On the way to school today Kenny asked me "Why do kids think I am Chinese? All kids in my class call me Chinese and I tell them I not but they not listen. I not like to be called Chinese.". Hmmm...reminiscent of the exact conversation I once had with Matthew, and expect to eventually have with Joshua as well. We live in a racially diverse community if you consider Hispanics and Caucasians only to represent the wealth of ethnic diversity of America. NOT! So with my 3 being the only Asian children that I am aware of in their school of over 530 kids, it is not as if their peers interact with Asians on a regular basis. Many of their comments are not meant to be hurtful, they are assumptions based in true ignorance. They know what Chinese people look like, therefore all people that are dark skinned and have certain facial features must be Chinese. Unlike myself, who grew up in the melting pot of Southern California and was surrounded by Chinese as well as Japanese, Filipino, Samoan, Korean, Vietnamese and many other Asian cultures, the children here have no real conception of the various Asian groups.
So, before I went to Matthew's class to volunteer this morning I dropped by Kenny's class and asked his teacher if I could come in sometime and chat with the class to explain the difference to them, as it was upsetting to Kenny to continually be called something that in his mind was very different than who he really is. I was pleasantly surprised by her immediate response of "Sure! Do you have time today? Are you going to be around?" so we arranged for me to come to the class after I was done in Matthew's room.
When the time came I asked for a pull down map, and began talking about Kyrgyzstan, Russia and China and the differences between them. There are several Hispanic kids in the class who came to this country not able to speak English and so we talked about the difficulties in learning a new language. We also talked about adoption and why Kenny looks nothing like me. I am always amazed at how open kids are to talking about things that adults would consider taboo. They don't mind asking why Kenny talks funny, why I didn't grow a baby in my tummy, or why Kenny's lip looks the way it does. I wanted to make a distinction between Kenny's cleft issues and his language acquisition issues so they would understand they are separate things. I also reiterated several times that it doesn't matter if Kenny grew in my tummy or not, I love him just the same and that we are his forever family...that he will never leave us. We talked about what an orphanage was like, what he did not have, and most of the kids have seen Matthew and Joshie too and we explained that they had the same circumstances but we had all formed a loving family. Interestingly, the kids seemed pretty interested in if Kenny's first mommy loved him or not, and if we knew anything about her or his possible brothers or sisters. Kenny surprised me by piping in frequently with his own explanations, even adding in when we talked about the food "That's why I am so skinny! I need to grow more with good food!". As the discussion was winding down I explained that now they all knew the truth about where Kenny came from and if they hear any of the other kids talking about Kenny being Chinese they could prove they knew a lot more and explain that Kenny was Kyrgyz, not Chinese. I think it went well, but the most important thing was that Kenny felt supported in his challenge. As I walked out the door I heard a chirpy little "Thanks Mom!" thrown my way, and as I turned back to wave good bye he threw me a kiss. Sometimes, I guess it doesn't even matter if the others "get it", but what matters most is knowing you are not alone in your struggles.
Matthew talked about it later as he remembered when I went into his classroom and talked about adoption and Kazakhstan when he was in kindergarten as well as 2nd grade. I asked him if he thought it had helped and he said "No one calls me Chinese anymore, so I think it worked great!" he then told Kenny I might have to do it next year too with a new group of kids in his class, but by then everyone should pretty much know and not bug him anymore about it.
It is at moments like that when I realize our decision to adopt children from similar backgrounds/ethnicity has really been a good one. They can reinforce one another as they work through these kinds of things, they can affirm for one another that they are indeed normal despite the comments of others.
Funny how we can go weeks...even months at times...without race ever being noticed or mentioned, and then suddenly it settles in around us for awhile and we begin once again to walk that line between acknowledging it and not making it all that we are about as a family. Sometimes that can be harder than it appears.