Is there something I’m missing?

I have hesitated to talk about this issue. I have hesitated mainly because it is going to come from a place that is personal and without a whole ton of research, which is what the issue at large has in their back pockets.

I read an article a few months back about a child, Lexi, who was in the middle of a custody battle from foster care in the States because she was being reunited with relatives who shared her ethnicity and courts felt that her current foster home was not allowing sufficient development of cultural appreciation. I let the issue sit and fester and I continued to live life as per usual. The article showed up again this morning: The child was officially removed. My heart absolutely sank. I do not know this child and I do not even know how “good” these foster parents were in terms of preserving her culture but I couldn’t help but feel slightly stabbed in the chest. The girl is 6 years old and has been living with her foster family since she was 17 months old. Reading the comments there is just as much confusion,”the foster family was wrong about keeping her for this long,” “the girl wants to live with her biological family.” There really is no right answer I suppose and my heartbreak has really nothing to do with this article. It has to do with something I was provided, that I feel is being largely overlooked in many foster cases around North America. I was provided a home, not just a house and a desire to look toward the future through being challenged and pushed.

Lexi’s future is determined by her race.

In a quest to see how this could have all happened I learned that a decades-old law in that state ensured that children were placed in families of similar origins. In a more shocking turn of events I learned this practice is still in place where I live. Maybe I can’t see it. Maybe I can’t see why it is so important to be with those who share ethnicities, because, for majority of my life I was the minority in my own family. Here is the thing, I was never made to feel like a minority. Ever.

Where is the line here? When is a child’s welfare, stability and development tied to the colour of their skin? At what point must we stop and realize that for a large proportion of the nations people, diversity is a beautiful thing. I know my parents made my culture a beautiful thing…so much so that I even started to ask that they not (yes, the teenage years).

When I work with children, I see humans. I see humans who might be slightly behind (or a lot), I see humans who have different facial structures and body types and I have caught myself saying, “That girl is just so gorgeous” or, “She has such great skin”. Yes, I see ethnicity. I see it as a way that separates each person physically but as a determining factor of their character? Absolutely not. This leads me to question, this child, Lexi, knew stability for 6 years.  She knew of her origins, her family, her extended relatives. In fact, she visited them time to time. Up until that point her future was based on the fact that her foster family COULD and WOULD care for her, they wanted to adopt her…they loved her. A judge’s mistake in reading her DNA testing changed that future. As people we are a combination of natural tendencies and nurtured tendencies. As someone who grew up not surrounded by my origins I can tell you I learned a lot more about cultural appreciation because my parents worked so hard at including me in both my native origins and the one I was living in.

I am not Thai. I am Thai-Canadian. I am damn proud to be both.

At the end of the day, I see kids who need to know what it feels like to be hugged and to be talked to calmly and softly. I’ve met kids who’ve seen more for their years and feel cheated to be treated by their chronological age. I meet kids who don’t think they’re worth a penny and you work so hard to make them feel at least worthy of a dime. Adopting a child or fostering one is not like becoming a parent to a biological child. You are healing someone, even if for a short time. You are taking a life that has been traumatized and changed and helping it grow. You are taking someone else’s gift and you are expected to cultivate it into a worthy human. Even those adopted at a very young age, the journey is always a little different. I truly believe that any person who is of good character and accepts this challenge is entitled to this healing ability. Healing people from the inside should be the basis of care, not whether or not your skin tone matches that of your charges. I do not believe it is a matter of preserving culture, I think it needs to turn into a revolution of building culture and letting it become diverse.

Embracing diversity in family life and life in general, is a chance to ensure that children know that they are okay, just the way they are. You’re not losing a culture, you’re gaining an education. With the events that have happened over the last week, a little education would’ve gone a long way.

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4 thoughts on “Is there something I’m missing?

  1. Mark Levin says:

    You are touching on a topic that draws moral certainty on both sides of the issue. In the US, this issue is stronger along racial lines than ethnic lines, but the question is sometimes framed as “when a Caucasian family brings a non-Caucasian child into the family, does that family destroy something in that child because they cannot provide a proper understanding of the child’s heritage?” On the one hand, the family is providing a home for the child where the alternative seems to be institutionalization. On the other hand, some argue that a Caucasian family is incapable of raising a child in a manner that respects the child’s cultural origins.

    As a father of internationally adopted children, I can offer an opinion based on an extremely small sample size. We live in a culturally diverse suburb of a large city. Approximately one third of the population is African American. Our school system has students or parents of students from about 45 different countries. We enjoy friendships with about a dozen families who have adopted internationally. We ourselves have adopted a boy and a girl from China as toddlers and a 10 year old girl from Thailand. All are now teenagers.

    My two daughters could not be more different. My Chinese daughter identifies herself as adopted, but not as Chinese. She sees herself as American first and embraces American culture (whatever that means). My Thai daughter identifies as Thai only. She has many friends, but her closest friends are Asian. She can’t stand normal American teenager foods (burgers, fries, pizza, spaghetti) and strongly prefers to eat Asian foods.

    Obviously, there is more to the story than food preferences, but the point is that in spite of our efforts to introduce Asian culture to my Chinese daughter so that she will have an appreciation of her heritage, she prefers to ignore it. Have we failed as parents? I don’t think so. In spite of our efforts to introduce American culture to our Thai daughter, so she will find comfort and fit in with her peers, she rejects it. Have we failed as parents? I don’t think so.

    I look at our friends who have adopted internationally. Some families have children that appear well-adjusted and others have significant problems. I can say the same for our friends who have children who were not adopted.

    The bottom line is that early on in the adoption/fostering process, the State is responsible for the care of the child. The State is an awful parent. The State can feed and shelter a child, but the State cannot love a child, teach values to a child or nurture a child. Can I do a better job of child raising than the State? Absolutely. Can I do it “right?” Who knows? Who can say with certainty? In the end, I fall back on the best advice I ever received for child-raising – “Do whatever works.”

  2. Mark Levin says:

    I know the previous comment was very long, but I must add one more point about culture. My Thai daughter spent her junior year of high school as an exchange student in Thailand. While she was there, she made lots of friends, adding maybe 500 people to her Facebook friend list. However, she had a difficult time with adults. It turns out that in Thai culture, a student must never question a teacher, while Americans are encouraged to question authority all the time. My daughter had become enough of an American to struggle with the idea of subservience to elders. Her stubbornness and independence will serve her well in college and beyond in America, but it caused her grief during her stay in Thailand.

    The act of adopting her and removing her from her native culture has destroyed a bit of her “Thainess”. But her dual identity and perspectives will probably give her advantages over other people. So, have we done something wrong?

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