Danny and our family had our first experience at Vietnamese Culture Camp. We considered going last year, but decided to wait until Danny turned four to go to camp. And Danny turned four a few weeks ago.
We attended the 3.5 day weekend Catalyst Foundation Vietnamese Culture Camp near the Catskill Mountains in New York. There were 110 families and about 170 children at camp. It was the biggest ever east coast culture camp. You could see the distribution of ages based on when Vietnam was open for adoption. The kids who came over in the late 1990′s until 2002 are ages 9-16. The kids adopted in 2006-2008 are ages 3 – 5. Many of the children in the middle were siblings of the children adopted from Vietnam. They were biological, from Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Taiwan, China and probably other countries.
I really didn’t know what to expect from camp. The only thing on the packing list was swimsuits, snacks for the kids, camera and a white t-shirt for your kid. So I packed like I was going to camp, t-shirts and shorts. When I got there, it was an old resort that has been updated and is trying to stay current with the times, but I felt under-dressed in my t-shirt and shorts as all the other guests were wearing at least polo shirts and the place was nicer than I had expected. (I guess I hadn’t logged much time looking at their web site.) I was so glad to see the director of Catalyst Foundation, Caroline, who was about the only other person at registration dressed in a t-shirt. But then it seemed that the rest of the weekend many people wore t-shirts everyday, so I felt right at home. And many of the families had been to culture camp in years past and sported a t-shirt from a previous year of culture camp. It was nice to see how many families came back year after year.
The first activity was dinner Thursday night. It was a buffet but we dined at large round tables family style. The first time we all came together, it was really strange to see a dining room full where mixed race families are the norm. In fact, Caucasians were a minority in the dining room. It was my turn to be a minority.
On Friday morning, Caroline introduced herself and Catalyst Foundation and then we spent most of the hour introducing ourselves. How do we differ from the general population? Well most of the parents were white, with a few Asians mixed in. There was one black woman, whom I thought was an adoptive parent and it was funny I had never considered a black family adopting an Asian child, but really why not? That just shows my prejudice. But it turns out the woman was a babysitter for a child whose parents could not make it.
Well the population of parents of children adopted from Vietnam are older, there are more single parents and there is a higher percentage of lesbian and gay couples than the general population of parents with children aged 3-16. This wasn’t really a surprise to me. I think it mainly reminded me that Vietnam allowed older parents to adopt young kids and that unlike China, didn’t have a “no homosexual policy”, or at least did not have the same kind of taboo the other countries have. And the fact that most of the families were from the East Coast, I’m guessing it was a more liberal group. I don’t recall discussing politics, but laughing at jokes by the presenters.
After a couple of days at camp, being around a lot of Vietnamese kids, Vietnamese counselors and multiracial families, this seemed like the norm. The contrast from camp was greatest on our way home, our first rest stop was a gas station and then a McDonald’s in central Pennsylvania. There was not a single person of color in either place, except Danny. This made me really appreciate culture camp and the chance to hang out with families with children adopted from other cultures. It also made me appreciate my incredibly diverse neighborhood we live in in Maryland where we have immediate neighbors from Bolivia, Ethiopia, Peru, Panama, Russia and Nigeria. And it made me appreciate that we live in an area with lots of children are adopted internationally. Seeing families like my own is not strange. Many people in our area know families with children adopted from foreign countries. When Danny was 2, he attended a preschool where one of the other children in his class of 8 was adopted from China. Last year Danny attended a preschool where in a class of 8, he was the single Asian, but there were two biracial children, one who is half Chinese.
I don’t have the demographics of the people who came to culture camp, but there were quite a few families from Maine (they all claimed was the whitest state) and Vermont (they claimed it was the second whitest state). They and the families in rural and not particularly diverse areas probably appreciate culture camp the most. It may be one of just a few times a year when they can get together with families like their own.