Our family preparing to white water raft in Costa Rica, March 2005. Just one of many countries where someone would ask me how I produced two children of completely different colors.
Birth Country: India
Decade of adoption: 1990s
Based on Asha's birth weight of 4 lbs, 8 ounces, it is likely that her birth mother was living in poverty. On the day of her birth in July 1996, someone carried Asha to the orphanage, perhaps walking miles in the grueling Delhi heat to leave Asha in a place where she would receive food, medical care, and as much attention as a bustling orphanage can provide. I have been to India four times, so I can readily picture the scene: the throngs of people milling about, the persistent noise of traffic, the smell of dust and sweat and humanity living on the street. India is a chaotic but magical place.
My husband is from India. Our birth child, Aidan, loves Indian mythology, the various Gods and Goddesses, the great epic stories. His identification with India is very strong. Not so for Asha. She does not read the mythological comic books mailed from her Indian grandparents, nor wear the Indian jewelry, nor buy the cheap plastic Ganesh as an India trip souvenir. She can count to 20 in Hindi: her one concession to her heritage. Her connection to one of the world's great cultures might be a source of pride for her one day, but not today. Aidan wears it as a badge of honor. Asha is more impressed with her tennis serve, math skill, and yugio card collection.
I believe there are those who would worry about this, concerned that Asha is not connecting with her roots, concerned that she will grow up colonized, oblivious to the fact that she is not white. Unaware that at anytime someone may draw negative conclusions about her because of her color. But the reality of her facing prejudice in this or any other country can not be amalgamated by comic books or Indian jewelry.
I am torn on this issue of identity, this need to attach oneself to a group in order to enhance self-definition. I understand the importance of establishing identity, but I also understand the necessity of being able to move beyond that which separates us to that which unifies us all. As such, I will provide information to my children, but I will not dictate how they define themselves: black, white, or brown, Hindu, Christian, or Buddhist. I believe I can educate them about the realities of prejudice, classism, religious intolerance, nationalism precisely by encouraging them to stay open. By encouraging them to see the entire world as "us" rather than "them." By encouraging not to attach too firmly to those things which separate us.
When Asha eventually faces prejudice, this very popular 4th grader will be both shocked and hurt by it. Perhaps understanding the cultural context will help, but it will be her solid sense of self that will see her though this challenge. How her Indian ancestry plays in that sense of self remains to be seen.
Every year on my daughter's birthday, I ask her if she ever thinks of her birth mommy on this day. Through her ninth birthday, her answer remains "no." But I often think of her birth mommy, most particularly on the day she gave birth to the underweight baby girl who would become Asha. I pray that she can somehow sense that Asha is safe and beautiful and amazing. I cannot promise her that Asha will someday identify with her birth mother, or India or Hinduism. I can only promise that I will teach Asha to love herself and to see the world with a more open heart than the world might always see her.