Balancing Between Two Cultures

After meeting many adoptive parents throughout the years, I have come to the realization that we all approach our children’s cultures differently. Some pass down personal American traditions to their children whereas others attempt to integrate a variety of cultural aspects into their family. We have tried to balance the two, both in décor and Asian traditions, although I have given up trying to make authentic Chinese food, especially my daughter’s favorite — dumplings.

Our main living area is adorned with Asian artifacts such as a rice hat, a whimsical tapestry, an exquisite fan, and portraits of our daughters in their native costumes. Our oldest often refers to this room as “Her China” room. Ironically, when we redecorated our living room, I discovered some Waverly fabric at a local discount store. This burgundy, toile fabric did not have the traditional Colonial Williamsburg flare to it but rather an Asian scene displayed with ladies playing flutes, children running around a nearby stream, and men working in a garden. Stamped on the inside of this fabric were the words: Canton Gardens; we later found out that our oldest daughter’s city of birth originally had that name. Apparently, there is still a garden in Guangzhou, China, that one can visit.

During the Christmas season, our daughters have two special dresses, both an American and a Chinese one. Interestingly, my oldest seems to prefer her Asian dress more. While in China, I made a point to purchase a variety of different sized dresses; I only wish that I had bought more. They have worn these dresses not just for Christmas, but for other special days, such as Forever Family Day and Chinese New Year .

I have always disliked the family tradition of tearing down our Christmas tree on New Year’s Day. What a waste to keep a tree up for only five weeks. However, this past year, we packed all of our traditional ornaments away, leaving only white, sparkling lights. Then, we redecorated our tree with hand-blown glass ornaments in shapes of birds, pine cones and winter animals.

The finishing touch was adding our collection of Asian decorations. It was on this day that we declared our new tradition: our Chinese New Year’s tree. As a family, the kids voted to also keep the tree up until the Chinese New Year was over. Needless to say, the girls were thrilled. Now, throughout the year, our family is in constant search for new ornaments to adorn the next year’s tree.

During the first week of February, the girls and I dress up in Chinese attire and attend the annual Chinese New Year celebration in Portland, Maine. What jubilation! There is so much to do — a dragon parade, a recital put on by Asian dancers, Chinese food to sample, and booths filled with Asian gifts. My daughters love going to the craft room to make authentic decorations of China — Chinese lanterns, feathered hacky-sacks and Chinese calligraphy.

To make this day complete, we head off for “real” Chinese food, and everyone is happy that mom is “not” in that kitchen. Watching my oldest devour her vegetable and meat filled dumplings makes my heart smile.

Though most of our traditions occur within the home, going to the Chinese New Year is an important one as well. Having our daughters see other adoptees with their American parents really reminds the girls that all cultures, regardless of skin color, can be families, too.

This article was first published in Adoption Today, December 2012

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  1. I love this. It is such a blessing to read about your multi-cultural adventures!

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