Friday, February 14, 2014

Continuing to Honor His Chinese Heritage

China. It's important to him and important to us. 

Still, we almost missed it.

Chinese New Year.

In the busy-ness of life, it's easy to overlook holidays I didn't grow up celebrating. We were out of town for a soccer tournament on Chinese New Year this year, so The Year of the Horse arrived unnoticed. There was zero fanfare that evening as we shared dinner at a Chick Fil A by the interstate. Red envelopes (for giving money to the kids) lay forgotten in a drawer back home.

On top of that, I almost forgot the annual Chinese New Year parade last weekend. Mike and Nathan were away on a campout, and Julia was spending the weekend with a friend. As I was getting ready for church, I remembered that the parade was on a Sunday in early February and quickly checked my computer.  

Yikes! It would start in a couple of hours.

We were able to go to church and then join our Asian-American community downtown, just in time for the first float.

Dragons. Mardi Gras beads. Lots of free candy.

A whole sea of folks who looked more like Wenxin than they looked like me.

And an Asian meal that was to die for.

It was a great day.

International adoption is a tricky dance. On the one hand, I want to honor his birth culture. 

But on the other hand, I don't want to constantly point out his differentness, making him essentially a life-long exchange student in our home.

I think what I'm shooting for is a little more nuanced. I want to see our family culture shift slightly and embrace more Chinese culture. It takes intentionality on my part, which means it doesn't always happen. But every time I make the effort -- like changing plans last minute to get Katherine and Wenxin to the parade last Sunday -- I'm reminded that it's worth it.

Recently, Nathan competed in The Ying Expo, a county wide science fair sponsored by Dr. Nelson Ying. At the Awards Ceremony, Nathan received second place in Computer Science. We were thrilled, and as we cheered and clapped, Wenxin had a question.

"Mom, where is Dr.Ying from?"

Back at home, we looked up Dr. Ying's bio online and learned that his family immigrated from China during The Cultural Revolution. They started a new life in America, building a successful business. Now, the senior Dr. Ying and his son (pictured above with Nathan) generously sponsor several science competitions in our area.

I was reminded that Wenxin needs role models who look like him.

Meeting successful Chinese Americans plants seeds of pride in his Chinese American heritage and  gives him a glimpse of what can happen with hard work and perseverance.


It will always be important, because my son in Chinese.

And my family is still evolving, learning to embrace that truth and discovering what it means for us.

Sharing today at The Long Road to China.


  1. I love that you embrace heritage. It looks like the parade was a huge success! Katherine and Wenxin look like they are having a lot of fun.

    My husband and I have been embracing other cultural traditions since the beginning of our marriage. We celebrate Valentine's Day/White Day Japanese style. We eat Thai curry on a regular basis. We visit the Taiwanese bakery and celebrated Chinese New Year this year. I know a bit of Japanese, just started learning Chinese, and we watch Korean, Taiwanese, and Japanese television on a regular basis. We LOVE learning about other cultures and incorporating pieces of them into our own lives. Unfortunately, my extended family has already expressed the opinion that our future daughter should be All American, her name changed to an American one, etc. I don't agree at all but I am anticipating some hurtful comments at some point in the future. When I mentioned that she will be Taiwanese American, I was firmly informed that she will just be American. Do you have any advice for dealing with that situation?

    1. Some people just may never get it. But your daughter will be Taiwanese American whether they accept that or not. I think the most important thing will be that you as her parents embrace her history and help her navigate what it means to be a trans-racial adoptee. I agree that it's fun to explore other cultures!

    2. Hi Cassandra,

      Random internet opinion here: I was born in Taiwan, I moved to California when I was four. I call myself Chinese American, American and Taiwanese American interchangeably as the situation changes.

      Re: names. Many of my peers (myself included) have regular Chinese names in Chinese, and they also have "American" English names and our middle names are a Romanization of our Chinese name. (And usually in Wade Giles spelling, not Pinyin. For example, had Wenxin been born in Taiwan, his name would be spelled Wen-Hsin in English. Yeah, often with a hyphen too.) In my experience, Taiwan being more Westernized, many people call friends by English names, both in the U.S. and in Taiwan even. So I wouldn't bother worrying about the naming thing, it's a lot more relaxed for lots of Taiwanese than mainlanders.

      Which is the long way of saying, you may find that some parts of "what it means to be Taiwanese American" looks the same as "what it means to be American" for practical purposes.

      Additionally, while here on the West Coast, I think Taiwanese culture and Taiwan is extraordinarily accessible. That being said, most of my peers rebelled against being Chinese or Taiwanese growing up... and we had Chinese parents who looked like us. I expect you will face an uphill battle when you encourage Asian culture. (Except maybe for food. :) )

      I strongly recommend books. Many of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s are now adults and authors. Grace Lin, Wendy Shang, Lenore Look, Lisa Yee, are all authors I love. You will find common themes in Asian American and Chinese American children's literature, which mirror the way I grew up and possibly the way your child will.

      Also, I took a quick peek at your profile. My cousins live in Seattle so I know that there is a strong Taiwanese American Christian community up there. You may consider reaching out to them for a community for your child.

      Good luck. Sorry this got long!


    3. Also, if you haven't yet, be sure you read Dana's post on names:

      Which is to say, see how your older kid feels and go with that. She's old enough to make those decisions herself. You can change her legal name but IMO she should choose her daily name. And from my readings, lots of the adopted kids have strong opinions and very different (dare I say individual? :) ) opinions.


Comments will be visible after approval by the moderator.