Thursday, May 3, 2012

Legacy of Guilt, the book

 Carol Zanetti writes her memoir of growing up poor - from a New York ghetto to living on the road - being sexually abused by her stepfather, and thus lost in a tight protective cocoon of silence and fearfulness. In her book Legacy of Guilt (2007) she writes honestly and painfully of her nightmare years as a child which was dominated by her sexually abusive stepfather and then procedes to analyze herself as she makes the same mistakes as her mother by slipping through one awkward marriage earning a child and immediately marrying another man who fathers two more children.

When her children were small (all under the age of 7), Lew Zanetti, her second husband who was domineering and abusive wanted to return to South Korea where he had worked in the army. This time he felt a "spiritual" burden for the Amerasians of and following the Korean War, so he wanted to fight for them and preach salvation (although he refused to belong to any religion). He spouted convincing lies to convince her ... South Korea is a developing country, it has many work opportunities in the young government, and so he pushed simultaneous government officer-missionary return to Korea. What he didn't say was that he very much loved the autocratic male-dominated Confucian society, and the "respect" given to foreigners, especially men, and that he lived on hopes and dreams of success on his terms, and so he plunged his wife and three boys into primitive country life in or near Daegu. Lew didn't work. Carol had to care for the kids, and their money dwindled quickly. At one point when they were eating ramyeon almost every meal lepers in the community took pity on them and made a substantial "heart" gift of 144 carefully wrapped eggs. And Carol and the kids could get nourishment again.

Lew was frequently gone on "business" trips, spending money, rarely making it, in his fight to get the Korean government to recognice the problem of the Amerasians, the "dust of the streets", the "no-names" a.k.a. the "fatherless". In short, Lew was fighting to expose the shame of Korea. Meanwhile, Carol and the boys lived in poverty without any of the conveniences that foreigners in Korea were known to have. She and her boys (and Lew when he was home) shared part of their rental hanok with a group of Amerasian youth, ages 17-26, who would be trained in reading, writing and skills once the government would allocate funding. Carol had been sold on the idea of serving others but quickly realized that Lew had sold her on another of his glib shemes again, but this time at his family's expense ... and when her one year was up, she fled to Seoul, begged an office for a loan to get her and her boys out of there, and three days before she and her boys flew back to the States, the Third Tunnel (the Tunnel of Aggression) which was more than a mile and a half long and carved through solid bedrock was found which linked North and South Koreas and which could be used to transport thousands of troops per minute from the north for invading South Korea. [Tunnel of Aggression was discovered October 27, 1978].

When begging for the loan, the office already knew who she was. Carol realized that even though for the whole year of Lew trying to raise awareness with the government but with the government only returning silence, they were in fact known, watched and Lew's progress and channels of communication were being documented. The office was very impressed that she had stuck it out and lived in such penury and hardship for the year. After Carol left, Lew did get invited to Seoul by the Korean Minister of Social Affairs and he was asked to write a thesis on the Amerasian situation.
A couple of years following the treatise, a technical school was finally a reality, but when there were an estimated 3000 Amerasians in South Korea at that time, age and other factors were enforced to cull them down to only 1500 of them to be considered as prospective students for the program. The South Korean government didn't want to pay for the education, training and support of "foreigners" so impoverished Korean youth were also added to the program.

The majority of the book is not about South Korea or the Amerasians, but about Carol herself. Her missionary attempt in South Korea, however, was what made her realize her own "guilt" about not speaking out about her abuse, her guilt at not being the "spiritual person" who could unconditionally serve Amerasians, and guilt about many things. All of this "guilt" she traces back to her abuse by her stepfather. But ironically, her year of penurious service did help her expiate some of that guilt and come to see it for what it was, a burden in her life. Her experience and interactions with many individual Amerasians allowed her to open up and be able to turn over a new leaf, go back to the States, and claim her future.

Cross-referencing Materials:

"Kids Who Live As Non-Persons: Children of Americans left in Korea to wander between two worlds, unwanted by either", an article in Parade Magazine, July 6, 1980 by Hank Whittemore. The article was about an Amerasian who actually wasn't an Amerasian but a completely Caucasian boy secretly born of two soldiers while on duty in Korea and abandoned when they left. Reason for abandonment: pregnancy meanst an automatic discharge (from the US forces) in 1954. Their "son" Jimmy grew up taunted and hated as any Amerasian.

Father Keane, an American clergyman, almost single-handedly maintained the only orphanage in South Korea for mixed-race children and young adults. He also would make trips to the US to lobby for legislation and for changes in the immigration laws. Father Keane had also been trying to pressure the South Korean government long before Lew. Evidently the axes were chipping the tree, because funding did finally come and eventually immigration laws were changed.
"The South Korean government paid for Lew's room and board in a nice hotel while he wrote a long treatise outlining his efforts and ideas for the future. The South Korean government apparently had no idea how to deal with Amerasians who, it must be remembered, were  foreigners in their eyes. The government had no idea what kinds of programs were needed or how to reach these young people. Lew's document was the basis of a proposal that eventually brought in a grant for $11 million which was allocated for programs that would benefit both Amerasian and Korean youth. That, and subsequent grants and efforts, were a direct result of Lew's treatise." p.250

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