Thursday, August 27, 2009

Redirect: Another country, not my own

Here's a link to an article for the Boston Globe written by Mei-Ling Hopgood on parents' embrace of the "home" culture of their international adoptees. If you read the article, I'd love for you to share your thoughts in the comments of this post.


  1. Sarah, that article is very interesting. This really sticks out to me:

    "The traditional culture - fan dances, tea ceremonies, and holidays - is more accessible, more alluring, than the actual, complicated experience of being Asian American."

    followed by

    "But focusing on a museum view of culture can ignore - or become a way to ignore - the reality of life as a racial minority in America."

    During our adoption process we had to attend several classes that covered multicultural issues. I remeber waffling between thinking our agency had good points to feeling that they seemed to push embracing the culture to a fault. They really pushed keeping the original name of the children.

    I remember thinking that the child might feel more comfortable with an "american" name that the birthparents chose than a more ethic name. Because that name alone might make the child stick out more or feel more different. I think it is a good idea for adoptive parents to keep the birthname as a middle name.

    I think my opinion is have an open mind and see what each individual child likes. I could see how the author might want to hide under her desk if her mom came in and did a presentation to her class about her birth country.

    Most kids do not want to be different. (I remember when I was 9 1/2, my dad died. He had cancer and died within a year of the dx. And more than even being sad, I remember I was embarrassed for some reason. I just did not want to be different.)

    My oldest child is bio. And he does not like one bit of attention on him in any type of group setting. He wants to be like the other kids.

    Someone commented this on that article:

    This need to give one's adoptive child his or her "culture" often says more about how European Americans imagine ethnicity than it does about the supposedly ethnic or native culture the adoptive child might be missing out on.

    I thought that was a good point.

  2. Sarah,

    I read this over the weekend when another Mama shared it on our message board. I agreed that despite our best intentions and efforts our children will never be able to inherently understand or "own" the unique dynamics of growing up in a Taiwanese household with daily submergence in that culture. Some of that could be true of families living across America also and apply to domestic adoptions too; can I truly "know" a Southern family's intrinsic history and values? or share their life journey?....just as an example.

    I guess it comes down to striking the right balance for your family and your child/children. I learned early in our marriage that the traditions we hold dearest are the ones that are meaningful. Not fancy....or splashy...they need to be accessible & approachable and be something we wish to do year after year. I take that same philosophy with the integration of our babies cultures.

    We continue to seek that right chord with both of our kiddos. We have had longer to practice with Lauren :) but also find its not static...its always and constantly evolving to suit her stages and interests. As a family and from her cues we delight in exploring new recipes, reading new books with adoptive or Kazkh themes & celebrating special cultural holidays; equally we have let some activities go as her interests shifted; its important to be responsive to their changing needs. With Tyler we are reveling in exploring his Taiwanese culture as a family but again try mightily to find that "right" balance. And "right" can be different for every family and every child.

    My heart goes out the IA families and kiddos; its confusing to get so many mixed signals! So many varying schools of thought and thankfully we benefit now from adult IA adoptees and their perspectives. Ultimately though, we can only do our very best, each day.

    At least that's what I try to do.....for right or wrong.
    Great topic! I am eager to see what other folks think!!

  3. I think that it is important for us to remember that this is her point of view and her feelings. It doesn’t mean that Americans who adopt from another country are wrong in how we choose to incorporate our child’s birth country’s culture into our own.

    I had to ask myself how much of this person’s feelings about not fitting in, actually come from being born Asian and living in America or being adopted and raised by a Caucasian family or just being adopted in general?
    Think about it for a minute…
    Maybe it might make more sense if I try to give an example:
    My husband is half Caucasian and half Pilipino. He explains that his entire life, especially growing up, that he’s aware that people realize he is multi racial, a mixture of race, but not sure which country. Some assume China, others guess Korea and if you ask another, they might reply “Asian”. That sure leaves a pretty big window doesn’t it!
    I asked him about “fitting in” and he told me that it was no different than if he were black and living in a white community. Prejudices exist on both sides and ultimately it’s up to the individual himself to “fit in” or not to “fit in”.
    If he were to go to the Philippines, he could not communicate with language, but when we meet other Filipino’s they are very kind to him and treat his with a sense of warmth and welcome. His Mother, who is from the Philippians, is an American Filipino who chose not to teach her children her birth counties language or to celebrate that countries heritage or culture, other than to share some very fine recipes!

    Does he feel like he “fits in”? Yes, he says he does. He’s an American. He may look a little different, but this is where he was raised and this is his country.
    As an adult, he has chosen to learn more about the Philippines. He has done this mostly out of love and to better educate our biological children who are now aware that they are multi-racial. I have wanted to educate myself out of the love I feel for my husband and my children, and to know as much as I can about my multi racial family. Learning more about that culture and celebrating its holidays and such, only makes sense to us and now educating ourselves more about Taiwan only feels natural, as our newest member was born in Taiwan.
    I hope that came out right and makes sense.

    I personally think that “fitting in” is truly a matter of the heart. It is ones own choice based on ones self opinion and personal growth. It seems the issues that have come to play for some, are those that are probably more personal and perhaps haven’t yet been resolved.

    Okay, I know that my spelling, punctuation and grammar are all out of whack here. Hopefully you have been able to cipher through this and figure it out. LOL

  4. Oh Sarah,
    Maybe I really should have spell checked or at least read through this and attempted to fix my typos before I pressed send. I'm reading it now and it's pretty sad. Feel free to delete it if you want, it won't hurt my feelings. For goodness sake, I put cipher instead of decipher. That's what happens when I have a kitchen full of kids and a toddler on my lap trying to redirect my attention to the pictures of Hannah!

  5. I read the article after it was posted to the iChild yahoo group (for those touched by Indian adoption). I have to say that I think there are good points to consider. Focusing so much on the ceremonial aspects of a culture, are often not true to how our orphan children would have lived in that country. My daughter right now is lucky to get boiled egg, rice, and boiled potato in her orphanage. She would never have likely enjoyed Butter Chicken, or Tiki Masala. Yet, why do I want to learn how to make it?!- it is part of her *history*. History. For me, that is what it's all about. We show her we respect and love all parts of who she is- including her *history*, and that of her birth country.

    I know it's not exactly the same, but I'm half English. My father is full English/British. I was raised in the States. I've never lived in England, never had an accent, and never applied for dual citizenship. I am an American. Yet, I enjoy knowing about, visiting, and celebrating England. It is my history. I have half my family there, too. Wouldn't it have been weird not to grow up having some English traditions, recipes, knowledge? I love having something unique like that as part of my life. It doesn't define me, but I'm so glad that my parents incorporated that. Sure, I'm white, and no one would know about my background without me divulging it.

    So, I would agree that a lot comes down to race. I hear that white couples who adopt from the Ukraine, from Russia, from Kazakhstan (where the children are white) are way less likely to incorporate the child's birth country culture because no one is able to visibly tell that the child is "different". Where did I read that, maybe it was in that article??

    None of us really know what the perfect way of handling it is, do we? Each child is different. Each family is different. Some kids wish they'd been allowed to be "normal", some kids love their unique situation and they are proud of it.

    Personally, we're going to take the "balance" approach and follow Dorothy's lead.


  6. I did read the article. First, I thank Mei-Ling for easing my guilt over not having enrolled my children in Chinese school yet & for never pulling off the big celebration in their pre-school that I had always planned for Chinese New Year. (To be honest, I think my kids are too young to care at this point) I truly value Mei-Ling's opinion and value every word she writes. She makes a great point & one I had not considered before. I think it is still beneficial and enjoyable for our family to learn about the Chinese culture and participate in cultural activities as a family. After reading this perspective I have a better understanding of why it is important to learn about all different kinds of cultures from around the world, not just the Chinese culture. It seems important to celebrate our children's chinese culture, but also my German background & my husband's Norwegian background as well. This can be a unifying activity in our family, rather than something that makes our kids feel like they stand out. I think one of the hardest points in this article, which I picked up from the book "Lucky Girl" as well, is that kids don't always want to share the identity struggles they are going through with their parents. It's a hard thing to realize that your child might be struggling with some really big issues, but might not want to share these struggles with you for fear of disappointing you, or upsetting you...


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