Saturday, July 30, 2011

Angelina Jolie & Culture Keeping

In a lengthier interview in the Financial Times (registration required), Angelina Jolie talks about her kids and culture (you can also get this snippet of the interview from People without registration (thanks to LisaLew for the link)):
The Jolie Pitt family is a miniature League of Nations. Their eldest son Maddox, who is almost 10, was adopted in 2002 from his native Cambodia. Zahara, aged six, was born in Ethiopia, while Shiloh, the couple’s first biological child, was born five years ago in Namibia. Pax, whom they adopted four years ago, was born in Vietnam and three years ago, Jolie gave birth in France to twins Knox and Vivienne. “They are all learning about each other’s cultures as well as being proud of their own,” she says. “So it’s not like just the boys get to do the Asian thing. They all have their flags over their beds and their individual pride. We owe Vietnam a visit, because Pax is due. Z wants to get back to Africa, and Shiloh too. So everyone takes their turns in their country.”
The FT interview also references the Louis Vuitton ad I posted here:
She has been to Cambodia this year, to shoot an advertising campaign for Louis Vuitton with Annie Leibovitz. An impoverished country might seem like an odd place for a luxury fashion house to shoot an ad campaign but the final decision was made by Jolie herself. “To actually do it there, to highlight the beauty of the country, was something I was very happy to do because it is a place people should travel to,” she says. Indeed, she and Pitt have a house there – “it’s a little place on stilts”. Her fee from the campaign will go towards charitable projects in the country, she says, building on work she began with a foundation the family established in Maddox’s name. “It’s focused on protecting mountains from deforestation, poaching and clearing landmines. We put it together for Mad so when he’s older he’ll hopefully take it over.”
 Lots of issues here -- the always-popular "miniature League of Nations" crack, culture-keeping, including multiple cultures, culture when adopted and bio children in the family, travel to birth country, charity in birth country (does donating her fee to charity absolve Jolie of charges of exploitation?), expectations of adoptees' charity in birth country. . . and what else am I missing?

Your reactions?  Comment, please!


Karen said...

Well, there are really two different things to comment about....The media's PERCEPTION and portrayal of what she is doing, and WHAT she is doing.

I can't judge what she is actually doing because it has not been said whether she is or is not keeping her kids culture. And even if she isn't, is she wrong in not doing so? I mean, let's face it, does sending kids to "Culture Camp" or playing with (insert race here) American friends and/or socializing with their native speaking parents, or any other thing APs try to do, REALLY preserve adopted children's first culture? I suppose in a way it helps. But really, unless we as APs are willing and ready to immerse ourselves into another country and live there for over a year, we can't really preserve their cultures. We can help them identify with it, but we can't preserve it. Even by doing that, they will still have parents who were not raised in the culture, so the subculture of family would still be missing from the puzzle.
Frankly, I think anyone who is willing to say that they are preserving their IA child's culture, is just blowing bubbles and patting their own backs for something that can never happen. I think the whole idea is overblown. BUT that is NOT to say that we shouldn't involve our children in cultural experiences. It's always a wonderful thing when children (and adults) can be shown and can actually experience some of their own roots. Even those of us who are American born for generations, like getting back to our roots. It can only be a positive thing.
As for the media....sounds like they are being very PC with Jolie. They're using her as a saintly model of IA. Not sure that is a bad thing, just not accurate.

Summer said...

I don't think any internationally adopted child can really keep their culture. I think Jolie means well in trying to expose her children to their birth cultures as much as she can, however I worry more about how they will define their identities as adoptees and how she is nurturing the transracial adoptee side of them. The fact is her children are American now. They may visit their home countries and be exposed to its people but they are largely growing up in America and will likely never quite fit in with Vietnamese, Cambodian or Ethiopian communities in their home countries or within American communities. I wonder how they will really establish a community in America that they fit into. The information I get from adult adoptees is that they really only feel like they fit in/identify with other transracial adoptees not within cultures of people from their own countries. I wonder if her children are missing out on forming these bounds as most internationally adopted children aren't jetsetting from country to country all the time.

Mei Ling said...

"We can help them identify with it, but we can't preserve it."

How do you identify with a culture when you don't speak the language, don't interact with the people, don't watch media/shows in the language, don't cook the food, etc?

If you do all of the above - still, how do you identify when your identification is going to have to be "justified" to the next person who feels the need to point out that you weren't *culturally* raised there?

To native people raised within their home countries, "trying" doesn't cut it. "almost" doesn't cut it. You either speak it or you don't. You either understand it or you don't.

Having some sub-understanding of the language doesn't count either, because if you were culturally *of* them, you wouldn't have "sub-understand." You'd just *know* the culture/language/food/___.

Anonymous said...

My reaction: what is the obsession with celebrity adoption on this blog? Every time a celebrity adopts, it is noted on this blog, even though it adds nothing to the discussion of adoption and its issues. Celebrities are easy targets for what they do or don't do. Not interested in jumping on the bandwagon of criticism or adulation.

malinda said...

Because when the media reports what ANYONE does when it comes to adoption, it's a chance to talk about ISSUES. And surprise, surprise, the media reports more about celebrity adoption than normal-everyday-people adoption.

So that explains the "obsession." Have you noticed that when I do post about celebrity adoption, it isn't just a newsy, so-and-so is adopting post, but instead I highlight ISSUES to be discussed? Or use it as a springboard to discuss some issues?

Feel free to ignore the celebrity aspect -- I do -- and look for the adoption issues instead. . . .

윤선 said...

I hate Angelina Jolie. Everyone thinks she's so wonderful and kind and caring. But I just think she's superficial and stupid.

Karen said...

Mei Ling- I think one CAN identify with a culture without being immersed in it totally. My grandmother was German, and my mom is half German...I am a quarter german. My mom speaks German to a degree, but I do not, not really. BUT when she passes on German traditions to me and then I in turn pass them on to my family, I can "identify with it". Germans might not be able to "identify" with me, but I can certainly identify with being German.

Anonymous said...

Really? Didn't notice your recent post about Denise Richards adopting being anything more than an announcement. What were the adoption issues you highlighted to be discussed?

Anonymous said...

Just because our attempts to expose our children to their culture will not be effective in "preserving" their culture doesn't mean we shouldn't do them anyway. I think it's better than nothing. At least it shows our children that we are interested in and value their heritage.

malinda said...

Denise Richards = homestudy screening?

Mei Ling said...

"My grandmother was German, and my mom is half German...I am a quarter german. My mom speaks German to a degree, but I do not, not really."

What about a Caucasian raising a Korean child? A Caucasian whom do not knows any Korean?

Kind of hard to pass on something you don't know, right?

"BUT when she passes on German traditions to me and then I in turn pass them on to my family, I can "identify with it".

You can identify with those traditions in the same way a person who was raised in the country of origin can? Really?

Mei Ling said...

"Just because our attempts to expose our children to their culture will not be effective in "preserving" their culture doesn't mean we shouldn't do them anyway."

That wasn't my question. My question was: How do you identify with something done/practised in the country of origin if you've never been there or experienced it yourself?

How do you identify with an ethnic group you've never met, rarely (if ever?) interacted with, with customs you yourself never learned?

What "is" there to identify with?

Anonymous said...

“Denise Richards = homestudy screening?”

Where was the discussion? You certainly didn’t offer any. Were you implying that because of choices Denise Richards has made in the past she shouldn’t be allowed to adopt? The only “discussion” in the comments was basically Denise Richards – ick. Just like you, she appears to be an upper middle class, white, single mother with two children. Why wouldn’t/shouldn’t she have been approved to adopt? Again, I don’t know what your thoughts were about it, because you didn’t offer any.

The problem I have with using celebrities as a springboard for discussion is that the comments tend to focus on criticizing the celebrity and their choices, rather than focusing on the issues. Yes, this AJ post has generated discussion of culture keeping, which is great – even if most of it is retreads from comments to other posts. But you also get the AJ: hate her and can’t stand anything she does. How is that useful? Your blog is better than that. You have shown that you are extraordinarily capable of offering up a wide range of topics and issues to be discussed. Some of your posts are truly outstanding and need to be published for a wider audience. You and your blog doesn’t need celebrity bashing to get the discussion going.

Just my two cents for what it’s worth. Not intended as an indictment of your blog, of which I will remain a faithful reader.

malinda said...

You know the old saying, "You can't please all the people all of the time." Good thing I don't even bother to try! Each reader is free to ignore the posts that don't appeal to them. That's one of the positive things about my blog, I think, is that I post a variety of things.

In the past 3 years, I've published 1,542 posts. I've counted 31 that had anything to do with a celebrity (and that's counting Scott Simon as a celebrity). Seems a little less than an obsession, and pretty easy to ignore if you have a mind to do so.

Karen said...

Mei Ling I think you miss my point. A child can identify with a culture without being IN the culture. And that can be very different than a people in that culture "identifying" with the child.
I dont think, when we go back to China, the Chinese people will "identify" with her. They can't. But I do think that she can identify with her Chinese heritage. She can never BE A PART of that culture without living there, and speaking the language fluently, but she CAN identify with it. She already does.
Im certainly not saying that is a good substitute for living it, but it can't be a bad thing.

Karen said...

My daughter's best friend is Chinese American. They go to the same school. They go to the same Chinese classes. Her best friend does not live in China either (obviously), even though she is Chinese American. Just curious if your viewpoint is that her best friend can "identify with those traditions in the same way a person who was raised in the country of origin can?"

In my case, of course I cant identify the same way as a German can, living in Germany. I didn't say it was the same as, I said I can identify with it. Ive lost my heritage, in a sense, but that does not mean I do not feel connected when I see something or learn something about Germany.

Mei Ling said...

"She can never BE A PART of that culture without living there, and speaking the language fluently, but she CAN identify with it. She already does"

How well can she?

Karen said...

I suppose we would have to ask her that question, when she's older than six. Not sure how to put a meter on it at any age though.

I'd still like to know your response to my question about her Chinese American friend, who's parents came to the US before they were married. I'm very curious as to your thoughts on someone's cultural retention, whos first generation American, and if that's different in your perception or if it is the same when it comes to identifying with the country of their heritage. Can someone who's first or second generation American understand and identify with their culture, or do they have to be raised in that country also?

Anonymous said...

Your post asked what else you missed. "Africa" as a country jumped out at me. Last I checked, it was a continent. That one really makes me crazy.

Mei Ling said...

"Can someone who's first or second generation American understand and identify with their culture, or do they have to be raised in that country also? "

Judging by the differences between my friend Lika (Canadian-born, Asian parents) and myself (Asian-born, Canadian parents), I'd have to say no.

However, in my experience, I've also had to justify a lot more about being Chinese ("feeling" Chinese) to outsiders than she does, as I have Caucasian parents and she does not. We do have similarities, the most common one being that we both feel loss, and we are both "judged" on how much we can understand/speak the language.

However, there is that marked difference between our upbringings and the way we are perceived. (One such example is that she doesn't have an English name; she merely goes by her Chinese name. If I were to change my name legally there'd be an outcry because I wasn't *raised* as that name. Big difference there.)

Also, I'd like to point out that this isn't about Chinese-Americans/Canadians being born outside of Asia and raised by Asian parents. This is about children who have been adopted by Caucasian parents.

Being raised by Asian parents within a semi-Asian and semi-Canadian/American parents requires its own thread and train of discussion, which is why I haven't really taken care to address those points.

Karen said...

Mei Ling, although I think you skirted my question, I think you do bring up some interesting points. My daughter's best friend has both Chinese and American names, and goes by her American name in public, but her parents call her her Chinese name sometimes when we are at their house....just as we do with our daughter often. I'm not sure, however, that if her parents only used her Chinese name in schools, etc, that the school (or the general public) would think she was adequately assimilated. But at the same time, I think if we had NOT changed our daughters name to her American name (with her given Chinese name as her middle name) the school and general public would think that we (as Caucasian parents) were overcompensating for her being internationally adopted.
It seems there are shades of gray on this subject. I dont see how it can be black and white, except perhaps for each individual experience.
Thanks for sharing your perspective. I appreciate that you are willing to carry on a conversation with me.

Louise said...

Anon - I hate Angelina Jolie! Yeah, I went there!

Others, yes I sit in judgment of someone I don't know. This is an interview, her words. She is totally pushing "her" issues on the children. Oh, and her marriage won't last. Just another confusion in the chaos of what het children call life.

Anonymous said...

I think she is offering her kids cultural tourism. Fortunately, she has the money to play tourist.

I agree, it's hard to judge because we don't really know... but that's what it appears.

At least she isn't playing the "I saved an orphan race doesn't matter" card.

Anonymous said...

Celebrities have become demi-gods in our culture and sadly, often set the norm. Hard to ignore them.