John Pak's Story, Texas


I was only 2 years old when my mother left me on the doorsteps of my uncle’s house. He was reluctant to take me. From then until age six, my only memories are of the abuse I received from every member of my uncle’s household. When my grandmother learned of the abuse, she sent me to the U.S. with my aunt in the hopes of a better life for me. I was six years old.  Shortly after I met my biological father for the first time. He told me his girlfriend was my biological mother. Unfortunately, the better life was short lived. I suffered a great deal of abuse at the hands of the woman I thought was my mother.

I will never forget the horrible things she did to me.

When my aunt learned of the abuse she immediately rescued me from that unhealthy household and legally adopted me. My aunt’s husband is a retired Army veteran. My new parents were U.S. citizens and I was made to believe my adoption made me a citizen too. I was a ten-year-old Korean boy calling my aunt “mom” and a Caucasian man “dad”. It took getting used to and using his surname was a bit weird. But this was the identity they gave me. I was made to accept my new identity and they, along with most of society, made me believe I was American. However, out of ignorance, my adoptive parents failed to confirm my citizenship. But how can you blame them? I was given a state Birth Certificate, Social Security card, and Military I.D. Even the adoption attorney believed I was a U.S. citizen.

I guess growing up with so many challenges took its toll on me. I struggled in school and suffered from mental and behavioral issues. I was diagnosed with PTSD, ADHD, and other mental disorders. I was heavily medicated as a child. In my teens, I turned to the wrong friends and eventually found myself in trouble for drugs.

Most people lose their minds during incarceration but that is where I found mine.  I educated myself and deeply reflected on my life. I  determined to save myself. Today, I am married. What I desire most is a chance to live a normal life. I accept the years of bad things that happened to me and responsibility for my own mistakes. I desperately want to be in control of my life in a way that is fully productive. I want to contribute to my loved ones and to my community. Despite the way my life began, I believe I’ve grown into a person who can finally help others with similar life problems.

Because my parents did not understand they needed to naturalize me many years ago I am stateless without citizenship benefits or protections. Living this way causes me to struggle emotionally. I feel isolated and cut off from life. There are times when I wonder if it would have been better for my mother to have left me by a dumpster or an orphanage. Perhaps I wouldn’t be where I am today. Maybe I would have had a better life, adopted into a better family and in a happier setting.

I just want to be free from my past and to be validated as the American I am.