I just finished reading the book Culture Keeping: white mothers, international adoption, and the negotiation of family difference by Heather Jacobson. And since no one here at my house has read it, I guess I will discuss it with myself. There were some interesting parts, but it wasn't quite what I expected. First off, it is very much a book by a sociologist written for sociologists. To get to the interesting bits, you must be willing to slog through quite a bit of jargon... and quotes about how burdened women are by society's expectations that they raise their children. But I won't go there right now.
Also, the focus of the book was much narrower than I expected it to be. The title makes it sound as though transracial international adoption would be discussed as a whole, but that is not quite the case. The study centered on two groups of mothers, those who had adopted from Russia and those who had adopted from China, and looked at how each group kept culture for their children. It was interesting to read how each group viewed both the necessity of culture keeping and how it played out in each of their lives.
I was more interested in the China adoptive mothers since their situation speaks more closely to that of my own. I was struck by a couple of things. (And here I want to point out that I am merely communicating the results of Ms. Jacobson's study... don't shoot the messenger.) In this group of mothers, it would appear that they see culture as a commodity, that is, something to be bought or acquired or a class or lesson to be attended. None of the women interviewed had any close friends who were Asian, and the only Chinese people they had contact with were a part of some type of economic exchange. Also, none of the China adoptive mothers looked to immigrant Chinese raising first generation Americans to help inform them as they dealt with culture and what it means to their children to be an Asian minority living in an ethnically white majority.
The author does not give any type of criticism in her descriptions of how these various mothers kept culture. (Well, except along the lines of what I mentioned in the first paragraph.) And all of the mothers mentioned that on some level their culture keeping felt superficial or inauthentic. I know I think about what it means to try to share and teach about a culture in which I have not grown up. I don't want it to seem as though it is some game that I am playing.
I am not Vietnamese but I want my sons to know about the country of their birth and to feel a sense of pride in who they are. I admit I am often stymied as to how best to do that. What do others do? How do you develop real friendships with people from you child's birth country? More importantly, how do you go about it without making it seem as though the only reason you want to develop a friendship is because of someone's ethnicity?