How much culture?

I thought this was an interesting article about how much culture adoptive parents should incorporate into their family's lives.

From Brain, Child Magazine website: What's My Heritage? International adoptions and the culture debate.

In December, Rob and I took Nick on a trip to Vietnam, his first
visit back to his birth country. But just weeks before we left, we
found ourselves with a child melting down, who was terrified we’d leave
him there, afraid we’d be disappointed if he didn’t like it. “I don’t
want to go to Vietnam!” he howled. “I don’t want to go to Vietnam!
I…don’t…want…to…go…to Vi-et-nam!”

It was then that I thought maybe I’d gone too far. Was I doing this more for myself than for Nick?

know the caveats. He was too young; it’s normal for a first grader to
be contrary. All true, and he often infuriated me in Vietnam. I was
proud when he told people his name in Vietnamese, but I never felt at
ease. We were on public display more than in any American hospital
hallway. I worried for my boy when saleswomen fussed over the long
rattail in his hair, fingering it, saying he was “lucky.” I kept
wanting to hug his tense little face against my chest.

our trip, I’ve talked to people inside the adoption community and out:
other parents, adoptees, social scientists, Vietnamese Americans. Going
overboard can be worse than doing nothing at all, so I wonder and fret:
How much should I push cultural activities onto my son? How much of his
birth culture is it healthy for him to keep as he grows—and how much is
confusing or harmful, a kitschy pastiche that will leave him
permanently unmoored?

You can read the rest here.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

5 thoughts

  1. We consider Korean cultural expose a high priority, but it varies as to how our boys take it.
    This Summer we have them both in Korean language class, and their interest at first was dim and complaints many. I found myself upping my Korean learning game and that seemed to tip them over and now they get quite excited about going.
    The effect on them is strong. I find my older son (7) seeking “Korean like me” in the media. It gives me much hope to see him forming the beginnings of his own identity that isn’t a reflection of myself.

  2. Hi, I have commented on the article blog site itself.
    Thanks as always for your interesting and informative blog!! I am not a member of the adoption triad, but still very interested in these issues…

  3. We were stationed in Korea and lived in Seoul for a little over two years back in ’97~99. We left there with our new Korean daughter at age 6 years three months; making her the youngest of our four children.
    While in Korea, she lived with us for the previous six months before we PCS’d to the USA, so she had a pretty good foundation of English by the time we arrived in St. Louis. I also home schooled her for four years, so she truly had a solid foundation when she eventually entered the public school system.
    After we arrived in the states, I enrolled her in a Saturday Korean language school so she could continue her Korean language and studies. I did not want her to lose her language skills and I wanted her to learn to write Hangul. She refused to speak Korean, period. She refused to do anything *Korean* or participate at all. She would not even look a Korean in the eye. She did not trust any of them at this Korean Lutheran Church…and everyone was WONDERFUL!!! She would either cry or just close her eyes and go to sleep.
    I also tried to get her involved in a monthly Korean adoptee group. Sigh.
    After about four months of this, her six year old wisdom kicked in on the way home one night and in the dark ride home she said something like this, “Mom, why do you take me to only play with other Korean children? Are you a racist?”
    “WHAT? What are you saying? NO! I am NOT a racist! Why would you ask me something like that? Where would you hear something like that?” (She has three other siblings, mind you.)
    She said, “Well, it seems to me, that you only want me to play with only other Korean kids. Kind of like you only want a Dalmatian Dog to play with Dalmatian Dogs. I don’t see you taking Ian to play with *ONLY* other white children. It seems pretty racist to ME! (almost yelling) And I don’t like it one bit! I don’t like how I *feel* when I’m there and I don’t like those people. I don’t like what those people *say*. They act like they adopted children for a prize and I NEVER, EVER, EVER want to go back.”
    So! That was my experience with my little six year old who is now sixteen. She has EXCELLENT verbal and non-verbal skills and you know what? We never went back and I look back on it all, and I went to those meetings because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I never wanted to be accused of being ashamed of her culture.
    Our daughter said within a day or so of that above conversation,…and I kid you not, she was just a little over 6 years and three months old, “I’m American now and I am not living in Korea. What is American culture? All I care about is I still eat kimchi.” I told her yes, she can still eat kimchi and kimbap, but I will never make her kimchi. I will make kimbap, but I will have to buy the kimchi. And that’s how we do it at our house. I buy kimchi just like I buy apples.
    Our little darling was abused in the orphanages she lived in and she felt the directors did not protect her or care about her. So, she does not trust many people. She has issues, but we’re helping her to grow up to be a loving, trusting, socially responsible young woman who knows the Lord and believes that the Lord has His hand on her.
    I do have two bio children, that were adopted by my husband. So, you can say that all four of our children are adopted and have wounded hearts. My husband was abandoned as a child growing up fatherless and still has a wounded soul. But God has worked miracles here and we have built a beautiful family. And I am the most thankful of all.
    Hopefully, somewhere in here you will find something useful.

  4. Thanks so much for posting the link to my article on your blog, which I thoroughly enjoy–well, is enjoy the right word?–more like feel challenged and sparked by. Anyway, I’ve found the comments here very illuminating and so true to the ups and downs of transnational adoption. Just this morning, my son insisted he was Vietnamese, not American. He wasn’t angry, just very clear about who he thinks he is, even when I said, “You really think that? Even though you’re an American citizen?” I think I’m happy about this, maybe perplexed, and certainly curious about what will come next. Anyway, I’ve just thrown up my own quick-and-dirty blog on Blogger ( for all who are interested, and I’m in the midst of writing another article on moral development and adoptees for Adoptive Families magazine. Any thoughts on that huge and basically unresearched topic?

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