example, Romania, Russia, Ethiopia, Guatemala). Janine is a staunch and passionately vocal advocate for the rights of adoptees and gives links at the end of her book for interested readers, who may be adoptees, to consider. Are adopted children the ‘forgotten’ children? This book will make you reconsider what you thought you knew about adoption.