Thursday, August 6, 2009

Too much culture?

OK, this video is funny! Do you think it's deliberate that the white family doing Korean is mixing it up with Japanese and Chinese and who knows what-all fungible-Asian stereotypes? Or do you think the writers don't have a clue either?!

And it's also a good pair with this article, What's My Heritage? International Adoptions and the Culture Debate, from Brain,Child:

For an English speaker, “win” approximates Nguyen, one of the most common yet
elusive of Vietnamese names. Maybe Nick thinks we’ve cracked a secret code. He
told me recently that Nguyen Thanh Hiep is his true name.

At these moments, I’m sure my husband Rob and I are doing something right. Like many international-adoptive parents, we work hard to incorporate our son’s birth culture into our lives. For years, we’ve followed the formula for what’s sometimes called “culture keeping”: celebrating the main holidays from Nick’s birth culture; buying ethnic artwork, clothing, or food; spending time with other international adoptive families, perhaps going to a “culture camp” for a few days each summer.

Some would say I take it to extremes. I enrolled in a Vietnamese language class the year before Nick’s adoption in 2002. Last fall, I signed up for another course that meets five days a week. At the same time, I found a Vietnamese tutor for Nick.

In December, Rob and I took Nick on a trip to Vietnam, his first visit back to his birth country. But just weeks before we left, we found ourselves with a child melting down, who was terrified we’d leave him there, afraid we’d be disappointed if he didn’t like it. “I don’t want to go to Vietnam!” he howled. “I don’t want to go to Vietnam! I…don’t…want…to…go…to Vi-et-nam!”

It was then that I thought maybe I’d gone too far. Was I doing this more for myself than for Nick?

I know the caveats. He was too young; it’s normal for a first grader to be contrary. All true, and he often infuriated me in Vietnam. I was proud when he told people his name in Vietnamese, but I never felt at ease. We were on public display more than in any American hospital hallway. I worried for my boy when saleswomen fussed over the long rattail in his hair, fingering it, saying he was “lucky.” I kept wanting to hug his tense little face against my chest.

Since our trip, I’ve talked to people inside the adoption community and out: other parents, adoptees, social scientists, Vietnamese Americans. Going overboard can be worse than doing nothing at all, so I wonder and fret: How much should I push cultural activities onto my son? How much of his birth culture is it healthy for him to keep as he grows—and how much is confusing or harmful, a kitschy pastiche that will leave him permanently unmoored?

Can you say "balance," anyone?!

5 comments:

SB said...

I think it's also important to distinguish between "hertiage" and "culture". I think they are often used interchangeably when they are different. Culture is very dynamic, may or may not incorporate the heritage pieces, and can have multiple sub-cultures within it.

Teaching language, holidays, etc. when living away from the birth country is teaching our child their heritage.

I believe to learn the "culture" of their birth they need to live in their birthcountry. "Culture" isn't just holiday and language, it is made up of mannerims, body language, social norms, politics, entertainment, common dress, etc.

I do think it's very important to teach our children where they came from, but "going overboard" on their heritage still won't give them the "cultural" pieces they are missing.

S.

Mei-Ling said...

I agree with SB.

Unlike what most people think, Chinese culture ain't dragon dances or visiting the temple every Sunday.

"I believe to learn the "culture" of their birth they need to live in their birthcountry."

Precisely. It's what you eat, it's what you speak, it's what you hear & absorb. It has nothing to do (or very little to do) with artwork or fancy sculptures or silk clothing.

The only way to truly understand what the culture is - is to go back and LIVE it.

Wendy said...

I agree, the two must be understood as seperate concepts and the fact that we live in multiple cultures that overlay one another, there is no one culture that anyone can teach a child. Heritage is another thing, I think what the video suggests is the fact that oftentimes AP's get it totally wrong--trust me, I have met a few people who seriously are as ridiculous as the video in terms of not being able to identify something that is Japanese vs Chinese vs Korean vs Indonesian. Also, the overkill of "fake" or stereotypical heritage vs instilling what it means to be Asian in America today/Chinese in China today/etc. I honestly believe the mixed up Korean/Japanese/etc was done intentionally in the film clip, it is part of the humor.

As far as too much culture--not possible, your culture(s) are a part of you and change with age,exposure,environment. Too much heritage? Depends, what heritage is being provided--only silks, dragon dances, and FCC events I would say there is not enough "real" heritage being given. I would say what many people claim as giving heritage is really giving adoption culture.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to take some cues from our kids as to whether we are "overdoing" it or not. But, I think it is pretty hard to overdo. It's easier to not do enough. Before I took my 4 & 8 year olds to China, I did a lot of prep work with them ahead of time. Talking about the fact that you are coming back home after the trip, and even planning something that you will do when you get home, is an important way to reassure children that they are not going to be left in their birth country.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Ann BF said...

I do not think you made a mistake to expose him to Vietnam as young as possible. the losses and fears of adotption are there for all our kids -- its really better to get this going younger when he will still tanturm about how he feels than pushing it underground to comeout later. In my opinion, only overboard if you try to control his reactions..."don't say that..its a NICE place", etc.
You took a step to give him a primary experience of culture -- don't stop -- go back as often as you can, and stay longer!!