Marya Hunsicker’s fascination with Asian culture began in the seventh grade, when she read Pearl Buck’s groundbreaking book, The Good Earth. “That remarkable book put direction into my entire life. I didn’t just want to go to China. I wanted a Chinese family.” When Marya was completing her degree in library science at the University of Michigan, she had the option of studying Chinese or Japanese.
She chose Japanese since China was at that time closed to the West. In preparation for her trip to Japan, while director of the Swarthmore Public Library, she researched the adoption and immigration laws: a child adopted overseas by a single parent was required to have lived with that parent for two years before immigrating to the States. She also learned that Pearl Buck had founded an orphanage in Japan for mixed racial children.
Before Marya started her next job teaching English at an all-girls’ school in Japan, she contacted the Pearl S. Buck Foundation in Perkasie about visiting the orphanage there and about the possibility of adopting one of the children. Although the children were not available for adoption, the Foundation did ask her if she would write a report about their orphanage in Saigon, Viet Nam, to which she traveled in 1973.
Marya soon learned that conditions in Korea were very bad, with many children being abandoned on the streets daily. She also learned that Korea was open to international adoption – but it was not necessarily easy for a single person to adopt.
En route to Korea she met a man who had a prominent position at a Korean adoption agency; when Marya visited the agency, she was told abruptly, “We are looking for parents for our children, not [one]parent.” Eventually Marya found an orphanage that was receptive to her and she began adoption proceedings for Jennifer (Jennie) Kim Hunsicker. She gave her first daughter an American name, followed by her Korean name, and then Marya’s surname.
Two men from the orphanage brought three-year-old Jennie to a hotel restaurant for Marya’s first meeting with the little girl who was to become her daughter. The men sat down on a bench and ordered an ice cream sundae for the little girl squeezed between the two of them. As the men conversed over her head, little Jennie looked up at the sundae perched on the table, looked hopefully up at each of the men—and finally, she pulled herself up to stand on the bench and went after the ice cream.
On the far side of the room, Marya watching this scene, was immediately impressed by the child’s resourcefulness: “Here’s a kid who can meet a problem and deal with it.” Jennie served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and went on to earn both a B.A. and a Ph.D.
Marya’s second daughter, Becca Lee Hunsicker, was born in Vietnam, another war-torn country. Marya did not retain her Vietnamese name because it was difficult to pronounce. Becca was about 1-1/2 years old when Marya met her in the orphanage; once again it was the child’s determination that impressed her mother-to-be.
As Becca stood up in her crib, she reached out to touch Marya’s silver charm bracelet. Marya slipped it off and gave it to her to examine more closely. Almost immediately the infant boy in the next crib reached over to grab the bracelet, but Becca held on tightly and pulled it back. “You see what I was looking for in my kids. There has to be something besides standing for their rights, so that determined display did it for me. I went to the director and arranged for her adoption.”
Unfortunately, as Marya was by this time living back in the States, Becca was not able to live the required two years with her new mother, so Marya set out to find a temporary foster home for Becca. She had the good fortune to find an Australian family who was ready to care for Becca until her U.S. visa came through six months later. “People are pretty special, aren’t they?” reflected Marya on this remarkable act.
Settled in Marya’s home in Yardley, in which Marya has lived for over 40 years, Becca was given a pair of chopsticks for her third birthday. She was excited to join the rest of the crew at the dinner table – until the next night, when she sat down and found the chopsticks there beside her dinner plate. Realizing she was expected to use them, Becca burst into tears.
As the director of the New Jersey State Library for the Blind and Handicapped, Marya had numerous opportunities to meet blind children. She had come to believe that, for understandable reasons, many of those children were overprotected. Often their parents were reluctant to let them try new things, to participate in common activities with other children.
As Marya considered her next adoption, she decided that as she already had two healthy children plus some experience with blind children, she was in a good position to adopt a child with special needs. By this time, China was open for adoptions, so Marya began a search there for a blind child in need of a home and family.
It was not an easy search; neither the American adoption agencies nor the Chinese orphanage Marya contacted could locate a blind child for referral. Then WACAP (the World Association for Children and Parents,) an adoption agency based in Seattle came through with a video of Qiuhong, a lively six-year-old girl living in an orphanage in Xiamen, China. Qiuhong was blind in one eye.
(Editor’s note: Marya’s story will continue in our next issue.)