Small Fish: Searching for Wartime Seoul and the Birth of International Adoption
Tens of thousands of Korean children were orphaned or separated from their families when war gripped the peninsula in the early 1950s. Choi Kyung Hyun, born in Seoul in 1948, found himself among them, spending his days on the streets rather than in school, and sleeping at the home of a local prostitute. The child of a Korean mother and an American soldier father stationed in Korea following WWII, the boy who called himself “Jimmy” had no place in Korean society of the time. Without a Korean father, he appeared on no family record, so legally speaking, this mixed-race boy did not exist. But Jimmy found a family in Paul Raynor, a 24-year-old bachelor American soldier from rural South Dakota. Raynor violated direct orders, risking court martial, to sneak Jimmy into his billet and secretly adopt the boy under Korean law. Such adoptions were then banned by Army policy, and American family law had few provisions for single fathers. With Seoul in chaos just 50 or so kilometers from the front lines, and much of the nascent Republic of Korea government still being organized, navigating the Korean system wasn’t much easier. At one point, Paul seriously considered just sneaking Jimmy home in his rucksack. Ultimately, his perseverance paid off, and Jimmy’s was one of just four international adoptions recognized by the American government in 1953. This historic adoption and its contemporaries paved the way for thousands of American families to adopt from overseas, prompting countless cultural and societal shifts (some good, some bad) and forever changing the practice of adoption and the definition of family.
Misty Ann Edgecomb is a journalist from Maine, who has spent the past three years researching and writing Small Fish: War, Fatherhood and the Birth of International Adoption, the story of her father-in-law’s historic adoption from Korea. She heard the story of Jimmy’s adoption from her husband, Caleb Raynor, on their first date 11 years ago, and has been fascinated with finding out the truth behind the family legend ever since. Edgecomb held staff reporting jobs at the Bangor Daily News and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle before returning to graduate school at the University of Oregon in 2006. Small Fish was begun as her graduate project, and has been expanded during her time as a Fulbright junior research grantee in Seoul. She hopes to find a publisher upon her return to the United States this fall. For more information, visit smallfishbook.blogspot.com.