Building Cultural Identity in Vietnamese Adoptions
Chao Ban Vietnam Adoption Newsletter is all about families their hopes, fears, insights, and foibles. In this article from the Chao Ban Newsletter for Vietnam Adoption, Vietnamese adoptive families were asked How do you build a cultural identity in your family?
We are very proud of our multi-cultural family status! Before bringing our children home, our family celebrations and customs included foods and festivities from our Irish, English and German roots. We have now expanded those festivities to include foods and festivities from our children's Vietnamese roots. Recently, we visited Moya's and Nathan's Montessori school and gave a full blown presentation on the Vietnamese New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan) complete with games, craft projects, treats, a mini Li Xi ceremony and a dragon dance! Our kids were proud to were their ao dais and share their heritage with their classmates.
Our children are proud of their American homeland, too. They are happy to recite the presidents' names they just learned in the Presidents Day segment at school. Their teachers are from all over the world and the kids really seem to understand the concept of the US as a melting pot. They see themselves as one part making up the whole and they understand that those parts are all different, yet the same in many ways.
We believe our children have a healthy sense of who they are. They know where they came from and they know what they came to. They came to be with us and to be a family. We celebrate Tet, we love our bun bo xao, we love weiner schnitzel and we're looking forward to corned beef and cabbage in a few weeks. That's just who we are!
We frequently meet with a local family with an adopted Vietnamese son, and have made close friendships with another family that has adopted 2 children from Vietnam. We participate with area FCV chapters, and local Vietnamese community activities when we can locate them. I speak often of Vietnam, which has captured my heart, with my oldest child, Abby, and try to teach her as much about her birth culture as I have learned. I am beginning to take Vietnamese language classes so I can learn to read, write and speak Vietnamese. My husband and I have begun what we anticipate will be annual cookouts with local families that have adopted from Vietnam. I actively participate in forums with adult adoptees so that I may learn how to teach my children about their birth country, as well as learning about identity issues that may arise as they grow. We've begun a saving plan for a return trip to Vietnam in approximately 3 years (if not sooner) with the hope of making return trips 2 or 3 time with our children by the time they are teens. We want them to grow up staying in touch with Vietnam, knowing firsthand about the land, the culture and it's people. Also, I am in the process of discreetly trying to contact Abby's birthmother to see if she is interested in having any ongoing communication with us.
Christine Metzner & Steve Falci
At just 17 months, there is certainly a limit to what Matthew can understand about his cultural heritage. But right from the start, we have been trying to create positive associations with Vietnam for him. We have some beautiful artwork in our house that we purchased in Ho Chi Minh City. We look at it and tell Matthew about water buffalo, rice paddies and fishing in the Mekong River. We also tell him stories about the people of Vietnam while looking at Therese and William Bartlett's wonderful book, When You Were Born in Vietnam. We have also become regulars at Vietnamese restaurants in our hometown and Matthew is getting used to the owners' enthusiastic greetings.
Cindy & Tom Roberts
What do we do to maintain a healthy cultural identity for our Vietnamese children? This is big and complex question. First, every summer we go to Vietnamese Culture Camp for adopted families in the Colorado Rockies. There the kids meet other adopted Vietnamese kids just like them, and the camp consolers are Vietnamese young adults from the Denver community. Our entire family goes to this event as we do everything together as a family. The biological kids feel just a part of this group as the Vietnamese kids, because we are surrounded with families just like ours.
On a daily basis, when I have a choice, I choose Asian doctors for all our kids. I feel because we live in a 95% white community, it is important for my Asian kids to see admired professionals of the same ethnicity as themselves. A few times a year we make trips into the city to eat at Vietnamese restaurants and shop at a huge Asian Grocery store. We have Vietnamese artwork scattered throughout the house and eat with chopsticks often. The kids are enrolled in karate, as it is an Asian sport. Several times a year we visit a Vietnamese/Thai Buddhist temple. On the weekends they have a street fair with ethnic food!
Afterwards we explore the temple. The boys use to make prayers to their ancestors at the temple, but no longer do. Danielle however absorbs the Buddhist temple and asks all the adults to help her say prayers for her birth family in Vietnam. Danielle and I both light incense for her birth family.
Tet, the Lunar New Year is a big holiday in our house! I throw a Tet party in each of my kids classes, adopted or not. I realize it's hard to go to school and be the only child with skin color in your class. When I am done with these parties my kids' friends think Vietnam is pretty cool and rich in history. The kids always love the dragon parade. At home we have our adoption group over for a Lunar New Year party and the kids come dressed in their ethnic costumes. This year, because the boys are getting older and think the adoption group is babyish, we ventured to San Francisco to see the Chinese New Year parade! We stayed at a hotel in Chinatown, which looked just like a hotel in Vietnam, except the sink did not swivel. At the hotel to our surprise we ran into many biracial adopted families just like ours who had come to see the parade. Another Chinese New Year parade is in order next year!
Two years ago I took our four boys back to Vietnam for a two week motherland tour. We traveled with a group of about 30 people who were adult adoptees from the Vietnam War. We toured Vietnam from top to bottom. We stopped at everyones orphanage and visited many historical sites in Vietnam. Before we went home we visited the boys orphanage and birth family. It was wonderful to meet their birth family and many siblings. Next year it will be the girls turn to have a trip to Vietnam!
Laurie O Neill
We celebrate Tet & Mid autumn moon festival, and our adoption playgroup meets frequently. We also just joined the "Shades" kids club, where the kids can talk about issues that come up regarding race & adoption. We read lots of books about Vietnam, and love Vietnamese food! We have videos with Vietnamese kids singing and dancing, and Mandy loves watching them. We took some language lessons for a while, but then got busy with other things. I would still like for both of us to try to learn to speak Vietnamese and hope to get back to the lessons in the future. Mandy is very proud of her heritage, and I try to surround her with positive Asian images.
My Mother and I fell in love with Vietnam while we were there, and I hope to take Mandy back to tour the whole country someday when she is older. I hope that she will continue to always be proud of who she is, and will grow up with a strong, healthy, cultural identity.
We have several children's books about Vietnam in our house, with beautiful photographs of life in Vietnam. We also belong to an organization of families formed through adoption, and are actually in the process of forming a local chapter of Families with Children from Vietnam. Additionally, toddlers love to sing. As silly as this sounds, we have made up our own lyrics to the tune of "Mary had a Little Lamb", to reflect our kids' journeys from Vietnam to the USA. We sing them on the way to daycare every morning! More than anything, though, at this early age, Ryan and Alyssa like to look at photographs and videotapes of our time together in Vietnam!