Monday, May 3, 2010

Rick Smolan tells the story of a girl

By Sarah S.

I had never heard of the word Amerasian before I watched the Ted talk Rick Smolan tells the story of a girl. An Amerasian child has been fathered by an American G.I.s in southeast Asia. There was around 40 000 children, and they were all abandoned by their fathers. Rick Smolan tells the story of one particular girl that was very close to him.

Rick Smolan is a photographer, and in 1978 he was working for Time Magazine. He was given an assignment to photograph Amerasian children. Rick was disturbed by what he saw, and then not satisfied by the article that Time published. So he took 6 months off to find 6 children in different countries and tell their stories. The fifth child was Hyun Sook Lee; she was 11 and being raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother had never let any Westerners see her granddaughter, and when some came to their village, she would hide Hyun Sook. Along with a translator, Rick went to see the grandmother, and to his surprise she let him photograph Hyun Sook. The girl looked very American, but only spoke Korean. During his time with the Amerasian children, Rick noticed that most of them had physchological damage from being picked on, made fun of, and being rejected. But Hyun Sook was very confident. She was always clowning around at school, putting her hand up first for questions, and picking other girls to be on her team.

When it was time for Rick to leave, the grandmother started crying. The translator told him that she was sick and thought she was going to die soon, and she wanted him to take Hyun Sook with him to America. Rick was only 28 at the time, and could not have taken in a child, but he gave the grandmother his business card and said to contact him if she was serious about sending Hyun Sook away. Rick then contacted his friends about adopting the girl. A couple of weeks later he gets word that the grandmother had died, and left Hyun Sook to him in her will. When he went back to Korea he saw that she was staying with her uncle, and appeared to be enslaved by that family. Then Rick invited his friends, Gene and Gail to come meet Hyun Sook and her uncle. The uncle finally agreed to let Hyun Sook be adopted. It would take awhile for the adoption to be processed, and during that time Hyun Sook spent the time at an orphanage run by an American man, Father Keene. During that time, she put the younger children with an older buddy, and set up a list of who cleaned on what days. Hyon Sook gave herself an American name of Natasha.

When Rick, Gene and his son, and Natasha were staying at a hotel, getting to know each other, the hotel started on fire. They were close to being killed by the fire, but were rescued by firemen. Finally, when Natasha was able to go to America, she learned English in 3 months and started school with her age group in grade 7. She became very popular just like she was in Korea. She went on to get married and have children, and is still close with Rick.

I think this is such an inspiring story. Natasha was not average Amerasian child; she was quite confident and outgoing. She also took very well to being adopted and moving to Atlanta. She learned English quickly and made friends fast. Natasha also never lost her culture, as her new family embraced it by learning Korean, buying Korean clothes, and putting tiles in their kitchen that say "once upon a time there was a beautiful girl that came from the hills of Korea to live happily ever after in Atlanta."

Rick Smolan seemed to have faced some resistance from Natasha's uncle to having her adopted. When trying to convince the uncle to have her adopted, he invited him to have lunch with him. Back at his hotel, Rick found two older Amerasians. One was a female prostitute and the other was a boy who had been in and out of jail. Rick told them that there was a girl with some chance of getting out of Korea, and he invited them to lunch to explain to the uncle what it was like to "walk down the street, what people say to you, what you do for a living. And just, I want him to understand what happens if she stays here." Rick knew that if Natasha stayed there, she would not have a good life, so he was fighting to get her out.

At the beginning of the Talk, Rick states that his
hope is that when his pictures are published they actually have an effect on a situation instead of just documenting it. When I searched him on the Internet I found that he has many photography projects with a meaning behind them; he wants to make a point with his pictures. With the pictures he took of the Amerasian children you know that he wants to get their story out there, of what they go through, and maybe persuade people to adopt an Amerasian child, although at this time they would all be older as an Amerasian is someone born between 1950 and 1982. People that watch this Talk, or know of this story may be persuaded to want to adopt a needy child.

Rick tells this story very well, he has photographs that go along with many points in the story. He also tells it so well, since he experienced it, he was the one to help this girl, who would have otherwise been subjected to a lot of criticism, and racism if she stayed there.

Rick and his friends did a very good thing helping this Amerasian girl. It is always good to adopt a child, especially when they are not so accepted in their homeland.

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