Monday, July 7, 2008

It's not so black and white

As I was driving down the road today I noticed several women walking.  They weren't together and didn't appear to have anything in common except for their apparel.  Each one had a nearly identical camisole top on and tight pants either rolled or cut off off below the knees.  All of them were talking on their cell phones while holding their iPods (or whatever mp3 device they owned) in their hands.  Strangely, all of them had the same color of clothing as well.  After pondering that for a few minutes I had a realization: they aren't too different from those of us in the adoption community. 

ALL of us have been through home study visits with the social worker and most of us (depending on country and agency) have had extensive adoption/adoptee training.  Most of what we learned focused on using correct adoption terminology--birth mother instead of mother or first mother, adoption plan vs. abandonment, and learning our child's birth country culture.  Sounds simple enough, right?* 

For those of you that are shaking your head affirmatively, I suggest you read the adoptee blogs that are out there.  There are a great number of international adoptee blogs--mostly Korean and Taiwanese, but I suspect there will be a growing number of blogs from Chinese adoptees in the coming years.   

We use terms in our mostly white-American adoption communities without really exploring some of the meanings closely.  We use terms because we are told by others in our community to use those terms.  Well, sometimes you need to ask.  If you say a person is of Indian descent most people would now assume you are referring to a person of East Indian descent.  Now days we refer to the first settlers of this nation as Native Americans.  Is this a term they chose for themselves?  No, this is something we created for them since Indian no longer worked (nor did it makes sense since it was based on the lack of directional sense on Columbus' part).  If you ask a "Native American" what he/she prefers to be called, they are going to tell you they prefer their tribe name.  Since there are probably over a hundred tribe names it is just easier for us to call them all "Native Americans".  The same issues have followed nearly every race of people that have called America home.  While I was a nurse first, my greatest love has been anthropology.  While working on a project several years ago I met with various senior community members that have watched our city grow into the more diverse town that it currently is.  While talking to one retired professor I asked about his African American culture and he quickly corrected me, "honey, I am not African American.  I was not born in Africa.  I am a man of color and that is how I prefer to be referenced."  Does every person person prefer to be called 'person of color'?  Certainly not.  For years I bristled at being called Caucasian.  Why?  Because the term Caucasian came from the Russian Caucasian Mountain ranges (the first Caucasoid [people with skull features most resembling whites] skeletons were found in this mountain range) and my ancestors are not from Russia.  What seems small and insignificant to us may mean something completely different to someone else.

And how do you incorporate your child's birth culture into your home?  I'm sure people have a lot of different ideas on this--culture camps are one good recommendation I have heard or belonging to groups like FCC and FCV so your child is able to interact with other adopted children.  Some APs might buy magazines or books that feature the child's birth culture or incorporate certain meals, but does this mean we are adding their birth culture back into their lives?  I don't know.  It certainly will not emulate the the culture they lost.  How could it?  It's a completely different language, different history, different everything.  In a sense many adoptive parents have created a third culture--a culture that tries to include both birth country and American culture but can't be true to either one (actually I can't take credit for that term--it came out of a discussion with someone who was writing about this third culture for his dissertation). 

Does this mean we should stop?  Certainly not.  What I have learned from doing ethnographies and talking with (and reading blogs from) adoptees is that no two people are like--including your children.  My plan is to educate myself as much as possible.  I aware that my children may wish to search for a birth parent some day regardless of what country they came from.  I've heard some APs say that the reason they chose international adoption is so they won't have to deal with a birth mother.  There is always a birthmother regardless of whether you ever meet her or not, your child will think of her more times than you realize.  I hope to learn from other adoptees, adoptive parents and birthmothers.  I hope to learn to cook pho and dim sum and will encourage my children to participate in Vietnamese and Mandarin lessons.  Ultimately it comes down to your child.  Some will want to learn about their other country and their birthmom, others will choose to leave it all behind.  In the end, I think we really have to follow our children's lead, be supportive with their decisions, and encourage and provide them with the tools that make them a better person in whatever way may be required.

*For an interesting article on adoption language, please see Adoptive Families, August 2008, pg 26. 


Meredith July 7, 2008 at 11:45 PM  

I agree totally with your approach. I want to be completely educated myself and provide my child with all the resources they need to explore the culture of their birth country in whatever way they decide. Not force anything on them and not deprive them of any opportunity, you know?

Laura July 8, 2008 at 3:32 AM  

Awesome post. I love this. I'm going to read it again tomrorow when I'm not so tired. Thank you!!!! You're a smart one.

Anonymous July 8, 2008 at 10:06 AM  

Your post was much more interesting than our phone conversation on this topic. Maybe you should submit it to a newspaper or magazine.

Kelli July 8, 2008 at 4:26 PM  

I have really learned a lot from adoptee blogs. The VN ones are popping up more and more. Great post!


About This Blog

This started as my story, but has evolved to OUR story. This is the story of life as a single parent to a wonderful little boy while we wait for baby sister. China LID 2.12.07.

But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, be patient! For it will surely take place. It will not be late by a single day.
Habakkuk 2:3

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