“I want to expose my child to their birth culture but am worried they won’t like having it forced down their throat.”
While I understand where adoptive parents are coming from when they say this, I can’t help but see a problem with this kind of statement. Anyone who’s followed my writing long enough knows how much value I put on “birth culture” and why. Its significance goes far beyond just “knowing where you came from”. How exactly does one base aspects of one’s identity on some spot on the map and a few holidays?
There will always be some adoptees who say that it’s important and some who will say they simply don’t care. That is the right of each individual and that’s the clincher. Since each child is an individual, how exactly can anyone predict who will and who will not value their birth culture and to what degree? The problem is no one can predict this but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to just forget the whole thing.
Hopefully we are past the days when adoptive parents naively assume that they are getting a “blank slate”. There is enough out there to at least begin the process of informing and educating themselves on the complexities that come with adoption. However, it takes a willingness to listen and try to understand. The fact that I’m still seeing statements like this is not a good sign.
When I come across comments like the one above, I feel like someone has just dumped a bowl of jello down my pants. I have to resist the urge to jump up and down while running from the room. From the day they bring these children home, adoptive parents begin imposing their culture on the child. This comes in the form of nursery rhymes, lullabies, fairy tales, television, food, language and religion.
Why is it a problem “force-feeding” a child their own culture yet it’s perfectly okay to impose their own? I was dragged to church on Sundays where I was the only person of color and made to sit in American History classes so I could learn the American side of the Vietnam war. Why was it perfectly okay to “shove” someone else’s culture down my throat while depriving me of my own? I don’t think it was a malicious act on the part of my parents, but that is what was being done.
Firstly, I’ve not heard anyone suggest that a child’s birth culture be “shoved down their throat”. I would have thrown a fit if my parents had made me wear an ao dai and paraded me around like some freak. I was already in a environment where I stood out and would have resented having that further emphasized. That, in my opinion, was a large part of the problem. I was in an environment that was NOT well suited for offering and making me feel comfortable with learning about Vietnamese culture.
The fact that an adoptive parent would even think of it as “force feeding” is a sad statement in itself because it illustrates the amount of loss. What that says to me is that a child’s birth culture no longer belongs to the child. It’s now held “in trust” by the adoptive parent to do with as they please.
Also, I think one has to realize that a child’s “birth culture” doesn’t necessarily end with that of their birth country. As for myself, I seem to be undergoing a kind of backwards migration. I look to Vietnam as my “birth culture” but must find some way to consolidate it with my current self. That is when I must “return” and focus on the Vietnamese American community. They have already begun the process of striking the balance between their two identities. The fact that I use “they” and not “we” should tell you something.
Even though technically I’m a 1st generation Vietnamese American, I would be much more successful trying to fit myself between 2nd and 3rd generation Vietnamese Americans than I would among those of the 1st. My children would probably fit somewhere between 2nd and 3rd or 4th.
Yes, I understand that each family and each individual will differ depending on experiences and personalities. Looking to the Vietnamese American community doesn’t provide a perfect model, but it’s the best I have to work with. Nothing will ever fully compensate for the loss of my birth culture nor will I ever truly “fit in” but I refuse to walk away empty-handed and starving.