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Discussion guide and Delve Deeper

Workshop Guide

FIRST PERSON PLURAL is Deann Borshay Liem’s story multiple identities: within her Korean birth family, within her adoptive family, and a mistaken identity as a Korean girl of another name. The issues and themes, which are revealed on her journey of discovery, have particular significance to adoptees, birth families, and adoptive families. The issues and themes, in many ways, are also universal to each individual’s need to understand where we belong in society, how we came to be there, and where we fit in the heritage of our various families.

How have you come to understand yourself and your family? How has your own culture been passed along to you? How do you understand and compensate for differences in beliefs or practices between members of your family? Does FIRST PERSON PLURAL contain ideas and discoveries from which we can learn? We invite you to explore these and other questions through the program and through this viewer’s guide.

1. Dean says, "I feel like I’ve been several different people in my life." How do her various identities differ? How might Deann’s life changes have influenced these "different people" she feels?

2. Captured images have played a key role in Deann’s exploration of "self." From the earliest photos in her adoption records, to her discovery of the second child’s picture, to her father’s family films, to her own role as a filmmaker, Deann has captured images which relate to discrete circumstances in her life. If you have access to photographs of yourself, pick five or six, which illustrate particularly different circumstances. Place these photographs on a timeline, and describe "whom" you see in each picture. Besides age, how have you changed over time? What forces are responsible for those changes? Identify major differences in your thinking, your behavior, and your attitudes at each point on the timeline. How have your perceptions of "self" been influenced? Do particular images reflect parts of yourself that you no longer possess? How do you reconcile these changes?

3. How many expressions of your own culture can you identify? In what ways do these seem to differ from Deann’s American experience? How about Deann’s Korean experience? What are some common characteristics of these different cultures? How might the adoption of children from other countries affect American culture?

4. There are several sociological ideas which apply to Deann’s story. How do these ideas fit with her experience? Are they unique to her experience alone? Give examples of the ways in which she experienced these processes, or draw from your own experience to describe how you have been affected by these concepts.
o Adaptation: "To fit different conditions, or to conform."
o Assimilation: "To absorb into a cultural tradition."
o Acculturation: "Cultural modification by borrowing and adapting traits from
another culture."
o Cultural diffusion: "To spread a culture widely," or "to move from a region
of high cultural concentration to a region of low cultural concentration."
o Dissonance: "A lack of agreement, or a lack of harmony."

5. Many families have unspoken conflicts of differences which are not ever discussed. Deann speaks with her adoptive family about their previously unspoken feelings about her Korean family. How do you feel about her adoptive mother’s statement about why she never asked about Deann’s feelings ("I was afraid you might tell me")? Later, Deann’s Korean mother states that Deann should "care for and love her adoptive mother," because "that’s who raised her." How does the look on her mother’s face compare with the words she is saying? Why might she say something that is different from how she feels? Have either of these situations (silence on important matters or speaking something you don’t really feel) ever happened to you? What did you do about it? How did it make you feel?

6. In several instances, Deann’s American family makes statements about her personal attributes such as "it runs in the family" (her American father) and "you may not have the family eyes, but you’ve got the family smile" (her American brother). How do you think these statements affect Deann’s sense of belonging with her American family? What traits does your family note as particular to your family? Do other people who are not in your family share these traits as well?

7. Many Korean adoptees that return to Korea are treated as outsiders: they may not speak fluent Korean, and many don’t fully understand Korean culture and practices, yet they look Korean. At the same time, Korean adoptees who are raised in Caucasian families feel like an outsider in their own family, because of their obvious external racial attributes. In a society such as ours, which places so much emphasis on visual appearances, judgments and assumptions are often made about an individual due to how they appear. Have you ever been judged by how you look? Are you treated the same when you dress up as when you dress down? What societal stereotypes apply to people who share your appearance? How do these stereotypes make you feel? How might stereotypes about Korean women affect Deann in America? How might stereotypes about American women affect Deann in Korea? [DEANN: I’m not sure about this one, unless a group is facilitated: List as many different stereotypes as you can think of, and discuss them with your group.]

8. Deann’s story is one of nearly 500,000 Korean adoptees, yet each has his or her own experience, with differing outcomes. Additionally, many thousands of other children from other countries have been adopted by American families. In what ways do you feel public policy should (or shouldn’t) be involved in these practices? How does international trade of children affect other policies? How are ethnic or cultural hostilities challenged by the "American melting pot" theory? How is the "American melting pot" theory challenged by the experiences of ethnically disparate immigrants?

9. How to the existence of multiple cultures in a community affect schools, public information accessibility (e.g., voting information), the arts, and global understanding?

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