Plaque in park–but no birth certificate–for Morristown champion of adoption reform

Pam Hasegawa, second from right, with her husband, Souk, listens to testimonials at Morristown ceremony honoring her. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Pam Hasegawa, second from right, with her husband, Souk, listens to testimonials at Morristown ceremony honoring her. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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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.

Pam Hasegawa, second from right, with her husband, Souk, listens to testimonials at Morristown ceremony honoring her. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Pam Hasegawa, second from right, with her husband, Souk, listens to testimonials at Morristown ceremony honoring her. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed an adoption reform measure in 2011; state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) reintroduced it in June.

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.

Plaque for Pam Hasegawa honors her advocacy for the rights of adopted persons. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Plaque for Pam Hasegawa honors her advocacy for the rights of adopted persons. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Pam Hasegawa with her plaque in Victor Wodhull Park. Photo by Linda Stamato
Pam Hasegawa with her plaque in Victor Wodhull Park. Photo by Linda Stamato

“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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10 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulations, Pam, and thanks for your contributions throughout the years in adoption reform. Hopefully, we will someday see every state pass laws allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates just like Kansas where my daughter was born and a few other states. I am so proud of you.

  2. Congratulations, Pam!

    It’s been a pleasure to know you all these years. You’ve done so much work for all of us. Thank you.

    It is nice to see the old pioneering women sign in on here. Thank you to Mirah and to Mary Anne. The both of you have also done remarkable work.

    One day, we adoptees will win back the civil rights that were taken from us.

    Thank you, Peter, for organizing this wonderful tribute to our hero!

  3. It really saddenes my heart to hear that someone with such little knowledge of the heartfelt pain has the power to withhold something so valuable in a lost ones life. No one knows the pain of another until they have walked a day in that persons shoes. ( Christie). I have a empty roon in my heart right now but God all things are possible. God can do anything but fail and the POWER of PRAYER changes things so dont give up Pam.

  4. Pam, you have definitely paved the path and worked on awareness etc. and your years of dedication are known! Oregon again passed bills this year for MORE openness.and now, Washington state opens 2014.!
    I wait for your state to “get on board” and understand this is a RIGHT for adoptees. Oregon opened to adoptees in 1999, and now, we realize it is also a RIGHT for birthparents too. It is also a medical RIGHT
    in today’s world. Please, N J, we welcome you to become a leading state who provides for it’s citizens and family preservation.

  5. If anyone deserves this honor it is Pam! She is a friend for many years, and I was so happy to be there at the park and lovely luncheon afterwards to support her. By the way, I am a birth mother who gave up a child for adoption and Secretary of Concerned United Birthparents, and we overwhelmingly support adoptee rights to their original birth certificate. Our day will come, thanks to tenacious crusaders like Pam.

  6. Pam’s a very special person and has always reached out to help anyone in need in any way she could. How lucky we are that Pam chose to make Morristown her home. Margret Brady

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