I wish it could leave it as just a cute story, but I have to mention that the story he tells Elise -- we wanted a family, so we went to China -- is woefully incomplete. He is telling HIS story, not hers.And when I first heard of his soon-to-be released book, Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other, and announced it here, I had to mention that I didn't much like the title, given my feeling about the whole "meant to be" thing. To me, "we were meant to be parent and child," is saying that a child was meant to lose their first parents with all the pain and grief that comes with it, that the birth parents were to suffer life-long grief and loss and pain, so that the child could join its adoptive family. I don't believe that all of that happened so that my children could be mine as it was "meant to be" from the beginning. But from his choice of book title and the interview, it sure seems that Simon is pretty sanguine about a birth parent's losses. As Margie of Third Mom commented at the NPR site:
Expressing love and rationalizing differences are the easy part of the intercountry adoption story. Adoptive parents must also speak on behalf of the marginalized women who gave birth to our children and see no other future for themselves or their children than permanent separation."Meant to be" is such a dismissive way of talking and thinking about birth parts -- it's Rosie O'Donnell saying her adopted children just grew in the wrong tummy before becoming hers and hers alone.
And then there's the ethnicity part. Several of you saw the connection between yesterday's post about Zoe's lesson on ethnic groups and Simon's completely dismissive view of ethnicity for transracial/transethnic adoptees. My favorite was kantmakm's comment: "I'm guessing his oldest has not yet gotten to the Social Studies assignment that Zoe was working on. . . ." As a commenter at Margie's post noted, "And starting the title with "Baby" to me shows that he is really not thinking about his children's experiences as older adoptees as they grow out of their cute, innocent babyhood." Indeed.
I guess I should have expected, for one thing, his preference for "ethnicity" over "race" as the focus. I posted before about a piece that Simon wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "How to Say Thanksgiving in Mandarin." Here's his take-away about transracial adoption:
When my parents—a Jewish man and an Irish woman—married in the 1950s, they were warned, as transracial adoption families often are, that their children would face bigotry and hostility. But today, our 6-year-old niece Juliette, a California blond, slips her arm around the shoulders of our daughters and says, "We're cousins for life, right?"First, think about how facile his explanation compared to how Zoe is working on issues with her ethnic identity. (How do you think he'd answer Zoe's question -- to him, is she Chinese, French, Irish, English, Scottish?) And second, look at the emphasis on culture over race. Sure, cover the culture/heritage end; I think that's important in transracial, international adoption. But it is only a starting point, as the title and the substance of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute report on racial identity formation focusing on transracial adoptees from Korea, BEYOND CULTURE CAMP: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption., suggests
Our Chinese children sit at the Passover table and scrounge for Easter eggs. They wear "South Side Irish" green scarves around their necks on St. Patrick's Day. It's all in the family.
My wife came home one day from our daughters' Chinese culture class to announce there would be no class next week. "Because of the Jewish holidays," she explained, straight-faced. Only in America. Our girls speak French, like their mother. My wife and I join our girls to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in Mandarin. We've learned that families mixed by marriage or adoption don't shrink or starve a heritage. They nourish it with newcomers.
But in the "Thanksgiving" piece, he was talking about being all-inclusive -- that doesn't make him dismissive of ethnicity, does it? Well, how about this from his interview:
For Simon and Caroline, that instinct was so strong that it drowned out any concern they may have had about there being an ethnic barrier between them and their adopted children.Best not to invest too much of one's identity in ethnicity?! Yikes! This is what I had to say in the comments to the NPR piece, after identifying myself as an adoptive parent of Chinese children:
"That baby is so much more to you than its ethnicity," he says. "First of all, they're hungry, they're thirsty, they're crying, they need sleep — all of these kinds of things that have nothing to do, certainly, with ethnicity."
And while Simon and Caroline are determined to expose their daughters to Chinese culture through history and travel, he says their ethnicity is still only a feature of their personality, not a defining trait.
But not everyone sees it that way. Simon says he was shocked when a friend asked Caroline if she felt guilty for taking her daughters away from their native culture: "My wife just answered, 'No, not really.' I think I would have had a tougher time holding my tongue."
Simon says it's best not to invest too much of one's identity in ethnicity.
How easy it is for white adoptive parents to say that our transracially adopted children's ethnicity/race doesn't matter to us. However, it is very likely to matter to our children. When my 3-year-old said, "I wish my skin was light," I could have said "it doesn't matter, I love you and your skin isn't what you're all about." But the fact that she asked the question showed that IT MATTERED TO HER. And as she's gotten older it has mattered more & more. She's extremely proud of her Chinese heritage, but it hasn't protected her from racial teasing - the "Chinese eyes" taunt, being told her skin looks dirty & covered with mud.One of my favorite things -- white people telling people of color how to feel about their color. Sigh. It's so disturbing when a well-known adoptive parent forwards this "race/ethnicity doesn't matter" meme, contrary to what adoption experts, and most importantly, adult adoptees of color, are saying. All Simon is doing is giving explicit permission to other white adoptive parents of non-white kids to ignore race and ethnicity. I have to admit, my life would be easier if I did. But my kids' lives wouldn't be.
Mr. Simon makes light of a subject -- racial identity formation -- that is far more complex than he acknowledges. Easy for him to ignore race/ethnicity, not so easy for his children.