If you can't tell from my pictures, I'm half-Asian - Chinese to be exact. I never really identified as an Asian-American until later in my life. I'm not sure if it was because it was never an "issue" or because my American-born Chinese mother didn't raise us in that tradition. Sure, I ate with chopsticks, enjoyed various delectable delights on various special occasions, and quizzed classmates about my very cool Chinese middle name, but for the most part, I was white.
The explanation for the lack of cultural awareness in my upbringing is multi-faceted. A combination of being raised by a post-world-war-II Chinese woman who was socially forced to speak English (everyone was Japanese then...) and then denied her own heritage by marrying a white man (and therefore alienating her own family) probably had a lot to do with it.
Quite frankly, it wasn't until I got to college and being Asian (aka different amongst the sea of white anglos) was cool that I started exploring my cultural heritage. I admit, at first it was through a variety of crappy Asian shirts and some pretty kickass tattoos. But really, it was because being Asian (and tall) got me a lot of attention. And I liked that.
My understanding of my own amazing personal heritage is limited. My great-grandfather, the first American-born Chinese in Washington DC was one of the founding "fathers" of Chinatown. He owned a little Chinese restaurant that flourished for many years until he suffered a stroke in the late 70s. His three sons, one of which was my grandfather, were highly educated and very successful. My grandparents had an arranged marriage - a bitter issue that my grandmother still holds today. I imagine being ripped from your homeland and family is enough to make anyone pretty damn pissy (even if life itself was probably way better). We don't speak, however, out of respect for my mother, who suffered great abuse (as the only female child in her immediate family) at the hand of my grandmother. And thus ends much of what I know.
With a piqued interest in multicultural issues (particularly in therapeutic settings) at graduate school, I found myself bitter and sad as well - mainly that my glorious heritage, the one that I had basked in with great pride, was something I knew very little about. Why hadn't I been raised "more Chinese?" Amidst the countless "What are you?" questions, and requests to hear even just one Chinese word, I realized that I wasn't white. And while I didn't necessarily identify with the Asian culture, I was Asian by heritage, and I longed to know more - to be a part of something I knew was a part of me.
Living in the United States has its perks - and one of them, I believe, is the ability to bask in your differences - to freely state your heritage, ethnicity, and cultural identification. The melting pot concept drowned with the cold war, and now we are able to highlight the differences we have and still attempt, at one level or another, to accept others for who they are and not make them something they cannot be.
If you understand the word culture, then you know that is has more to do with ethnicity. In fact, it has to be with belonging. You may be of one specific ethnicity, say Asian, however you were raised as a white person. This doesn't mean that your heritage is of little or no importance, but rather that you feel a sense of belonging MORE with white folks than Asians. You may be Jewish by heritage but you identify more with the Christian culture. You are a product of your upbringing - and your cultural identifications change as you grow as a person.
So, why this post? Well, aside from the fact that the Asian American blog community is amazing and I've never felt such a sense of belonging with this group until now, I happened upon these posts. While I support adoption with everything I have, I shiver to think that our new Asian children will not know about their heritage.
While I sense a level of innocence rather than devious oppression, however, it's something to be addressed. Although adoptive parents may love their child as their own, regardless of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, it's naive to ignore the possible reactions from others - the responses that we as parents and people cannot control.
As a therapist and professor, I teach my students that while you may have an attitude of acceptance for various ethnicities and cultures, your clients may have preconceived notions and prior experiences that cause them to react to you in a specific way (positive or negative). We need to address those issues in order for a therapeutic relationship to be established.
Similarly, we need to realize that just because you believe your child's heritage is inconsequential doesn't mean that others and your child will think that it's not. Regardless of how non-Asian you raise them, they still have a history and a heritage if only in their skin, eyes, and hair. So while it might bug you that people call her "Your Chinese Child" or "Your Korean Sister," perhaps that's not so inaccurate. We all want our kids to fit in (in one way or another), but by taking away their "ethnic adjective" are you denying them the right to their cultural history?
That doesn't mean dressing them in silk pajamas and feeding them KimChi. But it does mean providing them with their history, and allowing them to appreciate their special and unique physical features, amongst other things. And it means preparing them for the reactions, both negative and positive, particularly for those children who have gained minority status coming to this country. Perhaps providing them with opportunities to meet other Asian children and families might provide them with an outlet and a means to feel a sense of belonging that their white counterparts just cannot provide.
It's okay to be different. It's okay to want your child to not be ostracized. And it's okay to love them as a child, regardless of how they look or where they came from. But, I don't think it's okay (or wise) to not allow them a window into their history.
Diversity is truly the spice of life. I'm proud of who I am. I only wish I knew more. I bet they might feel the same way too.
This post is in honor of Asian Pacific Heritage month.