Thursday, March 08, 2007

Weeping, Two Ways

D*mn that New York Times. Two articles today, each making me cry for vastly different reasons.

"Sob" Story #1:
English, Irish, Scots: They’re All One, Genes Suggest

Oh. My. God. Or, as the article pointed out,
The Celtic cultural myth “is very entrenched and has a lot to do with the Scottish, Welsh and Irish identity; their main identifying feature is that they are not English,” said Dr. Sykes...Dr. Oppenheimer said genes “have no bearing on cultural history.” There is no significant genetic difference between the people of Northern Ireland, yet they have been fighting with each other for 400 years, he said. As for his thesis that the British and Irish are genetically much alike, “It would be wonderful if it improved relations, but I somehow think it won’t.”

"Sob" Story #2:
Journey From a Chinese Orphanage to a Jewish Rite of Passage
A cute story of a girl who was adopted as an infant from China getting ready for her bat mitzvah. She makes the point that she sees being born in China and being Jewish as completely unrelated things, as in, it's not that bizarre, people! The best quote of the entire article? "Besides, she said with a shrug, 'Most of my Chinese friends are Jewish.'” It's clear, even though the article is cute, that this young woman has indeed thought through her identity, what it means to be Chinese-born but American-as-all-you've-ever-known culturally, as well as Jewish ethnically and religiously. You can tell it has been, and continues to be, a process.

I've given, obviously, a lot of thought about identity as it relates to Bambina. I think a lot about how to help her as she gets older to integrate (or not) all the different parts of her as she sees fit. I pray that by the time she's an adolescent the notion will be widely accepted that a human person can indeed be of Chinese origin, Jewish religion, and Scottish by the Grace of God Himself. ;) I know that I will try to be aware of what she'll go through, but I'll never fully know because I am neither Chinese by birth nor was I adopted. Bambina will deal with things my brain cannot even begin to fathom, and my job--all I can do, really--is prepare her to deal with it. And the best way to prepare her is to let her be--and become--whomever it is that she is becoming. To ensure she feels pride in who she is, where she comes from, and in making no apologies for how she chooses to feel about it or manifest it in her life.

I was talking with my Mom about my annoyance with people who feel compelled to constantly mention adoption when they see us, or who just have to make some kind of China reference no matter what. I was trying to explain that, far from being unhappy to talk about Bambina's ancestry, I'm incredibly proud of it and so is she. {A perfect example occurred yesterday morning when we were watching a DVD of baby animals. We were talking about caribou, elephants, etc, when the pandas came on. She knows pandas come from China, and said so. I said, "Yes, pandas are originally from China. Now two of them live here in DC." She just smiled widely and said with obvious ticklement (ticklage?) "Just like me, Mama!" It was a perfect moment, a sweet moment, and one I want to bottle for her for all the times when someone will say something involving either "me so..." or "love you long time" at her, or when people will tell her she speaks English so well, or she'll hear "ching chong ching" behind her back--or even to her face because that's "not offensive" at all. (And I'm not being pessimistic. I don't have a single friend of Asian descent who has not heard some combination of all of these, both "well-meant" and purposely hurtful.)}

So, my point being that, although Bambina will have some extra steps to go through during adolescence (whether they go swimmingly or challengingly) in regards to the same identity search we all went through at that age (some of you are still searching!), I also don't want her to constantly feel like the "other." When she's 23 and wants to joke with you about some aspect of being Chinese-American, then that's her choice. But I don't want to joke about it for her because it's not my joke to tell, it's not my life's journey, and it's flat-out not a joke to me. I was telling my Mom, "she just IS. She's not my adopted daughter, she's not my Chinese daughter, she's not my adopted Chinese daughter. She's just Bambina, incorporating all of what that means. When we became a family, our ancestors became hers--but more importantly, her ancestors became mine. Everything she is, everything she comes from, everything that made her the human being who was born in China is now a part of our family history. Every part of it is connected."

My Mom quite handily picked up on where I was trying to go rather inarticulately. She said, "Like when you graft a branch onto another tree, you can sometimes see the area that was grafted, but the branch is as strong--if not stronger--than the other branches, and it becomes a part of the tree as if it were never absent." Yes, Mom. Yes. I replied that it was akin to the law in Judaism that it is forbidden to remind converts that they were not "born Jewish." Once you're Jewish, you're Jewish; end of story. It's not like you can't tell stories of when you had Christmas dinner with your family as a kid, it's just that it's YOUR story to tell, not someone else's to remind everyone that you weren't always where you currently are. What I'm saying is that the rule should apply to adoption as well. It's not like we don't know, won't remember, can't talk about it where it's relevant or like we're not thrilled x a million that God gave us this Bambina out of all the babies in the world, by whatever means. But it's not okay to constantly make mention of a child's adoption or race as if it's the most important thing about them that you can think of to say in that moment. (I'm reminded of a situation where an adult adoptee's aunt gave the family her homemade family tree plaques. On it, under her and her brother's names, was the word "adopted" in parentheses. Like, on the family tree, the most important thing her aunt felt could be said about them was that they had been adopted. When asked why she included it, she said, "well, because, you know, it IS relevant in our family history," as if she had written a whole tome of information rather than having just listed names and birthdates--and of course whether the kids were "real" family or not.) Like I said, it's not okay.

Now that I think about it--and now that I've dragged you at length through the inner recesses of my addled brain--what these two articles are saying, in very different ways, is this: No matter how important our society thinks they are, genes are irrelevant to what is in the human heart.

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