Monday, August 24, 2009

Another Country, Not My Own

Thought-provoking article in the Boston Globe, by Mei-Ling Hopgood, adult adoptee from Taiwan and author of Lucky Girl:

Today, almost all parents who adopt internationally try to cultivate some kind of connection to their child’s birth land. Efforts range from throwing some ramen noodles in a salad to remodeling the interior of their homes to an Asian motif and spending thousands of dollars to send their children to language schools and heritage camps on another continent.

Parents do these things hoping to help their children adjust to the sometimes tricky duality of their existence. Yet I worry that some parents are now taking things too far: Going to extremes to idealize the native culture might be as damaging to an adoptee as ignoring it. Asian-American activists have for decades fought the idea that you are born with a culture - that if you look Asian, you must eat with chopsticks, wear different clothing, speak a different language; that you are different and thereby less American. Parents, to some extent, are asking children to conform to those expectations. And without adequate acknowledgement of the reality that actually is - their experience in America - I suspect that children might have an even harder time figuring out where they belong.

10 comments:

Wendy said...

Reading her book first really helps with the perspective she is coming from, I think you have to know her experience to get a full understanding of how she has come to these conclusions.
That being said, she does have some very valid points, especially about AP's not making Asian American friends and just placing a focus on heritage.

Shirlee McCoy said...

Thanks for posting this. I found it very interesting.

Anonymous said...

"Asian-American activists have for decades fought the idea that you are born with a culture - that if you look Asian, you must eat with chopsticks, wear different clothing, speak a different language; that you are different and thereby less American."

WOW!!!!! Thanks for iterating this so well, Mei-Ling. Many American-born Asians would agree with you. I have said something similar over the years with my kids' teachers at school that they are just Americans who happen to look Chinese. For some odd reason, several teachers seem to think my kids are Chinese just because they are genetically Chinese. Imagine how alienated they must have been with these teachers. I always fixed this problem instantly whenever I could. What brought me to this adoption related site is the common thread of cultural assimilation and frustration with adoptive Chinese children in the U.S. Sounds like some code has been cracked on this issue. My best wishes for all wonderful, loving adoptive parents out there.

Anonymous said...

This is also the person who said:

"As long as you raise your children with love and care, they will know who their real parents are."

Nothing like being dismissive about those who might actually consider their blood parents to be "real parents."

P.S. Yes, I have read and own the book. And yes, I understand where her perspective is coming from and even agree with it to an extent. But I don't believe it was necessary for her to say that in an interview.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... to the first anonymous:

"that if you look Asian, you must eat with chopsticks, wear different clothing, speak a different language; that you are different and thereby less American."

Well, if you are born in Asia, you DO learn to eat with chopsticks. I'm not sure about the traditional clothing aspect - my siblings don't have any photos where they wore traditional clothes - but yes, they did grow up speaking a "different language."

They aren't Asian-American, but those points you listed aren't stereotypes. It's what people DO in Asia.

Wendy said...

"As long as you raise your children with love and care, they will know who their real parents are."
Nothing like being dismissive about those who might actually consider their blood parents to be "real parents."

I agree and that is why I cannot say I fully agree with her statement or the interview, I only commented on her making a valid point about not making Asian American friends and instead focusing on heritage--ancient heritage at that. This type of statement totally dismisses first and second families concluding that there is one type of parent--adoptees can love all of their parents and they are all "real".

As far as the debate over whether you are born with culture--we aren't, we live within multiple cultures each day--school, ethnic, adoption, religion, sports, etc. We need to understand that we cannot, and imo should not, attempt to re-create China culture. We can, and should, plug our children into Asian American culture(s) and expose and explore China culture(s) within their birth country. It is impossible to re-create along with the fact that it is ever changing, varies with region, and cannot be summed up with a cultural event.
As far as Asian American activists (anon #1 was referring to), I think you are referring to the debate among all minorities whether to hyphenate (Asian-American) vs identifying as American. The issue is much larger than you indicated and is not for those not of that race to proclaim is right or wrong--telling a teacher they are just American (imo) is wrong, your children will decide that. The children can take on that issue for themselves, they do not need us, as AP's, to decide how they want to self-identify. Doing that dismisses their experience as Asian Americans and that is how they are viewed in larger society, they are not white and do not carry the priviledge whites do--they only get that "courtesy" when standing next to their AP's and even then it is not fully granted.

malinda said...

I agree with Wendy's point that our kids are the ones who will decide how they identify themselves. In our family it's pretty interesting to see that at work -- right now, Zoe is VERY into being Chinese, to the extent of putting on her "All About Me" poster, "I am not an American, I am Chinese." Maya, on the other hand, wants to be American, and not Chinese.

I think what we need to do as adoptive parents is to expose them to enough information, give them enough experiences, in all the cultures/heritages with which they might identify, and then stand back and let them work it out.

I worry that articles like this one, however, grant permission to adoptive parents who are of a mind to do so to do NOTHING. And that, I think, would be the wrong approach.

malinda said...

"As long as you raise your children with love and care, they will know who their real parents are."

Oh, but I agree 100%! Raising adoptive children with love and care INCLUDES teaching them that their birth parents are REAL! So if you raise your children with lvoe and care, they will know they have two sets of REAL parents!

(I know, I know, that isn't really what she meant!)

travelmom and more said...

There is a great book "Yellow-Girls" that is a collection of essays and poems about growing up Asian in America and Canada. The girls who contributed to the book come from many different Asian cultures and experiences they write about many topics related to identity and living in two worlds. I think it is a great read to see the complexity young women face finding their own identity.

Wendy said...

This discussion is also going on at ARP, it is nice to get the perspective of those not associated with adoption as well.