Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A special dinner party

Through the magic of social media, my wife has started a rather large group of families with children from China here in No. Carolina, southern Virginia and So. Carolina.  This past weekend, a number of us met for dinner both to celebrate (a few days late!) the coming of the Year of the Goat and to get to know each other face-to-face.  I think that a good time was had by all.

There were, I believe, about nineteen families represented

Of course, the kiddies had no trouble mixing

Getting them all to stand still long enough for a group photo was a challenge.  What you can't see is a platoon of parents with phones and cameras.  And notice a certain little girl standing out front...

Caroline shares the same birth month and year with these two little girls.  I think that little A (on the right) looks much like Caroline, though she is from a different province

It's good to know that there are (relatively) so many adopted children in the area.  I think that all of us parents hope to keep the kids in touch with each other in the years to come.  Adopted children, especially international adoptees, are something of a unique minority, and I think it is important for them to grow up around other kids who understand what it's like to be "somewhere between".


With special thanks to Ms. Sandy Ho and her staff at Sampan Restaurant in Winston-Salem, NC

Monday, February 9, 2015

A conversation about race

I had a short talk with an friend of ours who is a foreign student (by coincidence, she is from the same city as our daughter) at one of our fine Southern universities.  She told me that she and her fellow Chinese students are somewhat less than happy with their treatment by the school.  I was puzzled and even a little astonished: political correctness and diversity are well-established in the US university system, so the idea that the school administrators and faculty wouldn't trip over themselves to make foreign students feel completely welcome was hard to believe.

In a cautious manner, I probed a little deeper.  WHAT was the school doing... or not doing?  How was it failing?  She explained to me that the school is not being outright abusive or discriminatory, but rather... oblivious.  Here we have students who are heavily outnumbered by their white peers and, indeed, are visiting a strange country.  The university, however, has made little effort to recognize that this can make them feel isolated and unsupported.

As we talked, it seemed to me that the problem lies in how white people deal with - are PROGRAMMED to deal with - people of other races.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, speech at Washington, DC, August 28, 1963
For the past sixty years, this is, I think, how white people in our country have been taught to view race.  In effect, we are taught to ignore it.  "I don't see a black / Latino / Asian / &c. person: I see simply a PERSON."* 

While this is miles ahead of indulging in negative stereotypes, it fails to recognize that race can be central to how people see themselves and certainly how they experience the world.  Our friend agreed that this is a pretty accurate statement of the problem: it's not hostility or even indifference to her and her fellow Chinese students, but simply ignoring that they are, in fact, Chinese**.

I admit that I'm not entirely sure how to deal with this sort of problem.  I offered the opinion to our friend that race is tricky to deal with for white people as we get conflicting signals about what is expected from us, and making a misstep can have some pretty nasty consequences.  However, we will HAVE to figure it out because, as our friend said, our daughter will very likely have to deal with it.


(*) For a very stark example of this problem in the adoption community, I refer the reader to this excerpt from "Adopted: The Movie" in which Korean adoptee Lynne Connor discusses how her mother absolutely refused to admit, much less discuss, her identity as a Korean woman.


(**) Our friend has cousins who were born here in the United States.  She related a story that I've discussed before: "No, no: where are you FROM?"

Monday, February 2, 2015

The haunted song of fatherhood

Thanks to a highly depressing commercial during last night's Superbowl (I do not refer to the one about dead children, which must bear the palm away as the single worst commercial in Superbowl - nay, TV - history, taking first place from 1964's "Daisy"), I was reminded of a song that must haunt fathers everywhere.  Certainly it haunts me.  It is a song of a man's failure to connect with his son and the price he pays later in life.  I refer to Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle":

My child arrived just the other day,

He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away. 
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."


I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you."
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I think that we all understand that a parent must often decide between his job - paying the bills - and spending time with his kids.  I think we all understand that parents sometimes need time away from the kids ("Man, I absolutely CANNOT stand one more minute of 'Barney'!!!!").  That being said, what parent wants to even THINK that he's so absent, so distant, that he's ruining his kids?

As a warning, the song is a masterpiece, though one that I can take only in very small doses.

Chinese New Year

The Triangle Area Chinese American Society of North Carolina hosted their annual Chinese New Year festival at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh this weekend.  This was our first time attending and we had a lot of fun.  I was pleased to run into a friend of mine from grad school that I hadn't seen for many years.  How time flies...

We also ran into some other adoptive families.  I was happy to see Caroline get on so well with other children, sharing (without too much prompting!) a little drum that we bought for her.  I would say that there were almost as many non-Asians as Asians in attendance.

Most of these people are in line for food.

There was plenty of entertainment: dancing, singing, music, martial arts demonstrations, &c.  Caroline had a good view.

From pater familias to high chair.  DOWN IN FRONT!

One of several dance troupes.

The Silk Dance.

Children also performed.

The Dragon Dance.

Naturally, we enjoyed the food.

A good time was had by all.

It occurred to me that the "Asian-American" community is a bit larger than just the people who are immigrants from Asia or descendants of Asian immigrants.  As I noted above, there were many people of other races there.  Some were simply enjoying the festivities, but quite a few were spouses, sweethearts, friends and (of course) adoptive families who, though not Asian-American themselves, are connected to that community by some pretty strong (!) ties.

A digression: I mentioned the friend that I ran into.  I recall having a talk with her when we were in school about "hyphenated Americans".  I said that, like Theodore Roosevelt, I didn't care for them: one is either an American or he is NOT*.  My friend, whose parents are from Taiwan, explained to me that this is rather easy for a white American to say, and that it's much harder for non-white people to be "plain Americans" not only because they feel pride in and connection to the lands and cultures of their ancestors, but also because they are often treated as aliens.  She told me a story about a Chinese boy she knew who dated a white girl.  He met her family and, in the natural course of polite conversation, they asked, "Where are you from?" He named the city in No. Carolina where he was born, but they persisted: "No, where are you FROM?" as if a person of Asian descent can't possibly be from No. Carolina... or anywhere else in our country.

As you can see, this conversation stuck with me, and I like to think that I understand her point better now than I did then.

Caroline, of course, is FROM China: she was born there.  She can - and I hope she will - say that with pride.  But I also hope that she has equal pride (well, OK, MORE pride!) in saying that she is an American.  And, if she wants to say that she is a Chinese-American or an Asian-American - a hyphenated American - I'm good with that.


(*) I may well be wronging TR: his dislike of hyphenated Americans was not of them per se, but rather of those who put loyalty to their native / ancestral land above their loyalty to the United States.  He also had no use for "native" Americans who put themselves against their fellow countrymen who happen to be immigrants or the children of immigrants.  I certainly agree with this:

"Americanism is not a matter of creed, birthplace or national descent, but of the soul and of the spirit.  If the American has the right stuff in him, I care not a snap of my fingers whether he is Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant.  I care not a snap of my fingers whether his ancestors came over in the Mayflower, or whether he was born, or his parents were born, in Germany, Ireland, France, England, Scandinavia, Russia or Italy or any other country... If the immigrant is of the right kind I am for him, and if the native American is of the wrong kind I am against him." [emphasis mine]
Theodore Roosevelt, speech, St. Louis, MO, May 31, 1916

A final quote that I like, this from Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was an immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire:

"[I]t's true I didn't come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Growth and tiramasu

It occurred to us a couple of days ago that Caroline had gotten bigger almost overnight.  My eyes didn't entirely deceive me.  Not only has she outgrown clothes that fit her well or were even a bit too big for her a few months ago (we've been using some of her dresses as blouses!), we, like most parents, keep an unofficial record on the frame of the kitchen door.

At this rate, we're going to need a bigger door.

She's standing at just about 36", which is somewhere between the 80th and 90th percentile.  Our tall girl!

In other news, she's discovered a new food that she loves: tiramasu.  We split a piece of this after dinner a few nights ago (after she plowed under a hodgepodge of spaghetti marinara, broccoli, asparagus, pizza with bacon and mushrooms, Greek salad, and anything else on the table she could get; she is NOT a picky eater).  I say "split", though in fact Chrystal and I got only a bite or two each.  Caroline, after sampling this new dish, proceeded to DEMOLISH it.  Honestly, she was using her fork like a shovel.  Well, why not?  Tiramasu contains coffee and chocolate, two of her favorite things.  My mother-in-law joked that, if we had put some bacon on top, it would have been culinary perfection in Caroline's eyes.

"Why did they bring three forks?  I can only use one at a time."

As an aside, the blue dress she's wearing was an emergency purchase.  A certain careless individual (who shall not be named) decided to give her some of his coffee while on the way to a birthday party... which she proceeded to spill all over the dress she had been wearing.  Fortunately, Chrystal was able to duck into Target and find something, so we weren't terribly late.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Racism and Asian-Americans

As an adoptee, I had grown up with white parents in a white town in rural Connecticut. My only knowledge of Asian culture was Chinese food and, when I was growing up, a number of meetings of adopted children that still haunt me, though I realize that my parents had my best interests at heart. They had taken me to these meetings for connection, but what I remember was the disconnect: the awkwardness of forced interaction between children who thought of themselves as white and didn’t want to be shown otherwise. We hated being categorized as adoptees, or I did and I read those feelings into the others, who to me did not seem friendly, or familiar, only more strange for their yellow faces.

The author, Matthew Salesses, goes on to discuss how he has dealt with being an Asian in a white country and especially the racism that he has experienced.  For example:

--- The truth is, racism toward Asians is treated differently in America than racism toward other ethnic groups. This is a truth all Asian Americans know. While the same racist may hold back terms he sees as off-limits toward other minorities, he will often not hesitate to call an Asian person a chink, as Jeremy Lin was referred to, or talk about that Asian person as if he must know karate, or call him Bruce Lee, or consider him weak or effeminate, or so on.

--- Racist jokes were told with alarming frequency for a school billed the “most liberal in the South,” and I was friends with two groups: one mostly white, mostly Southerners in the same dorm; the other mostly black, with whom I played pick-up basketball. They joked without censor. I had a girlfriend whose aunt and uncle lived in North Carolina, and when we went to visit, they would say that at least I wasn’t black, often before some racist diatribe. This seemed the predominant sentiment then. At least I wasn’t ____.(1)

--- Both Harvard and Princeton are currently under investigation on charges of racism toward Asians, whose grades and SAT scores, on average, must be higher than those of other races in order to gain admissions. Many Asian Americans are responding by marking the box on applications that declines to indicate race, something I cannot help but read symbolically. I confess that I would give my daughter that exact advice, in admissions: not to reveal her race. The accusation is that schools have capped their “quotas” of Asian students, and this is why Asians need to score higher, because they are competing amongst themselves for a limited number of spots. Most Asians accept the unwritten rules, pushing themselves or their children harder. But why should they, in a country that prides itself on equal opportunity?

This last sentence really hits home.  If I may indulge in some racism (and making generalizations about people based on race IS racism), Asians are widely regarded as having an excellent work ethic(2), especially when it comes to school.  But why?  Part of it may well come from the Chinese imperial examination system(3), but I suggest that much of it also comes from both a desire of the home culture to compete with the more "advanced" West and, more importantly, a belief amongst immigrant Asians that the path the success and acceptance, especially in America, is through proving one's merit by hard work and academic achievement.(4)

And what a moral quandary this is!  What ought a person say when he is praised for his race's GOOD qualities?  "You people are so hard-working!"  "You people are so polite!"  "You people are so respectful!"

You people...

I detest the idea of my daughter growing up with a chip on her shoulder, convinced that she's the target of a daily, incessant barrage of racist slurs, "microaggressions", &c.  On the other hand, if Salesses is to be believed (and I most assuredly do believe him), that is very likely the world she will live in.(5)  What ought I to do to prepare her for it?  Is talking to her enough?  Where's the line between making her aware... and making her paranoid?

For now, thank heavens, my worries are a little more pedestrian: "Is coffee in the morning bad for her?" or "Look, can we watch something other than 'Peppa Pig' for a change???" And, more importantly, my worries are more than offset by simply enjoying time with my little girl.


(1) I cannot resist telling this story.  Years ago, I briefly dated a Chinese girl (she was born, educated and had lived most of her life in China).  She early on told me point-blank that her family would greatly have preferred that she date / marry a Chinese boy but, as they are in somewhat short supply here in No. Carolina, a white boy would do.  They were absolutely dead-set against a black or Latino boy.

(2) This same girl once boasted to me that, "We (Chinese) work harder than anybody else in the world."

(3) "This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position which would bring wealth and honor to the whole family. The Chinese imperial examination system started in the Sui dynasty. Over the following centuries the system grew until finally almost anyone who wished to become an official had to prove his worth by passing written government examinations. The practice of meritocracy still exists today in the Chinese cultural sphere, including ChinaTaiwanSingapore and so forth."

(4) This has by no means always worked.  Until the post-war period, even well-educated Chinese and Chinese-Americans often found work outside "Chinatowns" only as laborers.

(5) There is good reason to believe that things have gotten better for Asians in American and continue to improve.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Big girl chair

Caroline has officially graduated from high chair to big girl chair (at least, when we're at home).

Yes, that's coffee in her little cup.  She likes to have a cup (or two... or three) in the mornings with her breakfast.

In other news, we find to our astonishment that she has learned to:

--- Count to ten

--- Sight recognize capital letters

Now, she's not 100% reliable on either of these things - she often skips "5", for example - but we think that these skills are pretty incredible in a child who's only a bit more than two years old AND only been exposed to English for about seven months.

Another thing she's done recently that bowled us over was tossing an empty drink bottle into the recycle bin without being told.

We're very proud of our remarkable little girl!