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Doing Culture, Part 2

In direct answer to the questions I’ve been hearing about embracing birth culture, and which I posed in the previous post, I would say this.

Why do it? Because this heritage is part of who your kid is and giving up that heritage wasn’t something they chose to do. Of course, our son is being raised in America but he will likely always been seen as a “hyphenated” American. They deserve to know what the first part of that hyphen means. There is a cultural commonality among ethnicities and our kids deserve to have some idea what those commonalities are. Another “why” is because it’s a way of showing your child that you embrace “all” of who they are. I’ve heard adoptees say that when their adoptive parents are critical or negative about their birth culture, or even indifferent, the adoptee feels like a part of them is being rejected.

Is it really important? For some kids, it might not be important. But it seems likes the majority of adoptees who are speaking out have expressed the need to have some connection to their birth culture and that ethnic community. It helps them as they process who they are and where they fit in the world.

When do you start? I would like to say it’s never too late, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think the early the better because then these things become a part of who your family is, instead of something new and awkward you’re trying to make work.

What do you do? Start with what your family is interested in. Do you love music? Find music from that culture that you love. Is art your thing? Then begin learning about art from that country. And I think language is very important as it is one of the biggest separators for adoptees.

When do you let your child take the lead? I think it’s a balance. As the parent, you may have a better sense of what’s going to be important down the line, meaning that you might insist on continuing something that your child wants to quit. I think many adoptive parents feel uncomfortable doing this, but we do it in many other areas of our children’s lives. Would our kids keep going to school if we didn’t make them? Or what about playing an instrument? In some things it’s fine to let your child take the lead, but I don’t think parents should shy away from saying that some things are nonnegotiable. (Yes, I’m sure that parents of teens are laughing at the wisdom of the parent of a 6-year-old. Admittedly we haven’t crossed this bridge yet but this is what I think right now.)

How much is too much? Until a couple of days I would have said that there’s no such thing, given that our kids are growing up in America. But I’ve changed my mind. I think it would be too much if you, as the parent, insisted that everything your child does or is interested in is related to his/her birth culture. (I’ve been accused of this based on this blog but remember this blog only deals with our adoption journey, not our whole lives.) Your child doesn’t have to do a presentation on his birth culture every time there is an international day or food festival at school. Every book he reads doesn’t have to be about that country. It’s OK for our kids to have other interests and activities. Embracing culture doesn’t mean that every aspect of their lives revolves around that culture; it means that you’re making that culture a part of your family’s daily life in loving and respectful ways that will help your child figure out who he is as he grows.

But my child doesn’t want to be seen as different? What I’m about to say next is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to embracing birth culture. DO IT AS A FAMILY! This, I believe, is the best way to keep your child from feeling different or singled out. Learning Korean culture, customs, and language bring our family together. They are things we share and quiz each other about at the dinner table. Even when our son attends Korean school by himself, which is something we try to avoid, we all learn from his homework. Our son is the only person of Korean descent in our family, but embracing Korean culture doesn’t separate him or make him different.

People think our family is “hard core” when it comes to embracing Korean culture and it must be a lot of work. But honestly, it’s not. It’s about consistency and building on the things we learn. I’d like to be further along with our language learning and hope to step that up in the near future. But mostly we’re doing things we love to do as a family–listening to music, watching TV, eating yummy food–all while learning about an important part of our son’s heritage.


Doing Culture (Part 1); Nah, Just Living Our Lives

So many recent discussions (with friends and on boards I read) has gotten me thinking about embracing birth culture. The questions I’ve been hearing are: Why do it? Is it really important? How much is too much? When do you start? When do you let your child take the lead?

I must admit I find the discussions fascinating. Of course, if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know my feelings on birth culture. But I was struck recently by the term “doing culture” because while our family embraces as much of the Korean culture as we can, I don’t think of it as “doing culture.” I think of it as being “us.” We’re just doing the things that make us a family.

And I feel that many adoptive parents have gotten the wrong idea of what it means to embrace the child’s birth culture. That it has to be BIG things and in the company of many other adoptive families. It means attending festivals and camps, right? Eating out at Korean (or other cultural) restaurants now and then. Well, all of those things can be part of embracing a child’s birth culture. But where does that leave you if your budget is tight or your child is too busy pursuing other interests to attend camps and festivals?

For us embracing the culture is mostly closer to home and more intimate. Some part of the Korean culture touches our lives every day through language, food, entertainment, or friendships. It’s not usually all of those things every day, but sometimes it is. We typically celebrate Korean holidays as a family, just as we do American holidays, and in the same spirit and tradition that they are celebrated in Korea. And weekly J is learning the customs of Korea that will be important for him to know as he grows.

Then there’s taekwondo for J four to five times a week and Korean school on Saturday. These activities are important because they allow J to be with other Korean Americans, to be learning langauge and culture from native speakers, and for all of us to be forming new friendships and deepening existing ones.

And lastly there are the festivals and day camps (heritage camp hasn’t been possible for us financially as of yet). These are days of fun for our family and provide more chances to connect with other adoptive families.

It’s a plan for embracing culture that we feel we’ll be able to sustain over time for several reasons. First, we started living this way before our son came home. There’s never been a time in his life since joining our family that he hasn’t heard Korean music, words, and phrases or gotten to eat home-cooked Korean food. Over time these things have expanded–we know more songs, words, and phrases now and my Korean cooking skills have vastly improved. For him, this is normal; in fact, it would be odd for J now if we suddenly stopped doing these things.

Second, in the last year, we’ve developed friendships with other families (both adoptive and Korean American) who live similarly. That means our living this way doesn’t “separate” J from his friends or make him feel different. Of course, we also have friends who don’t live this way and some might think us odd but at least he knows other families very similar to his own.

Third, since so much of what we do is done at home or with close friends, our hope is other interests won’t have to interfere. Even if there comes a day when J can’t or doesn’t want to attend Korean school, we can find other ways to continue our language learning (other classes, tutor, online program, etc.). The fact is we don’t have a teen yet so everything is speculation. So far as he’s grown, J has wanted more culture not less. Only time will tell if that will continue.

So that’s why I don’t feel like we “do culture,” and instead we’re just being us.


A Couple of Blogs on Race and Adoption

I haven’t been around much lately. I still have lots I’d like to share but life has become busy, hectic, crazy, and I have no idea when it’s going to settle down.

But I did come across a couple of blogs today that I wanted to share. This one is written by transracial adoptees who delve into the what life as a transracial adoptee is. This deals specifically with racism.  And I feel the post I’m about to share a link to is a must-read for white adoptive parents.

While white adoptive parents who as the majority in our country will likely never experience what people of color do daily here, we must educate ourselves so we understand what our kids may/do experience in their own lives. We set the tone for our kids; we make it OK to talk about. They have to know we’ve got their backs, which to me means really understanding and being proactive in helping.


Is It Really a Voice of Love?

So if you’re a part of the international adoption community, you’ve likely heard about the Voices of Love campaign, which is an attempt to have the Korean government reverse its decision to limit and phase out international adoption as we know it now. If your life has been blessed by Korean adoption, they’re asking you to support their campaign and advocate for Korean children.

Without a doubt my life has been blessed by Korean adoption. Six years ago we embarked on a journey that has led to our lives having little resemblance to what they were before. And every day I’m thankful for blessings Korean adoption has brought into my life.

But this campaign bothers me. The fact is international adoption is complicated. Our daily life is complicated because of adoption: fear, anxiety, sadness, racial awareness, language learning, and cultural awareness.

Then you add in the things I know now about Korean adoption. The lack of women’s rights. The discrimination against single mothers and their children. The coercion that is part of the placing process. The fact that placing a child for adoption often isn’t a “choice,” because the word choice implies that there really is another option. For many of these women, there isn’t another option.

It’s just not as simple as advocating for a child. Do I wish every child had a loving family who cherished them? Of course. Does that mean that international adoption is always the right answer? No.

I’m not naive enough to think that the need for adoption would go away if cultural attitudes changed and job equality was better and there was better support for single mothers and that there was less poverty. Even if all of the previous were true there would still be women who would choose to not to parent. But likely there would be less who chose the path of adoption.

If you’ve heard of this campaign, I invite you to read a couple of posts from ThirdMom. Over the last few days, she’s posted about this campaign a couple of times. Here are the direct links to those posts in the order that they were written.

I especially love the nine things in the second link that Jane Jeong Trenka recommends prospective adoptive parents demand of Korea before they adopt from there.

The fact is the system is broken. Yes, there are children who need homes and families. And they should have them. But if at all possible those homes and families should be the ones they are born into. It’s not always possible. I get that. But until what is broken is fixed, I doubt keeping families intact is even at the top of the list for many in the industry.


Be Part of the Solution

Today begins National Adoption Month (it’s November every year), and honestly my feelings about this celebration are conflicted. Yes, my family was built through adoption and I wouldn’t trade J for anything. But I’m wiser now.

For example, I just saw this on Facebook:

 There are 7 billion people in our world. Of these people, about 210 million are orphans. To put this into perspective, the population of the US is around 300 million. The 2011 US average price for a car is $30,000. The average cost of an international/domestic adoption is $30,000. November is National Adoption Month. Don’t just “think” about it. BE a part of the solution. Ask me about building or adding to your family through adoption.

Statements like this bother me because it’s my understanding that so many of those 210 million orphans (if that’s even a true statistic) don’t have to be classified as such. It’s not that many of these children don’t have parents; what they have are parents who for one reason or another can’t care for them. And since adopting I’ve learned that Americans often contribute to the circumstances that prevent these families from staying intact. Our consumerism spreads across the globe and changes lifestyles of those in other countries. (Note: The last chapter in Cheri Register’s book Are Those Kids Yours? talks about this fact, giving examples of how we help create these situations. The book maybe to 20 years old, but it’s still very relevant to the adoptive community.)

It’s not that I don’t think children deserve families–they definitely do. But I think first and foremost, children deserve to be with the families they were born into. Of course, not every birth family is equipped to parent children. I’m not saying that every child, regardless of circumstances, should be left with birth families.

What I’m saying is that I believe we, as Americans, should look first at what we can do to support keeping families together. That may sound like an American thinking they can dictate things to other countries, but that’s not how I feel either.

I believe that most parents want to keep their kids. And if there is something I can do to help that become a reality that is where I’ll put my time and money. Now I choose to “BE part of the solution” by supporting organizations that work to help these families who face hardships that might tear the family apart.

I’m not against adoption–there are definitely kids who need homes and those children should definitely have loving families. But a loving family doesn’t solve the problems. It doesn’t address the issues causing the break up of these families. Nor does it completely solve the issues for the child, since adoption is messy and comes with loss and trauma.

My prayer is that more families will become educated about the circumstances resulting in these “orphans.” And that instead of rushing in as savior, they instead begin looking to be part of the real solution–keeping families together.


Importance of Racial Socialization

In catching up on some reading, I ran across this article.

It talks about a study done by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute on the importance of helping your transracially adopted child build a healthy racial identity. And how, in reality, doing so probably the most important thing you can do as a parent, even more important than cultural knowledge and language.

Anyone who has read this blog for long knows how much we love embracing J’s birth culture and learning the language. But I have to agree that the most important thing we’ve done in our five-year adoption journey is make connections with our local Korean American community. Our lives were racially diverse before making those connections, but weren’t rich with Korean Americans, or even Asian Americans. And that general diversity wasn’t enough.

Without those racial/ethnic connections our son felt alone, like he didn’t fit. He had friends, a loving family, a “good” life, but something was obviously missing. And even at 5 years old, J felt that missing part profoundly.

Since starting taekwondo in April with a wonderful Korean American master and many Korean American students, J has found he does fit. Several times a week he’s with others who look like him. Deepening friendships with other Korean adoptive families have shown in him that our family fits. And Korean school allows us to make more connections within our local community while learning culture nuisances that will help J in the future.

The cutlural stuff is fun. Holidays are a blast to celebrate. The food is yummy. And we love the challenge of a new language. And while all of those things have a place of importance in J’s life, ultimately they weren’t enough. The relationships; the mentors; seeing Mom and Dad being the ethnic minority–those are what’s had the most positive impact in J’s sense of self.



Nature vs. Nuture

I’m a curious sort of person. It’s just part of who I am. And lately I’ve been wondering a lot about nature versus nurture. Our son, as most of you know already, is very into his Koreanness right now. K-pop music, wearing his Korean shirts, using the language he knows, taking taekwondo, eating the food. And, of course, my husband and I have no problem with this. We’ve nurtured that Korean pride in him.

But I do wonder, what if we hadn’t nurtured it? Would our son at some point feel that a part of him was or had been suppressed?

He’s always recognized those who look like him. As a baby his eyes would follow Asians, and when he started talking he decided everyone of Asian descent was from Korea like him. We didn’t have to introduce the fact that he looked Asian; we just gave it context and explained about other Asian countries and some of the characteristics Asian people share.

So I tend to believe that even if we hadn’t introduced Korean things to him, he would have felt something was missing especially as he got older and was able to explore the culture on his own.

I hear so many adoptive families say their kids (of similar age) have no interest in Korean things and I wonder why mine does. Is it simply that he’s been exposed to it in positive ways that include our whole family? And that maybe these other kids if similarly exposed would have developed a similar interest? Or is it just part of who he is, and God in his infinite wisdom knew this child would need to be with a family that would allow and encourage and help him embrace that part of him?

I don’t know. And I guess I never well. We’ve chosen to embrace the culture and learn the language. We didn’t have to, but that’s how we thought best to parent this child. And I still believe in my heart that it is best. Even when others criticize me for it.

My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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Be Strong, Geum-Soon
Please Teach Me English
Spy Girl
Tae Gu Ki
2009 Lost Memories

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