1. A cultural name won’t fix the problem, nor will a Western one. While adoptive parents have the legal right to change their adoptive child’s name, should they? A Caucasian friend of mine lamented over the naming of his adoptive Korean infant because he wanted to do what he could to help his new daughter assimilate into American culture. He hoped I could provide some sort of reassuring advice, but instead I told him that inevitably his child will be teased for something: her name, the way she looks or what she wears. Children can be cruel, and a name won’t change that. Help your child embrace his or her name, what it may be. Once you accept different as normal, the weight of finding a perfect name will feel less daunting.
2. The physical appearance of your child will serve as a reminder that she is from another culture no matter how well you integrate her into your culture. My adoptive parents did such a stellar job of assimilating me into American culture that I had no idea I was anything other than American. While my naturalization and U.S. passport solidified this notion, the country of my birth remained to be India. Only after moving away from my small hometown, fellow college students and strangers asked me the question I never asked myself before: “Why do you look different, but act like us?” This discrepancy between my physical appearance and my thoughts, my words, my actions, my upbringing, confused me as much as it did those asking the question. When comfortable, I shared that I was adopted, but I carried a shame about not knowing more regarding my past, especially since it remained in other people’s present.
3. Over time, your child’s interest in his culture may morph. Wanting to fit in is a normal part of life, but for some children, this means denying or possibly even being repulsed by a culture that makes up his history. During my brother’s childhood and adolescence, he vehemently denied the non-American part of his racial identity, turning his nose up at the sight of Indian food and blocking his ears at the mention of this foreign culture. Yet, in his early twenties, the pendulum swung, and he turned to a vegetarian diet predominantly composed of Indian-inspired dishes; he draped his home with colorful Indian fabrics and tattooed an Indian god on his arm. While it’s impossible to predict your child’s interest in his culture, you can support him as he navigates avenues to learn more about his history.
4. Culture is not just food and music. Thank you to the adoptive parents who do your best to incorporate your child’s culture into his or her life. Doing this can be a challenge and often it’s done with food, clothing, music, or celebrations—which merely scratches the surface. Genuine cultural understanding requires a much deeper dive into a world that may be quite unlike your own. It means being able to interpret certain body language and being aware of the cultural attitude towards elders and dependents. It means having a grasp not only of the unspoken rules, but of the unconscious ones. Often, the only way to learn these things is to be around those native to the place your child came from. So if you can, find a path for your child into that world by introducing her to people of that culture. These people will be able to fill in the gaps that your child needs to satiate, but just can’t alone.