Thursday, November 4, 2010

Speaking to the identity of Chinese children in America

From the Washington Post, an article about the growth of Chinese language schools, and the role of adoptive families in that growth:
Abby Newell's adoptive parents have been preparing for her "birth tour" for years. They have attended Chinese culture camp in Silver Spring, decorated their Fairfax home like a Shanghai apartment and - most important, they say - enrolled Abby in Mandarin classes on the weekend.

The goal is for her to land in China sometime in the next few years with a sense of her own complex identity: She is both an 8-year-old girl from suburban Virginia and a child whose birth mother left her in a rural Chinese outpost with a note pinned to her saying, "I can't keep this child."

Thousands of American parents who adopted girls near the peak of the Chinese adoption boom earlier this decade are facing similar dilemmas as their children reach school age. Increasingly, they are turning to weekend classes in rented public schools or storefronts taken over by bare-bones Chinese language programs.

"We've always believed that language is the key to culture - to Abby's heritage," said her mother, Robin Lelyveld Newell. "These classes aren't just about fluency. They're about identity."
Each of my girls started Saturday Chinese School at age 3, the youngest age the school will accept.  It has definitely been a good thing for both girls.  I agree that language is the key to culture, and that we're getting more than language out of the exercise, we're also getting cultural competence.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, but weekend classes in Mandarin will not bring about cultural competence with respect to China.

Nor will mimmicking the decor of a house, or dress, or traditional celebrations or practices.

That is not to say that it is not something that is benefical for a child.

But to assert it brings about cultural competence is absurd and quite frankly it is disrespectful to the culture of China.

China culture is something deep within the heart of Chinese, not something worn demonstrated through outward rituals or pretense.

All that is really going on here is parents trying to smooth their own feelings about taking their child from their native culture.

Kim said...

Wow, well I disagree with Anonymous in so much as learning the language ALLOWS you to connect with the PEOPLE of that culture... from whom you can then learn.

(I do agree with Anonymous that Speaking does not EQUAL "competence" but it sure is the right road to get there... not speaking the language throws up a nearly impossible barrier to "fitting in.")

AND I would also like to affirm that if your girls are from China, they ARE Chinese. Chinese-Americans, yes, but not "lesser" Chinese-Americans than any Chinese family who decided to immigrate to the U.S. and thus had to take on our English language and U.S.-American societal norms.

Way to put in the effort to get them into the classes so young! We've done the same with our boys and Spanish - also realizing that language is the FIRST thing other foreign-born Hispanic/Latino people look for as a way of connection. It does make a difference in how quickly they are accepted as "one of them." Which they are. Even if they have "Gringo" parents.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon.

Another battle weary cry from someone who clearly belieaves all IA should be halted.

Where is the outcry from China then? If truly these children are missing the core of a Chinese experience, then why not take care of their own?

Why dump on AP's who are, by their own acknowledgement attempting to give to their children something of their heritage, albiet of limited scope.

Disrespectful to China? I think it would more disrepectful to have not made the attempt in the first place, pretending its of no significance.

You already believe its impossible to simulate it fully and frankly I doubt that many AP's would disagree with you.

Should we then abort the effort altogether? Bury out heads in the sand? Throw our collective hands in the air? Dismiss what gains can be made?

Come on...enough with the pretending AP's efforts are only due to guilt ridden angst.

Does it ever occur to you that love of a child might be the motivating factor? That we wish for their overall well being above all else?

Perhaps if China felt that same guilt, these children wouldn't face this dilemna in the first place. AND I'm not talking about individual families with few options, but rather the systemic policies of China that result in adoption. China and other countries.


travelmom and more said...

My daughter attends a new Chinese immersion public school in my area, and about 1/4 of the families in the school are adoptive families (most from China but some from other countries as well as domestic). I feel language gives my daughter choices she wouldn't otherwise have. In the future if decides she wants to learn more about her birth culture or has the opportunity to meet her birth parents, language will give her that opportunity. We also put her in an immersion school because it is very diverse, and our family does stand out so her experience is "normalized." Our school also has a Spanish immersion program that brings additional cultural richness to the school as well as additional multiculturalism.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous (2) said...
@ Anon.

Another battle weary cry from someone who clearly belieaves all IA should be halted."

ON THE CONTRARY Anon2, you could not be more wrong in your hateful presumptions.

I fully support China IA, I have a daughter adopted from China and we are in fact an immigrant Chinese family who adopted from China. We are called expats. As an immigrant Chinese, I am in a much better position to speak to what does or does not help an adopted child from China embrace and understand Chinese culture.

I fully support learning the language and learning about the culture. I simply do not agree with the Caucasians who profess that doing so connects the child honestly with the culture. Nor does it build any form of cultural competency in their adopted children.

Be honest with yourself people. Your children will always be foreigners in China, no matter what you try to do to mitigate this. That is not a bad or a good thing, it just is what it is.

So Anon2 please, give the presumtuous hate rhetoric a rest.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon #1

Hysterical much??

Hate rhetoric?

Oh no, but you can certainly find that if you look around hard enough; but its not usually coming from AP's but rather other voices.

No one pretends it replaces culture but my point was the efforts made are not coming from a place of guilt but genuine love and commitment to our children.

Furthermore it gets tiresome hearing the same old party line from folks such as you. Darned if we do and darned if we don't.

Seems to me my thoughts ruffled your feathers a trifle but that's for you to reconcile with.


Mei Ling said...

"Darned if we do and darned if we don't."

That's why adoption isn't "the same."

LisaLew said...

Back to the topic... my daughter has on and off expressed an interest in learning Chinese. We have a Chinese tutor who is a wonderful educator and mentor. My husband and I view her Chinese education as a taste of culture while learning language.

No, it's not the same as living in China. She was abandoned and adopted, obviously, so living in China at this point in her life is not possible.

No, it's not because we feel guilty.
We would like to give her any tools she desires to connect with her heritage. The relationship and learning with the tutor, she desires.

Anonymous said...

But to assert it brings about cultural competence is absurd and quite frankly it is disrespectful to the culture of China.

--> I agree, about the cultural compentence.That said, it DOES benefit the child to make authentic cultural connections, especially in regards to language. Language opens up the door to opportunities and wanting the best I can provide for my child-- I think language is key.

However, I do not pretend that we are a Chinese American family. We are not. Trying to be something we are not (i.e. decosrating our house all Asian themed) would be under a false pretense.

We are a multi-racial family. Therefore, my approach is to try to be as honest as we can about who we are as individuals-- and-- as a family.

No guilt, just honesty.