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.