Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Fine Line

by zoe

I just finished reading Cheri Register’s book Beyond Good Intentions, and I really can’t say enough positive things about it. She gets right to the center of some of the issues that can become problematic in transracial adoptive families. I also think she eloquently speaks to the fears that are secretly at the core of many adoptive parents’ souls and then helps us understand how those things that lie below the surface can manifest into some pretty grievous errors in transracial parenting judgment (okay, maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s how the book spoke to me, based on my own experiences and some things I’ve seen too much of on message boards).

I could go chapter by chapter and identify with various missteps that she presents; I’m guilty or partially-guilty of most, even after only a year and half ‘on the job’; but the last chapter in particular (titled, “Appropriating Our Children’s Heritage”), really hit me hard.

I remember the first time I saw a picture of a family with two white (adoptive) parents and a Korean child – all dressed in hanbok. I’m not gonna lie – it shocked me. I think I was blushing, though I was the only one in the room alone starting at that image on my computer screen. I just couldn’t help but think there was something not quite right with that (okay, but who am I to judge...I'm just saying that picture started my thoughts on this topic a couple of years ago). Months and months went by and I would see other such pictures here and there, and though I knew participating in such a photo shoot wasn’t for me and my family, I also realized that this family's choice was just the tip of the iceberg, so-to-speak, as far as what is available to adoptive parents where experiencing or educating ourselves about our children's birth culture is concerned - and I started really struggling to understand exactly where the line should be drawn. Time went on, and I read
this (on a phenomenal blog by a very talented writer) – and clued in a little more (I’m doing this in baby steps, I told you!).

I think part of the reason why the final chapter of Beyond Good Intentions was so convicting and entirely appropriate and true for me is that I’ve long had thoughts about how much better the world would be if people weren’t separated by race (note, I didn’t say, “if everyone was like me” or “if the world was colorblind” – but if race and culture alone truly didn’t put distance or distrust between people). And I guess I wonder if my interest in adoption wasn’t partially because of some Pollyanna-ish (and actually perhaps racist, I’ve now discovered) idea that I could somehow bridge the whole damn gap by adopting transracially. I know my son didn't sign up to take on that burden, and boy do I *deeply* regret ever thinking that my future child's life or my family's participation in adoption could somehow be an advertisement for peace-and-harmony-for-all.

Wanting to experience the world – though for most of my growing-up years not being in a position to travel - wanting people of different races (particularly white people, though) to ‘get along’ and to be accepting of those things that make the world's cultures unique and special, and for all of us to just be free to enjoy the incredible things that each different culture has to offer (okay, basically just wanting racism to 'go away'), is something I’ve identified within myself that is not right/correct but is probably a side-effect of my upbringing. With adoption superimposed over that whole mess of thoughts, of course I may be at risk for always needing to ‘check’ myself and the ways in which I educate myself about, and experience a bit of, my son’s Korean culture from an outsider’s vantage point.

I could right now make a list of things that have been swarming in my head while I wonder whether or not my doing them or participating in them would be over-stepping any boundaries (…should I learn more of the Korean language…is it okay for me to call my son by his Korean name…should I keep the couple of pieces of Korean artwork in the closet…should I have planned a regular first birthday party instead of a Dol...should I continue any of the developing friendships I have with Korean people/Korean American people or is that inherently 'taking advantage' ….) but the bottom line is that I must use my love and respect for my son and what is rightfully his, as my guides.

Obviously I can’t sum up this book’s last chapter, or even my own rambling thoughts on it, for that matter. Suffice it to say the book in it's entirety should be required reading in order to complete a homestudy; these are high on the list of things that should be discussed before people make a decision for adoption.


At 4:20 AM , Blogger cloudscome said...

Wow I have got to get that book! It sounds like it will be challenging and good for me to think through these things as well. You are really laying it out here aren't you?

From this point of view I don't understand how learning Korean or having more Korean friends would be taking advantage or taking his culture... It just seems like what a parent would do to learn the child's culture and help him find it. But then I haven't read the book yet...

I am reading Primal Wound (finally!) and posting about it and I would love to hear your comments.

At 7:26 PM , Blogger Kahlan said...

There is so much I want to say, but I need to process it some more first.

At 2:02 PM , Blogger Third Mom said...

I bought this book last summer but still haven't read it, so many on my "to read" pile. But I need to bump it to the top, for many reasons. I remember reading Cheri Register's first book years ago, and it has always been a favorite. Maybe I should re-read it first, to really see how her perspective has changed.

And I think you will know where to draw the line in supporting your child's heritage. There's no 1005 right or wrong way, but clearly there's a line that must be drawn at pretending to be what we're not.

At 5:56 PM , Blogger Kahlan said...

should I learn more of the Korean language…

Yes, I think you should.

is it okay for me to call my son by his Korean name…

I have only ever referred to Pookie by his Korean name, so again, I say yes.

should I keep the couple of pieces of Korean artwork in the closet…

My house has Korean artwork throughout. Much of it was given to us by Korean friends and we cherish it.

should I have planned a regular first birthday party instead of a Dol...

We did a mixture. We have Korean friends and would have them even if Pookie wasn't in our lives. Actually, it was all of my Korean friends who insisted I wear a hanbok for his party. I had to decline each offer as politely as possible. They were so helpful with his Dol and I felt I *owed* it to him to try and honor his heritage. It hit me a few days before his party that I AM NOT KOREAN and I really relaxed after that.

should I continue any of the developing friendships I have with Korean people/Korean American people or is that inherently 'taking advantage' …

Most definitely yes! I would even go as far as to say to SEEK out friendships with Koreans/Korean Americans. As white APs we will never (no matter how hard we try) be able to properly expose our children to Korean culture, traditions, etiquettes, etc. I think if we really put our hearts into developing these connections and not just looking for a contact for Chusok, Dols, etc., it is a very good thing.

It truly is a fine line, but you are a mom who is willing to listen and grow and I think that is the biggest thing going for you. Since you are willing to change and realize things aren't always appropriate (as I know I used to think!), I can only think you will benefit your son in doing these things.

Of course this is all my opinion, and I've heard that isn't worth much. ;-)

I hope I've made sense. We are still on little to no sleep in this house! ;-)


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