Monday, February 28, 2011

Straddling the Line Between Two Worlds

This article, Straddling the Line Between Two Worlds, about 58-year-old Andy Livesay, reminded me of a line uttered by Dr. John Raible in the documentary Struggle for Identity: transracial adoptees will eventually find their way back to their communities of origin (paraphrased):
Livesay was adopted and raised by non-Indian parents.

* * *

Livesay speaks proudly of how his adoptive parents reared him.

“To adopt a minority back in the 1950s, that said something,” he said. “My parents were pretty forward thinking people, kind of proud I was an Indian, but they didn’t teach me to be an Indian.”

Fortunately, the family lived near what Livesay said was a “pocket of natives” in Tulsa.

“They were my buddies and friends, so I got to grow up in both worlds,” he said. “I started going around to all the elders, back when I was 14 or 15 and learned from them.
Livesay had no say in the article's headline, I'm sure, but "straddling two worlds" sounds to me like a precarious and uncomfortable place to be.  I see my goal as a transracially adopting mom as trying to ensure that my children feel comfortable in both their worlds.  If Zoe and/or Maya want to move to China and/or reject everything white/Western, that's okay with me -- I want to give them tools as they grow that allow them multiple choices when it comes to living out their multiple identities.

Part of what Dr. Raible talks about in the documentary is the importance of how adoptive parents react when their transracially adopted kids (as teens and adults) seek to return to their communities of origin;  he mentioned how great it is when adoptive parents are PROUD of the fact that their child has moved back to Korea, for instance, rather than feeling threatened by it.

Suppose your internationally adopted kid wanted to move back to their country of origin -- how would you feel? What are you doing NOW to ensure your child's ability to choose?


travelmom and more said...

My daughter attends a Chinese immersion school where she is learning to be bilingual, biliterate and multicultural (the school has a Spanish program as well). I want her to have language so she has the choice to live and work in China or elsewhere in the future if she wants. We are a fairly international family, my parents lived abroad for about 12 years and I have lived abroad a few times in my life, so if my children decide to do the same I am okay with it, I just hope they live someplace nice to visit.

Kim said...

Our boys are learning Spanish, we belong to an Hispanic church, and we've visited Guatemala once. We've talked about buying a small home down there some day, so we can spend time in both countries.

It would, no doubt, hurt my feelings if my kids rejected ME when they were older. But as for rejecting white culture in favor of their own bio-culture - that's fine. I care far more that they are men of integrity in whatever situation they find themselves.

Victoria said...

This is a great question, even if it ends up being rhetorical. I think it's easy when our kids are young to be a cheerleader for this idea. I'm sure it's hard to consider as they get older, being truthful here. But I plan to support it. I did a lot of traveling when I was a young adult and lived overseas and I think back now with empathy for my parents as I did some pretty wild things ;-) I have to give them credit for being supportive enough for me to spread my wings. I hope I can be the same. As for what we're doing to prepare? We are a very open household, always have been. Our daughter is very proud of her roots and we have visited once and plan to do so again in a couple of years when we save up enough (she is 7). There is no immersion school nearby but we have attended a Saturday school since she was knee-high and I'm constantly looking for opportunities for more. Could we do more - yes! I am grappling with that right now.

Pandette said...

Straddling between two worlds is NOT a very comfortable place to be. It took me years to come to term with it as an Asian American. Culture immersion is a lot more than language, food, and dances. For myself (and I know many others), we just have to come to terms that we are not "Asian" nor are we "(White) American". For good and bad, we are forever in-between.

Linda said...

Pandette wrote :"For good and bad, we are forever in-between."

I agree. Although I am a domestic adoptee, I feel the same way about all of my families. It's difficult to straddle those worlds.

I think it is the responsibility of ap's to do as much as they can to show their kids that it is OK to be a part of both worlds...and if the child chooses to be a part of their "other" world, without including them in every part of that journey, it's ok. That is true for first parents, too. ;)

Elaine said...

What travelmom and more said. Though we're currently doing the 'the world is a big place and we can live anywhere in it' thing by living in Asia. My Chinese/American girls have spent the last 4 years in Indonesia going to school with kids from 16 different countries. The little one calls Indonesia 'home' and America 'the place where my cousins live'. We're returning to the States (for a while anyway) this summer. While there we'll ramp up the Mandarin for us all in hopes of our next venture being in China.
There are many many ways of straddling cultures and I'm more and more convinced that identity is hardly a fixed thing.

Anonymous said...

This is something I feel strongly about. My children are from China. We live in a very expensive, not very safe area with a large Chinese immigrant community. Over 40% of the children at our school (in PI status) came to the US from China more recently than my oldest child. Our friends, doctors, neighbors, grocer, bankers, teachers, community leaders are Chinese-American. I'm the mom who doesn't fit in, can't speak the language, and looks funny. It is worth every penny and every discomfort on my part to have my children take great pride in their Chinese identities and feel like they are part of a large and diverse Chinese-American community.

Our community is generally diverse and there are lots of adoptive and foster families in our neighborhood (and kids roaming from house to house on the weekends), kids living with single parents, gay parents, grandparents, aunties... Our family has never stood out and my children don't think there is any standard family type.

Dee said...

Well, my kids racially identify as "white" but they are likely not entirely white. I have no information about their birth parents to know for sure. My son clearly looks part Kazakh, and my daughter's ethnic heritage likely includes the Nanai people who lived just down the river from her birth village.

I have told both my kids they should probably return to their native countries at some point for a visit, but I have not encouraged them to think about moving there. I would be heartbroken and horrified if they did that, and I think it's unlikely. They were both severely abused in their birth countries, both emotionally and physically.

If they do return to those countries at some point I hope they don't encounter the prejudice against orphans they have already experienced.

Mei Ling said...

If I only listen to Asian pop music (mostly Cpop nowadays), does that mean I'm starting to "reject" white culture?