Sunday, August 23, 2009

Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit

Busy weekend, between socializing, looking for furniture and the regular household chores.

But I received a comment from a gentleman in Taiwan and wanted to bring it forward to the main blog because I think it touches on something important.

James writes:
"With your adopted daughter how are you going to go about teaching her about her identity? This is something my friends and I talk on about endlessly here in Taiwan. How will you go about teaching her Chinese history? She is young now but at some point she will realize she doesn't look like mom and pop. Will you take the route of Americans are come one-come all? Will you all start to learn Mandarin as a family to try to give her a connection to her roots?

I have some friends that are going back to their countries of origin so that the kids get brought up in "their culture." But doesn't that mean they lose their Taiwanese culture?

This is a very complex issue with no easy answers."
One thing that has never changed about adoption is tragedy. All adoptions start with that; a child has lost her parents, and must start again with a family that is not hers by blood. Even more tragic is adoption across cultures or races, where the loss includes the loss of the society that would have enfolded her.The bottom line for Missy is that she ISN'T Chinese anymore. She's an American of Chinese origin, just like my grandfather was an American of Scottish origin and my wife's great-great-grandfather was an American of German origin. So I will assume that her primary orientation will be to look at China as I do, say, Scotland: with interest in its culture and history but no strong inclination to speak Chinese fluently any more than I want to speak Gaelic. She will never be a mainlander; she lost that when she lost her parents, just one more piece of the tragedy that is orphaning and adoption.

But...the problem is that you can't tell by looking at me that my grandpa stepped off the boat 100 years ago. Bill James once wrote about the huge change in baseball that occurred in 1947 that "...before the black players arrived there were Polish-Americans, Jews, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans and beyond; after the blacks arrived everyone else was "white"." Missy will never be "white", and so, unfortunately, she will always be a American with a "difference" until us white folks become just another Yank and not THE gold standard of American-ness.

As for her native country and culture, what I would hope is that she WILL be interested enough in China's present to become fluent in Mandarin as well as learn to read it. And from there, hopefully she can connect with her native country.

As you know if you've been following this blog or a while, I have a real issue with the standard sort of "Chinese heritage" stuff that many American parents stick their kids in; lion dances, kung-fu, silk robes...sure, these are "traditional culture", but why them and not Hong Kong hip-hop, Shanghai dance moves, Pobaby cartoons and speed dating in Beijing? The local adoption group, Families with Children from China, is all about the former - what I call the "Chinese restaurant"-type culture - so they're no help. They refuse to accept that they're just like I am - a clueless white American, with no more understanding of what makes contemporary China tick than Elmer Fudd knows about Confucius.

The reality is that while I can talk to her about the Warring States period, Empress Cixi and the Great Leap Forward, I am nowhere tuned in enough to help her appreciate her homeland's modern culture. She will have to get that herself, if she wants, when she's old enough. With any luck we can get involved with Chinese-American organizations that can help her with that and get her started early.

So she will always be caught between two cultures, that of her birth and that of her adopted country, the same old dilemma that first-generation immigrants have always had.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I am still mulling this one over. Sometimes it takes awhile for me to get get my teeth firmly lodged into a thought. This question of multi-ethnic/cultural intergration is one I am fully committed to as it pertains to my daughter. I am sure you are as well.

As a first thought I would say the cultural differences are very subtle. You mentioned lion dances/Kung Fu/ "Chinese restaraunt" culture. Well I can't talk about that stuff because I am in Taiwan and not the US so this doesn't even enter the thought process for me.

I will give you an example of Taiwanese culture that for me has resonance. Nuclear vs extended family. I am of Irish and Czech descent and I live overseas with my Taiwanese wife and our daughter. A "typical" American nuclear family.

But my familial connections here through my wife and her family are quite different. I am the outsider but still in good graces. My wife's parents and sisters all are immediate, even with the language barrier and accept me as part of the extended family.

AAcch. As I said I am still mulling this over. I will become more cogent with a bit more introspection.

James Caba

Ps I invited my Belgian friend to view this site so be prepared!