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UCI Center for Critical Korean Studies Hosts Erika Hayasaki to Discuss Her New Book ‘Somewhere Sisters’

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Award-winning journalist and UCI associate professor of literary journalism Erika Hayasaki discussed her new book, “Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Migration, and the Meaning of Family,” at Humanities Gateway on Nov 2. She discussed her process of researching, reconstructing and interviewing. The book is about twin girls who were separated at birth from Việt Nam and later reunited.

Professor of anthropology Eleana Kim moderated the discussion with Hayasaki. She wrote about similar topics in her book “Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging,” which discusses transnational adoption, when a child from a different country and ethnic group than the adoptive parent(s) is taken in. 

To start, Hayasaki explained her approach when reporting for the project as a literary journalist. As a mother of twins, Hayasaki became interested in twin studies, and she connected with a twin researcher at Cal State Fullerton where she was able to meet the identical twins Isabella Louise Solimene and Hà Nguyễn. She also met the non-biological sister, Oliva Claire Solimene, who is also from Việt Nam. Olivia was adopted at the same orphanage as Isabella, and they were both raised together in Illinois by their new parents, while Hà was adopted in Việt Nam by their biological aunt. 

In regards to Haysaki’s book, Kim said, “It is a page turner. I read it all practically in one sitting. And part of that reason is because adoption is inherently dramatic, even melodramatic.”

Kim then asked about the nature of Hayasaki’s conversations with adoptee groups concerning the book. Hayasaki said that she had to identify the power dynamics in the story. 

“Initially, I had all of this material, and thinking about the voices represented, I had to think who had power in this story, and who had the least power. I have a lot of power as a writer, so I had to elevate the voices who were not at the top of this hierarchy like the adoptive mother,” Hayasaki said.

Kim remarked that Keelie, the adoptive mother who raised Isabella and Olivia, was controversial and an interesting character. Keelie thought Hà would fulfill a gaping hole in Isabella’s life. However, Hayasaki pointed out that adoption reunification is not a fairytale, and as a result, she included the sisters’ pain and conflict regarding the reunion. Hayasaki received pushback from Keelie but stressed the importance of letting subjects speak their mind.

The event then opened up to a Q&A. One participant — who was adopted herself and attempted to write a memoir about her experience — asked how Hayasaki chose which perspectives to emphasize. Hayasaski responded with an example of a scene in which she chose Ha’s perspective over Keelie’s. 

Haysaki refers to a scene in her book when Hà was at home in Việt Nam. One day, a woman came to her doorstep and told Hà that her twin sister Isabella was in America. The woman asked Hà to move to the U.S. with her and meet Isabella. The woman was Keelie. 

When interviewed, Keelie thought the meeting went well, but Hà privately told Hayasaki that she was distrustful of Keelie, and she felt reluctant to leave. Hà’s voice as the adopted child revealed that reunion can be uncomfortable and possibly painful, which was something Keelie did not say. Since Keelie simplified adoption to seem optimistic without any drawbacks, Hayasaki decided to emphasize Ha’s perspective in that scene. 

More information about Hayasaki and her book “Somewhere Sisters” can be found here

Alisa Chul Lee is a Campus News staff writer. She can be reached at alisacl@uci.edu.