Christine Rhyner

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Exposure of Transracially Adopted Kids to Their Races a Bad Thing?
2/2/2015 12:00:01 AM by: Christine

I sometimes feel guilty thinking that I have not done enough to establish connections with other Asians for my Asian-born children. But some recent, shared thoughts by other adoptive parents on social media have gotten me to re-thinking this.

New York is known for its diversity – in certain areas. On my little dot on the map where we live now, there just aren’t a whole lot of non-Caucasians. Various ethnic groups are close, just not in my immediate neighborhood or in my children’s schools. While attending various functions involving my Chinese daughter’s entire grade, there may have been all of two Asian faces singing tunes for the choral presentation. Not one brown face did I see.

I’ve done my share of lamenting this lack of racial diversity and experienced frustration that the idea of surrounding my kids, including a son from Vietnam, with others of their own races has not come to fruition.  Relationships formed with other internationally adoptive families when my kids were young have sort of trailed off. My son and daughter pick their own friends and while they have known and been friendly with other Asian children, their best friends are mainly Caucasian. One of my daughter’s best friends is part Japanese, but with red hair and blue eyes.

Since the age of three, my daughter developed a fascination with the Spanish language. We enrolled her in a dual language program at elementary school where she met several friends from Equador, Guatemala and other countries where the language is spoken. We enjoyed getting to know her friends and their families. Birthday parties for kids resulted in invitations for our whole family. Playdates were not the typical “drop off and pick up” kind. I was expected to participate in the playdate, as well as understand the child’s siblings would be included in the day’s activities. It was interesting and rewarding to gain understanding for this culture.

But, over the last year or so, I’ve learned about one Caucasian adoptive parent to a son of Latin American descent who shares that she lives in a community with a large Latin American population. While she anticipated her son’s upbringing amongst those who share his heritage to be a positive, she finds the opposite is true. The teenage boy has shared feelings of alienation and depression because he is surrounded by Latin American families who share close bonds as united members of the same race. He seems to feel a sorrow that while many of his buddies look like him, he does not experience his ethnicity in the same way they do—going home to a Latin American family.

Another Caucasian adoptive parent has asked for some help concerning her teenage Chinese daughter. The child attends a school with a large Asian population where she has been able to meet and interact with other Chinese students. While the daughter has been drawn to this group who look like her, she also has felt a sense of rejection and alienation. The students are from Chinese families and even though they know she is not and does not speak the language, they persist in speaking in their native tongue while in her company. The mother has concluded that her daughter needs to learn to speak Chinese. But will this ability really make her feel accepted and truly a part of this circle of friends?

Personally, I know a friend of one of my siblings who is middle-aged, adopted and of half-Korean descent. Recently she left her church, sharing with my sibling that there were just too many Koreans there who she found she could not relate to.

I have heard many stories of bi-racial children growing up in diverse communities where they have felt like they did not belong with either of the races that comprise their make-up. It seems a confusing and difficult process for many of these people to establish a true sense of identity, with many eventually choosing to identify themselves as belonging to one race over the other.

While I do not propose to judge the kinds of communities where transracial families should live or whether or not they should expose children to others of like heritages, for my children I think this is true:

  1. Therapy is an important tool for any adopted/fostered/stepchild. There will likely be an element of sadness they carry that I can NEVER fully appreciate or understand. It is my job to find appropriate venues for them to address issues of grief, loss and abandonment.

  2. We continue to make efforts to connect them with others of their heritages, but do not “force” relationships.

  3. They don’t want a “big fuss” made over their ethnicities. I know this is true, because when I have done so, it has backfired in ways that made them feel “different” and uncomfortable.

  4. They don’t seem to be naturally drawn to other Asian children. They are more comfortable selecting other “personalities” similar to theirs as well as those interested in the same activities.

  5. When we unexpectedly had to move from our rental last month, my children begged to stay in the same school district and community as their friends, so we allowed this.

  6. We encourage an ongoing dialogue about what of their cultures, ethnicities and histories they want exposure to.

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