My son Harold is not adopted. Despite being born in mainland China, he is the biological son of my husband and me. My husband served as a military attaché for the American Embassy while we were stationed in China. Upon hearing that our son was born in China, much of the public asks if he has dual American and Chinese citizenship. Despite his being born in China, the county does not permit dual citizenship for anyone not born directly of Chinese parents. He does however have a Chinese birth certificate that was issued in conjunction with the Certificate of Birth Abroad that was issued by the American Embassy.
Suddenly, at the age of four Harold is embracing the country of his birth. He is eagerly speaks Mandarin, which he has been learning from birth, and telling anyone who will listen that he’s Chinese. I have no idea what triggered this, but he is now enthusiastically embracing the prospect of Chinese heritage.
This sudden bout of cultural fusion reminded me of an exchange within our family that happened two years ago. We had been living back in the United States for almost six months when Bob, our five year old began asking questions about the approaching holiday season. “Mom, why don’t we celebrate Kwanza?”
I answered that it simply wasn’t part of our culture. He thought about this for few seconds, then followed up with “what’s culture?” I gave him as detailed explanation as I thought he could understand. “Well, Grandma and Grandpa celebrate Christmas because they’ve Christian, your friend Keith celebrates Kwanza because his family is African American and we celebrate Chanukah because we’re Jewish”. Before I could finish the sentence Bob interjected “and Chinese!”
Bob was dead serious. We had lived in China for three years of his life, ages two through five, major years in which he developed a personal identity. To him, being Chinese is just as much a part of him and his culture as being American or Jewish. In the time between Chanukah and Valentine’s Day our family celebrates Chinese New Year, so it all seems totally normal to him. I can now start to see the same thing happening to our other son Harold.
Living in an overseas community with a melting pot of friends from all corners of the world, our children really do see the world with a set of rose colored glasses. They see people simply as people, nothing more and nothing less. Some they adore, others they detest, but it has absolutely nothing to do with their color, nationality or cultural background. When they tell me about a new friend or classmate with a name that is clearly not American I ask them “where are they from?”
Their answer is always “Oh, he’s from America” Even living overseas, anyone who spoke English was automatically American to them, or just “English”, since they like to refer to anyone who spoke the language as such. This classification held true even if the person in question held a Chinese passport.
While there most certainly have been downsides to the ten moves we made in 13 years of Navy life, it has had some amazing benefits. I have to express my gratitude to the United States Navy for sending us around the world and giving my children a foundation of total colorblindness.
Now, I know that Harold is no more Chinese than the Queen of England, but I’m ecstatic that to him, anyone can be anything.
Now the real question is, how do we carry this on back at home in the United States? How can we truly make our schools a center of multiculturalism? Yes, our children play and study together at a young age, but by the time they enter middle and high school, a divide emerges, even today. Asian kids hang out with other Asian kids, White kids stick with white kids and so on.
Why does this happen? It starts in the home. I’m not devaluing the importance of individual and unique cultures, religions and nationalities. I’m just bringing to the light that perhaps the world would be a kinder place if we all spent a few years abroad, working with a culture other than our own or working beside people whole look different than us.
I don’t know that the total melting pot environment we lived in overseas could be replicated here at home, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone could experience that?
My point in all of this is that my children have a point. I ask where an oddly (in my mind) named child is from, and to my kids it doesn’t matter. Why does it matter to me? Every person is unique for what and who they are. We can learn a lot from each of these people by what their background is, what they believe in and how they got to be who they are today. That being said, all that really matters is friends, people are just people.
Maybe this line of thinking makes me a Pollyanna, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all see the world through the rose colored glasses my kids do?