Schepers, L.A. (1995, January/February). Cultural Exchange: Adopting a Child Means Adopting a Country, Too. Adoptive Families, pp. 50-51.
It is important for families adopting children from other countries to do everything possible to help their children understand and develop pride in their birth country and ethnicity. This author and her husband adopted a baby from India after already giving birth to a son. She relates her initial experience with India, saying, “Aside from enjoying spicy Asian Indian food and seeing ‘Gandhi’ at the theatre, my husband and I knew precious little about India when Anje arrived.” Yet, over the years, the author’s family has learned about and experienced much from their adoptive daughter’s country:
I do own a salvar kameez (a two piece beaded shift and pantaloons). I know that curry is not a single spice but a blend of many, and our son loves farfar, the rice and lentil “potato chip” of India. We celebrate Diwali, India’s most popular holiday. Anje can count to ten in Hindi (sort-of), and both kids know a little about the traditional Cobra and Tiger dances.” During a camp for adoptive families of Asian Indian children, the family “learned about India’s climate, animal population, and the crafts of the Asian Indian people. Anje learned that our family is not unique. More importantly, she was exposed to adult Asian Indians-other Americans who look like her yet share her experience of sometimes being singled out as ‘different.’
The author contends that it is essential to, as a family, nurture pride of the adopted child’s ethnic background: “To be proud of her heritage, she must see adult Asian Indians who are educated, successful, and proud of their heritage.” To put this into practice, the author’s family selected an Asian Indian family physician, and they network with Asian Indian families in addition to families who have adopted Asian Indian children.
Schepers encourages families to acknowledge any struggles of the child’s birth country. (For instance, poverty is prevalent throughout India, and the family addresses the issue.) Yet, try to balance any negatives with positives. (In this story, the family shares that India’s numbering system-not Arabia’s-facilitated modern technology.) As the family and child learn more about the child’s birth country, they can stretch that learning to other countries and cultures.
The author admits that her young daughter currently seems minimally interested in these cultural experiences. Yet, Scheper knows that as Anje grows and matures, she will have questions about her identity. The more experiences with and information about her heritage she has, the better prepared she will be to understand her adoption and birth country.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Do you work with an adopted child living in a bi-racial family? What have you learned from this family?
- What are the needs of such children? Are the children any different than biological or adopted same-race children? How are they different? How are they the same?
- What can youth workers do to instill pride in a young person about his or her birth country? What youth activities could be planned? Would these be beneficial to the youth group? Explain.
- How can youth workers support an intercultural family?
- Kids are kids. They are probably more similar than different.
- Adopted adolescents (and, in fact, most teenagers) often have struggles when attempting to resolve or assert their identities, and grieve the loss of their birth family. Be sensitive to the needs of an intercultural adoptee.
- While it is important to encourage a young person to feel pride about his or her country, a young person’s ethnicity is only one facet of his or her whole person. Use good judgment on the appropriateness of highlighting his or her ethnicity.
- Ask parents and sibling how a youth worker can support the family.
Kathryn Q. Powers
© 2017 CYS