Recently, Lora C., the loving mother of 6 year-old adoptee Allie C., messaged our TaiwaneseAmerican.org Facebook Page to ask for our advice about how to help her child learn about and accept her identity as a Taiwanese American. I was moved by how much Lora was willing to share with us and how she regarded us as a potential community resource, given that their family lives in the Midwest, where there are relatively fewer Asian Americans. Even though I was uncertain about how I could help, I arranged to speak to her the following day to see if I could offer some of my personal advice from past experiences working with Taiwanese American children and teens. Throughout our conversation, I was touched by how open and curious Lora was to my experiences and thoughts, as she seemed to comb through my words and stories to find answers to prepare her daughter for the experiences she might face in the future. I was equally impressed by how her 6 year old embodied a strong, independent “wise old soul.” Although I shared my personal opinions and the discussion was productive and encouraging, I still felt it was important enough to bring this issue regarding identity formation of young children (and especially a growing Taiwanese American adoptee population) to the forefront knowing that many of you, our readers and followers, may have thoughts and advice of your own to share. Lora has consented to me reprinting her original message publicly with the hope that you might engage in this important discussion and share your advice and stories. She looks forward to anything you have to say.
Read Lora’s message below, and then share your thoughts on three questions I have for you:
I am looking for advice about how to handle a situation we have encountered at our daughters school. If you can shed some light in our direction, it would be very helpful and much appreciated.
Our school has invited a group of Chinese exchange students and teachers to visit for several weeks. Because the community we reside in is not very diverse, our daughter has enjoyed going to school and visiting with these Asian students who seem familiar to her in ways that some of her Caucasian American friends might not. It has been a nice cultural experience for our daughter up until now.
The problem is that when an older Chinese student/teacher asked our 6 year old daughter where she was born, our daughter stated that she was born in Taiwan. The Chinese teacher gave a little laugh and told our daughter in front of her fellow classmates that Taiwan was the same as China. She told our daughter that she was Chinese. Our family has educated our daughter otherwise. We continue to educate our daughter and our family about the history of her birth country and encourage her to be a proud Taiwanese American.
Our family is not Taiwanese. However, we understand and strongly believe in Taiwanese Independence. Our 6 year old has become a little quiet and perhaps confused about her identity. I’m not sure that she trusts what I am telling her now… She told me that since I am not Asian that I might not understand the facts and I might be wrong. Maybe Taiwan is China.
I have shown her the map, I have shown her the flag, I have shown her the currency, I have shown her a birth certificate. I have tried to explain the political differences, but she is too young to understand.
My heart feels heavy because I don’t want my beautiful intelligent child to be misled and confused. I wish for her to be proud and connected to the Taiwanese American community.
How do I help her and how do I educate our school to encourage them to ask these Chinese exchange students to keep political views to themselves? I worry that my little girl may be confronted with opposition from other students if they are being educated incorrectly.
Thank you for any help you can offer our family.
On behalf of TaiwaneseAmerican.org’s staff, we thank you Lora for trusting us with information about your situation. Through your adoptive experiences, you, Allie, and your family are part of our Taiwanese American community now, and we hope we can continue serving you in the future.
We believe our followers and community members may have interesting experiences and stories of their own to share and learn from, so we invite you to comment below. Please note that due to the sensitivity of the topic involving a young 6 year-old child, we will not tolerate comments that are inflammatory, insulting, or racist in nature. We, however, do appreciate a diversity of honest and open thoughts, opinions, and ideas to help Lora and Allie through this period and into her future.
We invite you to respond to any or all of these questions:
1) How would you advise Lora, who is not of Taiwanese heritage, to teach her child about the Taiwanese American identity and culture?
2) If you were in the situation described above, how would you specifically address the school and the Chinese exchange students and teachers? Or how would you help Allie make sense of her confusion?
3) If you were to write Allie a letter of encouragement, what would YOU say to her? Please start with “Dear Allie” and keep in mind that she is currently 6 years old. Some of these letters will be shown to her or saved for her as she grows older.
EDIT: “I spoke with Allie about what you are doing with the letters and she is very excited. I’m not sure that she really understands what we’re doing but when I told her that you might be posting a few pictures, she insisted that she take part in sending you a few. I had to promise her that I would send you these pictures… I mentioned that she liked to have some ‘Say-So’ in just about everything, didn’t I?” –Lora C.
Well, here you go Allie! We’re so happy to know you and your mom. Welcome to our big ol’ Taiwanese American family! –Ho Chie Tsai