Insiders and Outsiders

Viet Fest 2012

Our family has been going to Vietnamese festivals since Danny was about two.  There is Trung Thu Festival  (the Autumn Moon Festival), various Lunar New Year celebrations and this year there was the first Viet Fest.  We attend Chinese events, too. We try to expose Danny to Vietnamese culture in America.  But the more we go to these events, the more it makes me realize that we are and always will be outsiders.

The events we go to are put on by the local Vietnamese community and the events are a way to connect socially and highlight Vietnamese culture.  The performances are announced in Vietnamese and sometimes English.  But we are not Vietnamese, so we don’t know the Vietnamese families who attend these events.  And we don’t speak or understand Vietnamese, so much of the content is lost on us.  Earlier this year when we were at a Vietnamese Tet festival, Danny, then four, kept saying he couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it wasn’t the volume, it was he doesn’t understand Vietnamese and he didn’t know why he couldn’t understand.

At first I don’t think I noticed that we were such outsiders. It was fun to go to these celebrations and it was all new to me and new to Danny.  But as the years go on and we continue to participate in these events, I’ve begun to feel more of an outsider.

The amplification is always too loud. Most of the times it is so loud that it is almost uncomfortable to stay.  But as outsiders we cannot make the suggestion that perhaps the volume should be turned down.  We met our Vietnamese neighbor at one of these events and she had her three young children with her.  She left after a short while mostly because it was too loud.  But she could have said something to the organizers about the volume.

There are Vietnamese Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops in this area.  I have met some of the leaders at these Vietnamese events.  And I have been told by one leader that we are welcome to join a Vietnamese troop when Danny is older.  There may even be another adopted boy in the troop.   I know of parents of older children adopted from Vietnam who belong to local Vietnamese Girl Scout Troops.   I’m not sure what the percentage of girls who are adopted vs. those born to Vietnamese parents in these troops is, but I think having other adopted children in the troop would be important for both me as a parent and my kid who is adopted.

Six is the age when children can start to attend Vietnamese weekend language schools.  There are several of them.  We still have a year to decide if that is something we would like Danny to do.  In the Chinese community, they have special classes for Chinese language and culture for non-Chinese speaking families.  Now that is something that I think as a family we would feel less like outsiders.  I can certainly see why families would choose to take courses there over courses where their child is the only child from a non-Chinese speaking family.

Culture Camp

Even though we are outsiders at all Asian festivals, we are insiders at places that are especially for families with adopted children.  We attended Catalyst Foundation Vietnamese Culture Camp for our second year.  There, we always feel like insiders.  And it is a nice feeling.  No one is judging whether we send our child to language school.  Everything is done in English.  Caroline (the director) even gave families advice on the minimum requirements for those thinking of returning to Vietnam with their child.  The first thing she talked about was the food. The child will need to be able to eat rice at a minimum.  And the more Vietnamese food the child likes then the easier time it would be.  If the child (or parents) don’t eat Vietnamese food, then they might have to live on granola bars packed from home.

Another place we are insiders is with our Asian Adoption Playgroup.  I started one when Danny was not quite a year old and most of the people who attend on a regular basis, we have known since then.  Some we knew (a little bit) before we adopted because we were in adoption classes together or we were in waiting parent groups together with our adoption agency.

Although I started writing this blog right after we got back from culture camp in July, I hadn’t gotten back to it until there was a discussion on our playgroup listserve about whether or not to allow a Chinese mom and her children (biological) into the group. She just moved into the area and had taught language classes to adopted children and is looking to meet some playmates for her children.

There was no consensus about whether to let in Asian members who do not have adopted children, but there were a lot of thoughtful comments.  Many people did not like the idea of letting in this family because they do not struggle with the same things we (as parents) or our children are or will be struggling with in the future.

And some suggested allowing them to come on playdates, but not belong to the listserve where discussions go on.  I am going to have to get back to this mom with some kind of an answer about whether they will be allowed to join, but if she were privy to the discussion, I’m not sure she would want to join, just to become a second class member.

I was one of the of the few who was OK with an Asian who had not adopted to be a part of our (playgroup for families with children adopted from Asia) group, especially because she seemed interested in meeting kids adopted from Asia.  Ideally I think it would be great to have a dialog across this adoption/ Asian divide.  I liked the idea of having some more input on cultural traditions instead of a bunch of mostly white parents trying to fake our way through different Asian cultures.

Originally I thought the Korean group Korean Focus welcomed both adoptees, parents of adoptees and Korean Americans to their group, but as I read their website for this blog, I see that only those Korean American with a connection to adoption are welcome.  So maybe there are not groups which welcome both Asians and families with children adopted from Asia.   But on the other side, I am a facebook friend of a couple of different Vietnamese Student Associations. I am in a Vietnamese meetup.  I belong mostly to keep track of what is going on and what events might be useful.  But now that I write this, I’m thinking I would like to go to one of those meetups if it included families with young children.  They allowed me into the group, knowing I wasn’t Asian and knowing I was not in my 20 or 30’s either.

Danny the Lion Dancer

Going to the VietFest and other Vietnamese community events where I feel more and more like an outsider may be just what I need. This is how my child will feel growing up and at least I will be able to understand better how it feels.  He is Asian, but his parents aren’t and our connection to the Asian community is limited.  I think we will continue to go to Vietnamese events and Lunar New Year events as long as Danny wants to go.  And right now, Danny’s biggest ambition is to be a Lion Dancer.

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This entry was posted in culture camp, Family Support Groups, Play Groups, transracial family and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Insiders and Outsiders

  1. Becca Piper says:

    I really enjoyed your article. Great insight.

  2. Becca Piper says:

    I especially like this phraseology: “dialog across this adoption/ Asian divide.” As much as we often don’t like to admit it, the divide is there and the challenge is HOW to embrace it. You’ve helped me think a lot about that. Thank you.

  3. Tino says:

    Your blog post was very touching. The irony is that your blog is one of the most informative sites on Asian culture goings-on for kids–even better than those run by us “real Asians”. I believe that many of us American-born Vietnamese and Asians are much more alike with your son than you would think. We too feel sometimes a sense of loss and being trapped in-between two cultures. Many of us are married to non-Asian partners. I am so Americanized, that it is a struggle to retain my Vietnamese language, much less try to pass it on to my 4- and 6-yr old boys. I am interested in trying to self-organize better language and culture resources, as I find local Vietnamese community resources inadequate (Korean language instruction resources are much better, for example)–this has been a perennial problem in Vietnamese-American communities throughout the US. And to be honest, Asian community events are always loud and rather parochial.

    In any event, I (and probably many other APA parents) truly salute you for making the effort and going the extra miles. I have seen other Caucasian parents of Asian adoptees never even bother—not to pass judgment–but believe that at the very least your son will have an appreciation for his biological roots.

    I hope we can all work together and do a better job to help create a space where you and everyone, regardless of race, are welcome as an “insider” and where Vietnamese language and culture can be imparted effectively.

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