Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boldness - it's the Chinese way!

There aren't very many Chinese people around here. Whenever I do see one when I'm out with AwesomeCloud, I try to make eye contact and smile, just to make some sort of social connection. I nod and smile at all sorts of other people, too; it's not just people who look Asian. I'm doing my part to make sure Cape Cod is a friendly place for tourists.

But this is about Chinese people we meet. Now, it's not true for everybody, but I've noticed that in general, Chinese strangers we meet are bold about asking questions. They ask questions so boldly, they'd make most of us adoptive parents dash for the door if those questions were asked by white people. Sometimes the phrasings they use are astonishingly blunt.

We adoptive parents like to lament and compare the awful questions we're asked in public. We like to make lists of the top ten worst things people have said to us, or the top ten worst adoption myths. We think up pithy answers to prying questions from strangers or acquaintances who are fascinated by, and often poorly informed of, transracial adoption issues.

I've been to a workshop on fending off those questions. There's a book for children to teach them W.I.S.E., a technique for defending themselves from these questions. We learn how to identify the line between small talk and rude behavior... okay, it's more of a zone, and requires a lot of judgment calls. What should my family's boundaries be, and how can I stand up to someone who crosses them? It's different from person to person, but we all realize that there should be boundaries, and that we should shield our children from rude questions.

It's nobody's business but ours. We're protecting our children and ourselves. The boundaries are necessary.

The placement of those boundaries, though, that's a cultural thing. It appears that American boundaries are way in close to us, and Chinese boundaries are a bit further out.

So how do I proceed when the nosy stranger is Chinese? I have mixed feelings about this. My first feeling is that I want my son to see that Chinese people are friendly and approachable. That they may have accents or speak English nonfluently, but that's perfectly all right and not frightening. That people enjoy talking to Chinese people they meet, and by extension, people will enjoy talking to the Chinese person he sees in the mirror.

I want to give the Chinese person a chance to say something pertinent to my son's heritage. Sometimes they do. My son's heritage will come to him in bits and pieces, however our family can gather them, and I'm willing to gather some cultural crumbs from people I meet who are from China.

I want to give the Chinese person some reassurance. They seem to have a special interest in their children, and by "their children" I mean any child who is also from China. One woman asked me if Cloud was Korean. (No, he's Chinese.) "I am too," she said. "Is he from Taiwan?" (No, I said, and told her the city I always use as a reference point for Cloud's region of origin - it's so much easier because Westerners have never heard of his hometown and native Chinese can't understand me when I mispronounce it.)

"I am from there too!" the woman exclaimed. She seemed pleased with the connection, but also concerned. Maybe she was unaware that her region was involved in international adoption. Anyway, she told me a little bit about her own son, and it ended up not being so bad in spite of the confrontational tone she'd taken at the beginning.

I want... maybe, a little, if I can figure things out for myself first... I want Cloud to become familiar with the Chinese style of conversation. Because that's part of his heritage too.

(I'm not saying he should learn it instead of cautious, American-style conversation with all our walls and boundaries. Maybe he can learn both.)

On the other hand, I find that Chinese people have misconceptions about international adoption too. And I sometimes feel as if I were educating them like I sometimes find myself educating white question-askers. (Which is a lot. Of the W.I.S.E. techniques - walk away, invoke privacy, share your story, or educate your audience - I'm primarily an educator.) But while I know what misconceptions my locally-grown neighbors need to be educated on, I can't tell you what misconceptions people of the Chinese culture may bear.

And I also don't necessarily know what my own misconceptions are. I know what I know, and in some cases I know what I don't know. But some of my knowledge might be fuzzy or obsolete. And generally not very accurate. I try. I know how to fudge my gaps of adoption knowledge with people from my culture, whose own gaps in knowledge all seem to be very similar. The adoption myths around here are all pretty pervasive. I can safely assume I know what Americans are thinking. I'm not so good at guessing the Chinese.

(A note about demographic terms: I know I'm being sloppy with my usages of "white", "American", et al. There are many cases of people fitting into the group or behavior I describe but not into the term I use. I apologize, and I'll try to fix it later if I have time. I am currently out of time.)

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