November is one of my favorite months of the year. Maybe it’s because of Thanksgiving, a time to enjoy with the family while feasting and catching up on things. Or maybe because it’s my birthdays. Yes, I said “birthdays.”
Nov. 6 is considered my official one because that’s what it says on my birth certificate. But I’ve been observing Nov. 8 because that’s most likely the real day I came into this wonderful world. Here’s what happened: I was born at home in a very small town called Matehuala in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
As the story goes a couple of weeks or so later, my father went down to the local city hall to register me. But my mother swears that my father got the dates mixed up and that my real birthday is Nov. 8. I tend to believe my mom because well after all, she was there when I was born.
Turns out my situation is not that uncommon. Others have told me they or someone they know also have conflicting birthdays or in some cases, they’re not really sure when they were born. But recently I heard a new one that sort of made me realize that my situation isn’t all that bad.
“My birthday was assigned to me,” said Mindy Wyatt, a co-worker at KGET. What? What do you mean “assigned”?
Turns out that in 1967 she was abandoned as a baby on a street in Seoul, South Korea, when she was around one month old.
“It was common for women to do that back then,” Wyatt said. “Moms would stand nearby indiscreetly and watch until somebody picked up their baby.”
Someone found baby Mindy and took her to a police station. From there she was placed with Holt International Children’s Services, a faith-based organization and adoption agency centered in Eugene, Ore. It was founded by Harry and Bertha Holt, considered to be the pioneers of international adoptions which found American homes for thousands of overseas children.
Upon arrival at the orphanage she was photographed, given a name and a number. She was now Chang Hee Kim, baby #5077, which meant she was the 5,077 child to arrive at the orphanage since it opened in 1956. And somehow she was assigned a birth date of March 24. Why March 24? Wyatt isn’t sure why. Maybe it’s because that’s the day she was found?
It was that photograph taken of her which won the hearts of her adoptive parents, Joan and Paul Dionne. Based on seeing her sitting down staring at the camera, the couple chose her and was sent away to a new home in Portland, Ore. Chang Hee Kim was 8 months old when she was brought to this country. And she was given a new name, Melinda Chang Dionne. She grew up in a household with other adoptive siblings. And for the next 21 years Portland would be her home.
“I’ve always known I was adopted,” said Wyatt. How could she not know, when classmates would say things that referenced the differences in her family? But Wyatt said it didn’t trouble or distress her as a child to know this. In fact she would ask her parents one thing. “I would say, ‘Tell me the story of how you got me.’ They always told me I was hand-picked.”
As an adult she moved to Denver and eventually came to Bakersfield where she married in 2014. But she hasn’t forgotten her roots and has gone back to Korea three times. During one of those trips she stayed for four months and did volunteer work — at an orphanage. Wyatt worked with children who were largely abandoned because they have some sort of disability or special needs.
“In Korea, if you have a flawed child it’s considered to be a curse from God,” said Wyatt. “Volunteering at the orphanage was a way for me to pay it forward,” she said, referencing the fact that strangers helped her when she was most vulnerable.
November is also National Adoption Awareness Month. There is a big need right here in Kern County of children ranging from infants to adolescents who need a loving family right now. The greatest need is for resource families that are able to foster/adopt older youth (6 and older), large sibling sets (3 or more children), and children with special needs (behavioral or medical), wrote Heidi Carter-Escudero in an email. She is the outreach and communications coordinator for the Kern County Department of Human Services. Last year, the county finalized 210 adoptions.
Wyatt also has another special day coming up this month. On the 29th it will be 50 years since she arrived in the U.S. to meet her new family. In adoption circles it’s called “Gotcha Day” as in “the day I got you.” It’s a day she will be acknowledging. Consider it, perhaps, like a second birthday.
Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a news anchor/reporter for Telemundo Bakersfield and KGET. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.