Friday, September 3, 2010

Cultural Assimilation -- Is It a Good Thing?

Wo Ai Ni Mommy, shown on PBS this week, has definitely lit up the adoption blogosphere.  I'd seen it months ago and written my review then, so don't want to replow that old ground.  But it is interesting to see the same defenders of the adoptive mom, and the adoptive mom herself, jump into defensive posture to respond to folks saying the same things I did! (In fact, in response to one of the passionate defenses of the adoptive mom by a friend of hers in the comments to my review, I predicted this reaction: "Again, loyalty is a good quality. But you should probably get used to the fact that people are going to see your friend Donna differently from how you see her, based on the film. When it gets a wider viewing on PBS I'm sure there are going to be a lot of people who see the film exactly like you do. But there will also be a lot of people who see it like I do. And even more who see it like neither of us do.")

In one response at one discussion site, the adoptive mom says none of us who have critiqued the film have gotten the point of the film, which she says was: "The film was about how quickly children will adapt to their new homes, culture and environment!" Put aside for a moment whether ANY film has only one point when it's seen by more than one person, how about we talk about that one point, then!?  Here's the gist of what I said at the forum where Donna chimed in:

Donna and others tell us the "point" of the film is that children adapt and assimilate quickly. I don't think anyone who has adopted would doubt that, regardless of the age of the child at the time of adoption. It is amazing, really, for those of us who have experienced it.

But one of the negatives about adoption, in my opinion, is that there's an expectation that the child will adapt and not necessarily one that the family/parents will adapt. For example, the parenting style that works for bio children or a previously adopted child might not "work" for a newly adopted child. How does/should parenting style change/adapt to take into consideration that the child is different? Does the family's lifestlye change/adapt? Simple example: my oldest and I are go-go-go people, love to run around, hate to stay home; my youngest is a homebody and needs a slower pace. I could have asked her to adapt and run around all the time like we do, or I could have slowed us down and stayed home more. Which should I have done?

Second point is about cultural assimilation -- again, that seems to be presented in the movie as a good thing, with the only cautionary voice that of Dr. Amanda Baden. Why is cultural assimilation good? What does cultural assimilation actually mean -- can it be done while still maintaining a healthy racial/ethnic identity? How is culture and race/ethnicity distinct? What's the goal of cultural assimilation? Is this another adaptation required only of the adopted child, and not of the adoptive family? How can we help our children feel both "Chinese" and "American?" Is that even an appropriate goal?

So what do you think?  Why is it in adoption that only the adoptee has to assimilate and adapt?  How can/should families adapt in transcultural adoption? Does the film show positive adaptation and assimilation?  Is assimilation a good thing?  Are there ways to "assimilate" and still maintain connections to the original culture?  Is Dr. Amanda Baden correct in trying to shift the focus from culture to race?  Is it sufficient answer to say that right now, at age 11, Faith is happy and thriving in America? When, at the end of the film, Faith said she felt more American than Chinese, was that a happy ending?


Anonymous said...

I think only Faith can answer the questions you are asking. This documentary is afterall about her familial and cultural assimilation.

Unless you are a person who has culturally assimilated to the US from China, you are not equiped to actually answer the questions with any degree of accuracy, let alone objectivity.

As for the constant criticisms of the family of Faith, my gosh, get over it already. You are beating a dead horse (yet again) in this post.

Patty said...

Interesting Question.

As a person who immigrated to the US, from China as a young teen, I'm going to agree with the anonymous poster above.

And it is not a matter of whether it is a "good thing" or not.

It is what it is. You immigrate to a new country and you will in fact go through an assimilation process to become part of your new home country.

My parents refused to assimilate after immigration for the most part and they pay a heavy price for it even today many years later. At the same time, they were insistent that I assimilate, and do so fully and completely.

As for language, I never lost my capacity to read or write in Chinese, while at the same time I learned English and grammar to the point that I have no trace of accent, and none of the typical Chinese fragments of grammat in my grammar. So I do not agree with those who insist that we lose our home language. I am fully fluent in both languages written and spoken after more then 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, us adoptees are quick to adapt. After all our very survival depends on it.

But it then takes a lifetime to recover our identities from that adaptation.To learn to express and have feelings again after stuffing them down

Mei Ling said...

"I think only Faith can answer the questions you are asking."

But she'd never contradict what is expected of her.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your intelligent and critical musings about adoption. As an adoptive parent, I look to people like you to help me think about how to parent my children with respect and attention to their complete (and complex) identities.

I believe that, as the parent of children from China, it is absolutely my responsibility to understand how I feel about cultural assimilation (among many other concepts) and to help my children develop their own perspectives. In addition, I have learned a lot by listening to my children and not simply requiring that they do as I do and believe as I believe.

You are not "beating a dead horse". You are helping many of us to evolve as parents by... thinking critically! Again, thank you. Keep up the good work.

Sandy said...


These are really important discussions for AP's to have and to broaden their viewpoint to include a glimpse from the adoptee side - a very rare glimpse that an AP most likely will not see during their adoption because there emotions will cloud it. To be aware before is better - you know that old saying hindsight is 20/20 - that is what is being given - a chance to think critically and learn from that glimpse.

Patty, you kept your language because you immigrated with your parents, but would you have kept your language if it had not been the only language spoken at home?

Mei-Ling - so very true.

alainaw30 said...

Isn't it so easy to cast stones when you see an edited version of 76 minutes of someone's life, when the context of events have been stripped away?

I'm so grateful that the Sadowsky family showed the good, the bad, the ugly, and the incredibly beautiful thing that adopting an older child can be. How incredibly brave to allow a camera crew to follow you through the most heart-wrenching, heart-filling, emotionally draining time of your life. And what an incredible young woman Faith is. I'm grateful for this documentary to open the gates of conversation and allow people to see with open eyes some of the issues that are involved with adopting an older child, as well as seeing things through the eyes of an older child.

I have a hard time believing Donna Sadowsky to be the monster that people are creating her to be, so much as a real, vulnerable mom who makes good choices and bad, but ultimately wants the best for her children. I'm so glad I don't have camera crews following me...heaven knows what the adoption community would think of me.

Thanks, Donna, for opening your life and giving us a glimpse.

holly said...

Exactly what Mei Ling said. Of course adoptees adapt and assimilate. That is what we do best. It's a matter of survival for us, as we are masters at it.
I think the person we really should all want to hear from is Faith. I can't help but wonder what she'll have to say about all this in a few years.
Yes, I know how tough it is. I have a daughter from China too - but I'm also an adoptee. Until adoptive parents get fully educated about the grieving process, and how adopted children adapt to their surroundings, we still have a very long ways to go.

Jennifer said...

Mei Ling said...
"...."I think only Faith can answer the questions you are asking."

But she'd never contradict what is expected of her..."

That was unkind and insensitive toward Faith in my opinion.

Respectfully Mei Ling, you are projecting your personal feelings and perspecitves upon Faith with this comment.

It's wrong for you to do so. It is disrespectul, it violates Faiths personal boundaries for a stranger to speak for her without her consent, and it undermines her as a human being.

I do not believe that was your actual intention, I think you are just struggling with your own feelings and using Faith as an vehicle to project them. It is very common on the internet, but that does not make it appropriate.

It's fine if you say that is the way you feel, but it is wrong to magnanimously declare that this is the way Faith feels, believes and lives her life, and will live her life.

The fact is, you are not Faith, you do not know Faith, and so you simply do not know what (or even how) she would respond if she were to have an opportunity to actually discuss face to face with Malinda on the questions posed.

Your issues with adoption are not by default Faith's issues. They are IF, and ONLY IF, she actually agrees with you. Be honest. Own your own feelings. Don't project them on others.

Please don't speak for Faith as though you know what she thinks and perceives.

I tend to agree with the first poster, Faith is the one that can most meaninfully comment on the questions posed, especially since there were posed with her as the context. Maybe someday we will get to hear what she has to say. Personally, I will not prejudge (as some have done here) as to what she will say and feel about cultural assimilation.

I would very much like to hear what Faith has to say about all of this, but I want to hear from her, not anonynous people on the internet who insert themselves to speak for her.

As for the rest of us, we can only echo out our own personal feelings, issues, and baggage as a response to the stimulus of the question.

LisaLew said...

I think the film was well made, and fully admit I was on the edge of my seat watching.

Before the film came out, my biggest concern was that there was a little girl out there who was going to be adopted with cameras in her face (who was never given a choice whether or not she wanted to be filmed).

As for casting stones - some of the words seem very strong and judgmental, but isn't a blog all about discussion?

alainaw30 said...


A blog is about discussion...when it is an open, honest discussion, and people respect other views (whether they agree with them or not). When the discussion becomes vitriolic (as many comments about the Sadowskys have been), and not really offering anything constructive, it becomes casting stones.

I have not followed this blog long, but it seems that I disagree more than I agree with most of what is posted. However, it is giving me food for thought and prayer as I raise my own beautiful daughter.

Just my two cents' worth, which really isn't much.

LisaLew said...

Alainaw30 - I understand what you are saying. I agree with commenting respectfully and without personal attacks. I am also here for the same purpose: to learn and grow.

My personal opinion is that the author does not intend to "cast stones," but to throw out philosophy and fact(therefore gaining more information to stimulate conversation).

And your two cents is worth something. I hope you'll stay as it sounds as if you have your own opinion to add.

travelmom and more said...

I cried through the first part of the film, but I think my reaction was personal. My daughter is from Guangdong province so seeing the room in the civil affairs office brought back a lot of memories for me, and we are going back to China to adopt our Son next week so I am very sensitive right now. Listening to the babies cry and scream in the background was hard, our adoption video sounds like that and my daughter was doing most of the screaming which I think was healthy but very hard.
I wouldn't want cameras following our family and judging my parenting, yesterday I had someone stare me down like a criminal when I grabbed my daughter's arm in a parking lot when she tried to run off because she was angry that I wouldn't buy her some lip gloss.
That said, I thought forcing Faith to practice flash cards while they were still in China was a little much, I was also sad that Faith lost her language so fast. I wondered how quickly they put her in Chinese school and when they decided to work with the transracial adoption counselor, and what they learned from her. Overall I thought the film was good for people curious about assimilation, transracial adoption and adopting older children. I struggle with the word assimilation, I want my daughter to assimilate so she can navigate through our world, but I don't want her to assimilate to the point that she loses herself. The film didn't make adoption seem like roses and it showed some of the complexity of adoption. I agree with a lot of the posts that it would be interesting to hear what faith thinks about all this.

Reena said...

Coming in a little late to this one. I had trouble getting the film to play on my computer. Like others have posted, my first daughter is from the Guangdong Province and the beginning of the show brought back a lot of memories and a lot of tears.

I think there was likely more going on between Donna and Faith that was not shown in the film.

DH and I were surprised that the A-parents 'appeared' to have made no efforts to learn any Mandarin. We have adopted from China twice, both adoptions were daughters under the age of 2-years and we made an effort to learn some Mandarin-- if nothing else to at least have some words of comfort.

Had we adopted an older child we would have made an even bigger effort. I think the A-parents may have pushed the English so hard to facilitate bonding between Faith and her siblings-- I understand that-- but it did come across as a lot to expect right from the get go for an 8-year old girl. Again, we have no idea what else was going on behind the scene.

As some of the Adult Adoptees have posted, you cannot really expect a newly adopted child to do anyting other than assimilate-- their survival is dependent on the care they recieve from their new family-- in a completely new country where they are unable to communicate. How incredibly vulnerable and afraid they must feel.

Anonymous said...

I also agree that is was VERY generous of the Sadowsky family to allow cameras to show us the good and bad moments. I have no problems at all with Donna's parenting. Actually, she handled the melt-down situation with Faith much better than I handled my 6 year old's temper tantrum yesterday. I do believe if any one of us had cameras on us 24/7, we'd have others criticizing our parenting skills.

Regarding the adoptive mother not learning Mandarin, I believe many of us adoptive parents didn't learn Mardarin, including myself, prior to adopting. Plus, I thought Faith was speaking Cantonese, so I don't know if the adoptive mother's mangled Mandarin would have been understood by Faith. I now know a few sentences in Mandarin and anytime I meet a Chinese person and "try to impress them" with my Mandarin, invariably 95% of the time, they have no clue what I am saying.