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May 03, 2006


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Great post and I think you touch some very relevant issues. Issues that may touch not only adoptees but children born of "mixed race" relationships. I'm half hispanic and half white, but like (and unlike) you I've never really felt a lack in cultural heritage. For the most part I think many people would say I was raised white, but I really feel "blended". I often read articles about young ethnic artists/writers/filmmakers who feel torn between their two cultures. I've never felt torn. And maybe I'm biased because I've always lived in a culturally diverse area, but I've always felt like all aspects of heritage are to be celebrated, especially my own. But I understand there are still a lot of people who don't celebrate the differences at all.

I just love posts like this - it's MU at its best. Thoughtful, insightful, provocative. The kind of thing I can forward to my feminist, progressive, educator mom and she'll say, "I'm so glad you've found such a brilliant community of women online." In fact, I think I'll do just that!

I feel like an honorary Asian in the blog community; a good many of my favorite writers here are Asian. What do you think that says about me?

I don't have anything to add in terms of cross-cultural insight, but I'm glad I read your post, Kristen. International adoption is on my radar these days, albeit at a low altitude. Thanks for writing!

Loved this post. I am a white, blue-eyed blonde, with two similiar birth sisters. We have an adopted Vietnamese brother who has been with our family since he was 18 months. He came from an orphanage and was whisked out of the country literally hours before the Viet Cong took over Saigon.

Growing up on the East Coast in our very normal, upper middle class, Catholic family we all had more than we needed and were loved unconditionally by two wonderful parents. We also took in foster children of all races, so I grew up in a mini-UN. My parents asked my brother several times as he grew up if he wanted to try to find out more about his biological background or even visit Vietnam and he always declined. Even though they couldnt understand how he could have NO interest, they didnt press hte issue because they felt like it was putting to much emphasis on how he was DIFFERENT from the rest of us.
As an adult my brother accpeted a job in LA and was suddenly surrounded, for the first time in his life, by Asians. My parents went to visit and when he brought them to church my father noticed he and my mother were the only non-Asians in the place. My parents asked my brother if that was why he went there and he finally admitted that while he doesnt go to church that often, he does like living where he doesnt feel so different from everyone else. He went on to share, for the first time, some of the things he experienced growing up as one of the few Asians in his school. He didnt even realize until he moved out there that he wanted to know more about his culture. We all, he included, just assumed that he was fine with being an "American", despite his foreign beginnings. It has been a wonderul learning experience for him to finally embrace where he came from.

Thanks for writing this post. It was honest and heartfelt and important for people to read. And you did it with your usual flare :)

As you know, my son is half asian and I think about this all the time. He is fair and my husband is not always proactive about teaching him about his asian culture so we have had many conversations about it. I think we are doing an okay job but I loved to hear your perspecive as an adult as it gave me so much insight into what my son might feel.

Great Blog!!! You bring up some very interesting things!!

I'm Japanese-American, raised in South Central L.A. (aka The Hood), my husband is Caucasian, raised in the San Fernando Valley. In other words, your typical L.A. couple.

Our two girls are 'hapa' as we call it in Japanese (half Japanese, half Caucasian), although as I've stated before have a limited cultural perspective and see themselves as "Half white, half anime." It is indeed a struggle to keep our heritages alive. I admit I've been guilty of being somewhat laissez-faire about cultural preservation in the past but as they get older it's becoming more of a mission for me. We're taking a trip to Japan this summer and I'm looking forward to their immersion in the culture, even though they think the streets are lined with Pokémon cards.

Beautiful and moving.

Thank you for sharing.

You've inspired me to try to learn a little more about where I'm from. Thank you.

I enjoyed both learning more about you and reading your culturally sensitive take on this topic. Great post!

Standing ovation yet again K. You always make me think.

Are we living parallel lives? I am exactly where you are in this post...(that's a hint about me :)

WOW Your relative invented Chinatown in DC?! My dad invented dim sum. (that's what my mom says anyway!

Very sensitive, well-done post, Kristen. My thoughts on this topic have mostly been said (better than I could have) by other commenters here already.

At Easter my aunt rolled out this huge geneology map that traced our heritage on my maternal grandfather's side back to 1092. And it struck me how fortunate and privileged we are to be able to trace our ancestors back so far. My biological father wasn't part of my life until my adulthood, but I'm thankful that I do know a bit about "where I came from" on that side as well. I feel incredibly lucky. And knowing the family histories has indeed shaped who I am today.

Hi Kristen,

First, let me thank you for your email letting me know you had linked to my blog and your perspective... I appreciate that very much.

If I may, I am going to hijack your comments for a moment...

One of the reasons we chose China for an international adoption is because my stepfather is Chinese. Through this relationship, we have gained many wonderful relatives... for us, adopting a child from China made sense because she would always have Chinese family in her life... aunties and grandparents and cousins... she is not the "alone" in our family.

Eva is lucky enought to actually experience her culture in a more personal everyday manner than perhaps some others and that is what we ultimately wanted for a child not born of us... an identity beyond what we could give her... an ability to relate in ways that perhaps are not understood by her father and I.

That being said, every adoptive parent I know does their absolute best to take the experience that their child has with the country of their birth to a higher level... some are more successful than others.

My post was general in some ways, and, in others, a direct reaction to a rather painful Easter brunch with people who should behave better, but yet, do not.

Thank you again.. I think all discussions about this topic are important... I learn something from every one.


Thank you for this post. I have these same feelings about cross-racial adoptions and luckily I was able to get pregnant on my own so this never came up as more than a discussion. I have seen what lack of knowledge about your heritage can do. My husband is half Danish, and while to most people he looks like you average Arayan American. Both of us know how important this part of him is to him. Like you he did not grow up knowing his mothers native tongue (he is second generation) since his father thought it was a dumb language that know one would want to know. I know this is hard on him and he wishes he had more of this part of his heriatage. I think what you said about letting them know about this part of who they are is very important, because the fact of the matter is it is and always be a part of them.

Fab-u-lous post K.

Terrance and I talk - all the time- about Emily understanding that while she is bi-racial - she is "black" to all who visually scan her. This is so important, as we are in a VERY homogenous setting. To her Detroit cousins, Emily acts fairly white. That's one of the reasons that we ship her to her grandmothers for a month in the summer. She needs to absorb the air in Detroit. Long after she leave my house, she will be a black woman and need to cope with society as such. I don't have the same skill set as my mother and sister in laws.

I worry for the children who are with parents who never think about the fact that regardless of the love inside their family - the world is out there. And it ain't pretty. Your child will need to cope with the "oreo" or "twinkie" comments (Black or yellow on the outside - white on the inside). Pretending it doesn't exist, or you can overcome the legacy of racism with your "love" is a false illusion. We must prepare our children, so they can face teh world as it IS - not as we wish it was.

And sadly, most white people aren't even aware that there is a priviledge inherent in their skin color, so they aren't at a place to discuss it.

As I started reading your post I was all prepared to be annoyed. (I'm not sure why, given that I haven't felt that way about your blog before. Guess I just had a bug up my butt today.) I was ready for you to say you opposed cross-racial adoption. (again, not sure why I'd think this.) Instead, your post was lovely.

My Jewish heritage is important to me. I am not religious, but I love knowing the traditions. I learned a lot of my culture through Jewish sleep-away camps and after-school programs. It will be a lot harder to do that in Oregon (where .0000002% of the population is Jewish) but it is important to me that Ada get a sense of where she comes from on her mom's side. Chris can take care of the kilt wearing and Akvavit drinking part of her education.

Her Bad Mother is absolutely right. I can't collect my thoughts well enough to comment on this properly, but it's definitely important.

This was such a great take on a sensitive subject. And it should be required reading for everybody - not just adoptive parents, or parents of children of mixed heritage, or folks for whom questions of race and heritage are obvious 'issues,' but for anybody who wants to raise their children to appreciate diversity (such a banal term, but still) in a meaningful way. Not just in the PBS 'one of these kids is not like the other' kind of way, nor the 'culture is for festivals'/It's a Small World kind of way, nor in the well-meaning 'we're all the same' kind of way. I've never been sure what the meaningful alternative is, but your post goes a long way toward pointing in a useful direction, the 'who am I/who are we?' direction.

Wow. That is probably as vague as I'm going to get today. What I meant to say was, loved this. Felt it was important.

Hi Kristin,

We have tossed the idea of international adoption around. I've recently read a newspaper article about how some of the asian children in white households feel a bit lost and left out -- that their asian heritage hasn't been addressed in their white homes.

That worries me. What if I'm one of those parents? I know I could love a child who didn't look like me but I worry if that child would ever feel that way.... And would people say all sorts of stupid things in front of this child? Would those things make her/him feel like an outcase in our family>


Sounds like I was raised even "more Chinese" than you were. I think Chinese School gave my Asian (they were not all Chinese) classmates that sense of belonging you described, while it taught me just how uncomfortable it can be to be the one who is different.

Great post, Kristen. I'm Chinese-American and my husband is Caucasian, so we often think about culture and experiences for our baby boy. We're hoping to speak enough Chinese around him (me, grandparents, etc) that he can be bilingual . . . we'll see how it goes!

Just in case you or your readers haven't seen this (I've posted it in recent weeks on several other blogs), check out The Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People--I discovered it in college, and it crystallized a lot of what I was figuring out back then as a multiracial person who had also taken multiraciality as my academic focus.


I think that besides "ancestral" or "country-of-origin" culture, what gets lost in a lot of discussions of transracial adoption, or even mixed race issues or the raising of children of color in homogeneous, white settings, is the issue of transmitting an understanding of what it means to be non-white, or Asian American, or an American of color in this specific society. It's not just about food or "traditions," it's about the history of the transformation of those things and more via the experience of these peoples in this country as this country has racialized them and treated them differentially through and because of that racialization, that Other-ization. It's not about teaching a transracially adopted kid what it means to be "Asian" or whatever specific ethnicity, it's about being aware of what it means to be Asian American, and that's a totally different experience that people deadset on being "color-blind" don't get, or see the importance of.

Great post, girly. I'm jealous of folks who know their family culture. I never learned anything past "you're part indian!" and that doesn't get me very far.

On a different note, I can count to 10 in Chinese. And say hello (ni hao) and goodbye (don't know how to spell that...zih jian?) and how are you (hao ma?) and...um...yeah, that's about it. ;)

I forgot to mention that there was a post that made me think about this topic the other day at Kimchi Mamas:
(it's from April 26 if the link doesn't work.)

I bought the pictured book for my daughter at the last school-based book fair. I thought it would be a nice way to introduce the idea of different cultural celebrations to my girls.

My mother was adopted -- her biological family was Italian and the family that adopted her was pretty typically Canadian, with some Scottish thrown in for good measure. I've always wondered, especially after marrying into a very Italian family, how my mother's upbringing, and in turn, my own, would have been different had she not been adopted -- had she grown up in touch with her Italian "roots". And although my mother's adopted parents always told her that she was adopted, I don't think they really shed much light into her ethnic background. I've wondered in the past how that would have shaped her differently if they had.

Amen, Kristen. I couldn't agree with you more. Despite being 100% ethnically Korean, I didn't fully appreciate my cultural and ethnic history until I was a teenager. This was mainly due to my immigrant parents' desire to have me assimilate. I understand their attitude but I want my daughter to fully appreciate her ethnicity from Day One.

Now, if I could just find a Korean nanny who can helpe me out, it'd be great.

I completely agree. I think it's natural to want to know more about our ancestors. I wish that all cultures tried to preserve some of their traditions. I find every generation is less connected to their heritage as we blend in our melting pot.

I'm half-Indian, and our upbringings and late "cultural awakenings" sound very similar. I, too, grew up "white" and am married to a white man (sounds funny to say that, as it's so irrelevant; never really thought of him or myself that way), and my children show no physical evidence of their Indian roots. My dad taught me little about being Indian -- I got no language, no religion, only lots of good food -- so when I hear him speaking a bit of Marathi to the kids, which just melts my heart.

The best thing I ever did was travel for an extended period in India. Met all my family (the only time I'd met them previously was when I was 3), and really understood what a gift it was to have this place and these people running through my veins. I was sad that I couldn't communicate well with several of them, but we made the best of it. I hope to take my kids there when they're a bit older.

Interesting post. I have always wanted to adopt a child from another country and you bring up an important issue.

I don't think that an adoptive parent's lack of knowledge about her child's heritage has to be a roadblock. I always imagined the two could learn about it together at the appropriate age when natural curiosity blossoms. But ignoring it is definitely a mistake, because you're right- that child likely will always feel a little different from his/her friends.

This post resonates with me as my hubs and I are talking about adopting a special needs child. After talking with the adoption peeps out there, we have learned, most likely our new kiddy wouldn't be white. Which is cool, but it does give us a new wrinkle to deal with if we bring home a new babe.

Wrinkles are good, but I don't want to miss anything. So this post will help my hubs and me sort out how we would include this child's heritage into our home. Hmmm, thanks for the post fodder. Something for me to chew on.

You have once again tapped into something that has been on my mind and in my heart ever since I started blogging and reading bloggers of Asian/mixed descent.

I had been trying to find a way to formulate a post on something very similar and yet so vastly different and I still can't find the right words but this was very inspiring.

A great post! Thank you.

(Do you remember one of our first comment exchanges was about our love for Amy Tan? lol)

Kristen, this is essentially why I love reading your site. You aren't afraid to voice an opinion, and tackle contentions issues.

Personally though, I didn't gather from Kristin's post that she intends to deny her daughter education regarding her ethnic heritiage. She refers to the people of China showing faith in Westerners to raise Chinese children to be proud of where they came from, the country of their birth. I interpreted this as an understanding on her part that indeed adopted Chinese children in the West do have have "a history and a heritage" worth attention.

The piece that stuck out most in your post for me was this:

"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?"

I had never looked at this perspective. My initial reaction to the use of the (cleverly dubbed) "ethnic adjective" is that it is often used in a slightly ignorat and politely rascist way, and rather than honouring differences, it simply segragates.

Perhaps that is the place where irritated adoptive parents are coming from when they tire of hearing the ethnic adjective being ascribed continually to thier children. Largely because as the parent, they do not see their child as the "(insert ethnic adjective of your choice here) child" but rather they see their child as, "(insert wonderful personality adjectives here) child" Or simply put, they see thier child largely for who they are holistically, and not who they are just based on their race.

Still, I am left pondering what you wrote. Maybe you are right that there might be some positivity in claiming that ethnic adjective with pride.

I am just a white girl from Canada though, so what the hell do I know about any of this.

I recently had a conversation with two friends about this topic. My daughter's best friend is Chinese. I told my friend that I expected her to be white because Asian adoption has become so common and we do not have a high Asian population in our area. When I take my daughter and her daughter out in public, everyone assumes that they are both mine.

Both friends (my other friend is originally from Mexico) had mixed emotions about foreign adoption. They realized the benefits, but couldn't help feeling that it had become a status symbol.

All three of us though, felt the beauty of this country is the sharing of culture.

Oh and some of us are not purebred and so have no culture. We have to borrow. For my family we use chopsticks as adeptly as a fork. Mexican is our comfort food.

This is a complicated subject. I guess with adoption in general there's various schools of thought -- some parents believe in openness, and others hide the fact that their kids are adopted until they are older. I guess when a white couple adopts an Asian child, it's obvious the child is not their biological one, so they're faced upfront with questions, comments, etc.

I think parents who try to downplay the ethnic differences may in part be trying to ensure that the child does not feel isolated from his/her parents by virtue of their differences. I'm thinking of parents who have both biological and adoptive children, and are faced with insensitive folks asking which are the "real" kids. Makes me cringe.

But I'd never thought about the aspect you describe -- maybe by downplaying the ethnicity, parents are unknowingly denying the kids a whole aspect of their past, their genetics, their history that they might be interested in. I guess the key is for the parents to keep an open mind, to keep the dialogue going when the kids are interested in more information?

Thanks, as usual, for making me think. ;-)

I took Kristin's letter more along the lines of she didn't like the possible way her child was being set apart?
Maybe I read it differently.
I left a comment to her over there.
But I also wholeheartedly agree with your stance of a child needing to know it's own culture and heritage. It's an extremely important part of a person's makeup.
Being adopted, I didn't find out my own story until I was 28. You can't imagine the relief of finally knowing where you "came from" so to speak.

Adoption is a subject that raises as many tempers as politics or religion.

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