July 22, 2004

Adopt the kid, Adopt the decor?

Although you wouldn't know it from reading some websites [*cough, cough*], parenting is much more than buying gear and strollers. It's also decorating. And if you're adopting a kid from a foreign country, it means sprinkling token kitsch objects from his home country around the house. China? A dragon scroll. Ethiopia? Ebony animal figurines. Vietnam? Umm, a Vietnamese flag? Of course, you run the risk of people thinking you adopted him at Pier One Imports.

What to do, then? If you really love your Chinese daughter, you make BIG changes. You "put a Chinese scholar's rock next to an Andy Warhol painting" in her room, redo your entire living room in a Chinese garden theme, or feed her "bok choy grown especially for her in an East Hampton garden."

You know, maybe I'm just dense. Can someone explain how a tchotchke on a shelf or dressing up like Cossacks once a year translates into an integrated appreciation of a kid's culture? Is my kid going to grow up thinking we adopted her from Sweden because her rug is from IKEA?

Almost every example in the article sounds like a superficial, simplistic distortion of the kids' home countries via a distorted westernized lens. A serious commitment to cross-cultural childraising would, it seems to me, involve things like language, history, literature, and education. It'd mean forging ties with contemporary communities, both immigrant and in the home country, which could be a complex negotiation in itself.

International adoptee families may be their own distinct culture; Romanian and Cambodian kids who have more in common with each other than with their original countrymen. After all, what's more American than reducing an entire foreign culture to a lawn ornament?

Related: Close Encounters with a Home Barely Known (NY Times)


I don't know much about adopting children or being an adoptee... but I do know about being an Asian American.

In my opinion, there's no need to try to "acculturate" a foreign-born adoptee with their native culture. They're your child... treat them as your child... not as the child of aliens, making feeble (and, to be honest, always lame) attempts at incorporating token elements of their exotic culture.

Be good parents first. That's infinitely more important than putting a bowl of noodles on their dresser-drawer.

When you adopt a child from another culture, I believe that it is important to honor your child by integrating both your culture and their birth culture. Reading books about their country of origin, listening to music from that country, and exposing them to things from their original culture can be fun and educational. It is a way to say that you love everything about them. Many families in the U.S. are multicultural to begin with, so it is not unusual for one parent to be from S. America another from Europe and then adopt a child from China. One thing to remember is that it should not feel forced, but rather fun. With a good attitude, both you and your child will learn and enjoy whatever way you choose to integrate the cultures.

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