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

Kevin Ost-Vollmers - Land of Gazillion Adoptees

When it comes to online communities for adoptees, Land of a 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 isKevin 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? How is it different from other adoption-related organizations?

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 RobinsonTobias HubinetteKim 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
Follow LGA on Facebook
Look out for LGA’s upcoming projects, Watch Adoptee Films and the Adoptees as Parents” anthology.