In today’s Boston Globe, an essay by Mei-Ling Hopgood entitled “Another country, not my own” explores the delicate balance that adoptive parents must try to strike when seeking to maintain their adopted child’s culture of origin. To sum it up, back in the days when international adoption was still a fairly new concept in the United States, adoptive parents were encouraged to embrace a “love-is-colorblind” philosophy, and ignored their children’s race and birth culture with the belief that by doing so they were being fair to the child by raising them exactly as they would a child of their “own.” Years later, a significant population of adult transracial/transcultural/transnational adoptees have been voicing their concerns over that approach. As it turns out- and you really don’t need to be a PhD candidate in psychology or social work to figure this out- children who grow up shielded from their culture and race are aware of the loss, and the loss is enormous.
But as Hopgood explains, as adoption professionals and adoptive parents scrapped that approach to child-rearing, they embraced the opposite approach, which also has its problems. Parents can become wrapped up in teaching their kids to “be” Chinese or Korean or Guatemalan- or at least teaching them to be the parent’s *idea* of what it means to be Chinese or Korean or Guatemalan. Their ideas of these cultures tend to be watered down- throwing ramen noodles in the salad, placing “Asian” decor around the house, wearing Guatemalan jewelry; or frozen in time- having their Chinese daughters dress in traditional clothes and learn about fan dances and tea ceremonies. This is obviously problematic, just as it was when people ignored their adopted children’s culture altogether.
Obviously, if you read my blog, you’re familiar with my feelings on the subject. We try to maintain our kids’ Ethiopian culture in a way that is meaningful and real. I’ve admitted it before, and I’ll say it again: Adam and I are totally unfit to play Ethiopian Role Models. But we can do things to facilitate our kids’ comfort and familiarity with their Ethiopian culture and what it means to be Ethiopian. We can help Dawit keep his Amharic, we can eat Ethiopian food as part of our regular diet, and we can foster relationships with Ethiopian adults. I commented below the article on the Globe site (I’m sure you can guess which one is mine if you read it) so I won’t get into my whole spiel here, but I truly believe that adoptive parents CAN strike a balance between the love-is-enough and drown-your-kid-in-exoticized-culture approaches to transcultural parenting.