Lessons learned at Culture Camp

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I just completed my last year of Korean culture camp after attending with my daughters every summer for the past 14 years. We started attending the week-long family camp, Kamp Kimchee, when they were 4 and 5 years old. Initially I had two reasons that I thought the camp would be beneficial to our family: 1. Provide friendships for my husband and I with families that looked like ours.  2. Allow my biological children ( 3 sons) a chance to understand what it was like to be a minority.  As an afterthought, I considered that my Asian daughters might find a few friends to re-connect with each year. Once again, I have found that parenting wisdom is often replaced with a reality that we couldn’t imagine … and often a reality that is better than we ever dreamed.

Regarding the adult friendships I wanted to establish. Some of these moms have become my best friends in a way that others are not. They “get it” about how the outside world views our family, they don’t judge parenting styles and they are only a phone call or text away when I need to vent. My husband and I reconnected with a college friend and have had children from both families attend our alma mater.

Exposing my bio children to a predominately Asian mix of kids didn’t work so well as they were teens when we started camp and didn’t connect with the kids that had formed friendships over the previous years. I would like to think it expanded their culinary horizons as they love Korean food and know the distinct smell of kimchee.

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Korean lunch served daily at Kamp

The lessons learned at camp that have been the most important were those that I didn’t have the ability to imagine when my daughters were young. Society views our internationally adopted children quite differently when they are part of a family that includes two Caucasian parents as compared to how they are viewed when they move out into the world on their own. Racism is alive and well in our country, particularly since the election in 2016. What Americans think, is now coming out of their mouths without the filter of human decency intervening. Here are a few examples shared by both kids and adults during camp.

  1. An elementary school child was being bullied by a classmate, teased about his eyes and kicked in the back during passing time. After his family discovered a large bruise on his back, they brought their concerns of racial targeting to the principal, who chose to downplay the behavior until surveillance video proved the Asian child’s story.
  2. A teenager was walking in his hometown parade passing out literature about a local politician. Someone yelled at him, “Go back to where you came from.”
  3. Our kids are told that their English language skills are very good, asked “Where did you really come from?” and “Why did your parents abandon you?”

Lessons on white privilege don’t need to be taught – we as parents live them in the eyes of our children as they move into the world away from us. When my children left Korea and China, they lost a culture and a connection to a birth family. When they leave the security of our home, they are losing the advantages that our white skin has provided them. My daughters will need supplemental skills that I can’t teach them, as I don’t understand what they encounter every day. These are the skills that those who went before them are able to convey. Those friendships that they have nurtured over the years outside the boundaries of camp are the most important part of the past fourteen years. These are the friends who understand a simple text and get the nuance behind the frustration. They understand makeup uncertainties, haircut dilemmas, lactose intolerance, difficulty with glasses that won’t stay on your face and finding clothes to fit.

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The graduating senior class this year condensed all of the above into a video that will be used to tell the story of Kamp Kimchee as well as to recruit new families to attend. It is important to them that culture camp is there in the future so that other families will benefit as well as allowing them to return to share some great food and mentor younger campers.

 

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My Gifts from Korea and China

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Since the adoption of our children 14 and 17 years ago, I have been told repeatedly how lucky my daughters are and that they are a gift to our family. The definition of a gift is something that is given freely. Although I am not exactly sure of the reasons their birth families chose not to raise them, I don’t think it was a choice that was freely made.  In Korea there is no social or familial support of unwed mothers and in China the pressure from the family is to produce a son to carry on the family name.  Circumstances prevented their mothers from making a free choice.

This week is Kamp Kimchee, a camp for Korean adoptees in northern MN, and a time when I get away from our hectic daily lives to  reflect on how adoption has changed our family and changed my perspectives. And this is when I hear from many of the older Korean adoptees that have been thinking about this from a personal viewpoint for much longer than I and that are brave enough to share their stories with adoptive parents. The reality is that in order for the gift of adoption to benefit my family, parents in another part of the world lost their child and our daughters lost a culture. Our fortune is built on others misfortune.

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Lee and Whitney Frisk, Korean adult adoptees who are married and live in Tennessee, shared their stories with us this week and provided some insight into what our kids may face as they venture beyond their home nests. The gifts that were adorable Asian toddlers  will be seen as “not white” or foreign when they venture out into the world in young adulthood. Having been seen as Asian within a Caucasian family, they will now be viewed as Asian with a non-Asian sounding name. They will be repeatedly asked, “Where are you really from?”. They will need to look at the part of the country where they receive job offers to determine if they are brave enough to face discrimination on a daily basis. Living in a part of the southern US, they have seen a sharp rise in the amount of racism directed their way since the election. In this era of globalization, our children  will need to determine if they ever want to return to their home country and search for birth parents or learn more about their origins.

As a white parent with white privilege I can never fully understand how all of this will make my daughters feel. In the words of another adoptive parent, Martha Crawford, I am an invited guest to the adoptive experience and my job is to support, always love and accept who they become. Not that much different from a bio parent but with the possibility of another family a world away becoming part of our extended family if a birth family search is started and successful.

But the unexpected gift that no one told me about all those years ago when we attended our first adoption meeting is the wonderful friends we would make thru this experience. Our week at Kamp is when I get to reconnect with many of these friends from other parts of MN and share both joys and sorrows, laugh and cry together. Because only these special people understand the slight curves in the road that an adoption journey can bring. My daughters have allowed me the privilege to be a part of their cultures, share their fabulous food and art and only ask that I pay for a few melon bars at the end of each day.

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