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Hollee McGinnis' Shoes: The Space Between

Name: Hollee McGinnis also-known-as Lee Hwa Young

Where do you live now? Richmond, VA

Industry: Education – Social work

What does it mean to you to have a voice? Having a voice means integrating our intuition, our higher wisdom, and our relationship with our inner self to become truly whole.

How did you find your voice?

I grew up in the suburbs, north of New York City in Westchester county, and lived in New York City for most of my young adulthood. So, I consider myself a New Yorker. But, my life didn't begin there. My life started in the port city of Incheon, South Korea and the islands in the Yellow Sea where I lived until I was three and adopted internationally by my Irish-Catholic family in the United States. Being born in one culture and biological family, and raised in another culture and adoptive family, have shaped the contours of my life, how I see the world, and the meaning-making I create with my voice – a voice that speaks of loss and gain, feelings of betweenness, and the nature of love.

As an undergraduate, I majored in American Studies to better understand my lived experiences as an international transracial Korean adoptee. I focused on late 19th century and 20th-century race history where I discovered there was a space between the bzlack-White racial binary. I remember this small history book on mixed-race Black-Whites, historically referred to as mulattoes. I realized that even though I was not racially mixed, knowing there was a community of people who did not fit into the black-white binary gave me a space to claim my own identity between identities of White and Asian.

What event or series of events helped you find your voice?

It’s been an evolution.

I first found my voice to name my lived experiences as a transracial intercountry adoptee. For me, this started with confronting the stereotypes and racism that were imposed on me. This in turn has helped me to be empathetic to the lived experiences of others. I try not to take anyone at face value because if you took me just at face value you wouldn’t know my whole story. Although I am prone to stereotype just like anyone else, I always try to hold space for the complexities. It is these places of complexity about identity, family, belonging, healing, and love that come through in my voice.

I then found my voice on what adoption meant to me. At its best, non-relative adoption speaks to our humanity and our ability to love a stranger as a daughter or a son, a sister or a brother. We can love across differences in biology, race, nationality and be a family. That was my lived experience in my adoptive family. But most people don't. And because we still stigmatize and oppress people for not sharing the same blood, race, sex, sexual orientation, or ability, it can be very difficult to grow up in an adoptive family. All of those societal biases come into the adoptive family. Yet, the most powerful lesson I carry from my childhood is that we can love across differences. It’s hard work and takes courage, but that is what true love is all about.

Now in my late forties, I am finding my voice to speak my truth without apology. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I would feel shut down if I felt pushback from others for sharing my voice. I thought others' opinions of my experiences were more valid than my own. This has changed as I have gotten older and more confident in my truth. In my twenties, I wanted to be heard, so I learned how to speak in ways that were not threatening. Words that bounce off of fearful ears are not worth the effort of being said or written. But now, I am not afraid to share my vulnerability, or fear how others may react to them. If they find my words threatening, that is not my responsibility; only I can be responsible for my own feelings and truths.

How did 2020 help you refine/redefine your voice?

My voice became more authentic, true, and whole during 2020. This is in part because of the pandemic and my experience being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.

The most important lesson I learned in 2020 is that we are more than our minds and bodies. To be truly whole, we must also integrate our intuition, our higher wisdom, and our relationship with our inner self. Western culture is all about striving, doing, acting; yet, what 2020 showed me is an alternative that is more holistic and nurturing: that is, how to live by pausing, breathing, and being.

The most important mentor was my father, my adoptive father. He was the one who always encouraged me to question, to pursue my questions, and figure answers out for myself. He did not try to tell me how to think or what to think. He did not try to rescue me from my questions or struggles. He always pointed the way to the answers was always within myself, even when I did not believe it. I think this kind of mentoring, and parenting, helped me most in my life because it helped me to find myself and my own voice. My Dad always knew the truth lies within and it is up to us to find it.

How has your voice influenced others, particularly those in your community?

I do not know specifically how my voice has influenced others in my community, but it has always been my intent that my voice would be one that could enlighten, heal, and give hope.

I do know that it has been an honor to be an instrumental part of bringing together a community of adult intercountry adoptees and that I have been hugely nourished by my relationships, especially with other women. Women are socialized to compete with each other even though we also know how to be collaborative and supportive. Women can be each other’s best friends or worst enemies. I am glad I attended an all-women's college, Mount Holyoke College, because I got to observe this first hand. During the week, the energy was so different than on the weekends when men would arrive to party on campus. My female friends were my buddies during the week but became competitors on the weekends. Fortunately, seeing this I learned how to develop truly loving and nurturing relationships with other women; this is the kind of support I try to offer other women in my shoes. Ultimately, though, I think the best way to support others is to first support and love yourself.

Where will your voice lead next?

I am currently working on a new research project that seeks to understand how adoptees are doing in adulthood. Most research on adoptees stop by the time of young adulthood (late twenties) and I am interested in how adoption themes continue to shape adoptees’ lives in middle and late adulthood. This study will also explore how participation in adoptee-led community groups shape their experiences. Also, I am finally ready to write my memoir. I am writing an inspirational memoir about being adopted from South Korea and the process of healing body and spirit after being diagnosed with breast cancer.


Hollee A. McGinnis, MSSW, PhD. Dr. McGinnis is an Assistant Professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Social Work. In addition to being adopted from South Korea, she has more than 25 years of community organizing, practice, policy, and research experience relating to the life course of orphaned and separated children in alternative care (adoption, foster, institutions). Prior to obtaining her doctorate at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. McGinnis was Policy Director at the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national organization focused on adoption policy and practice in the U.S., where she headed a national study on adoption and racial identity among adopted adults. She received her Master of Science from Columbia University School of Social Work (New York City), and completed a post-Master’s Clinical Social Work Fellowship at the Yale University Child Study Center. In 1996, she founded Also-Known-As, Inc., a non-profit adult intercountry adoptee organization that provides post-adoption services to international adoptees and adoptive families. In 2008, she was recognized by the U.S. Government with a Congressional Angel in Adoption award for her work on adoption.

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