Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?--a book response

There has been a lot of discussion lately on certain sites of race and how it pertains to trans-racial adopted children.  These discussions are important and necessary if one plans to adopt a child of a different color than the family.  However, they do tend to get a little heated as we all try to defend our reality; often our reality cannot be changed.  Even more disturbing to me is the expectation that there is some perfect formula that we all must agree on and achieve in order to raise healthy, happy children.  It is insane silly to assume there is one correct way to raise trans-racial children as every parent knows each and every child is different.  However, being a white woman in America choosing to adopt an Asian child, I must learn from others what that will mean to my child.  I do not know from my own personal experience.  Again, I understand each child is different and not all will feel or experience things the same way, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to learn from others, it just means I should try to hear as many points of view as possible and glean what I can from each of them.  

The book "Does Anybody Else Look Like Me" by Donna Jackson Nakazawa is one of those opinions.  One I felt discussed a lot of the issues and gave practical advice on being a mom of a trans-racial child.  The author does not address the trans-racial adopted child so much because she is raising a trans-racial child through marriage.  She is Caucasian and her husband is Japanese.  They have two adorable children with loving parents who struggle (at times) with their racial identity.  The book is not trying to teach it shouldn't be done or can't be done; she thinks it must be done as the number of bi/multi-racial children grows every year and can be done right.  She interviewed over 60 people in multi-cultural families and shares their insights as well as her family's personal experience.

I found the book both eye-opening and encouraging.  I first read this book 5 years ago when we first started our adoption process.  Now all of our accreditation is expired and we must learn everything again.  I do intend to read new books, but I also re-read this book.  What I remember from the first time I read this was coming away with the knowledge that to some extent or another my child will struggle with racial identity.  The author's 3 1/2 year old son went through a period where he was very dissatisfied with his eyes--eyes that were identical to his father's.  That said to me I cannot assume my child will not struggle--I must assume she will.  After all, if I'm prepared and she doesn't struggle, what harm was done?

Now that I've reread the book and am refreshed on it, I can see it has a few more points.  One new idea for me is that perhaps struggle isn't the proper word.  Children will go through stages of understanding skin color and cultural identity whether we talk about it or not.  After all we can't spend 3 years teaching our kids to sort their toys by red, blue, and yellow and not expect them to eventually start doing it with people.  Without our input it can be a struggle, but with open communication it just becomes part of the natural list of things everyone has to learn to understand the world.  This book talks about the different stages and what that looks like in each age and appropriate ways to handle it.  I have even started having discussions with my Caucasian children, because they too will form opinions about skin color, and I do not want them to form that opinion without my input.

The second most informative and encouraging thing I received from this book is the 3 things a multiracial child will have in a best-case scenario (italics hers):
  1.  a diverse neighborhood/community
  2.  Aware, informed and involved parents
  3. A familiar, consistent group of friends they bond with before racial awareness and playground cruelty  
She goes on to say that while all of the people she talked who felt strengthened by who they were and had strong connections with both of their cultures had at least one of these things but not all of them had all three.  She was surprised to find out how much any one of these things could compensate for the lack of the other.  How much of that applies to trans-racially adopted children, I don't exactly know, but I found it encouraging to read that some children can grow into happy, emotionally healthy adults.
I hope to be able to impart this strength to all of my children or as her son said: "...I thought about my three selves and I felt really strong!...My Dave and Stonewall Jackson self, and then there's my Samurai self, and then my third self--the me that's both of them mixed together!"


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