One Family, Two Continents

Ground Zero :  Function:  noun; Date:  1946 ~ 1: the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs; 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; 3: the very beginning .

Ground One:  Function: verb; Date: 2008 ~ 1: to create a new beginning from an ending, starting from the ground up; 2: to use one’s  life beliefs and values to break new ground; 3: to ground oneself; i.e., to become one with the earth or universal whole; 4: to journey within to find new solutions to ancient problems;  5:  to use one’s unique individual gifts to improve the whole; 6: to find common ground among a diversity of cultures, philosophies, and ideas.

My daughter is Chinese. She’s also American. That’s not unusual in and of itself. What is a bit unusual is that I am what people call white, Caucasian, WASP, Celtic extraction. So is my husband, basically. So is my son.  We elicit a second of startled shock from both Euro-Americans (which is what I’ve begun calling people who are culturally like me) and Asian Americans when they first meet the entire family. This is not a reaction that can be seen in the slight flicker of their eyes and an even slighter stiffening of their bodies.

My daughter’s classmates combine candor with their surprise. You have to laugh at their wonder that we are as bonded as they are to their mothers. She gets everything from, “Is that your MOM?” to “Is that your REAL MOM?” to “Why were you adopted if your mom already HAD a kid of her own?” For some reason, it seems more pertinent to ask about me, her mother, than my husband. Sometimes when I’ve known someone for a very long time without them having met my daughter, I feel I need to brace them for our family reality before they see us in entirety. The second of shock is there even with preparation. It usually dissipates soon thereafter, when they get to know as an entity, and we’re working on increasing societal comfort with multicultural families like ours through the schools and community. Nonetheless, I’m not certain I totally understand this discomfort, as we are a nation of immigrants, and every family is multicultural in some way. However, it’s that we look different from each other that seems to block a certain subtle comfort level for most people.

A lot has been written about inappropriate questions asked of adoptive families. I really thought I’d been asked everything. Yet something was stated a few months ago by someone I didn’t even know that dug into me deep and hurt. I don’t think a statement or question about adoption had done this ever before. I have a pretty thick adoptive-mother skin, and I hope I’ve given my daughter the same ability to deflect these opinions. I don’t like her having to defend herself as a legitimate member of our family. Perhaps that’s why the comment stung so, even though I heard it second-hand.

A humanitarian worker said he didn’t believe in international adoption because he didn’t believe in taking a person out of her or his culture (of course he meant his or her culture of birth). The friend he told immediately used our family as a model example of maintaining birth culture and adopted culture simultaneously. Both of my children have taken Mandarin and Chinese culture lessons, and we celebrate certain Chinese holidays. We have a multi-arrayed collection of friends, including Asian Americans, and we keep in regular touch with our Chinese friends, who live in China.

This defense didn’t persuade my friend’s acquaintance that multicultural adoption was a good method of family formation. Of course, I could slough it off that he is uneducated or racist or any number of labels that form from a core of anger, disgust, or defensiveness. Which is what I was at first. Indignant. I mean, would he have had us leave our beautiful, talented angel of a daughter to die? For that would have most likely been her destiny. She picks at her food even now. The other kids in the orphanage grabbed at the food they were given, while she ate with bird-like pecks. She gets too distracted by life to remember to eat. Even now, she despises rice. When we picked her up into our arms for the first time at 13 months and 1 day of age, she could not sit, let alone stand, and her head lolled to one side. She weighed one pound for every month of her age.

Yet, if I delve into my soul beyond my motherly indignation, and investigate his statement, I do understand that he’s coming from a background that has witnessed corruption that can surround any adoption. He is looking at leaving one tough life and having to work through grieving for it in another, no matter how blessed the life the adopted child leaps into. A life of a certain discrimination, either bold or subtle. A life of not ever knowing exactly who you are culturally.

Of course, immigrants experience this one-foot-on-two-shores phenomenon, too. Yet they do have a foundation, either here or back “home,” from which to form world views and a sense of belonging.  Which brings me back to Ground One. If I balance on Ground One, and breathe out my fiery maternal animosity, I can see my viewpoint, and I can see this antagonistic viewpoint to my own. Yet what matters is my daughter’s viewpoint.

I have a good guess at what she thinks from a recent conversation we had. We were talking about labels. She corrects me every time I unconsciously revert back to my label “Black” when referring to African Americans. She has to do it frequently, because it is a label I learned early on as appropriate and have used all my life. One day, in utter frustration at my lack of teachability, she proclaimed, “Why does it always have to be about color?! Why does it always have to be about the way a person looks?! Why does it even have to be about where they’re from? Why can’t we all just be people!?”

I am proud she and her viewpoints are the future, not only of America, not only of China, but of the world. And I will never, for one single second, ever, ever regret transplanting her, of making her a part of us, and giving her the chance to someday make an impression on the world. In the end, how much does where we come from matter if we focus on transforming our tomorrows–together?