Plaques in parks usually are reserved for dead people.
Peter Franklin preferred to commemorate Pam Hasegawa while she is very much alive.
“People should be honored in their lifetime. Pam deserves that,” Peter said Saturday in Morristown’s Victor Woodhull Park, where a plaque, benches and newly planted redbud tree mark Pam’s ongoing campaign for adoption reform.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) joined Peter and several other adoptees who praised Pam’s long–and so far, unsuccessful–struggle for legislation to enable adoptees in New Jersey to obtain their birth certificates.
“If we’re going to use the tree as a metaphor, let me say that I’ve known you for over 30 years, and you are absolutely unshakable,” said the Congressman, straining to be heard over the roar of Route 287 traffic in the chilly October breeze.
“I know that at some point in time, you’re going to break the logjam in New Jersey, and it will be the result of your dedication. I’m proud to know you, proud to be here,” he told Pam.
Pam, 71, was adopted and does not know her family medical history or cultural background. She thought her sleuthing finally had located her birth family, but a DNA test last year dashed such hopes.
“It’s like walking into a movie 15 minutes after the film started, and wondering how it started,” said Pam, who is a photographer.
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“Any library that we go into in the United States, the largest section by far… is Biography and Autobiography. We cherish history. The newspaper is always full of people wanting to fill in the gaps in their lives of one kind or another. Yet, for some reason, our wanting to fill in the gaps of the truth of our origins is seen as outside the pale of what is acceptable,” she said.
But Pam said her activism was motivated by the Karen Ann Quinlan case, not her own identity crisis. Karen Ann Quinlan fell into a coma in 1976, touching off an epic right-to-die legal battle. The young woman was adopted, and Pam said she kept thinking about how many women were wondering if this was the child they had given up.
Some defenders of the status quo have argued that more women would choose abortions if they felt the anonymity of adoptions could not be guaranteed.
Peter Franklin, a Wanaque pharmacist who has served in Iraq with the Army Reserves, learned the identity of his birth parents when he turned 18 because his natural parents were British, and birth records are more accessible in England. The irony of his situation struck him while he was stationed overseas.
“I can’t believe fellow soldiers are trusted with weapons but not with their own identity,” he said of his New Jersey comrades.
Peter spearheaded creation of the mini-park on behalf of his organization, Adoptees Without Liberty (AWOL), and the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE).
He compared Pam to Thomas Paine and Martin Luther King.
“She’s dedicated 33 years of her life to change a law from 1940 that steals the identity and roots of adopted people and prevents people that want to know and love each other from getting together,” Peter said. “She’s up against immense opposition, and she’s graceful about it.”
“She’s absolutely deserving of an overused word: Hero,” said the Rev. Harold Johnson, Pam’s longtime pastor.
Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman said Pam’s example inspired her to run for state Assembly. Earlier this year, the two women started the Morris Area Committee to Reduce Gun Violence in response to the school massacre in Newtown, CT.
“What this woman has done tirelessly, over the course of three decades, is just incomprehensible,” said Mirah Riben, author of two books critical of adoption practices.
“The fact that she has fought this fight knowing that in the end she had nothing personal to gain from it… this is an adoptive woman who can never find her roots. And yet she fought this battle for everyone else because it’s a violation of the civil rights of adopted persons.”
As she prepared to cut the ribbon on Saturday, Pam thanked her family–husband Ryusuke, their children Sergei and Linnea, and grandchildren Oliver and Isaac–for standing by her.
And then, with a joyous whoop, she thanked friends for “giving me a jolt of juice when we need to get over the finish line!”
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