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Kevin Ost-Vollmers

KAs@Work: Kevin Ost-Vollmers of Land of Gazillion Adoptees

Posted on 11 May 2012 by Suzi Pratt

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KAs@Work is a new series that profiles Korean Americans and their jobs. Want to share what you do, or know of people with interesting jobs? Get in touch.

Kevin Ost-Vollmers - Land of Gazillion Adoptees

When it comes to online communities for adoptees, Land of Gazillion Adoptees (LGA) is at the top of the list. LGA is an adoptee-centric blog based out of Minnesota, and at the helm of operations is Kevin Ost-Vollmers, LGA’s founder.

No stranger to Korean Beacon readers (see our feature on Minneapolis and St.Paul), Kevin talks with us about LGA’s framework and goals, his upcoming projects, Minnesota’s strong Korean adoptee community, and his thoughts on the changing adoption discourse.

Tell us a little about Land of Gazillion Adoptees. How did it come to be, who makes up the team, and what is LGA’s mission?

I call Slanty of Slant Eye For The Round Eye the Godfather of Land of Gazillion Adoptees (LGA). After encouraging me repeatedly over a four month period to write something for him, Slanty planted another seed: “Dude, you should totally start your own blog.” So, after a short test run on Facebook as a person/entity known as “Land of Gazillion Adoptees,” I launched LGA in June of 2011.

Since launching, the LGA team has grown. The blog has two editors – Shelise Gieske and me. The hope is to add a third editor by the year’s end. Additionally, the blog has six regular contributors; A.J. Bryant (Indian adoptee); Aaron Cunningham (the only nonadoptee); Farnad Darnell (Iranian adoptee); Nisha Grayson (Indian adoptee); Jared Rehberg (Vietnamese adoptee); and P. Teal (Korean adoptee).

How is LGA different from other adoption-related organizations?

Unlike most other adoptee organizations, LGA is a for-profit company, the purpose of which is to offer a wide array of adoption-related products and services with the end goal of:

  • elevating the impact of adoptee lead organizations, programs, and projects;
  • elevating the stature of adoptees in the adoption community and in the wider community;
  • enhancing relationships adoptees have with some of their natural partners, i.e., first/second/third generation immigrant populations and people of color from other communities.

I believe it’s safe to say that LGA has obtained some success. However, I can only take a small amount of credit. LGA, similar to other adoptee organizations, is driven by collaboration. The blog, for example, is a community space we (Shelise, the contributors, and I) build with others, in particular adoptees. The anthology LGA is co-publishing with Vietnamese adoptee Adam Rebholz, of CQT Media & Publishing, will be a book we produce with some outstanding writers. The soon-to-be-launched Watch Adoptee Films (WAF), a subsidiary of LGA, will be a partnership between Jared Rehberg, Bert Ballard, and me.

LGA Team!from top right: Shelise Gieske, Jared Rehberg, and Nisha Grayson

LGA has different media components (blog, podcasts, film projects, etc.). Why did you decide to incorporate all of these elements? Which media tools have been the most effective for LGA’s mission?

Because I have a short attention span? Just kidding…

I’m a huge music guy. One of my all-time favorite Rock Gods is Damon Albarn of Blur, Gorillaz, Rocket Juice & The Moon, etc. He collaborates with so many people! On top of that, he utilizes all types of artistic media, and the results are spot on 99.9% of the time. Seriously, how awesome is “DoYaThing,” a Gorillaz ditty featuring Andre 3000 of Outkast and James Murphy of LCD Sound System?

Believe it or not, Albarn and other artists who thrive on the collaborative/multi-media approach inspire much of what happens at LGA, and the fruits of the approach aren’t so bad. For example, Shelise Gieseke took over half of the blog in January. Since then we have covered a pretty expansive range of topics, talked with all types of adoptees, adoptive parents, first parents, and adoption “establishment” figures. These conversations were blasted out into the world through podcasts, traditional text interviews, written personal narratives, and videos.

As a result, we saw the blog’s viewership reach new levels – minimum of 10,000-25,000 unique visits in March. Not so bad for a “niche” blog, right? Time will tell what media tool(s) work the best for LGA, but right now the combination of different media components to “tell the story” is the name of the game for us.

Land of Gazillion AdopteesVisit: www.landofgazillionadoptees.com

You’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing many Korean American adoptees. Are there any in particular whose stories stood out the most?

Indeed, I’ve had the great opportunity to talk with a number of Korean American adoptees in the past eleven months. The conversations have all been compelling, and they give me a great deal of pride; I’m really proud to be a Korean adoptee because our community is kicking some major ass.

Some people consider Lee Herrick, whom Jared Rehberg interviewed, as the “Godfather of Adoptee Poetry.” How cool is that?! Tammy Ko Robinson, Tobias Hubinette, Kim Stoker, and Jane Jeong Trenka were all instrumental in bringing forth much needed adoption legislation in South Korea. Major props to them! And you know what’s the icing on the cake? They’ve gotten under the skin of some old timers in the US adoption agency community.

I recently had a heated (and wine/beer infused) conversation with Nancy Fox of Americans for International Aid and Adoption. She said to me, fingers wagging: “They [Tammy, Tobias, Kim, and Jane] have sentenced Korean kids to death in institutions! You have sentenced the Korean kids to death in institutions for supporting them!” This from a person who has been known to treat “radical adoptees” as individuals unworthy of her time. Well, apparently they’re worth her time now. Hehehe! Minnesotan Korean adoptees represent!

Historically, the state that I live in has been considered an “adoption hub” because of agencies like Children’s Home Society & Family Services and Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota. Together, these agencies have placed tens of thousands of adoptees with families. However, these days one would be hard pressed to argue against the notion that Korean adoptees, in collaboration with other adoptees with different backgrounds, set the tone.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to do some name dropping of well known Korean adoptees who just happen to live in the lovely state of Minnesota: Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, JaeRan Kim, Kim Park Nelson, Hei Kyong Kim, Julie Hart, Kari Ruth, Ami Nafzger, Sun Yung Shin, Mayda Miller, Jennifer Arndt-Johns, Kyan Bodden, Lisa Medici, Brooke Newmaster, David Moschkau, Judy Eckerle, Deborah Johnson, Katie Leo, and Sun Mee Chomet.

With all that said, the conversations that stand out are the ones that remind me that a lot of work remains to be done for the adoptee community. It’s sobering to hear Joy Lieberthal, a veteran of adoption, talk about her clients, who are mostly kids and teens.  It’s startling to hear Melanie Chung-Sherman, another veteran, talk about adoption disruption cases, i.e., “rehoming,” she sees on a monthly basis. It’s infuriating to be talking about adoptees, such as Russell Green, who are at the risk of becoming deported out of the US because of mistakes made by adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and state and federal governments.

left to right: Lee Herrick, Jane Jeong Trenka, and Kim Stoker


You’re doing a tremendous job at bringing new voices and views to the adoption discourse, as well as highlighting the many accomplishments and projects by the adoptee community. Since you started LGA, do you think adoption narratives have become more visible and included within the “Korean American experience”?

No. Absolutely not. For one, the increase in presence of the Korean adoptee experience within the broader Korean American experience has been going on for quite some time. For another, LGA frequently features adoptees who are not Korean.

With that said, I think LGA has played a small, yet significant role in elevating the voices of Korean adoptees within the “adoption establishment.” For example, in a March LGA podcast, the President and CEO of Joint Council on International Children’s Services, a DC Metro-based organization with influence, went on the record saying he would work with the adoptees (many are Korean) who have been pushing for legislation to end the US practice of deporting international adoptees whose naturalization paperwork were not properly finalized. Since the podcast, the President and CEO of the National Council For Adoption (NCFA) has agreed to offer NCFA’s support for an adoptee lead effort.

McLane Layton, who is widely considered the “architect” of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, has expressed interest in joining the “coalition” as well. And Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform, Ethica, and the Korean Adoptee Adoptive Parent Network (KAAN) have all asked to be kept in the loop.

Interesting mix of individuals/organizations willing to play support to adoptees, right? Would this have happened last year about this time without LGA’s ongoing efforts to elevate the voices of adoptees? Maybe. Maybe not. In the end, what matters most is stopping the deportation of international adoptees once and for all.

Kevin I'm an Angry Adoptee

You’ve been instrumental with raising funds for KUMFA/Heater, and have been very vocal about the lack of benefits for single mothers in South Korea. How do you think the lack of support for single parents effects adoption rates in South Korea and elsewhere?

The lack of support for single parents plays a pivotal role in adoption rates in South Korea (and beyond). In a recent Facebook thread, Jane Jeong Trenka, who currently lives in SK and works closely with single parent organizations, offered the following: “Probably most Korean single mothers are ready to take care of their own if they are given the encouragement and financial support to do so (as they are at Aeranwon, where I think 80-85% keep their babies). Most are given a snowball’s chance. You try raising a newborn on $44 a month while your breasts are leaking milk.”

The unwillingness of the “progressive” adult adoptee community and the “adoption agency” adoptee community to talk with each other also plays a pivotal role. Because of our size and diversity of thought, the Korean adoptee community is in many ways heavily fragmented. I believe this fact holds us back from accomplishing much more as a group. Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine if the Tammy Chus, Tobias Hubinettes, and Jane Jeong Trenkas of the world joined forces with the Kathy Saccos, Melanie Chung-Shermans, and Joy Lieberthals of the world. Damn! Think about what a “supergroup” like that could accomplish with single mother organizations, Korean adoption agencies, and sympathetic members of the South Korean Assembly!

Yes, I know. Total pipedream.

Are you working on any other projects for LGA or another organization?

Yuppers. As I mentioned earlier, LGA is co-publishing an anthology this summer that will focus on the idea of “adoptees as parents.” The list of writers is hot: Bert Ballard, Susan Branco Alvarado, Stephani-Kripa Cooper-Lewter, Lorial Crowder, Astrid Dabbeni, Shannon Gibney, Mark Hagland, JaeRan Kim, Jennifer Lauck, Mary Mason, Robert O’Connor, John Raible, and Sandy White Hawk.

Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, Watch Adoptee Films (WAF), a subsidiary of LGA, will launch mid May. The purpose of WAF is to make adoptee-centric films available to a broad audience. Some films we will be showing are Adopted and Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam. We’re in touch with other filmmakers and should have confirmations from them very soon.

Lastly, any advice for someone trying to start a similar endeavor?

Know your five-year plan. Be fearless. Take risks. Laugh at yourself often. Enjoy clean hair.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees
www.landofgazillionadoptees.com
Follow LGA on Facebook
Look out for LGA’s upcoming projects, Watch Adoptee Films and the Adoptees as Parents” anthology.

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Korean-American Cities: Minneapolis & St. Paul

Posted on 13 February 2012 by Suzi Pratt

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In a bi-monthly series of posts, we will spotlight different Korean-American cities, selected not only for their numbers, but also for their visibility in mainstream America. Our research was guided by the following criteria: population, famous and/or influential locals, programs, and hotspots.

Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN.

Korean America - Minnesota

The Twin Cities—Minneapolis and St. Paul—are known for many things, such as its many lakes and thriving art and music scene, but it’s also home to a flourishing Korean American community.

We asked Minnesotan Kevin Ost-Vollmers, founder of and blogger behind Land of Gazillion Adoptees, about what makes the oft overlooked city “Korean American.” Here’s what he told us:

Minneapolis is home to a thriving Korean American community. Difficult to believe? For evidence, go to the University of Minnesota’s Dinky Town area during the lunch hour and walk into any of the numerous restaurants and coffee shops, and chances are you’ll see a lot of Koreans. Go to the Korean Presbyterian Church, which serves the sizable Korean population in Brooklyn Center and Columbia Heights, on Sundays and view a sea of black hair.

Some of the most recognizable Korean adoptee names within the broader adoption community reside in Minnesota as well – Ami Nafzger, executive director of AdoptSource, social worker JaeRan Kim, and writer Sun Yung Shin, to name a few.

The booming population of Koreans in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and in Minnesota in general, is due not only to a vast number of immigrants, but also to adoptees from the Motherland—the latter of which is estimated to comprise 50% of the state’s rich Korean population (Korean Quarterly, 2008). As a result, many of the people and organizations we are about to highlight have ties to the KA adoptee community.

Numbers

  • 16,813 (Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area – 2010 Census)

Visibility

Kevin Ost-Vollmers & Jane Jeong TrenkaKevin Ost-Vollmers and Jane Jeong Trenka

  • Award-winning writer and activist Jane Jeong Trenka is most notable for her books The Language of Blood and Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea. Her highly personal accounts illustrate her struggles of growing up in rural Minnesota, her birth family reunion in 1995, and the assimilation challenges she faced when she moved back to Seoul in 2004. She continues to add to the adoption discourse through her blog, Bitter Angry Ajumma.
  • What better way for children to connect with their heritage than through song and dance? The Chang-mi Korean Dance and Drum group was created in 1984 with that purpose in mind, and since then has provided a creative outlet and community for Korean adoptees to explore their cultural roots. Brooke Jee-in Newmaster is the founding member of the group and is now the artistic director and owner of Korean Heritage House. She is currently leading a Kickstarter project that aims to help fund her group’s travels to perform at the ChoongHyun Babies’ Home Memorial at the end of March.

Chang-mi Korean Dance & DrumBrooke Jee-in Newmaster (right) with her Chang-mi Korean Dance and Drum Group

  • A passionate social worker and writer, JaeRan Kim explores the history and current issues of her fields on her personal blog and Harlow’s Monkey. The latter blog humanizes the ‘monkey love experiments’ of Harry Harlow by exploring the ideas of biological attachment in international and transracial adoptions. Through her blogs, Kim gives voice to adoptees who are often forgotten in the gatekeeping discussions about the ethics and politics of adoption.
  • There are many adoption-related blogs, but no other centralizes and supports the visibility of the adoption community as Land of a Gazillion Adoptees (LGA), run by Kevin Ost-Vollmers and Shelise Gieseke. Himself an adoptee, Ost-Vollmers devotes his creative energy to the LGA blog which highlights, raises questions, and celebrates the accomplishments of Korean American adoptees in Minnesota, the U.S., and beyond.

Programs

Korean Culture CampKorean Culture Camp

  • One of the oldest cultural camps in the U.S., the Korean Culture Camp of Minnesota is a nonprofit summer day camp program that aims to help Korean American children embrace being Korean without emphasizing the adoption factor. Typical camp activities include Korean language lessons, Taekwondo instruction, and learning the history and culture of the Motherland.
  • “Giving Voice to the Korean American Community,” Korean Quarterly is a nonprofit publication serving ethnic communities of the Twin Cities and and northern Midwest. The publication’s entire staff consists of Korean American immigrants, adoptees, and adoptive parents. Features include profiles of notable Korean American organizations and leaders, and coverage of events deemed relevant to the KA community.Korean Quarterly adopsource
  • AdopSource is a nonprofit organization that helps Korean American adoptees and the greater adoptee community in Minnesota have “a sense of belonging through their shared experiences.” Services offered by AdopSource include Korean culture and language classes and birth family reunion support.
  • The Korean Heritage House provides the meeting grounds for a previously mentioned organization: the Chang-mi Korean Dance and Drum group. In addition to dance and music classes, members can participate in Korean cooking classes or a number of clubs including the Asian Adoptee Youth Club, Chingu Kids & Parent Play Club, and K-Pop Dance Club.
  • AK (Adopted Korean) Connection is a nonprofit run for and by Korean American adoptees in MN. The site’s mission is to foster a community for adult adoptees, and each month, a social event allows members to gather and have fun. February’s event will be an exciting afternoon of rollerblading at the Metrodome!

Hotspots

PIzzeria Zola Ann KimA heavenly pie of Korean BBQ pizza from Pizzeria Lola

  • Green Spoon is a cross between a sooljib and cafe, offering a full espresso bar omelets in the morning, and soju and delicious odangtang (declared a “super soup” by the Star Tribune) at night. On Wednesdays, Green Spoon serves unlimited wings and fries and unlimited beer for only $20!
  • Having undergone a remodeling makeover, Hoban Restaurant exceeds all expectations in serving authentic Korean food. We recommend sticking to the classics; get the pajun, soondubu, or dolsot bibimbap.

    Sole CafeKimchi Jjigae and bulgogi from Sole Cafe

  • Escape from the cold with a hot meal at Sole Cafe. Voted “Best Korean Restaurant in 2011,” Sole Cafe is vegan-friendly and prides itself on using fresh produce from the local farmer’s market.
  • With a menu that boasts Korean-inspired pizzas, Pizzeria Lola has quickly grown to become the go-to place for a tasty pie in the Twin Cities. Co-owner Ann Kim is one of 90 certified pizzaiolos in the U.S., and LGA’s Kevin proudly endorses the pizza joint, saying: “Nobody combines kimchi, banchan, and pizza dough like Ann Kim, one of the new superstars in the restaurant community.”
  • Open until 2AM (4AM on Fridays and Saturdays), Do Re Mi Karaoke is a great place to feel like a rockstar among your friends. Do Re Mi’s menu is provided by Hoban, and the karaoke offers a Happy Hour Sunday-Thursday from 6-9pm.

Locals

Mayda Miller Ed Bok LeeMayda Miller and Ed Bok Lee

  • Deborah Johnson is the CEO of Kindred Journeys International, columnist for Adoptive Families magazine, and the ex-director of the Ties Program, an organization that helps adoptive families travel to their children’s birth countries.
  • Kim Jackson established the HERE Project, the first portrait book of Korean adoptees living in Minnesota. She also works with the Korean Quarterly as a Graphic Designer.
  • After earning his MFA from Brown University, Ed Bok Lee went on to write a national bestseller in poetry titled Real Karaoke People. His latest book Whorled has been named one of the 2011 Minnesota Book Awards finalists.
  • Sun Yung Shin received the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry in 2008 for her first book of poems titled Skirt Full of Black. She is also the co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption with Jane Jeong Trenka and Julia Chinyere Oparah. Her next book of poems, Rough, and Savage, is set to be released in the Fall of 2012.
  • Other notable locals include playwright Katie Hae Leo, soulful pop singer Mayda Miller, Hak Cheol Shin, who was a speaker at the first TEDxHanRiver and is 3M Company’s Executive VP of Industrial Business , and comedian Amy Anderson, who is currently based in LA but was raised in the city of lakes.

We’d like to give a special thanks to Kevin of Land of Gazillion Adoptees, the folks at Korean Quarterly, and Slanty of Slanty Eye for the Round Eye for helping us with the legwork for this article.

Have a city you’d like to see featured? Get in touch and give us some inside tips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Melissah Yang contributed to this post.

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The Korean Unwed Mothers & Families’ Association Needs Your Support!

Posted on 09 December 2011 by Justin Ahn

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In a country where there is a social stigma often attached to struggling single mothers, shelters are a greatly appreciated resource. Upon hearing that HEATER, one of such support facilities run by The Korean Unwed Mothers and Families’ Association (KUMFA), was facing closure, two Korean American adoptees—professor Jennifer Kwon Dobbs of St. Olaf College and blogger Kevin Ost-Vollmers of Land of Gazillion Adopteesbegan fundraising for its survival.

Although several safe havens exist in South Korea, Dobbs, who is currently writing a book about the lives of unwed mothers in Korea, told The Korean Herald that HEATER is the first and only one that does not discriminate against unwed mothers and “accepts all mothers regardless of their ages or their children’s health.”

Ost-Vollmers, who has been actively blogging and spreading awareness about KUMFA, explains the significance of the organization through his own personal experience:

My mother raised me during the late ’70s and early ’80s when discrimination against single mothers was much more severe . . . I keep thinking about what it might have been like if my mother had had the kind of support that KUMFA is offering now.

To keep HEATER open, KUMFA needs $7,000 to cover rent, utilities, food and supplies. Please consider offering your support. You can PayPal your contribution to KUMFA’s e-mail (kumfa.volunteer@gmail.com).

For more information on how you can help, visit KUMFA’s Facebook page.

[Photo: Jean Chung/The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times]

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