Thursday, September 4, 2008

Living in China & Chinese School

This is what I wrote last year at our Xiamen Adventure blog as the partial reason for living in China for 5 months:

The idea of living in China for a time started to seem like a good idea in December 2004. Zoe had just turned 4, and seemed to have something of a racial identity crisis starting. We were in the checkout line at Target when she suddenly said, “I wish my skin was light.” Wow, way too young for that, I thought [I know, part of that is family identity crisis rather than racial identity crisis -- she wanted to look like the rest of the family with light skin]. Later that month she refused to see an African-American Santa at a store. I thought it was Santa fear, but later that day she told me out of the blue, “I don’t want to see a Santa who has skin like mine.” When she got a Mulan doll for Christmas she excitedly exclaimed, “Look, she has black hair like mine!” But then she said dismissively, “But her skin is light.” Oooooookay! Houston, we have a problem. How are we going to deal with this?

The first thing I did was sign Zoe up for Chinese School on Saturday afternoons. I wanted her to interact with more adult Chinese, and I wanted her to know Chinese kids who were NOT adopted (for a while there I think she believed that being Chinese and being adopted were synonymous!) I wanted her to experience a world where she was in the majority, not the minority. And Chinese School was a huge success – she loved it!

Chinese School begins again this weekend. The girls are still excited about going, and I hope that continues. We aren't getting a lot of language-learning out of it -- most of the kids there speak Chinese at home with their parents, so the school emphasizes character-writing and memorization of famous Chinese poems, etc. (Zoe won a speech contest prize for her recited poem one year, but when I asked her what it meant, she said, "I don't know -- it was in Chinese!"). Still, I think we're getting cultural competence out of it, and contact with Chinese-American families, and that's very valuable. And we've been very lucky that the Chinese School has been so accepting of the adoptive families whose kids are now attending.


Wendy said...

Thanks for this. Madeline is much the same and very aware of who is of what ethnicity. Chinese school starts Sunday for us--I am wondering how much language learning we will get too! I know she will learn the characters, songs, and poems, but with most of the families speaking Chinese at home she is at a disadvantage. However, I am like you and believe that the cultural awareness and seeing families that have Chinese parents, bio families, etc. is very important. We had the issue last year when she was three that she thought all Chinese children were adopted and all Chinese Americans were born in China. Long talk there.

Samantha said...

This is the time that I dread! I want her to love herself! I want her to know that she is gorgeous no matter what color her skin is. My daughter is almost 2 and I am glad to have this blog as I feel I will learn alot! Thank You!