These are the stories of two Asian girls, adopted by families in North America.
One of the girls is now a teenager. One is in her 50s. Both are the subjects of documentaries.
Both look back and wonder “What if?”
The Invisible Red Thread
Li Bao was born in 1995 and abandoned on the steps of a hospital, a victim of China’s one-child policy. Six months later, she was adopted by a Canadian couple, who renamed her Vivian.
As a fifteen-year-old, Vivian traveled back to China. She wanted to see what her life would have been like if she had been adopted by a Chinese family, instead of one in Canada.
Chronicled in the one-hour documentary, The Invisible Red Thread (2012), her visit includes a trip to the orphanage where she once lived and her time spent with Shumin Zhu, a fourteen-year-old who was also adopted as an infant, but by a family in rural China. The two learn about each other’s lives and see in each other a life that she could have lived.
The Invisible Red Threadis available on DVD from Picture This Productions.
The Matter of Cha Jung Hee
Cha Jung Hee was 8 years old when she came to the US, adopted by Arnold and Alveen Borshay in California. But 40 years later, she found out that she wasn’t really Cha Jung Hee. Instead, the actual Cha Jung Hee was a girl whom the Borshays had supported through a charity and then decided to adopt. But when her father appeared at the orphanage and took her away, the social worker there gave her identity to another girl—who came to America and became Deann Borshay. In time, she forgot that the name on her birth certificate and passport wasn’t hers, and then, in time, she remembered.
Now a filmmaker, Deann Borshay Liem has completed two documentaries on her life. The first is First Person Plural (2000), in which Borshay Liem and her adoptive parents travel to Korea to meet her family there—a family that the Borshays had been told didn’t exist.
The second is The Matter of Cha Jung Hee, (2010, available at New Day Films) which focuses on another trip back to Korea in search of the real Cha Jung Hee, the woman who, as a girl, had written letters to the Borshays and whom the Borshays had planned to adopt.
In an interview with PBS’s POV, Borshay Liem talks about the too-large shoes that she wore when she arrived in the US. They were bought by her new family to fit the traced footprints of Cha Jung Hee:
[The shoes] represent how any of us might have had a different life. What are the possibilities of living someone else’s life or walking in someone else’s shoes?
Borshay Liem is now working on a new documentary, Geographies of Kinship, telling the stories of Korean adoptees around the world—in Sweden, France and the US, including a woman whose father was an African-American fighting in the Korean War.
(“Interview: In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee,” POV, PBS)
[photo courtesy of MU Films]