Friday

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.

12 comments:

Di said...

Well said. I think you are right to give Q the best of both worlds, if not all the world.

And she looks fab in her Gap jacket!

Evelyne said...

De mes parents j'ai reçu en héritage des forces du monde entier..;
C'est une richesse que je partage en plus sur les blogs...mes amies ne sont-elles pas aux quatre coins de la planète .

C'est aussi important d'avoir des racines de vie et de cultures.
Je te comprends.
Happy Valentine and Happy Chinese New Year for all the beautiful familly.

Le blÖg d'Ötli said...

I agree... May be Q don't have to choose... She'll have only to care and share a double treasure ;)

FDChief said...

Interesting approach. The world would be a nicer, kinder place if more parents - and more polities - looked at things like nationality the way you do.

But Maia, Q IS American, just as you are. Even if she grows up fully bilingual, even if she prefers sticky rice to hamburgers and kite-flying to cheerleading, she will always be more Colorado than Chongquing.

And especially to a native-born Chinese, raised within one of the most introspective and some ways xenophobic of the world's great cultures. In college we had several domiciled Chinese families voluntarily send their children back to the mainland to stay with distant relatives - a process painful and heartrending for children and parents alike - for fear that they would become to "contaminated" with American-ness to be marriagable or employable in the PRC if they continued to be exposed to hip-hip, national parks and Rachel Maddow. China is in many ways as intolerant of difference as we are. And to a native, Q will be different, and in some ways in more disturbing ways that you or I would be, because she LOOKS Chinese.

Several Hong Kong acquaintances have commented derisively on this: "Oh, he's just an ABC (American-born Chinese)". Their assessment was that merely being raised in the U.S. imparts ideas, ideals and attitudes not typical for a Chinese born into a Chinese-majority land.

And then legally, regardless of what YOU feel, the PRC will consider her an American. Were she to somehow manage to relocate to Shanghai she would be kept under observation all her life, the same way the FBI keeps tabs on Chinese-Americans working in Silicon Valley - because they would suspect her allegiance was to the land of her growth rather than the land of her birth.

Q is that special person, the special person that your parents were, that my grandparents were, the immigrant American. My grandfather was born in Scotland and kept Scotland in his heart all his life. Hopefully you can duplicate this for Q, and she can be the best of BOTH China and America.

When you think about it, the wonderful promise of America (which we fulfill all too seldom, I fear) is the very thing that Q represents; that you can be Chinese, speak Chinese, and yet be American, too, so long as you believe in liberty and justice for all.

kenza said...

You mention "grace and fortitude" -- they are right there, in your words, in your take on life, in Q's smile and in her parents' as well. Have a lovely Valentine and a most wonderful Chinese New Year, may its light shine on all.

alliot said...

This post is full of love and wisdom. I adore your way Maia!
I stop at the lines " 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." Read this again and again. Q is so fortunate to have you two as her parents. With your love, she would be able to actualize herself.
Happy Chinese new year to your family!

Mlle Paradis said...

Oh! Life is a complicated banquet! I was going to wish QQ a joyful "gung hee fat choy" the way we say it in the part of China that my mother comes from and which sometimes feels as foreign and separate from Q's part of China as could possibly be. (I have a Chinese friend born in Japan raised in Taiwan schooled in America who said she never felt so foreign as when she visited China.)

I thought I would start this comment with a simple greeting. Then I read FDC Chief's comment and couldn't agree with her more. The Chinese culture just is extremely xenophobic, it is a country of separated peoples: by clans and classes and dialects and regions and confucian "virtues" none of which either the communist or American culture have been successful in erasing. (In fact communist practices were/are very confucian, under another name.) I extrapolate much of this from the experience of my own family.

But ABSOLUTELY give her as much of China as you can, so that she may feel less deracinated and only enriched. So that she can pick and choose off that great Chinese restaurant menu of life and savor the tastiest morsels. And yes most importantly: Grace and Fortitude. And HUGS! Which it looks like she gets aplenty.

Beautiful pics, beautiful Sophie Blackall pics. Great post, great food for thought.

Simply Mel said...

Maia....this post right here is what I simply adore about you! That you believe in the importance of being citizens of the world! Q is such a fortunate little girl to have you as a mama. What you offer, teach and share with her on a daily basis is more open-minded and full of depth than most people receive in a lifetime. I commend you and thank you for sharing your heartfelt beliefs with us.

Stacie said...

well said. i think your perspective and insight will help Q through those inevitable tumultuous years. it was interesting to read some of the comments from the others. that is what I love about this blog.

Fei An said...

Maia, in my case, Anja and anette are of course Norwegian since they were born here and grow up here the same as QQ will grown up in the US and it wil be her forever homecountry. However, since Anja and Anette have a Chinese mom, so they have a connection there to China. I guess they will regard themselv as norwegian even though they look a bit different than the white kids. It will be fine, and they will get used to the difference. To some points, you really devote more thoughts and feelings the things such. Just remeber, everything will be fine!!! QQ will grown up to a wise lady and strong enough to face everything. I have to admitt that I am a too-relaxed mother for most of the times:) Happy Chinese New Year!

Yoli said...

This post goes straight to my heart for it expresses everything I believe in.

olive said...

beautifully and poignantly said.