Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On Being Different

video

I threw this question, "How does it feel to be Chinese," at Maya after she sang me some Chinese songs. I was sort of expecting a noncommital "OK," instead of "Different."

Maya's preschool class was pretty diverse -- 13 kids in the class, with one African-American, one Hispanic, one Lebanese, one Chinese. And Maya realized she was the only Chinese. And that made her different.

Adoption Joy/Adoption Pain

As usual, Margie at Third Mom nails it:

I live adoption two ways. I live it through my own adoption journey: the story of how my husband and I decided to adopt, how we chose to adopt from Korea, our homestudy, the legal process we followed, the waiting, the arrivals, and parenting. That journey is one that is marked by sadness and joy, sometimes for reasons that really have nothing to do with adoption itself, like infertility. But given the outcome - my two incredible kids - adoption has been and is a joyful experience for me, one that has completed me, rather than causing division and separation.

As a parent always feels what their children feel, I also live adoption through my children's experiences. When adoption brings them pain, there's no question that I feel it. I try to understand the pain adoption has brought my children's parents, too. But in both cases, I feel this pain second-hand, maybe even third-hand in the case of my children's parents, because I have no access to them and can't even hear them tell their own stories. No matter the degree, the point is that I can talk about what I
think they are feeling, write about it, and even experience it - but never the same way they do, never in the context of a personal experience.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Note

This note has always been a bit pesky for me. Zoe's orphanage director said it was found with her. Getting such a note is amazing, consequential, meaningful -- if you believe what the orphanage director said.

But these notes are rare. And all three families getting children from Guiping SWI got notes, and no one else in our travel group with children from other orphanages in the same province got notes. And all of the notes were on red paper. And all of them were said to have no more than the date of birth. We looked at each other's notes, and the handwriting seemed different to us on each note, but what do we know about reading Chinese?!

I don't have any specific reason to disbelieve, beyond what I've already told you. And I don't think there were evil motives on the part of the director -- I sort of think they discovered that such notes made adoptive families happy, so they decided to make even more adoptive families happy by making more notes.

But I don't know, so I've always told Zoe exactly the truth -- "Mr. Gan gave me this note and said it was found with you. I don't know who wrote the note. Mr. Gan says he thinks it was someone from your birth family."

I learned something new about these notes from Jane Liedtke at the OCDF Great Wolf Lodge weekend -- she said that oftentimes adoptive parents were not given the original of notes left with a child, but were instead given a hand-transcribed copy. The SWI workers don't think these notes are as significant as we do, it seems, and don't get why adoptive families would be interested in the original! They figure we just want the information, not this small paper connection to birth family!

That information made me wonder if there might have been an actual note, and maybe the reason all of ours were similar is that a worker transcribed them all. So maybe it isn't all made up . . . .

Maybe because of my doubts I haven't concentrated very much on the note. I accepted that it said nothing more than Zoe's date of birth -- 2000-11-6. But when Zoe was looking at it last week she noticed something I didn't see, and asked, "What's the 3 for?" 3? What 3? That's the number 3 and not some Chinese character? "What's the 3 for?" Good question!

I took it to Chinese Camp today and asked a teacher to translate it for me, and the 3 is the TIME of birth -- 3 a.m. NO ONE told me that in China.

Somehow, this information makes me more inclined to believe the note is genuine. It always struck me as odd that there was no time of birth, since the reason this information is usually left is so that these children can have an accurate horoscope done for purposes of marriage, etc. You can't get an accurate horoscope without the TIME of birth.

So now I'm thinking this note is from Zoe's birth family, and that we now have an additional piece of the puzzle that is her life before we met -- that she was born in the wee hours before dawn.

But who knows for sure . . . .

Sunday, June 28, 2009

An Answer to "It's Not FAIR"

Mei-Ling kindly responds to Zoe's video ruminations about Mei-Ling's reunion trip:

“I know about a girl named Mei-Ling who went to Taiwan to visit her birthparents. It’s not fair that she can meet her birthparents and I can’t.”

You’re right, Zoe.

It isn’t fair.

You might never find the answers. I really, really wish you could. Instead of spending what might become a lifetime of wondering… searching… speculating… I wish you could have the answers.

I will keep praying for you.

Because there’s thousands of other girls out there who were adopted from China, who also might be wondering, speculating, who also might be saying “Why me? Why do adoptees like Mei-Ling get to see their birthparents and I don’t? It’s not fair!”

Click here to read more of Mei-Ling's response. And if the video is inaudible, here's where I blogged before about Zoe's reaction to Mei-Ling's upcoming reunion.

Mei Magazine Addresses Infertility

In a helpful confluence of topics, the summer issue of Mei Magazine addressed adoption and infertility in their usual "Amanda's Place" column. The Amanda of "Amanda's Place" is Dr. Amanda L. Baden, transracial adoptee and psychologist.

I'm just going to put the briefest excerpt and encourage everyone to subscribe to Mei Magazine!

Dear Amanda,

I wonder sometimes if my mom wishes she could have been pregnant instead of adopting. . . . It isn't a secret that she and my dad tried to have children before going to China. . . .

It's kind of like I was my mom's "second choice" at how to have a child. . . .

Lily, aka: "First Runner Up"

Dear Lily.

Your question is challenging and insightful. As I thought about how I wanted to answer it, I realized that I couldn't just reassure you that your parents, or any other adopted child's parents, definitely chose to adopt as their "first choice. . . . ." I would even guess that lots of kids, like you, have realized that adoption may sometimes be seen as "second best" to having a child by birth and that can feel pretty lousy.

* * *

Feeling like you might be second choice can be pretty tough for lots of reasons, but looking at it as you described might not tell the whole story. . . . [E]ven if your mom wanted to have a baby by birth, that doesn't automatically mean she did not also want to adopt. That is, for women, wanting to give birth and wanting to be mom however that happens can both be strong desires.

* * *

While adoption may not have been many adoptive parents' first choice, I think you'd have a hard time finding any adoptive parents who would want to give up that adopted child for the chance to have a child by birth. Once you become a family, that bond is as strong as any other.

One of the best things about Mei Magazine, in my opinion, is that they don't sugar-coat the hard parts of adoption while still presenting a fun and upbeat magazine for children adopted from China. Subscribe to read the rest of Lily's question and Amanda's answer!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Zoe & Maya Talk Adoption -- On Video

I bought a new toy -- a FlipUltra digital video camera! I was trying it out on the girls at lunch yesterday (yes, the chicken & dumplings lunch!), and since we were in a restaurant, I "interviewed" them. So now they think that's all the camera is for! So they don't want to dance, show me cartwheels, etc. They want to be interviewed!

Here's my interview of Zoe about adoption -- her choice of topic.

And then Zoe interviewed Maya:


As you can see, my two girls have very different attitudes toward their birth parents. It might be age -- Maya is 5; it might be a deliberate attempt to be different on Maya's part; it might be difference in personality. But it is undoubtedly different. As influential as Zoe usually is with Maya, the fact that Maya sticks to her guns on this one suggests it is a very genuine opinion.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chicken & Dumplings

We went to lunch at a restaurant that specializes in "Southern" cooking -- chicken fried steak, smothered pork chops, mashed potatoes, fried okra, etc. I was reading the menu to Maya, expecting her to get the fried catfish as usual. But when I said "chicken and dumplings," her face lit up and she insisted that's what she wanted.

When her chicken and dumplings came, she poked about in it and asked, "Where are the dumplings?" To her puzzlement, I showed her the lumpy dollops of cooked dough. And it hit me -- she was expecting CHINESE dumplings (jiaozi)! I had thought it funny that she wanted chicken and dumplings, since I'm not sure she'd ever had them before. Ah well, she was disappointed in the southern version.

But I did make jiaozi for dinner (the store-bought frozen kind, as if you didn't know!).

(p.s. I took the picture in a market in Chengdu in 2007. I know they are not jiaozi, but they are dumplings, and pretty as can be in their uncooked state!)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Infertility and Adoption Talk

A friend sent me the link to a May 2008 post at Anti-Adoption blog. The post discussed a comment from a blog reader who said, in part, "many, many infertile couples have NO desire at all to adopt. For us, adoption would only be a VERY LAST RESORT." (It's unclear whether the commenter is speaking as an adoptive parent).

Many adoptive parents commented most ably to say this person did not speak for them. What interested me the most, though, were the comments from adoptees who felt as they were growing up that they were their parents' "last resort" or "second choice:"
What adoptees know, what we grow up knowing deep in our hearts, the painful truth in that we ARE THE SECOND CHOICE. No matter how loved and cherished and valued we are in our adoptive homes, we weren’t the number one option…we were the consolation after fertility failed, after plan A fell through, after other options went bust.

It can be really hard for some adoptees to forget that for many of us, we were not our (adoptive) parents’ first choice. Because ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD can’t change the facts of how and why I came into my current family… and despite all the love in the world, there are still many days when I can’t help but feel like one big consolation prize.

I WAS second best. I WAS the last resort. I wouldn’t have come to them had their fertility treatments worked, had they been sucessful at having children of their own. As much as my amother tells me that she loves me, and has embraced me for my differences, as much as I love her, this isn’t something that love heals. This is my reality.

Infertility was not an issue for me; I adopted because I was single. I considered donor insemination for a short time, but really didn't think passing on my genetic blueprint would be doing the world or the child any favors! So we have the why-don't-I-have-a-daddy issue instead of the infertility issue.

I'm not looking to be inflammatory, or to suggest that adoption after infertility is in fact a "last resort" or "second best," or that any adoptive parent feels that way. But I've read enough to know that some adult adoptees feel that way. So, in the tradition of "Adoption Talk," I'd like some help from those who have discussed these issues with your kids. For those who did come to adoption after infertility, do you talk about it with your kids? How do you talk about it? At what age has your child asked questions about this? If you haven't talked about it, have you thought about how you will explain it? Please post in the comments, to build a reservoir of advice for those following in your shoes!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Book "IA: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children"

A new book to be released July 1 by NYU Press promises a broader, global conversation about international adoption:

It was during a conference in Barcelona on the topic of international adoption that Laura Briggs felt compelled to work to expand the dialogue on the topic in the United States. Briggs, who had already begun researching the issue of adoptions, said critical parts of the global discussion were missing from the United States dialogue on the topic.

It was during the conference that she opted to collect the work of scholars of adoption from Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Canada with Diana Marre, a fellow researcher who lives in Spain and organized the conference.

After more than one year of work, the culmination is "International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children," which was published by New York University Press and is set to be released next month. . . .

[T]he researchers collected and edited stories written by scholars from around the world. The stories are about child placement policies, fears in sending countries about the abuse of children adopted abroad, adoptions of related children, gays and lesbians who want to adopt and also issues of identity and how reproduction is defined.

"I was excited to get these stories in front of a U.S. audience," Briggs continued. "Particularly, what the conversation is in other countries because, here, we basically have two – and only two – conversations about adoption." One, she said, involves a "sweet and sentimentalized" version of adoption in which adoptees are "saved;" the other is about child trafficking.

But transnational adoption is not always as dichotomous as a "wrenching loss" on one end and a new beginning on the other.

* * *

One facet of adoption not often disussed that the book notes is that the United States is also a "sending country" in transnational adoption, with Europeans adopting African-American children in particular to "save" them from the problem of racism in the United States.

Another troubling fact, Briggs said, is that birth families are often placed at arm's length in the adoption process. The book also explores non-traditional aspects, including adult adoptees and contact adoptees have had with birth families.

"My hope is that adoptive parents and all of us affected by international adoption will have a more complex sense of the system in which we are participating," Briggs said. "I hope we can restore, both for the parents who adopt and for the children themselves, something richer than a story about ‘this horrible place you left.'"

Click here to read more about the book.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adoption from Malawi

An interesting story about international adoption from Malawi -- by someone other than Madonna:
Before Madonna, before the hype and the fury over her Malawian babies, there were the Clementinos of Burlington, Ont.

The global spotlight never fell on the Clementinos. Nobody heard of their long struggle to adopt a little girl named Idah from Malawi.

But their victory, after a four-year, $35,000 legal battle, was a precedent that paved the way for the U.S. pop superstar to adopt a pair of children from the same African country. Their story raises the same awkward issues – of poverty and culture, of deciding what is best for a child's future, and for the future of a country.

Children like Idah – and Madonna's far more famous David and Chifundo – have sparked a fierce debate in Malawi, where activists worry that the phenomenon of foreign adoption is creating a commercial value for their children, and diverting financial resources that would be better spent on health and education.

But for her adoptive parents in Burlington, who have never been to Malawi, the issue is simpler. By removing Idah from the austere existence of an African orphanage, they believe they are giving her the nurturing that she needs to have a chance in life.

“We're not trying to remove Idah from her culture, but to give her an opportunity,” says Jane Clementino, a management consultant and mother of three other children. “We're doing it for the good of the child. If you can make a difference, why wouldn't you?”

Dark Knees

Zoe has refused to wear short shorts all summer, and idiot that I am, I couldn't figure out why. I thought it was a modesty thing, maybe a product of Catholic school, since I connected it to her perpetual concern during the school year that her uniform jumpers were too short. I've asked her why, but she wouldn't give me an answer -- my fault, since I probably asked quite impatiently as she asked for a different jumper in the morning just as we needed to leave for school.

Yesterday she put on a summer dress that is designed to be longer in the back and shorter in the front. I kept seeing her tugging on it, to get it to cover her knees in front, and a little bell rang in my head. "Zoe," I asked, "are you worried about showing your knees for some reason?" Yep, nailed it. She said she doesn't want to show her knees because they are darker than the rest of her skin, so "they look dirty and ugly."

Whew. That one has been stewing for months, and I didn't see it. I admit, I'm always telling her to scrub her knees in the bathtub, but I've been thinking exfoliation, and she's been thinking "dirty." We've talked about moisturizers before, especially in the winter, and have moisturized her knees, though not with any consistency.

I explained to her that people's skin is thicker at the knees (and elbows), so there is more skin pigment there, but knowing WHY her knees are darker doesn't help much, especially since neither Maya nor I have knees that are appreciably darker than the rest of our skin. But we pulled out a bottle of good moisturizer for her to keep by her bed -- she wants to use it morning and night. She was happy when she rubbed it on, because her knees looked smoother if not lighter.

After the kids were in bed, I typed into Google, "asian skin dark knees," seeing if there were some other suggestions. I kept running across questions in online forums like this one: "I am an Asian with pale yellow skin color. But the nape, elbows and my knees are dark so it's difficult for me to wear short dresses and shorts in summer. . . . It's very embarrassing. Can anyone suggest me anything?" An online dermatologist answers a similar question with a suggestion about a skin-lightening lotion. And then I found THIS forum, where people are suggesting the use of household bleach and Brillo pads. And others are saying, "I'm going to try it!" How disturbing is that?

Any talk about skin bleaching or skin whitening makes my skin crawl. I think about Michael Jackson, for one thing! And it throws me back to Zoe's little 3-year-old voice saying, as we stood in line at the grocery store, "I wish my skin was light." Wow, that was much younger than I expected a racial identity crisis!

I struggled with an answer then, not wanting to minimize her concern with tempting responses like, "Skin color doesn't matter," since it so obviously mattered to her. Or by suggesting that she was far lighter than other people, because that seemed to reinforce the idea that light skin was, indeed, better. I settled then on asking her why (so she'd look like her friend, Charlie), and telling her I loved her skin. And then signing her up for Chinese School and applying to teach in China, where she could see lots and lots of people with her same beautiful skin tone (0ver-react much?!).

Now at 8, Zoe's talking about only one part of her skin she wishes was lighter -- is this different? An improvement? Maybe so, since she's saying she wants her knees to be the same honey-gold color as the rest of her skin. After all, light-skinned people have that same desire -- I'm always looking for products to make the red blotches on my face fade away, become undetectable against my fair skin.

But with an Asian child, a minority in this country, the meaning of skin color is different, racially charged, part of racial identity formation. We fight daily against all the explicit and implicit messages that lighter is better (Remember the Barbie-like Mulan doll? Zoe was excited when she got one: "Look! Her hair is black like mine. But her skin is light.")

I preached exfoliation and moisturizing. I think I'm preaching about skin being better, not lighter, in the same way I'd have no qualms offering my teens acne remedies if needed. But it's a fine line, isn't it? I think my former attempts have sent her a different message, that her knees are "dirty." That dark is "ugly."

Today we had more of a discussion than we could when she was 3 (it's not like we haven't talked skin color since then, but this is the first time since where I remember her despairing about her skin color). I said I didn't know if the moisturizer would make her knees lighter, but I thought they'd look better. And just like when she was 3, I said, "I love your skin." I said, "I love your knees!" And Zoe giggled as I kissed them.

I want my kids to be comfortable in the skin they're in, as the commercial goes. But it's a continual struggle to help them get there.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Burn BaBa Burn

Happy Father's Day! Zoe and Maya wanted to do for Father's Day what we did for Mother's Day -- burn notes to their birth fathers so the smoke would carry their good wishes to them. An interesting change I attribute to Chinese Camp -- this time Zoe wrote as much as it she could in Chinese characters (She knew most of these characters already, but I think Chinese Camp has given her a lot more confidence in her Chinese ability. At Chinese School she is the only non-native Chinese speaker in her class, so she struggles; at Chinese Camp, she's one of the stronger students).

I've written before about the girls' attitude toward their birth fathers:

Neither Zoe nor Maya seem very interested in their birth fathers. Is that because we don't have a dad in our family? I've always tried to include discussion of their birth fathers, thinking it might make them feel more "normal" -- "no, you don't have a daddy, but you do have a birth father. It takes a man and a woman to make a baby, and your birth mother and birth father made you." But they don't seem to invest much in that idea. Zoe will talk or write about her birth parents, plural, but her acute grief seems reserved for the loss of her birth mother.

No real change there -- even with today being Father's Day, Zoe asked some questions about her birth mother (She wanted to know, since she's learning so much more Chinese, if we could go to China and ask at every house in the city whether they know who her birth mother might be. She also wanted to know how her birth mother would be related to a child Zoe adopted from China (we had talked earlier about second cousins, and she LOVES figuring out family relationships!))

So did birth fathers come up today? Do your kids ask/talk about them?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Voices of Chinese Birth Mothers

In a comment to this post, Margie said that her view of birth families has been shaped in part by "having had the opportunity to hear first-hand Korean mothers who lost their children to adoption tell their stories." I wish we could hear directly from Chinese birth mothers as she has from Korean birth mothers. There are a few places to hear them speak second-hand -- the Dutch documentary, a brief cameo in China's Lost Girls, and Dr. Changfu Chang's Long Wait For Home.

But I want more. I was looking through A Passage to the Heart (drawn there by a cite in another article to a piece entitled, "The Importance of Loving Your Child's Birth Mother" (gee, I can't imagine why I wanted to read that one!)), and I ran across Susan Caughman's "Messages From Our Children's Birth Parents." She collected from adoptive parents the notes pinned to their baby's clothing when they were found and taken to orphanages.

It's fascinating reading:
From Wuhan, Hubei Province:
In our countryside the thought that a man is more important than woman is very popular. I myself don't have the strength to say something against it and overthrow it. But I believe on this big world there must be some kind, goodhearted uncles or aunties who can rescue my little daughter. I would do anything for him or her on my next life if I have another life. Birth Mother.

From Fuyang, Zhejiang Province:
To the adopter, please keep this note. In this life, in this world, I am not able to provide for you. I am giving you up so you can have a life. Good luck and be well.

From Hunan Province:
This baby girl was born on April 28, 1992, at 5:30 a.m. and is now 100 days old. She was born in a large hospital. She's in good health and has never suffered any illnesses. Owing to the current political situation and heavy pressures too difficult to explain, we who were her parents for these first days cannot continue taking care of her. We can only hope that a kind-hearted person will take care of her. Thank you. In regret and shame, your mother and father.

From Fuyang, Zhejiang Province:
She was born on May 24, 1992. Please help my daughter.

I still want more! Does anyone know of other places to find voices of Chinese birth parents?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's Love Got To Do With It?

There's been an interesting discussion in the comments to this post, and I wanted to bring it "above the fold," because I think it's an important issue.

First mother Lorraine was put off by the line, “Dad says our family loves my birthparents very much even though we'll never know them,” in the adoption-themed book for children. She commented, in part:

That kind of love comes easy. No problems. No competition. No parent who looks like your child. The sentiment comes too easy and ends up sounding fake.

Hearing from birth mothers as I do,and as one myself, I am not aware that LOVE is what emanates from adoptive parents towards first parents who are living, breathing people they have to deal with.


Adoptive parent Anonymous agreed, saying, in part:
I've thought for awhile that the concern we adoptive parents express for Chinese birth mothers and the difficult situation they faced is somewhat condescending and patronizing given the fact that we don't actually have to deal with them. We get to sound as charitable, well meaning, concerned, etc. as we want without ever having to actually do anything.

And adoptive parent Bump said, in part:
I don't feel anything for my daughter's birth mother. I don't know her. And there you have it. I'll respect her for my daughter's sake, but I don't know who the hell she is.

Hmmm, lots of food for thought. I certainly don't disagree with these comments. Perhaps my feelings are not the norm. And I don't really want to convince anyone else that they have to feel the same way I do. I'm just trying to get my head around my own feelings, and since blogging helps me with that, here goes!

My initial response was that there are many different kinds of love. I was looking around for a definition that fit what I was talking about, and came across this: "A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness."

That seems to fit for me -- affection and solicitude toward a person arising from a sense of underlying oneness. I feel a oneness toward these unknown women, based on the fact that we are mothers of the same child. I feel love for them, for what I see of them in my children. And I don't know how to love my children without loving their birth mothers. (Note: that's just me! I'm not claiming everyone has to feel the same thing I do!)

I think Lorraine and Anonymous and Bump would question whether the first part of the definition above could possibly fit -- how deep could these feelings be? How can you love someone you don't know? Isn't it insincere to express love for someone you don't know? Isn't it hypocritical to say you love a birth parent you don't have to deal with as a troublesome person in real life? If you don't know them, how can you like them, much less love them?

It may be, in fact, only a definitional thing. I can (and do!) love many people I don't like (maybe you're luckier in relatives than I have been!). Haven't you had a troublesome in-law or sibling or parent whom you love deeply, despite the fact that they are very hard to like most of the time? Love, in my view, doesn't require like! I might need to know someone to like them, but not to love them. I feel love for relatives I've barely met -- the part of the definition that talks of "affection and solicitude arising from kinship" resonates for me. And that kinship applies to my kids' birth families, too. We are a connected family through these children they birthed and I've parented.

I understand and respect those who feel differently about birth family, especially unknown and unknowable birth parents. I get that it is hard when you can't visualize them, don't know anything about them, to have genuine feelings for them. And one can't manufacture feelings that just aren't there! Should one even try? If so, how could it be done?

We have all read that it is important for our children to have a positive impression of, positive feelings for their birth parents. Even if one doesn't feel love, one can express positive things to help one's child develop this positive impression. But is it also important that WE have a positive impression of, positive feelings toward them? I'm thinking of a scene from Adopted: the Movie, where Jennifer's adoptive mom says she never thinks of her birth mother, that she doesn't have any feelings for her. It's a painful moment for Jenn, who feels that if her mom can't think about or have feelings for her birth mother, she can't really see Jenn as she really is, a Korean woman. She feels that her mom is rejecting the part of her that is Korean when she rejects her birth mother.

Of course, one can have positive feelings without identifying the feelings as love. But do we have to have some feelings? Would any of us tell our children (as adults) what Jenn's mom told her, that we have no feelings for and never think about their birth parents?

Suppose you are interested in exploring your feelings for your child's birth mother; suppose you want to HAVE feelings for her. How would you go about it? Here are some suggested exercises in an article about birth parents in international adoption:
When you imagine your child's birth mother, what images do you have? If negative images pervade, ask yourself, where do these images come from? Are there facts and circumstances unknown to you that might change this picture? Have you ever written a letter to your child's birth mother? Although she may never see it, this can be a good exercise. Think about what you would want to ask her about herself? What would you want her to know about you? Is there a fact about your life that if disclosed to the birth mother, you would want to explain? Imagine that a sister or someone you love is a birth mother. How would you want the child's adoptive parents to think, feel or speak about her?

Anyone else have thoughts/feelings to share?!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Russell is Korean!

Harlow's Monkey reports that Russell in the movie Up (whom I blogged about here) is not just "Asian" anymore! He was modeled after an ethnically Korean Pixar employee.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Children's Book on Adoption

Publisher's Weekly offers a review of a new children's book on adoption:

Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles
Darlene Friedman, illus. by Roger Roth. HarperCollins, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-114136-2

Cassidy Li is going to be Star of the Week in her kindergarten class, and that means she gets to bring a snack (the titular brownies) and chronicle her life story on a poster. But as she reviews snapshots depicting favorite activities, pets, friends and family, she also realizes that, as a baby adopted in China, “something is missing. I don't have any photos of my birthparents.” Her solution: adding a hand-drawn portrait of them to the photographic collage. Debuting author Friedman, who is also the wife of Roth (The American Story) and the parent of a Chinese daughter, doesn't try to smooth over the bittersweet elements of Cassidy Li's story, although she often veers into giving her heroine the voice and viewpoint of an empathic adult rather than that of a six-year-old (“Dad says our family loves my birthparents very much
even though we'll never know them”). Roth's affectionate domestic vignettes bolster the story's authenticity considerably, and his vivid portrayal of the confident, thoughtful Cassidy Li speaks volumes about the unconditional love in her life. Ages 5–9. (June)

Sounds like a winner! I'm a sucker for any children's book that deals even vaguely with birth parents. . . .

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Favorite Posts -- Input, Please!

I want to put a short list of favorite posts in the sidebar, and hope you'll help by letting me know which ones are your "favorites" in the comments. "Favorite" might mean best, most infuriating, most thought-provoking, most informative, sweetest, saddest, funniest -- whatever you want it to be.

To give you a starting point, here are the most frequently read posts/searched-for posts/commented on posts:

What Makes an Adoption Ethical?

New Mother's Day Tradition

Birth Mothers and the Exotic "Other"

"Meant to Be" I, II & III

Fake Birth Certificates

Zoe's Latest Birth Parent Story

Another Birth Parent Story

Talking Adoption Tips

Patron Saint of Adopted Children?!

The Nature and Quality of Love

"Angry Adoptees"

Dear Birth Mother, Dear Foster Mother

Zoe Talks Adoption

Birth Mothers

Let me know which of these, or which post not included on this list, should be included in a "Favorite Posts" list. I hope to knock the list down by about half.

Thanks!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"You're my only mom . . . "

So said Maya last night, "You're my only mom," and then there was this pause, hardly detectable, "that I ever met."

Hmmmm. Another mom tells me her daughter sometimes says that, "You're my only mom," and she replies, "Well, you have a birth mom. . . . " I suggested, since this is a repeated thing for her daughter, to ask her why she says that since she knows very well she also has a birth mom.

Did I practice what I preached? Nope. I was, instead, quick to point out that, though she doesn't remember her, she "met" her birth mom when she was born. No response from Maya.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage and International Adoption

From a Newsweek article, The Sins of the Fathers: Raising Kids in a Same-Sex Union:
In an ironic twist, gay-marriage laws now make foreign adoption more difficult for gay couples. Adoption agencies and lawyers say no foreign countries knowingly give babies to gay couples for adoption. Same-sex couples who want to adopt internationally have traditionally circumvented this prohibition with the following fudge: one half of the couple adopts as a single person. Once back home, the couple goes to court and establishes co-parenthood in states that will allow it. A legally married gay couple doesn't have the option of a fudge: truthful responses to questions about marital status on adoption documents crush the couple's chances of ever adopting abroad. That's why Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders advises couples to wait to get married. "If international adoption is important?.?.?.?then they need to postpone forming a legal relationship," says Bruce Bell, who runs GLAD's help line.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Girls are inferior . . . "

I wish I had kept track from the beginning of how many "they hate girls in China" and/or "your girls are so lucky" and/or "how much did it cost?" conversations I've had since coming home in 2001 with Zoe. How many times? I'd guess 3-4 times a month for 8 years. So maybe 300 times?

My latest was when waiting to pick up Zoe and her friends from China camp earlier this week. A Chinese grandfather waiting to pick up his grandson struck up a conversation -- I had Maya with me. He was an interesting gentleman. He told me about leaving China for Indonesia in 1950, after the Communists came to power. He was 15. He then emigrated to the U.S. in 1998 after anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia -- his son was already living here.

Then he wanted to talk about Maya, was she adopted from China? Was I her grandmother (!) or her mother? Gee, thanks! And then he asked the "how much did it cost" question. Yes, it is very expensive because you are paying many people to work for you to make the adoption legal, I answer.

He then proceeded to tell me everything he knew about adoption from China, starting with, "They think girls are inferior in China." I don't think Maya knows what inferior means, but I answered as if she did: Yes, in some parts of China that is true. But it is a changing attitude. We were lucky enough to live in China for part of 2007, and everyone we knew there loved girls.

He then told me about being at the White Swan Hotel one time and being so surprised to see all the married couples with Chinese babies, and not understanding what was going on. He asked them, and was delighted to meet all these good-hearted people. And he thought -- say it with me! -- that the babies were so lucky. I trotted out my usual answer, "No, we're the lucky ones."

I wasn't surprised to be having the conversation. I've found that Chinese in China and Chinese in America are no more likely to know about international adoption than anyone else. People in China were more likely to identify the "girls are inferior" attitude to the countryside, while Chinese in America seem to consider it the attitude in all of China, as do non-Chinese Americans.

No, I wasn't surprised. But wouldn't it be nice if we never had to have that conversation again?!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Interesting recent news links

Internationally adopted children at risk for premature puberty
In recent years, studies have shown that internationally adopted children may be at risk for developing premature or precocious puberty. In fact, some experts speculate that they are almost 20 times more likely to do so than children born in the United States.

N. Korean women 'sold like livestock' in China
For North Korean women who run off to China, rules are rigged on both sides of the border. North Korea regards them as criminals for leaving. China refuses to recognize them as refugees, sending many back to face interrogation, hard labor and sometimes torture. Others stay on in stateless limbo, sold by brokers to Chinese men in need of fertile women and live-in labor.
What does it mean to be Asian American?
It's easy to forget that the term "Asian American" is a young one -- just a hair over 40 years old, with its first recorded public usage occurring, not coincidentally, at UC Berkeley, the gravitational center of Sixties student activism. . . . Four decades later, however, it's worth considering how far the idea of Asian America has come, and how far it can go. Does Asian American identity still have meaning?

These boys deserve so much more than I can give them
Six years after adopting two boys, Michelle Brau was still unable to form a bond with them. Now they're in a new home. She may have suffered a condition many still don't understand: post-adoption depression.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chinese Language/Culture Camp


Zoe and two of her friends started an immersion Chinese language class today (we're calling it "Camp," since it makes it sound more fun!), and all were very excited and had a great time. One of her friends is adopted from China, the other is a non-adopted Caucasian classmate with an interest in languages (it's so cool that the Chinese girls can see that non-Chinese people are ALSO interested in learning Chinese. They're not so different after all!). There are ten kids in the class, 3 of whom have no previous experience with Chinese language. The class also covers Chinese culture -- today they learned how to play with Chinese yo-yos (I don't think they're quite as good as the guys in the video yet!). Although it's supposed to be an immersion program, with the course guidelines saying, "The teacher will use the target language most of the time, with English instruction used only when absolutely necessary," Zoe tells me the teacher mostly spoke English. I hope that changes as the class progresses.

I'm thrilled with this opportunity! We always slide back on Chinese language during the summer, so this gives us a chance to stay with it. And guess what? The program is FREE! We paid a $100 deposit, which we'll get back as long as we attend regularly and do the assignments!

This or similar programs may be offered in your area -- it's called STARTALK, and is part of the National Security Language Initiative (hum the them from "Jaws" or the "Twilight Zone," your choice, as you read those words!), which "seeks to expand and improve the teaching and learning of strategically important world languages that are not now widely taught in the US." How cool is that?! I actually love that my federal tax dollars are going into such a smart program (so much smarter than expelling Arabic-language translators from the military because they're gay, which seems to be our other popular strategic language initiative).

Click here for a list of all summer Chinese programs through STARTALK. They've got them all over the place: AZ CA CO CT DE HI IL IN KS KY MA MD ME MN MS NC NJ NM NY OH PA RI TX UT VA VT WA WI. There are also other langages, including Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Persian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.

When I first heard about the program in our area, I was disappointed to learn that it was being offered only to middle and high school students. I talked to the director (who also happens to be the principal of the Chinese School the girls have attended for years!), and begged to have Zoe included if at all possible. He emailed me a few weeks later to say they'd decided to include rising 3rd graders, to my utter delight! So if your child doesn't meet the listed criteria, my experience says it doesn't hurt to ask. Next year, they expect the Fort Worth area program to include all elementary grades, so Maya can go too.

We're still going to be going to Chinese Heritage Camp this year, since it doesn't do as much about language, so it really won't be duplicative. It's also fun -- if you're going to Tulsa for this camp, let us know to look for you!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Meet Asian Fetish Man

Silly, isn't it, that this is one of those issues that I'm already worried about. My oldest is 8 (and a half, she'd add), and I'm already wondering how she'll learn what every Asian woman needs to know -- how to recognize Asian Fetish Man. I mean, I have decades to worry about it, since I'm not allowing her to date until she's 30, but it's never too early, right?! And after watching the icky man-on-the-street interviews on the companion DVD to Adopted: the Movie, where these creepy guys talked about what they "appreciated" about Asian women, I'm thinking of raising the dating age to 40 . . . .

I remember asking a young Asian woman how she knew when she met Asian Fetish Man, and her immediate response was, "Oh, you KNOW!" She said the big tip-off for her is when all he can talk about is her Asian eyes, and her black hair, and her honey skin . . . . I know one Asian Fetish Man, and it was rapidly revealed when I discovered he'd never dated anyone but Asian women, ever. And this is in Lubbock, Texas, where Asian women are not exactly thick on the ground.

I ran across this wonderful post at the wonderful Kimchi Mamas blog, where Angie talks about online dating, and the problem of posting her photo of her Korean self:

I have no issue with the fact that I am Asian. I know it. My family knows it. Even my friends know it.

The problem lies in the responding interested parties.

Like: Asian Fetish Man.

Asian Fetish Man is the man who says "ni how" or "an yeoung" at the bookstore. Asian Fetish Man is the guy you dated who on your first date wanted to know ALL about your "Asian-ess" or worse, kept talking about his experience with Asia, the people and the culture . . . Asian Fetish Man is also the creppy guy who you *just KNOW* has that demoralizing fantasy of "oh me so horny" sexiness or complete submission.

Read the very interesting comments, too -- a real education on recognizing Asian Fetish Man, and some nuanced discussion of the difference between liking Asian women and fetishizing Asian women.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

China Daily: International Adoption Dwindling

Not news, but kind of a peculiar report in China Daily about dwindling international adoption in China. The article blames it on the new 2007 rules increasing financial standards for adoptive parents, despite the fact that the decline went into effect before the new rules did! Interesting figures reported, though:
According to the statistics released in a meeting on March 7 this year, by Vice-Minister of Ministry of Civil Affairs of China, Dou Yupei, there are about 5,000 orphans adopted by families every year while international adoption accounts for one fourth of these adoptions. China has 573,000 orphans and about 87 percent of them live in rural area.
That's a much higher number of orphans than I've seen reported before. And there's another internal inconsistency in the article -- it says that in 2008, there were 3,909 children adopted to the U.S. alone. If international adoption only accounted for one-fourth of adoptions in China, the total number of children adopted would be closer to 16,000 than 5,000!

An Ethical Adoption Tale in One Act

“My name is Jackie. Will you adopt me?”

There’s Maya, standing in front of me with the hood of her hoodie pulled up, saying in her little Betty Boop voice, “Will you adopt me?” This is the first time I can remember Maya initiating adoption play. I don't know what spurred it -- leaving preschool with kindergarden looming? the Miss Spider video? making the rice baby? Zoe's latest adoption meltdown? All of the above? None of the above?

After our play was over, and I was thinking about it, I realized we had touched on a number of the basic prerequisites of ethical adoption as I see it. I wasn’t doing it on purpose, it just seemed to play out that way! So here it is, An Ethical Adoption Tale in One Act, directed by Maya, additional narration by me.

“My name is Jackie. Will you adopt me,” Maya asks.

“Oh, dear. Have you lost your mommy? Do you need me to help you find her?” [First point, family preservation & investigation to make sure child is truly adoptable.]

Maya replies, “I don’t have a mommy. I live in an orphanage.”

“Then I will adopt you. I promise to love you and take care of you forever.” ((HUGS)). [Second point for ethical adoption, permanency.]

Maya reminds me, “You need to name me Maya.”

I reply, “I thought your name was Jackie. Do you want to keep that name? Or do you want to be Jackie Maya or Maya Jackie?” [Third point in ethical adoption, cultural preservation.]

Maya rejects that idea, she wants to be Maya Noelle BingLi. [Yes, indeed, this story is about her, not some fictional Jackie! And when she rejected "cultural preservation," I went where she directed.]

I then say, “OK, I’ve adopted you, will you adopt me? Will you promise to love me and take care of me forever?” Fourth point – voluntary consent (usually of birth parents, but in our story Maya stood in their place).]

Maya agrees, and there are more hugs. She then asks me to adopt her sister Zoe, and we go through the same ritual with her, with me promising to love her and care for her forever, and her promising to love me and care for me forever. Zoe and Maya decide they don't have to adopt each other since they're already sisters. [Fifth point – keeping siblings together when at all possible.]

We were at Mimi’s house, so Maya pretended to drive to meet her for the first time. They discover they have the same last name and therefore must be family! [Last point – acceptance by extended family and the community, the adopted child having the same status as biological children.]

Maya enjoyed all the play-acting and all the hugging, and seemed quite content with how the story played out. It will be interesting to see if she wants to repeat this game.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Third Mom Closes Up Shop

We've lost an important voice in the adoption blogosphere, Margie of Third Mom. She's decided to stop blogging. I'm going to miss her passion and her wisdom. I've learned a lot from her, the adoptive mom of teenagers from Korea, one of the wise been-there-done-that Foremothers of international adoption (though she's no where near old enough for that appellation!).

Her point of view, as she describes it with great understatement, "isn't the predominant one in the adoptive parent community." She looks beyond the happy-happy-joy-joy narrative of adoption that is the preferred viewpoint among adoptive parents. It hasn't always made her popular in that circle, but she has nonetheless battled on for the sake of birth mothers and adopted persons, and yes, adoptive parents who need to hear what she has to say. She passionately advocates for family preservation, open records, and ethical adoption, and will continue to do so even when not blogging on these issues, just as she has advocated for these issues even while blogging. I very much hope to be Margie when (if!) I grow up.

Thank you, Margie, for your advice, guidance, and insight. You are truly an asset to all members of the adoption community.

Another "It's Not Fair!" Moment

Zoe has been intrigued by the fact that our blogger-friend Mei-Ling is in Taiwan meeting her birth family. She's reacted positively, very curious about the whole process. The other day, though, it was too much for her: "It's just not fair that some people can meet their birth parents and some people can't! Mei-Ling can, and P. can (a friend from Korea) but I CAN'T!"

We had lots of tears and cuddling after that, because she's right, of course -- it ISN'T fair, and there's no getting around it. I know that I can't fix it, that I can only commiserate, but I had to try. I reminded her about her desire at age 3 to call her birth mom, so she made a pretend phone call, leading up to suggesting she can always "talk" to her birth family in her head. Zoe was completely uninterested in that suggestion., as illustrated by significant eye-rolling! Maya asked me, "Did I do that, too make pretend phone calls?" No, I told her, she never was very interested in talking about or to her birth parents when she was 3 (or now, for that matter).

And then Zoe pulled out another "it's not fair" -- "Maya doesn't NEED to call her birth family. She has a FOSTER family in China," she declared. Hmm, I knew that sibling rivalry/jealousy was simmering, but Zoe hasn't said much about it. Maya's foster family is good about including Zoe when they send letters, cards, and gifts. But that's not quite the same as having her OWN foster family, a real live Chinese family who cared for you and loved you and who, unlike your unknown birth parents, you don't have to imagine, wonder about, pretend about.

We pulled out Zoe's life book and concentrated on the pages about the nannies at the orphanage, and Zoe especially wanted to hear about the one called Po Po (grandmother in Chinese). We're lucky to have pictures from the orphanage, with a nanny holding Zoe while feeding her a bottle, with another nanny playing with her, with Po Po holding her. It's not a foster family, but it shows real live people in China who cared for her and loved her.

And it's not what she really wants, to know who her birth family is, to meet them. The possibility of that happening is remote.

And that's not fair.

Friday, June 5, 2009

China's Excess Males, Bride Prices & the Commodification of Women

In response to this Wall Street Journal article about the male/female ratio in China leading to high bride prices, and scams by runaway brides stealing the bride price:

Thanks to its 30-year-old population-planning policy and customary preference for boys, China has one of the largest male-to-female ratios in the world. Using data from the 2005 China census — the most recent — a study published in last month's British Journal of Medicine estimates there was a surplus of 32 million males under the age of 20 at the time the census was taken. That's roughly the size of Canada's population.

Now some of these men have reached marriageable age, resulting in intense competition for spouses, especially in rural areas. It also appears to have caused a sharp spike in bride prices and betrothal gifts. The higher prices are even found in big cities such as Tianjin.

A study by Columbia University economist Shang-Jin Wei found that some areas in China with a high proportion of males have an above-average savings rate, even after accounting for factors such as education levels, income and life-expectancy rates. Areas with more men than women, the study notes, also have low spending rates — suggesting that many rural Chinese may be saving up for bride prices.

Blogger Kenneth Anderson writes:

[As] a moderate libertarian . . . my operating assumption has generally been that a shortage of females in a suitable place . . . would mean that women would be able to command a suitably high marriage price, and contract for favorable plural marriage conditions. . . . . Exposure to the wider world, however, has left me persuaded that abstract libertarianism must sometimes give way to the realities of cultures and actual conditions. My view today is that - drawing on conversations with [demographer Nicholas] Eberstadt - it was far more historically common, and almost certainly the more common direction of things today, that in a world with scarcity of women - especially in a world of scarcity of females and yet a cultural preference for male births - the result would be increased treatment of women as property. More valuable property, yes, but increasingly as property precisely as the perception of its value increased.

I, too, had speculated that the scarcity of women in China might give them more bargaining power. I've also thought that Confucian barriers to marriage (not knowing their family history or blood line) would disappear for orphanage girls as women became a scarce commodity. But I wonder if Anderson has the better of the argument -- increased commodification of women will further disadvantage them. Certainly we've seen one side effect in China already, women kidnapped and forced into marriage (remember the moving scenes from Lisa Ling's National Geographic documentary China's Lost Girls? (BTW, did you know that the Laura Ling who is being held in North Korea and tried as a spy is Lisa Ling's sister?)).

Anderson cites one book, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population, by Valerie M. Hudson & Andrea M. den Boer, that is immediately going on my reading list!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rice Babies

Today, we made rice babies – and seriously, no pun intended. The babies are rice babies because they’re made of rice, has nothing to do with being Chinese, really, really, really, truly! All the kindergartners at a local private school make rice babies, as a project about weights and measures, and make the babies to match their birth weights. As soon as I heard of the project, I knew I wanted to do it with my girls. We don’t know their exact birth weights, but we know their check-in weights at the orphanage -- for Zoe that was on the day of her birth, and for Maya, that was 3 days after birth.
We carefully weighed the rice, and poured it not-so-carefully into tube socks (we spent more time sweeping up rice than we did pouring rice!).

Our measuring bowl only held about 2 pounds of rice, so we weighed the sock when we thought we were close to birth weight.
We tied off the sock at 6 lbs, 8 ounces for Zoe and 4 lbs, 2 ounces for Maya. We made another tie to make the head, and then pulled the top of the sock down to make a tiny baby hat. The girls had great fun coming up with descriptions for their babies – Zoe’s was a cucumber with a hat, and Maya’s looked like a squash!
Mimi helped with the project, and instructed the girls on holding the “newborn” rice baby so the head was supported. What fun! The girls love playing with dolls, so this was a natural for them.

The last steps were drawing on a face, using a permanent marker to make sleeping u-shaped eyes and a little blush to make rosy cheeks; and wrapping the rice babies in receiving blankets.

Quite a fun project. Yes, the girls learned a lot about weights and measures. But more importantly, they got something concrete to connect them to their births, and by extension, to their birth mothers. We don’t have pictures, we know no one who can tell their birth stories. We do have those numbers – 6 pounds, 8 ounces; 4 pounds, 2 ounces. The numbers have little meaning, though, when you’re 8 and 5.
I think we made it real with this project. And tonight before bed, when Zoe put her rice baby up her nightgown, with Maya following suit, and said, “So this is how much I weighed when I was in my birth mother’s tummy,” I knew it had worked!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gratuitous Diversity


Gratuitous nudity and violence in movies is a bad thing -- it doesn't advance the plot, it isn't integral to the story, it is nudity and violence for its own sake.

But gratuitous diversity? I LOOOOVE it! We just saw the movie Up, and there are two main characters -- a crotchety old man and Russell, an Asian boy. AND ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION is made of the fact that he is Asian. He could be any race and the movie would not change one iota. He isn't in the movie to be the Asian representative in a group of kids a la United Colors of Benetton. He is not stereotypically Asian -- NO GLASSES! NO BUCK TEETH! He's a Boy Scout, not a computer geek. He's chubby, not a stringbean with high-water pants! (OK, I'm going to wear out my exclamation point key here!!!!!). He's voiced by an Asian American kid, Jordan Nagai, but he doesn't "sound" Asian! No pidgen English, no Charlie-Chan accent. He just happens to be a kid. Who happens to be Asian. In a Disney movie.

Wow. This is main-streaming at it's best.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids

We like the Little Miss Spider book, so I was a pretty easy sell when the girls begged me to buy a new DVD, Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids as we stood in the check-out line at Marshall's (great marketing placement, eh?). It is chock full of happy adoption themes, including a reprise of Miss Spider's adoption by Betty Beetle. And at the end, Miss Spider (who, BTW, is no longer Miss Spider, but Mrs. Spider, having married Holley before all of these blessed events) adopts three children -- a dragonfly, a jewel beetle, and a bedbug -- to add to the 5 biological children she already has.

There was, however, a "heavier" adoption discussion as well. Miss Spider is making an egg sack for the first time (resulting in those aforementioned 5 bio kids), and is quite nervous about it. She tells her mom (all of this is paraphrased, of course!), Betty Beetle, that she's just not sure how to make an egg sack. Betty says, "I guess I should have shown you how." Miss Spider replies, "That's OK. You're not a spider. It's something my spider mom should have taught me." And then a bit later Miss Spider worries about what kind of mother she'll be: "What if I'm like my first mom? She didn't even wait around until I hatched. . . ." Betty tells her everything she needs to know to be a mom is already in her heart.

Hmmm, very heavy, actually. This very short little scene strikes two different adoption issues. First, with transracial adoption -- Betty Beetle wasn't able to teach Miss Spider what she needed to know to be a spider mom, how to make an egg sack. Zoe figured out what that meant: "It's like you can't teach me Chinese, mama." Right. It's more than that, of course. It's culture and heritage, it's about being an Asian woman in today's world.

And then the second issue, Miss Spider wonders if she's like her birth mom and can only parent like her birth mom, a mom who abandoned her (Never mind that her birth mom's behavior is standard spider behavior! It's Miss Spider's anthropomorphic parenting-for-life behavior that is out of the ordinary. In this way, the story paints a pretty negative image of human birth mothers). This is such a common issue for adult adoptees, worrying about how their birth parents, or lack of knowledge thereof, relinquishment, and/or adoption will affect how they parent. I was really amazed to see this issue in a children's video, though I doubt children would get it (mine didn't react in any way).

So, a surprisingly intense viewing experience, at least for the adult watching! The kids enjoyed it very much. One other adoption theme worthy of note -- very positive reaction to the birth of Miss Spider's children by her adoptive mom, Betty Beetle, and her adoptive brother, Gus Beetle.

Celebrity Adoption, Nicole Kidman Edition

Either Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban are adopting from Vietnam, or they are not.

Which is all an excuse to post this seriously funny and sad smart aleck comment to one article reporting on the planned adoption:
This stuff always happens after the national spelling bee. I remember when my parents used to talk about adopting an asian kid whenever they would have one of
them doing math or playing the violin on the tonight show. Looking back I should have expressed a desire to be adopted by an asian family because they are smart people and would help me with my homework instead of getting drunk and watching
the tonight show. just saying.

Doesn't that just paint a vivid picture! And such a perfect thing to read after the culture/heritage/stereotype post!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Culture, Heritage, and Stereotyping

From Adoptive Families Magazine, a simple explanation of the difference between culture and heritage, and how they are linked to stereotyping:
Culture is what tells you how to live your life. Culture defines what you expect to eat for breakfast, how you address your boss or your teacher, how close to stand to your friends, how to sit in a chair. Culture involves values. Culture tells you whether your family or your job is more important, who would be a good choice for a marriage partner, and how much skin you can decently expose at the swimming pool.

You learn culture by living it.

* * *

Heritage is what belongs to you by virtue of your birth. Heritage includes your genetic background, physical features, and ethnic origin; it includes the history of the people who share those features with you. Heritage consists only of facts, but one's culture may place more or less value on those facts. Whether or not you know or care anything about your heritage, it belongs to you.

Classifying a person solely by heritage is what we call stereotyping. For example, when meeting a Japanese person, there is an almost irresistible urge to assign to that person the characteristics we perceive as "Japanese," such as obedience, industry, interest in computers, and lack of humor. However, if that Japanese person was born and raised in Iowa, he or she might be a lot more interested in corn farming and Saturday Night Live than in electronics or raw fish. Stereotyping unfairly assigns a person a culture based on his or her heritage alone.
The article also discusses why it is important for adoptive parents to teach their children about their heritage -- if we don't someone else will, and it's likely to be based in stereotyping rather than truth.