Um, No!

I was listening to an interview on the radio this morning and it pretty much kicked me in the gut. A mother and father were talking about their two boys they adopted from Russia. I resonated with them in many ways: the paperwork, the wait, the grief of having a child in an orphanage, the work, the exhaustion, the unbelievable joy, and so on. But then they said this:

"We've often been asked if we'll make sure we incorporate the boys heritage and culture into their lives as they grow up. And we do! They're living in Mississippi now, so they eat red beans and rice, shrimp, and listen to Hank Williams."

Yes, it was said tongue in cheek, and yes, he was trying to be funny. But his point was that his boys are now a part of his family and they're not Russian guests living with them. They're his boys. And as much as I applaud his deep love for his kids, this struck me as very, very wrong. His boys are not guests, but they are Russian. They will want to know all about where they were born and what it was like there. Keeping their birth country's culture alive in the house does wonders for an adopted child's soul.

I will be the first to admit we could do a lot more with Zinabu and his heritage, but we certainly don't throw it out the window and consider him blessed because now he can eat pizza with us. His "Ethiopian-ness"--if I may use that made up word--is a lot of what makes him Zinabu. How he eats and moves and walks and talks. Very Ethiopian. His questions and concerns about his adoption are soothed when placed in context with where he came from. To insist he's an American now is to shut the door on a very rich and treasured past. I cringe when I hear other APs (adoptive parents) doing just that.


Shonda said...

Amen sister! I didn't hear the interview, but agree with you totally.

Vivi said...

Me too. And although it does take extra effort on your part, I can't imagine NOT giving an adopted child that sense of where they came from...even if it's not where they are now. Plus, how cool to expose the rest of you so richly to another culture.

Nathan said...

Couldn't agree more. It's like the social worker in Ethiopia told us, "We now consider you Ethiopian too." And that's how we see it---our daughter's culture is our family's culture. Such a wonderful gift for all of us.

jayme said...

Add me to the chorus of agreement. I can't imagine trying to deny or even trying to downplay my children's cultural heritage. It's sewn into the very fabric of their being. And they claim it proudly! I think it helps that so many of their friends also have and claim their own ethnic heritages. It just makes "sense" to them given their worldview. (i.e. "Miku's Japanese, Kerri's Chinese, Damilare's Nigerian, Ligaya's Filipina, Melania and Valeria are Mexican, and we're Ethiopian")

I also think it's important to embrace aspects of Ethiopian culture as an entire family. While I realize that we'll never be able to teach our kids "authentic" Ethiopian culture, some of the most humbling compliments I've received as a mother have been from Ethiopian women who have said they're so happy to see that the twins speak and understand the tiny amount of Amharic we've learned as a family. Those kinds of exchanges make my kids so, so proud, and have really reinforced how special it is to be from Ethiopia.

Old Men Reflect said...

Searching for the gentle merger of heritage and present. An American with Irish, Swedish, English, Danish, German, French roots (you) and Scandanavian (the principal) and the kids of African heritage. That's what makes this and other countries great. Be a part of the current with roots in the past.
Different races, cultures, religions all coming together for the common good, but enjoying their food, song, customs, dress and overall heritage.

My wife became an Irish citizen because the law of Ireland is "once and Irishman, always and Irishman."

Your family just gets to talk about a greater spectrum of heritage than most.