May 2007 (published in the Chao Ban Newsletter’s summer issue 2007)
Since the tragic Virginia Tech shootings in April, many Asian adoptees had expressed anxiety and confusion regarding their ethnic identities and heritages. According to an article titled “Asian Children and Racial Identity” published on rainbowkids.com, some Asian adoptees, especially those from South Korea, felt ashamed of being Asian because the shooter happened to share the same or similar heritage background. As the author had suggested, proper parental guidance and support are critical during such times; make sure to listen to your children and ensure the fact that they have nothing to do with the tragedy, therefore, should stay proud of their ethnic identities.
“Individuals with high levels of ethnic identity have been found to exhibit a high quality of life, a common indicator of well-being; adolescents with a higher regard for their ethnic group were happier and generally less anxious when daily assessments were averaged over the 14-day study period, suggesting that individuals derived direct psychological benefits from holding positive perceptions about their ethnic group,” quoted from a research study conducted for the Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.
Apparently, it is essential to help adoptees strengthen their ethnic identities to maintain their well-beings and quality of lives; parents play important roles during this process and can try the following methods when assisting their children.
1.Explore the birth country as a family
It is advisable to explore your children’s birth countries’ historical and cultural backgrounds. Since the adoptees have became part of your family, it is important to gain knowledge regarding their heritages together. This certainly will increase the children’s sense of belonging, and at the same time make them realize the importance of their ethnic identities to all family members and themselves.
2.Participate in cultural events
Explore the culture and customs of your children’s birth countries through cultural events. For instance, the Families With Children From Vietnam (FCV) chapters organize meaningful events frequently throughout the year; adoptees can obtain more information of Vietnam, its culture and traditional customs by joining such events.
3.Attend language school
A language best represents the mindsets, thoughts and customs of the people who share it. It is a human social construction and constantly changes. Learning the language of the birth country is a great way to have a closer glance to the culture and customs.
4.Sampling traditional food
Cooking and tasting traditional dishes can be a fun family activity. Furthermore, table manners vary between countries; take it as a game at home and have your children compare and contrast the differences.
5.Birth country visit
Nothing can be more effective than returning to your children’s motherlands when it comes to strengthening their ethnic regards. If budget allows, more than one visit would be ideal. According to Clinical Child Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Nelson, the first trip can be conducted when the child is four or five years old. The main purpose of the trip is to gain a basic idea of the birth country and its culture.
If your family only can plan for one visit, consider returning to the birth country while your child is between eight to ten years of age. “By this age, children have greater ability to think about themselves and others in a more dynamic and complex way, and tend to have a keen interest in understanding how they came to be adopted.” as mentioned on Dr. Nelson’s research article titled “Timing Birth Country Visits”. At this stage, your child still needs much of your guidance and support when dealing with the mixed emotions while the exploration is in progress.
Preferably do not wait until your children reached their teens to visit their birth countries, as they may feel more reluctant to explore new things and absorb knowledge of cultures that are foreign to them, because of their “immersion in their existing social world and an increased sense of self-consciousness,” based on Dr. Nelson’s research.
Last year, one of my clients told me that her three-year-old daughter Lily (hypothetical name) was so ready to return to her motherland-China. Despite being so young, Lily has been exploring China’s cultural and historical backgrounds with her parents at home, attending cultural events organized by her local Families with Children From China (FCC) chapter frequently, sampling traditional Chinese food both at home and in restaurants and attending Chinese lessons at a language school. According to her mother, she is very proud to tell others she is from China and looking very much forward to spending her upcoming vacation in “her China”. Lily is a great example of those who have a very high ethnic regard. With the appropriate guidance and support of her parents, she has successfully established a positive ethnic identity, in which may lead to her personal well-being and a high quality of life in the future.