How Did They Know I’m Chinese?

The responsibilities of raising an adopted child of another race.

Sonia Billadeau February 03, 2014
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Adoptive parents in transracial families have additional challenges to parenting biological children. In addition to the usual childhood struggles, we must find ways to support and guide our children through issues involving, not only adoption, but race as well.

Helping my children to identify themselves as Chinese was something that I believed I was doing pretty well. We discuss our children’s heritage and culture regularly. It is a deeply ingrained part of our lives. We are active members of Families With Children From China. We attend Jane Brown lectures and playshops. We have watched and discussed “Adopted: The Movie” together numerous times. And, over the years, we have engaged in any number of activities and conversations in an effort to promote cultural and racial awareness within our girls.

Imagine my surprise when my precocious eight-year-old asked me how our neighbors knew that she was Chinese after they dropped off some Chinese New Year decorations that they had purchased in Singapore. Confused, I pursued this question with her a little more, and come to find out, she visually identifies herself with her Caucasian, brunette friend.

My personal lesson here is that no matter how well-adjusted you think your kids are, think again.

Living in Los Angeles, our friends came from extremely diverse backgrounds, and the girls’ school could be called a little United Nations. Since moving to the Midwest, and more specifically the suburban Midwest, that diversity is harder to come by. While our youngest daughter is Chinese and her best friend is African American, she is evidently still self-identifying as white. No matter how much we love our kids, and no matter how hard we try to introduce them to their culture, the reality is that my husband and I are white, and that cultural color rubs off on our girls. In fact, it is undeniably their primary make-up. We often laugh together about nature vs. nurture moments with our girls. However, those nurture traits are what point out the difference between being raised white and being raised Chinese. There is nothing that I can do to give my transracially adopted children the direct experience of being raised Chinese. It is an ability unique to Chinese parents.

However, there are some things you can do to help your children create a cultural identity.  Jana Wolff wrote a thoughtful piece on this subject for Adoptive Families magazine entitled “Raising a Child of Another Race.” In the article, she highlights a number of responsibilities that adoptive parents of different-race children must take in raising their children.

These include:

  • Interacting with people of your child’s race
  • Living in multicultural neighborhoods
  • Finding same-race mentors and role models for your child
  • Advocating for unbiased learning materials
  • Confronting racism openly
  • Cooking and eating ethnic dishes
  • Providing special maintenance to hair and skin
  • Celebrating all cultures
  • Taking part in homeland tours and culture camps
  • Creating a positive cultural environment at home.
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Sonia Billadeau


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