Column: Film depicts the complex emotions of adoption

Deann Borshay was born Korean and raised American by a family who adopted her in the belief they were rescuing an orphan from a life of pain and poverty.

It turned out to be quite a bit more complicated than that.

A film of her life, called "First Person Plural," will air at 7 p.m. Monday on KNPB, Channel 5. It's an hour worth watching for anybody who wants a deeper understanding of the profound conflicts that are inevitable for adoptees, their parents and their families.

I got a chance to see "First Person Plural" on Wednesday evening at the Carson City Library with a handful of people, and we had an informative discussion afterward.

It was especially informative for me, as I know little of the complex emotions that go into adoptions.

In the film, which tells a compelling story whether you have a particular interest in adoption or not, the Borshay family - fairly typical California residents in the 1960s - decide to do more than send $15 to Korea each month to feed and clothe an orphan.

They want to bring home Cha Jung Hee and raise her as their own daughter. In 1966, they do.

At age 8, she becomes Deann Borshay and grows up as a typical American teenager - even homecoming queen in 1977. Well, at least it's as close to typical as possible for a dark-haired, brown-eyed Korean girl raised by a blond, blue-eyed California family.

Later, Deann finds out she was never Cha Jung Hee at all. The story of her as an orphan was a lie by the orphanage, and she does indeed have a mother and siblings living in Korea.

The story follows her attempts as an adult to come to grips with not only this knowledge, but the reckoning that every adoptee faces in trying to sort out the life she has with her adoptive family and the one she never had with her birth relatives.

The film is full of small ironies and telling moments. We hear her American brother say, "You don't have the family eyes, but you have the family smile," and it speaks volumes.

There is a scene in Korea, when she brings her American parents to meet her Korean family. "Daddy," she says, "this is my mother." One brief introduction sums up her self-contradictions.

Watching the hour-long film with us Wednesday evening was Nu-Gina Rogers, assistant women's basketball coach at the University of Nevada, Reno.

It was just a few months ago that Rogers, 31, met her birth mother. She has faced all the emotions that Deann Borshay has faced - an "instant family" with a whole history she never shared, a mother who asked her forgiveness for giving up Rogers and her twin brother as babies, an adoptive family that now may feel some competition for her affections.

But it was clear from Rogers' comments Wednesday night that she has a much firmer grip on her emotions than Borshay.

"I'm a Rogers. I'll always be a Rogers," she said. Her mother is the one who raised her, her family the one she grew up with.

That's not to say Rogers doesn't still have feelings to sift through with her newly discovered family. But she seemed more interested Wednesday in finding out why it is so difficult in Nevada for single parents to adopt.

There are some 4,000 children under the state's care in Nevada today. More kids are being adopted than ever, but the state can't keep up with the population boom.

In the last legislative session, steps were taken to reduce the amount of time children are in the system. The main goal was to get them situated with a family - adopted, or a foster family that would eventually adopt them - to cut down on the number of times they would be moved. There were too many stories of children who were handed from home to home to home.

If I can understand the confusion created in a child who is adopted by one family from another, as in the cases of Rogers and Borshay, then I can only begin to imagine the effect on a child to live with a half-dozen families during their formative years.

It's not really a rare situation. Many people have an adopted relative somewhere close in the family tree; I have an adopted niece and nephew, for example.

"First Person Plural" is an excellent means to explore the human issues associated with adoption. Certainly, it can be a starting point for families to talk - something that would have helped Borshay early on.

"I felt like I was supposed to choose one family over the other," she says in the film. She had a hard time understanding, though, that neither family was asking her to.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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