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Transracial Adoption Q/A with Angela True

Adoption Connection participated in the Open Adoption Interview Project, where bloggers interview adoptive parents about their experiences surrounding adoption. A blogger from asked an Adoption Connection caseworker and adoptive parent some great questions about transracial adoption:

As an adoption caseworker, what kind of education programs are available or mandatory when adopting transracially? How do you feel about these programs?

Each agency has different educational requirements. At Adoption Connection, we offer a Transracial Adoption workshop. It is a pre-adoption workshop required for people who are considering adopting a baby of a different race/ethnicity than themselves or their partner. It is a one-day intensive workshop that is not intended to answer ALL questions around transracial adoption, but to let people know what is necessary for a family to adopt transracially. For example: what to think about, what to be aware of, how to answer questions, what steps are needed to ensure their child has a positive racial identity, etc.

We also offer post-adoption, transracial workshops. Topics include: making choices in developing your multiracial family, talking with children and community about race, adoption and family, how to choose your community—schools, places of worship, neighborhoods, extracurricular activities, and choosing traditions—what holidays to celebrate, what cultures to learn about, how to incorporate traditions and activities that are not your own. An important piece will be about choosing your battles and the types of challenges families are encountering and how they can best respond to comments and confrontations. How can parents help prepare children for the challenges they will experience and what can we learn from other families of color about raising proud children of color?

Your daughter is of Chinese decent and you are a Caucasian woman who identifies with having an Irish background. What are some of the positive experiences you’ve had with a transracial adoption?

I think the best experiences have been around the invitation into the Chinese community from Chinese people. I will often get “tested” with questions like, “What are you doing for Chinese New Year?” When I tell the person all the traditions we observe, I get nods of approval and am then always welcomed into their families. There is one little girl from my daughter’s class who has been with her all six years in school who is also Chinese. I worked hard to establish a relationship with her mother, and it took until the girls were in 3rd grade before the friend could come to our house. This took years of asking and extending invitations. After the first play date, the mom became more comfortable with me. Recently, I took the girls horseback riding and the girl’s family came with—all of them—both parents and grandparents, who packed a picnic lunch. We all enjoyed each other’s company for the whole day. We are now part of the family, and the mom wants to teach my daughter some Chinese. Once you show people that you are helping your child have a positive racial identity and are sincere about all of you learning and living a multiracial life, they are so supportive and kind.

What has surprised you the most?

I am most surprised that even with the challenges of being a transracial family, it is also incredibly rewarding and exciting. I feel like I have grown as a mother, as a therapist and as a person because of my daughter.

How do you celebrate both of these cultures in your home?

I personally identify more with the Asian culture. I am Buddhist and am raising my daughter Buddhist. We go to the Zen Center and meditate. We celebrate Chinese New Year. We also tend to celebrate lots of other holidays like Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s.

If I am correct, you became an Adoption caseworker after you had adopted your daughter. How did your opinion/knowledge of transracial adoption change once you were actively involved in the adoption process?

My understanding changed more when my daughter came home. I initially thought transracial was about how I felt about my family, but quickly realized it was about how other people saw my family, since we now did not blend. We had an “obvious” adoption, and that meant people would often have a question or comment about my family and would come up and say things or have an opinion they wanted to express, whether I wanted to hear it or not. This doesn’t mean that they were negative, but early on, it felt intrusive. I understood that I had to be acutely aware of how I answered in front of my child.

What are some of the major themes covered in your Transracial Adoption workshop?

We discuss how to help your child have a positive racial identity, how to talk to your child about race and his/her experience in the world, how to become a multiracial family, and how to advocate for racial equality. There are also some practical considerations about how to make your lifestyle, your friends, the people around you, your caregivers, your co-workers, etc., more racially diverse and how to live a transracialized life to help your child (and to help you as a person.)

As an adoption caseworker, if you could suggest five of the most important things transracial adopting parents should consider/follow when raising their child, what would they be?

Stay current—New racial stereotypes are always cropping up, and new issues are always emerging. Become aware of them and their power by viewing what your kids are watching on TV and at the movies and what they are discussing with their friends.

Talk about the negative—If/when your child experiences racism, validate the experience, talk about feelings, and then brainstorm about what the next steps might be or how they would like resolution.

Explore positive labels, too. Asians are often considered the “model minority,” a race that is collectively labeled hardworking, well mannered, quiet, and smart. Even if the stereotype is “positive,” children can feel inadequate or disappointed in themselves the minute they do not live up to these assumptions.

Take action. No matter where the racial stereotypes occur, you must address them each and every time. Even if family members or friends make a comment that unfairly labels a group of people, share with them how harmful this can be. If Uncle Joe says, “You have to watch out for those Chinese, they are really sneaky,” you have to confront this in the moment.

Seek support. You cannot do it all alone. As a transracial family, you can often find support among adult adoptees or others who are raising children of color or from people in the Asian (or other race) community. You need to have role models for your child. These people are important in teaching your child how to react in harmful or painful situations.

Creating social change begins with small steps.  But making the personal commitment to fighting racism and racial stereotypes constitutes the first step to making a better world for your child and for all of us.

You mentioned in one of your posts that you and your daughter have already experienced the realities and/or stereotypes present in society about the adoption of Chinese baby girls. As a parent, how do you think you’ll begin to help your daughter ‘unpack’ this when tough questions start to arise about the history of girls, abandonment, and the one-child policy in China? Are there any literature and books available to other parents who may be experiencing similar kinds of conversations in their home?

My daughter is still a bit young to understand all the cultural, economic, historic, and political issues surrounding the “one-child” policy. I have shown her the book—The Lost Daughters of China— and explained there are concepts that are still too complex for her to understand, but that we will read that book together and talk about it. I also distinguish between what is governmental policy in China and what my personal experience was when we were in China;  that all the older Chinese women would surround us and say how beautiful she was and to make sure she had a ton of clothes on. We live in a predominantly Chinese neighborhood, and I did that on purpose so that she has access to the Chinese culture. There are times where I am the minority, and that is important for her to see. So, I think the answer is that one has to be honest about all the issues around a particular race and culture, but how and when it is introduced are parental decisions that take  – into consideration the age and understanding of the child.

That said, I would like to add that I am very honored to be invited into a culture and race that I would not have had previous access to had I not created my family through adoption. I would also hope that even before that, I would have fought against racism and racial injustice anyway. Now that I have a daughter of color and we are a family of color, it is my responsibility.  I hope we can all help our children make the world a better one.

Related Post: Are you the Nanny? Coping with invasive questions and ethnic stereotypes.

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