A couple of things today...first of all, because I know it's confusing on the blog right now, for the record, we are not in NY again. We are currently back in Denver and back in the thrall of work and daily routine. It's just that I came back from NY with so very many wonderful photos that I've been spreading the posts out between posts of life back in Denver.
My second order of business is to say a few things about the Chinese New Year. Fei An gently reminded me in a recent comment about the CNY, and I want to say that we do recognize the Chinese New Year. It's very important to us to keep a cultural thread running through Q's life that will keep her connected to her birth culture. I feel that she will need this as she grows. At this point in her life, she does not yet recognize the fact that she came from another culture. We tell her about it from time to time, in order to keep it in her mind. There is a world map in her room, and each morning we point to the area of China where she was born, and tell her she came from there. At this point in her consciousness, she resists the idea that we were not her birth parents, and that she had another mother and father when she was born. This is quite natural for her right now. But at some point this will become an important issue for her, an issue that she will no doubt struggle with at certain points in her life.
This is not a topic I tackle very often on the blog, because I know that there are adoptive parents out there with different theories about how to raise their children. But maybe this is the time for me to say that I don't consider Q to be American. I consider her to be Chinese. This is my way of thinking, and it isn't everyone's.
This way of thinking does not mean that I don't respect my home country. I do. I have made a conscious choice to live here, even though I have lived abroad at various time in my life, and I could easily have made a choice to live elsewhere. My choice to call America my home was a deliberate one, and there are many things I love and respect about this country. That said, I don't think of the USA as superior to other countries or other cultures, and I have no desire to forcibly subsume the Q into our culture. She is Chinese, and I think that's both important and inevitable. I think that she should have a choice. She may choose to adopt the USA as her home, if that's how she feels. She may also someday choose to reclaim China as her home. Or she may feel, as I do, that she is more a citizen of the world. In any case I feel that the fact that she has American citizenship at the moment is merely an accident of circumstance, not a life sentence. Ultimately, I want her to have a choice in the matter.
I realize that my upbringing and my heritage have played into my way of thinking on this subject. I am in many ways a first generation American. My mother's family were French and Dutch, and my mother was born in Holland and raised in France until she was about 10. English was not her first language. And in fact she and most of her family had been raised in France but educated in Italy, so that many of her family members spoke a curious amalgam of French, Italian and English amongst themselves.
My father was born in New Mexico, but his family had lived there since before it became a part of the US. So they, too, only became US citizens by an accident of circumstance. They were the sort of Mexican-American family who remained very true to their cultural heritage. English was not my father's first language either, and he learned it only of his own accord.
I was raised in a family all of whose members had one foot in the US and another abroad. Though I was the first (and last) generation of my family born in the US, I was raised with that shifting cultural identity. Many of my family members moved back to Europe after having spent some years in the US. I myself went to Kindergarten in France, and learned to read and write there (though my French has deteriorated deplorably in the years since).
Maybe it's this shifting fog of cultural identities that makes me so comfortable with the idea of Q having the right and the ability to choose her culture and her nationality, to shift between cultures if she chooses, to maintain her identity as Chinese while living with us here in the US. I think it's important. I think it's essential to her sense of self to have these choices. She may not realize it now, but someday this question will have a deep and reverberating effect on her.
I believe this also because I, in my teens, went through a cultural identity crisis of my own. I had spent my early years attaching myself to the European side of my family, and rejecting the Mexican. I had learned French and a bit of Italian willingly, but had no interest in learning Spanish, although it was my father's first language. At 16, I joined an elective school trip to central Mexico to spend a month at an immersive Spanish language school, only because it was my only opportunity to go abroad that year. I fell instantly in love with Mexico, with the culture and with the language. Within a few weeks I was nearly fluent, and eager to study my father's birth culture in its every aspect. For two or three years, I could think of nothing else. It was the first time in my life that I had claimed that part of my cultural heritage. It was deeply emotional for me during the tumultuous and catalytic adolescent years.
I have to believe that at some point in her life Q will go through a similar transition. I look forward to that time, and I also fear it. I know that she will break free of us, her adoptive parents, and will most likely reject us as well when she goes through that transition. I only hope that we have the fortitude and grace at that point to let her find her wings, and her cultural identity. I can only hope that we will have given her the strength, the sense of self, and the loving support that she will need to love her culture and also to love the family that raised her.
Ultimately, this is not about us. This is about the Q and her life. It is our job only to give her the tools she needs to make her own choices, and to claim herself and make something wonderful of herself. This will not always be an easy road for us - in fact, at times, I'm sure it will be deeply painful - but that's OK. This is the task we undertook when we made the decision to adopt her. We are grateful for the opportunity to do this for her, and for her future life. That must be reward enough for us as her adoptive parents. We give her wings, and then we let her fly and find her own course. This is one of the many reasons why we gave her three legal names to choose from: one Chinese, one Irish (my husband's heritage), and one generally European, a variation of my French/Dutch mother's name.
ps - the book shown in these photos is another of those illustrated by the amazing Sophie Blackall.