9.08.2006

Culture

The question was simple enough and yet so multi-layered: "How have you
helped your child appreciate her culture of origin?" It was posed to
us by our social worker, who was doing a one-year follow-up interview
on our adoption. But it is a question I find myself thinking about a
lot.

For one, myself growing up biculturally, I want to help my daughter
grasp her "in-between-ness." For another, culture is such an
important -- and loaded -- topic in our society today, especially in a
region and neighborhood as cosmopolitan as ours.

It's a tricky topic, indeed; and we have it relatively easy as
adoptive parents, for at least I'm Asian-looking like Jada is. All of
the other families we adopted with were Caucasian parents adopting
Chinese girls. At least I have a frame of reference for teaching Jada
how to be Asian in America, because it's my frame.

And yet, what does it mean to teach Jada about her culture of origin?
Obviously, I get that it's more than dressing her up once a year in
Chinese dress or taking her to the occasional festival. But if
there's more depth to it, what is that depth? What, after all, is
culture?

I haven't yet unified all this in my head yet (maybe that's the very
reason why I'm blogging; to get it unified). But I know that culture
is a multi-faceted, ever-changing notion. One facet is language.
It's no coincidence that the typical American is monocultural because
he or she is monolingual. Learning another language not only opens up
the playbook in terms of being able to speak with more people; it
reminds you that there are myriad words that mean the same thing. I
kid you not when I say that I once was asked the Taiwanese word for
chopsticks, to which I replied, "dee," after which the response was:
"Why don't they just say, 'chopsticks'?" As if those two thin pieces
of wood are really and truly called "chopsticks," and us Taiwanese
have the crazy idea of calling it "dee."

History has got to be something our daughter has an appreciation for.
It took me moving to one of the more historical cities in the country
to really begin to appreciate the relevance of our history to our
future. It is a saying that is over-said but no less true: those who
don't know the past are certainly condemned to repeat it. When we
know our history -- the history of our people, of our communities, of
our religion -- we gain perspective without which our current view on
life is dangerously shallow and narrow.

Finally, I would say that culture is fluid. As her parents, we can
take intentional steps to put Jada in a position to master languages
and learn history so that she is more culturally rich. But
ultimately, it's on her to navigate the ever-changing sense of who she
is culturally. There may be others like her who live in Philadelphia
and were adopted from China and have a Caucasian mother and an Asian
father, who are her age and share her interests and her political
beliefs and religious doctrines. But she alone will have to decide
how to integrate all of those aspects of her, all of her life
experiences, all of her hopes and aspirations and foibles and talents,
into a life that is uniquely and authentically her.

We are, simultaneously and unceasingly, influencing and being
influenced by the culture around us. Would that Amy and I live in a
culturally rich way, and provide our daughter with the environment and
support to do the same.

Post a Comment