On June 1st, in the Monterey Heights area of San Francisco, something extraordinary happened. At the invitation of Wang Yunxiang, the Chinese Consul General, and his wife, 60 former Chinese orphans, and their families gathered to celebrate one of China’s most popular holidays.
Although it appears on Western calendars, International Children’s Day is not a holiday celebrated by most Americans. In other parts of the world– notably China– it is a very important day. Children’s Day evolved from the 1925 “World Conference for the Well Being of Children.” Held in Geneva, Switzerland, and attended by representatives from 54 countries, the conference passed the “Geneva Declaration Protecting Children.” The proclamation focused on poverty, prevention of child labor, education, and other issues related to the welfare of children around the world.
After the conference, various governments around the world designated a day, different in each country, as Children’s Day, to encourage and bring joy to children as well as to draw the attention of society to children’s issues. Since about 1949, Children’s Day has been a very popular holiday in China. On that day, children hold performances and sing and dance, often dressed in their best clothes and wearing makeup. Even in orphanages, the children put on complex shows. Family and teachers bestow special presents and treat on the children.
For several years, Bay Area Adoption Services (BAAS), in Mountain View, California, has been working to foster relationships between adoptive families, the Chinese community, and PRC officials in this country– as do many other agencies. Beyond involvement with Families with Children from China, BAAS regularly invited the Consul General and his staff to the annual agency picnic, sent them their newsletter to keep them current on adoptive family events and issues, and consulted them on issues relating to China and Chinese culture.
Having been included on so many levels of adoption from China, the Consul General, and his staff decided to hold a party to meet more families and to help introduce the children to Chinese culture and tradition. They felt that International Children’s Day was the perfect occasion for such an event, and it marked the first time that the Consul has ever invited adoptive families to his home.
Arriving at the estate just as the sun was beginning to descend over the bay, parents and children were greeted in a receiving line by a beaming Consul General Wang Yunxiang, his wife, and BAAS’s China Program coordinator. Formalities over with, they entered the large ballroom to find a feast of Chinese barbecued ribs, egg rolls, dumplings, shrimp, seaweed noodles, and even french fries, waiting for them. After welcoming speeches from Mr. Wang and Andrea Stawitcke, BAAS’s director, the children took center stage. Unrehearsed performances were recorded by the flashing of proud parents’ cameras and observed by delighted staff. The next day the front page of the San Francisco Examiner featured a large picture of 4-year-old Jia Giuliano covering her ears and grimacing wildly as 5-year-old Perri Berman sang. Parents traded travel and children stories and took turns introducing their families to the staff. A steady stream of little girls (and a few boys) ran giggling from room to room. As the party wound down and people said their good-byes, the consulate staff handed each child a balloon and a large bag filled with goodies.
In the days following the party, word of its success spread quickly through the other Chinese consulates, and all the major Chinese newspapers and television channels carried the story and commented on the health and happiness of the children in their new families.
Perhaps the greatest impact resulting from the event was the feelings of those who organized and attended the celebration. The Consul General expressed the revelation he felt as he watched the families interact– the families really loved their children. That this was a surprise to him is representative of many Chinese people who does not understand Westerners adopting Chinese children. Adoption is not a widely understood subject in Chinese life, and the idea that U.S. citizens can go to China and adopt Chinese children and then love them as much as if they had been born to them is a very curious idea for many. Like the Consul General and his staff, however, most people approve and are supportive of families and delight in being sought out for advice and support in helping to raise children with an appreciation for their heritage.
Apart from a lovely evening that will be long remembered, this event marked a new connection between families and Chinese representatives in this country. BAAS’s China coordinator remarked that the Chinese government must have a continued dialogue with families so that each side can better understand the other. For the families, contact with the Chinese community lets them provide the best and strongest cultural link to their children and helps them see that they continue to be valued by their birth country. For officials, the strength and love of the families for the children helps them better understand their feelings about adoption and China. This will also benefit future families as the officials carry this new understanding back to China.
Asked how agencies and families might bridge the gap between themselves and the Chinese community, Andrea Stawitcke stated that agencies should be on the lookout for every possible opportunity to make the community and Chinese officials aware of adoptive events. BAAS’s annual picnic is their biggest yearly event. Some agencies hold annual golf tournaments, silent auctions, and parties, to which invitations to the Chinese community are routine. Adding them to newsletter lists and FCC events is another way to reach out. Families can attend cultural activities; view newspapers to find ethnic events being publicized; if near a university, inquire if there is an Asian Studies department and ask to be put on their mailing list; check the phone book to see what Asian organizations might be in your area; attend Chinese school; consider taking in an exchange student through one of the Asian exchange programs; think about people you know and possible connections through friends and colleagues.
All of the families who attended the Children’s Day celebration came away honored to have been included in such a special evening. For most, it was the first time they had had a chance to meet with Chinese officials outside of China and to express how much their children meant to them. For many of the officials, it was the first time they could see for themselves how the children were thriving and happy in their new lives and families. For the children, it was a magical evening in which their past and their future blended in a day created just for them.Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.