My apologies for such a long time in between posts! Since I’m a DC resident I’ve been dealing with the snow, and that coupled with my graduate school studies have kept me quite busy. I’ve got some new posts in the pipeline coming soon, so be patient with me.
Some of you may have seen this recent Newsweek article, written by Jeneen Interlandi, an internationally adopted woman from Colombia. Overall I like the article, I think it’s timely and I agree with most of it. But there are a few ideas I’d like to explore.
One idea that Jeneen references is the divide between her American identity and her Colombian one, and says this disconnect is the product of her childhood experience. Her quote here, “My loss of ethnic heritage has been more than compensated for in the multitude of opportunities afforded by my adoption,” has not been my experience.” She glosses over the significant lack of knowledge about her own culture by saying she likes being a “cultural chameleon.” I’m not going to discount how Jeneen feels. If she says she’s “OK” with this, who I am to argue she should not be. But my experience has been so vastly different.
My concern is that someone may read this story and think that all adopted children feel the same way about losing their cultural heritage. I can tell you, I don’t feel as she does, at all. I’m personally glad that my parents figured out ways to keep my birth culture alive for me as a child and as I grew older. As someone who identifies as an Indian, I want to stay in touch with that part of who I am.
I’m not making a judgment of Janeen’s parents or her upbringing. She was raised when it wasn’t easy to impart birth culture to your adopted children. I’m merely saying that in my opinion keeping a child connected to their birth heritage is crucial. She continues further in the article citing studies which show that “transracial and transcultural adoptees don’t face any higher risks of psychological problems or identity issues than domestic, same-ethnicity adoptees.” This may be true. But I don’t think that just because it’s not statistically significant, doesn’t mean the possibility should be discounted. Or that it’s an issue which shouldn’t be explored.
I don’t understand why same-ethnicity adoptees are even compared. They are definitely not the same. A child that is the same ethnicity as their parents won’t get stares and questions like “are those your parents?” For my white parents, hauling along three brown kids for dinner at the local restaurant when we were younger brought attention. This is not the same as having five people whom all share the same skin color going out in public as a family.
A set of issues that same-ethnicity adopted child faces, are surely not, at their deepest level what an adopted person from a different ethnicity endures. They wouldn’t feel like they never fit in racially with their peers. They wouldn’t think about how hard it is to explain why their skin is brown, yet they have a Western name, or why they don’t speak their native language etc…
Our society tries to minimize racial differences, by pretending they don’t exist. But the fact remains; if you have anything other than white skin in this country people will treat you differently on various levels. Will that lead to psychological issues? Maybe, it certainly could.
The overall point of her article seems to be that raising a child with love is more important than having re-connected with its birth culture. I disagree. I shudder to think that perspective adoptive parents who believe that merely loving a child, and raising it with support and care, as well as providing for it financially, if it’s from another ethnicity is “enough.” It’s not. There needs to be both love from the parents and connection to the birth traditions. That being said, I’m not going to advocate that cultural bonds trump a safe, secure and loving environment for a child. That stance would also be ridiculous. I believe firmly in both.
However, we live in the 21st century, in my mind you have no business as parents (I don’t’ care how much you love a child) raising an internationally adopted child without any association to their birth origins. I’m not necessarily asking that you move to a more diverse area, but your own child should never be the “diversity experience,” in your life.
If you have no interactions with people of races and ethnicities other than your own, and even worse no desire to learn about them for yourself, kindly remove yourself from considering transracial adoption. You’re doing a child no favors by taking them from their birth culture and indoctrinating them in yours, except for physical comfort. And as much as I love children, material benefits are not a good enough reason in my mind to internationally adopt a child.
In this connected, flat world we live in, there are myriad opportunities for you to come into contact with people who are different from yourself. Especially if you are even thinking about international adoption, for one simple reason; international adoption is expensive.
There is a self selective process in which impoverished families aren’t even in the international adoption discussion. So that makes parent’s refusal to be “diversity minded,” even more galling. Those who internationally adopt are not living in public housing, in the middle of nowhere, existing on food stamps, and doing menial jobs with little education.
Rather the demographic for internationally adopted parents is educated; usually globally aware, and at least middle class or close to it. It costs quite a bit of money to adopt. The article quotes figures as up to $40,000 to adopt a child. Those fees are exorbitant, and I don’t agree with having to pay that much money. But I’m not going to discuss that in this post.
My point is that those who internationally adopt these days presumably are one’s who generally take interest in other cultures, eat different ethnic foods, have friends who don’t look just like them, and live in diverse communities. For people who have access to different worlds like that, they have no excuse for not trying to raise their child with some form of their birth culture or at the very least exposing them to cultures different from their own (assuming they are Caucasian and white.) Merely giving them love, while not providing any gateway to their own cultural heritage forgets half the equation.
Her last point is that adult adoptees have various resources to get in touch with their birth culture/heritage. I definitely agree, and I have connected with a number of other Indian adoptees and other adopted adults from various countries. It’s also much easier now for an adopted adult to connect with others from their same birth country, and ethnicity thanks to the web and social networking.
But joining an adult adoptee group, actively seeking out adopted people from your same birth country, those are decisions one makes when they are old enough to do so. I’m much more concerned with parents making time and giving effort to connect their child to their birth culture/heritage as they grow up, when they are still under the family’s influence. It’s one thing to make a conscious choice to get in touch with your birth culture when you are an adult. It’s quite another to be raised by a family that honors and respects your birth heritage by giving you chances to interact with it. And to be raised in a family which enfolds your birth culture into the whole family’s narrative and supports you with love, and care sounds like the best for everyone involved.
What do you think? Did I read too much in Jeneen’s story? Is raising an internationally adopted child with love and acceptance, but without birth cultural connection “enough?” Or is connection to their birth culture/heritage more important or should there be a healthy combination of both?