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Family fortunes

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  • Sunny Jo
    Friday, May 19, 2006 Family fortunes Korean-born children, adults now, look back, wonder what might have been. By ERIC CARPENTER The Orange County Register A
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2006
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      Friday, May 19, 2006
      Family fortunes
      Korean-born children, adults now, look back, wonder what might have

      The Orange County Register

      A FAMILY SINCE THE 1960s: Caryn, left, and Connie, right, have stayed
      close to home and their mother, Shirley Ainley. The Ainleys had five
      children and adopted five more from Korea, filling up their five-bedroom
      house in Orange.


      Ainley adoptees


      Birth name: Joo Yun Won
      Came to Orange County: 1961
      Home: Brea
      Age: 46
      Job: Executive assistant


      Birth name: Chun Ok Kang
      Came to Orange County: 1961
      Home: Ogden, Utah
      Age: 45
      Job: Office worker


      Birth name: Tae Ung Choi
      Came to Orange County: 1964
      Home: Chicago
      Age: 48
      Job: Full-time father of two daughters


      Birth name: Young Sun Kim
      Came to Orange County: 1964
      Home: Yorba Linda
      Age: 48
      Job: Chili's hostess in Yorba Linda


      Birth name: In Wu Chang
      Came to Orange County: 1964
      Home: Rossville, Ga.
      Age: 49
      Job: Social worker


      At the end of the Korea war, tens of thousands of children were left
      orphaned. Some lost parents in the war; others were sent to orphanages
      because parents in extreme poverty had no means of providing for their
      children. As of 1964, more than 200 Korean orphans had been adopted by
      families in Orange County.

      Source: Register archives

      Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
      Read other Register profiles of people making a difference in Orange

      YORBA LINDA – Shirley Ainley sits alone in her Yorba Linda townhome
      holding an old photograph of her 10 children. She smiles and shakes her

      The faded color photo circa 1965 includes the five children she had with
      her then-husband, Robert, and five children they adopted from Korea
      following the Korean War.

      "Sometimes when I look back, it's hard for me to imagine that was me,"
      says Ainley, 71. "Life changes so much."

      The last time the Register featured Ainley was in 1963 as she struggled
      with Robert to win government support for visas to bring their last
      three adopted kids to Orange County. She'd just written a letter to the
      president's wife, Ladybird Johnson, for help.

      In the end, they prevailed. And so began a new life for five children
      who traveled across the globe, from a crowded Korean orphanage to a
      five-bedroom home in the heart of Orange County.

      Two of the five adopted Ainley children still live in Orange County. The
      others have moved to Georgia, Chicago and Utah, respectively.

      Caryn Ainley, 46, of Brea and Connie Ainley, 48, gathered at their mom's
      house this week to discuss the joys and challenges of growing up in a
      large American family.

      Caryn remembers nothing about Korea. She was 18 months old when she was
      adopted. Connie was 6 years old and has vague memories.

      What they clearly remember is growing up among 10 children (each with a
      name that begins with 'C'), the challenges they faced as Koreans in a
      mostly white community and the difficulty of their parent's divorce in
      the early 70s, briefly separating the children before all 10 came back
      to live with Shirley.

      A NEW HOME
      The Ainleys had a spacious house in Orange. But with 10 children and
      three renters the family needed for added income, "spacious" was

      The Ainleys paired their kids so they would always have a "buddy." Most
      often, mom dressed the boys in the same outfits and the girls in
      matching homemade dresses.

      "It wasn't always what we wanted to wear, but it made it easy," Caryn
      says. "If one of us would get lost, like at Disneyland, we weren't lost
      for long. They knew we must be with thatfamily." Most of the adopted
      children in the Ainley family were young enough when they arrived that
      English was their first language. They felt American, but they looked
      Korean, which made strangers stare and ask about their past.

      "We were a different color and some people back then really didn't have
      tolerance for that," Connie says.

      "I didn't feel it at school, from people who knew us. But outside of
      school, we would hear comments and people would stretch their eyes,
      making fun of how we looked. We knew we were different."

      Caryn says she grew to resent that people would always ask where she was

      "They'd ask, 'What are you?' I'd say, 'I'm American,' they'd laugh and
      say, 'No, really. Where are you from?'

      The adopted Ainley kids were intent on being as American as their

      There were few other Korean-Americans in Orange County during their
      formative years, so their interest in their Korean heritage was minimal.

      "There wasn't the cultural awareness that there is now," Caryn says.
      "Right now, I think it's 'in' to be Asian. That wasn't true back then."

      Caryn has never traveled back to Korea. She has no interest. Connie
      wasn't interested either, until three years ago when her birth mother
      contacted her through the Internet. It startled her.

      She talked with family and friends, agonizing over whether to visit.
      They told her "absolutely."

      In fall 2004, Connie traveled to Korea - with Shirley's blessing - and
      met her birth mom in a tearful reunion.

      Connie's memories of childhood led her to believe she had an older
      brother. And that she was sent to the orphanage.

      Turns out, she was an only child. And she had run away from home at 5
      and gotten lost in the system. Connie, who doesn't speak Korean, made a
      second visit to Korea in 2005 and hopes to go back to meet other

      "I'm glad for the family I have here. And now I feel I have a new family
      there, too." Caryn and Connie are thankful they were adopted. But they
      say they do wonder sometimes how their lives might have been different.

      "It's hard for me to imagine a life with all the restrictions I would
      have faced in Korea, without all the comforts we had here," Connie says.

      Caryn says she's grateful for her parents' sacrifices.

      "They took us away from what was then really a third-world country. I
      don't discount that at all," she says.

      "But when you are born into a family, those are your circumstances. When
      you're adopted, you can't help but wonder, 'How might my life be
      different if I were adopted as an only child instead of one of 10 kids?'

      "I can never know that, but I do wonder."


      Register news researcher Colleen Robledo contributed to this report.
      CONTACT US: (714) 704-3769 or ecarpenter@...

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