Friday, April 13, 2007

"I wish I was Chinese"

This has been Zoe's frequent lament lately. The first time she said it, I replied, " Well, since you were born in China and since your birthparents are Chinese, you are Chinese -- and American, too."

But when she said again today, "I wish I was Chinese," this time I was smart enough to ask, "Well, what makes someone Chinese?"

Zoe's answer, "You have to speak Chinese."

"So would I be Chinese," I queried, " if I could speak Chinese?"

Zoe said, "Yes, you would."

So there you have it -- we can ALL be Chinese!

But on a serious note, Zoe's a pretty smart cookie to have figured this out. Maybe ethnicity and birthplace are not not enough to make one Chinese. Here, without language and culture, she is American. And in America, because of her appearance, she is seen as Chinese and perpetually foreign (after all, she can't even grow up to be President (for my take on the issue, click here)).

Our children adopted from China are really betwixt and between, aren't they? Not fully Chinese to some, not fully American to others. That's really why we're here, to give Zoe and Maya a chance to feel Chinese. I suppose I'll know that the effort has paid off when THEY feel fully Chinese and fully American, no matter how others might choose to label them.


mimifrancoise said...

Zoe really is a "thinker" She has figured out the issue on her own. Even though I have been in the USA for fifty years...and speak English fluently (albeit,with an accent) I am not viewed as an "American", but I feel like one! So continue to do what you are doing and Zoe will feel like she belongs, to whatever she needs to belong! You are doing a great job with those two amazing girls.

Anonymous said...

This brought back memories. Between 4-6 [maybe still a bit now] our daughter considered everyone [self, father, brother] in the family to be Chinese EXCEPT me because everyone--even her baba of Italian American heritage--spoke Chinese.

I envy you--my husband and I would kill to take the kids back to China to live for at least a while. All we have to do is figure out a reason for someone to pay us!!!!!!!

Have a great time!

Anonymous said...

The other day Maggie had a substitute teacher who spoke Chinese. The teacher was counting in Chinese and she asked if anyone knew what language she was speaking. Maggie raised her hand and said "Chinese." She was so proud to know that and also to also be able to count in Chinese! (Despite that fact that she often complains bitterly about going to Chinese school.) Later, the teacher said goodbye to her in Chinese and she replied in Chinese. She mentioned that to me several time. I think little things like this help our kids feel a little more Chinese. Meredith actually asked me the other day if I was Chinese and I said "no." She said "but you speak Chinese!" So, she has also picked up on this idea, too. Of course, I speak VERY little Chinese, but I know enough to be able to teach them a little bit too. The more I read about your jouney, the more I am intersted in spending an extended amount of time in China. Maybe when Meredith is older, I will try teaching English in China during the summer. On our trip, we will be tourists, but I think staying there for a longer amount of time would have a different impact. Sue

Allen said...

"And in America, because of her appearance, she is seen as Chinese and perpetually foreign (after all, she can't even grow up to be President ..."

I just found your blog through google search. I have read a lot of them and thoroughly enjoyed them. I can relate to many of the things you have written about raising bi-cultural kids. I am Chinese from Fujian, China, and educated in Xiamen University in the 80's (that's how I stumbled upon your blogs when googling with keywords 'Xiamen Blogs by Americans'). I left Xiamen in 1989 for the U.S. and have never had a chance to visit XiaDa since. I have been to China many times, though. Since my wife and I are both Chinese, our kids are naturally - you guess it right - Chinese-looking. Our kids speak Chinese at home and we have a Chinese nanny who doesn't speak English. That helps with their Chinese. Just like you, I want my kids to feel comfortable being American as well as Chinese. As far as I can tell(from other older Chinese kids born and raised in America), it's very hard for Chinese-looking kids to feel American even though they are born in America and speak unaccented English. No matter how hard they try, they will still be viewed as Chinese. My 8-year old daughter was very heart broken one day when two of her best friends at school decided not to let her sit with them and told her that "We have lighter skin. You have darker skin." Race issue will never be over.

BTW, on another post, you wrote that your Chinese students didn't think "China has a race issue since its people are homogeneous." Nothing can be farther away from the truth. Chinese have always been one of the most racist people in the history. Ask any of your Fujian, Guangdon, or other Southern students to tell you the literal meaning of the word 'foreigner' in their dialect. It has a derogatory racist connoation. Maybe the English equivalent is "uncivilized barbarians"? Can you imagine anyone in America label another group as barbarians? Well, maybe except for the Southern rednecks. Those guys can even make a living poking fun at themselves. You should ask your students what they think if they are married to an African or black Indian? Chinese in general are fine with Caucasians but are not at all the case with black folks. We can only hope one day people would actually look at each other by the content of one's character instead of the skin color.