Monday, November 24, 2014

Understanding the adoptee (pt 2)

Doubtless, this will be a continuing series.  It ought to be so as I keep bumping up against the problem that I don't, despite the best will in the world, fully understand all the challenges that my daughter may well face as she goes through life.  I think that I am no different from any other father in that I would spare her any heartbreak or grief if I could, but, sadly, the world is what it is and she's going to get her portion.  My part is to help her, as well as I can, deal with them.

My wife and I are always on the lookout for stories about adoption and adoptees, and especially writings from adoptees (I have written in the past that these can soemtimes be difficult if not absolutely infuriating to read, but one has his duty).  As this is National Adoption Month, the otherwise loathesome Huffington Post is actually doing something useful for a change and publishing articles by adoptees.  I bring one to your attention.

I suppose you could call me a Chinese-American, but truth is, I'm not really all Chinese and I'm not really all American. I feel different ways in different situations. My name is Emily Champion and I am 15 years old. I was born in China in 1999 but I am growing up in America...


So what am I? Where is my community? I learned this summer that I belong to the community of other international adoptees -- other girls (and some boys) who left their birth countries and are being raised in places where no one looks like them. My mom signed me up for this conference in Ohio called Adopteen because I felt alone in my own community. She said that the only people who would know how I felt would be people who have been through what I've been through. So in the summer of 2014, I headed to Ohio and to Adopteen where I was one of about 130 adopted kids from China (and two very nice Romanian brothers who also came). What I learned there was that I didn't have to face my fears and uncertainties about my past alone because now I have a community. At Adopteen we did teen bonding and activities, and they also gave us plenty of time to spend with each other and just have fun. I never knew there could be so many girls who were just like me. Just to spend time with them was the best opportunity I've ever had. I still keep in touch with some of the girls and boys and they are like my second family. There are two more conferences coming up and I am saving my babysitting money and allowance so that I can hopefully go to at least one of them. This means the world to me.

It has occured to me before that international adoptees are (as the documentary of the same name states), somewhere between.  They are usually raised in white families, yet look Asian (or Hispanic or African).  People automatically expect certain things about them based on appearance, and are understandably surprised when they find that they truth doesn't match expectations.  This must be hard on the adoptee.  It seems to me that adoption camps must be very good for the adoptees as fellow adoptees are really their "community".  We certainly had planned to send our daughter to them when she is old enough, but this article gives us more of a feeling of urgency: it's not just a nice thing to do, but something very like a necessity.

Emily's statement about not feeling "really all American" really bothered me. I was raised to believe that a person, whether his ancestors came over on the Mayflower or whether the ink is still dry on his Certificate of Citizenship, is a by-God AMERICAN, entitled to all the rights and priviledges appertaining thereto. I was in grad school when I was introduced to the idea that people of color, especially second generation immigrants, don't necessarily feel this way as our society doesn't come close to the ideal of "we are all Americans" but instead often treats them like foreigners. In short, it's rather easier for a white person born in this country to believe in the "by-God American" than it is for an international adoptee like Emily.

Or my daughter.

What can the adoptive parent do about the sorts of things that young Emily has experienced?  What can prepare a child for the day when some a$$hole is going to make a racist comment or laugh at him because of a handicap?  Or even when a well-intentioned person tells him that he must be "so smart"?  What ought the parent to do to instill in his child that, "You are an AMERICAN" and that the child can be proud to be Chinese (or Korea or Guatemalan or Ethiopian, &c.) while still being proud to be American?

So much to think about and to prepare for.

I must say that one thing Emily wrote gave me a great deal of satisfaction, and ought to be a model for how bullies should be dealt with in the schools:

It was always fun for the boys in grade school to speak crazy made-up Chinese to me and one boy even told me "to go back to China." The really funny thing was, he did it in gym class and my gym teacher heard him and made him get down on his knees and beg me for forgiveness. It's still one of the best days of my life.

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