Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Interesting Diversity of Cross Cultural Adoptive Parenting

I am not the best candidate to parent children who do not share my cultural history. It's not because I feel my history is somehow superior to that of others, and I don't necessarily think that those of us who have grown up in what has been a traditional North American majority culture are somehow more fortunate or successful or whatever. I don't disdain the cultural practices of beliefs of others; in fact, I find them intriguing and personally horizon-expanding.

I'm not the best candidate because historically my cultural milieu has been so narrow. I grew up in rural Minnesota seven miles from the nearest town of 600 people. I didn't meet an African-American until I was in third grade when a family into our community from Chicago, a city that could have been a world away as far as our community was concerned. I didn't meet anyone of Hispanic origins until I was in college! And while I had seen (from a distance) Asian-Americans (though typically it was an Asian child who had been adopted by "nice" white people), I had no connection with anyone different from myself. In my extended family, which is really quite large (my paternal grandmother gave birth to thirteen children over the course of 25 years) the most diversity we had was when an uncle divorced and married a woman from another part of the state. She brought her children into the marriage, and we all knew they were different (although for the life of me right now I wouldn't be able to say how).

So, then, it is always interesting when my monocultural roots catch me off guard. After all these years it shouldn't happen that way, but sometimes it does. I like to think that because I am the adoptive parent of children from several different ethnic and cultural backgrounds I am prepared for most anything, yet there are moments when I am surprised. Like last night, when I was having a conversation with Wilson, our nine-year-old son whose origins are Asian (his birth grandparents emigrated to the US around the Vietnam era, when they were refugees from Laos). Here's how the conversation went:

Wilson: [Watching TV, having seen something about insects] "Dad, back in Texas we used to have grasshoppers this big [he shows me with his fingers the measurements, about 2 inches in length and 1 inch in height]."
Me: "Yeah? That's big, not like here in Minnesota."
Wilson: "Yep."
Me: [In jest] "So, do you like eating them?"
Wilson: [A pause to think]. "Nah. It's been a while. We used to eat them when we lived with our grandma and grandpa. They're pretty good with salt."
Me: [A big chagrined for the cultural faux pax on my part] "Interesting. Ummm, I don't think you'll be eating too many of them here."

Wilson just smiles, and I slink away in a cloud of self-imposed culturally insensitive regret. So, yeah, I really need to exercise better judgment before speaking, unless I am prepared for surprises.

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