Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A special dinner party

Through the magic of social media, my wife has started a rather large group of families with children from China here in No. Carolina, southern Virginia and So. Carolina.  This past weekend, a number of us met for dinner both to celebrate (a few days late!) the coming of the Year of the Goat and to get to know each other face-to-face.  I think that a good time was had by all.

There were, I believe, about nineteen families represented

Of course, the kiddies had no trouble mixing

Getting them all to stand still long enough for a group photo was a challenge.  What you can't see is a platoon of parents with phones and cameras.  And notice a certain little girl standing out front...

Caroline shares the same birth month and year with these two little girls.  I think that little A (on the right) looks much like Caroline, though she is from a different province

It's good to know that there are (relatively) so many adopted children in the area.  I think that all of us parents hope to keep the kids in touch with each other in the years to come.  Adopted children, especially international adoptees, are something of a unique minority, and I think it is important for them to grow up around other kids who understand what it's like to be "somewhere between".


With special thanks to Ms. Sandy Ho and her staff at Sampan Restaurant in Winston-Salem, NC

Monday, February 9, 2015

A conversation about race

I had a short talk with an friend of ours who is a foreign student (by coincidence, she is from the same city as our daughter) at one of our fine Southern universities.  She told me that she and her fellow Chinese students are somewhat less than happy with their treatment by the school.  I was puzzled and even a little astonished: political correctness and diversity are well-established in the US university system, so the idea that the school administrators and faculty wouldn't trip over themselves to make foreign students feel completely welcome was hard to believe.

In a cautious manner, I probed a little deeper.  WHAT was the school doing... or not doing?  How was it failing?  She explained to me that the school is not being outright abusive or discriminatory, but rather... oblivious.  Here we have students who are heavily outnumbered by their white peers and, indeed, are visiting a strange country.  The university, however, has made little effort to recognize that this can make them feel isolated and unsupported.

As we talked, it seemed to me that the problem lies in how white people deal with - are PROGRAMMED to deal with - people of other races.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, speech at Washington, DC, August 28, 1963
For the past sixty years, this is, I think, how white people in our country have been taught to view race.  In effect, we are taught to ignore it.  "I don't see a black / Latino / Asian / &c. person: I see simply a PERSON."* 

While this is miles ahead of indulging in negative stereotypes, it fails to recognize that race can be central to how people see themselves and certainly how they experience the world.  Our friend agreed that this is a pretty accurate statement of the problem: it's not hostility or even indifference to her and her fellow Chinese students, but simply ignoring that they are, in fact, Chinese**.

I admit that I'm not entirely sure how to deal with this sort of problem.  I offered the opinion to our friend that race is tricky to deal with for white people as we get conflicting signals about what is expected from us, and making a misstep can have some pretty nasty consequences.  However, we will HAVE to figure it out because, as our friend said, our daughter will very likely have to deal with it.


(*) For a very stark example of this problem in the adoption community, I refer the reader to this excerpt from "Adopted: The Movie" in which Korean adoptee Lynne Connor discusses how her mother absolutely refused to admit, much less discuss, her identity as a Korean woman.


(**) Our friend has cousins who were born here in the United States.  She related a story that I've discussed before: "No, no: where are you FROM?"

Monday, February 2, 2015

The haunted song of fatherhood

Thanks to a highly depressing commercial during last night's Superbowl (I do not refer to the one about dead children, which must bear the palm away as the single worst commercial in Superbowl - nay, TV - history, taking first place from 1964's "Daisy"), I was reminded of a song that must haunt fathers everywhere.  Certainly it haunts me.  It is a song of a man's failure to connect with his son and the price he pays later in life.  I refer to Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle":

My child arrived just the other day,

He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away. 
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."


I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you."
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I think that we all understand that a parent must often decide between his job - paying the bills - and spending time with his kids.  I think we all understand that parents sometimes need time away from the kids ("Man, I absolutely CANNOT stand one more minute of 'Barney'!!!!").  That being said, what parent wants to even THINK that he's so absent, so distant, that he's ruining his kids?

As a warning, the song is a masterpiece, though one that I can take only in very small doses.

Chinese New Year

The Triangle Area Chinese American Society of North Carolina hosted their annual Chinese New Year festival at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh this weekend.  This was our first time attending and we had a lot of fun.  I was pleased to run into a friend of mine from grad school that I hadn't seen for many years.  How time flies...

We also ran into some other adoptive families.  I was happy to see Caroline get on so well with other children, sharing (without too much prompting!) a little drum that we bought for her.  I would say that there were almost as many non-Asians as Asians in attendance.

Most of these people are in line for food.

There was plenty of entertainment: dancing, singing, music, martial arts demonstrations, &c.  Caroline had a good view.

From pater familias to high chair.  DOWN IN FRONT!

One of several dance troupes.

The Silk Dance.

Children also performed.

The Dragon Dance.

Naturally, we enjoyed the food.

A good time was had by all.

It occurred to me that the "Asian-American" community is a bit larger than just the people who are immigrants from Asia or descendants of Asian immigrants.  As I noted above, there were many people of other races there.  Some were simply enjoying the festivities, but quite a few were spouses, sweethearts, friends and (of course) adoptive families who, though not Asian-American themselves, are connected to that community by some pretty strong (!) ties.

A digression: I mentioned the friend that I ran into.  I recall having a talk with her when we were in school about "hyphenated Americans".  I said that, like Theodore Roosevelt, I didn't care for them: one is either an American or he is NOT*.  My friend, whose parents are from Taiwan, explained to me that this is rather easy for a white American to say, and that it's much harder for non-white people to be "plain Americans" not only because they feel pride in and connection to the lands and cultures of their ancestors, but also because they are often treated as aliens.  She told me a story about a Chinese boy she knew who dated a white girl.  He met her family and, in the natural course of polite conversation, they asked, "Where are you from?" He named the city in No. Carolina where he was born, but they persisted: "No, where are you FROM?" as if a person of Asian descent can't possibly be from No. Carolina... or anywhere else in our country.

As you can see, this conversation stuck with me, and I like to think that I understand her point better now than I did then.

Caroline, of course, is FROM China: she was born there.  She can - and I hope she will - say that with pride.  But I also hope that she has equal pride (well, OK, MORE pride!) in saying that she is an American.  And, if she wants to say that she is a Chinese-American or an Asian-American - a hyphenated American - I'm good with that.


(*) I may well be wronging TR: his dislike of hyphenated Americans was not of them per se, but rather of those who put loyalty to their native / ancestral land above their loyalty to the United States.  He also had no use for "native" Americans who put themselves against their fellow countrymen who happen to be immigrants or the children of immigrants.  I certainly agree with this:

"Americanism is not a matter of creed, birthplace or national descent, but of the soul and of the spirit.  If the American has the right stuff in him, I care not a snap of my fingers whether he is Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant.  I care not a snap of my fingers whether his ancestors came over in the Mayflower, or whether he was born, or his parents were born, in Germany, Ireland, France, England, Scandinavia, Russia or Italy or any other country... If the immigrant is of the right kind I am for him, and if the native American is of the wrong kind I am against him." [emphasis mine]
Theodore Roosevelt, speech, St. Louis, MO, May 31, 1916

A final quote that I like, this from Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was an immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire:

"[I]t's true I didn't come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could."