Thursday, September 9, 2010

Some adoptees' perspectives

I've been perusing adoptees' blogs lately. Their perspectives are eye-opening - sometimes painful, sometimes hope-inspiring. I try to expose myself to the possibilities because, even when AwesomeCloud learns to speak, he may not always tell me what's going on in his head.

There are identity issues. International and transracial adoptees may feel self-conscious for standing out, and they may grieve the loss of their birth culture. They may take issue with their lack of exposure to the birth culture in their childhoods, or they may resent other people's expectations that they're more familiar with that culture than they actually are.

They may take issue with the attitudes and language of adoptive parents, or of adoption communities on the internet, which are frequently dominated by adoptive parents. Sometimes it feels as if adoptee bloggers are policing adoptive parents for bad behavior, and sometimes it feels as if we adoptive parents are policing each other.

That's why I sometimes say, "I need to stop reading blogs!" I'm not the only one who says that, either. It can be hard to read the bickering, resentment, and open hostility within the blogosphere. I'm a member of the group with the loudest voices and the best representation - adoptive parents - which is an advantage and a disadvantage. On one hand, I have a lot of allies. On the other hand, I'm already guilty, no matter how hard I try to dance around the landmines and sidestep the potholes.

And this is on top of me being a member of another powerful group - the wealthy white person. We may be a worldwide minority, but in English-speaking society, and to some degree in other societies as well, my opinion matters. My wishes are respected. My voice is heard. I, as an individual, may feel nearly powerless in a sea of louder voices, but as a group we white people are at the top of the power hierarchy.

And I'm making myself responsible for raising a nonwhite person and teaching him how to competently wield this white power. I must also prevent him from losing his Asian self in the process.

Of course, that's not how I see it personally. Personally, I'm raising my son, and I want to equip him to make his way in life and succeed to the best of his ability. I want to teach him to chase his dreams, grow from his failures, learn lessons from everything he sees and everyone he meets, find happiness whatever his life situation, believe in himself, and make the world a better place.

I don't think, "Haha, I'm inserting an Asian into white culture! Take that, fellow whiteys!"

(Okay, sometimes I think that. But with a sense of humor.)

(C'mon, aren't you mildly amused by the notion that white people will be a minority in the US in 20-odd years, and we families who adopt internationally are helping the process along? Don't you feel like throwing your head back and cackling, "BWAhahahaha!"? And that in spite of our children's nonwhite race, they'll have all the social and educational advantages of their white peers?)

(See? I'm growing more comfortable talking about race.)

(Maybe too comfortable.)

(Okay, listen. This is what happens when a person who can't grok the nuances of racism, because racism is a social phenomenon and she's always struggled to understand social phenomena, tries to get herself to discuss the topic anyway. She may not have Deep Insights about racial truths, but she can identify some racial truths and state them. Maybe some people will cringe when they read my remarks, but all remarks about race make somebody or other cringe.)

(Wouldn't it be cool if we could talk about race without making each other cringe? I'm trying! I'm probably failing, but I'm trying!)

But my point is, although I'm aware of my son's race, I don't use it to make very many decisions. Maybe a couple of small decisions. I'd like to find a male Asian martial arts instructor for him someday. I may never find one, but I'm going to look for one, in case one exists. The big decisions, however, are all about resources and opportunity and not about race.

Well... that doesn't always have to be true. But it's true now.

Within the last week, we've had conversations with two Asian adoptees who shared their own perspectives. And, just like in everything else, real life is a very different place from the internet.

The first was our waitress at IHOP. She had a long, flowing black braid, and as we finished our pancakes, she came over to our table and remarked that AwesomeCloud was adorably cheerful. She asked if we'd adopted him, and if he was Korean. She'd been adopted from Korea and she said she frequently met other Korean adoptees.

"I don't have any Korean culture in my background," she said cheerfully. "My parents are consummate rednecks!"

"Have you ever been interested in exploring Korean culture for yourself?" I asked.

"Nope," she said. "I'm not that interested. I'm interested in baseball!"

(I'm totally paraphrasing this conversation.)

So we talked about baseball awhile. It wasn't a very long conversation, because she was working at the time, and Cloud had quite finished his pancakes. But she was very clearly certain of her worldview, and it included a love for culture and some lofty goals. Those passions and goals, however, were not related to Korea. (Aside from any context in which Koreans play baseball.) She told us the story of how her parents approximated her original Korean name to create her 'American' name, which is something reasonably familiar and common, but perhaps spelled a bit differently. She had a good sense of humor about racial identity and perceptions.

The second girl was a teenager who was adopted from China. We already know her and her mother personally, and we've had adoption-related conversations with the family before. This time, I told the teen that AwesomeCloud's 1-year adoption day anniversary was coming up.

(I don't use the term 'Gotcha Day', and besides, 'Gotcha Day' was the day before adoption day. Celebrating both would be like celebrating All Saints Day the day after Halloween, which, yes, some people do, but we sure don't. I guess we could have an adoption day eve and call it 'Gotcha Day', but... um... no.)

I reminded the teen that this time last year I'd been telling her all about how we were just about to leave for China! Any day now! We marveled together at how much had happened in that year, with the adoption and AwesomeCloud's growth and development.

"Are you going to have him learn Chinese?" she asked. "One of my regrets was that I didn't take any Chinese classes until a few years after I was adopted. I wish I'd started when I was five or six, before I forgot the words I knew when I was three and had to start over."

I sympathized and reassured her, "I'd like our whole family to learn Chinese. We're waiting until Cloud can speak a little bit in English, just to get the general act of speech going. But once he does that, I figure we can start thinking about learning Chinese too."

She approved.

"I feel it's important for his parents to learn along with him," I added. "If we just make him take lessons, it might create a rift between us."

She shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not."

I got the impression that she was in the "maybe not" category, herself. She seems very poised and secure when it comes to the topic of adoption. I think she and her mother are very open and comfortable with the topic. Maybe she has always been able to discuss her feelings with her mother and allow the family to deal with them together, instead of creating a complex conflict in which culture and identity become tools for negotiating her place in the family.

She's a remarkable teenager, not stereotypical at all, and maybe that's why. While other teens are at odds with their parents over any number of issues that they can't fully articulate, this girl seems to go right to the words and discussions. She seems a lot more mature because of it.

In fact, she seems more mature than many adults.

It's possible that either one of these adoptees harbor unspoken hurts inside and are simply good at emphasizing the positive while talking with others. It's possible that if I knew them intimately, they'd tell me dark secrets that eat at their souls. It's possible that they keep blogs and discuss adoption issues on the internet.

But I can only report my own experiences. One girl, whose family hardly addressed the culture issue, is happy with her chosen niche in American culture. The other, whose family has discussed adoption at great length, can comfortably and intelligently discuss those issues with other people she meets.

I suppose there are as many ways of facing culture and identity issues in adoption as there are adoptees. The bloggers who discuss crises and problems therein are as honest and genuine as the people who claim to have found their equilibrium. Maybe more so. Maybe not. However, it's good for me to have these types of conversations with people in real life. It gives me a wider view of what to expect in AwesomeCloud's future. Neither of the girls claimed they hadn't experienced any trauma - they didn't have to. I know they experienced trauma. I know Cloud experienced trauma. But what comes afterwards, now that the trauma has already happened?

Any number of things. It depends on the individual and on the circumstances. And to some degree, it depends on us.

I don't plan to keep quiet about adoption, or to brush Chinese culture under the rug. I'm a communicative sort, and I plan to communicate.

The nuances, however, are to be determined. Cloud himself will be an influence on that.


  1. I hope the Korean waitress you met is a Sox fan!!!

    I LOVED this post. You echoed so many of my feelings about adoption, race, and cultural identity. My 18 year old Philippine-born daughter was raised in her heritage to the best of our ability. However, she was not deluged in it. She is very much like a combination of both girls you spoke of. VERY comfortable with her identity as a Filipina-American (with an emphasis on American). We are conscious of, but not obsessed with, proper adoption language and, miracle of miracles, our daughter is not distraught and bitter. She is well-rounded, happy, well adjusted, and an overall great human being. We even, perish the thought, have called the day we met her her Gotcha Day, for seventeen years. She does not feel like an object that we "got." We think of it more as "this is the day that we all 'got to be' a family."

    As your son gets older your ideas for how to incoporate his adoption and his Chinese identity into his life will always be evolving. It is a never ending process. Kinda like parenting!

    Again, super post.

  2. Thanks!

    I'm not opposed to other people celebrating Gotcha Day, certainly. I just feel like the day we adopted the kiddo makes more sense to us as a holiday. And, okay, the idea that other people think Gotcha Day is controversial made me think twice about it. I usually think for myself, but when a new concept is presented in a negative light the first time, I might shy away from it.

    If Gotcha Day had been described as happy and positive the first time we'd heard of it, we might want to celebrate it too.

    I really shouldn't let other bloggers influence me like that, though. It's our life, right? And if other people think our way is unthinkably wrong, that's their loss.

  3. When we adopted Becky in 1993, "Gotcha Day" had no negative connotations. That's the term everyone used. Only recently have I been reading other people speak about the term as if it diminishes their children and relegates them to some kind of objects. I get that and I respect their decisions to celebrate or not and to call the day whatever they choose, but we have never used the term to imply anything negative and my daughther has never felt offended by it. So we use it.

  4. well, I can tell you something- I needed to read this today. I have been tearing myself up over the issue of race this week, well you know actually since I adopted a child from China. But this week has been hard. Lots of churning thoughts and worrying. All I want is for my children to be like the girls you have mentioned above. Not because of what that means for me but because of what it would mean for them. Freedom.
    Thank you for this. And I love the way you spoke of race here. No flinching, some humor. Isn't that how everyone should deal with it?

  5. Love this. Also needed to read this today. Somtimes it is hard reading the blogs that would like to predict exactly how my children will feel about their adoption (from both angles). "Cloud himself will be an influence on that."