We watched about an hour of “A Place Between: The Story of An Adoption“, a first person documentary about the search for identity of a man named Curtis, who was adopted as a 7-year-old outside of his culture. He and his younger brother, Ashok, were adopted by a white, Lutheran couple in Pennsylvania. They were raised until their adoption by their Ojibway first mother in Winnipeg. Their adoptive parents raised them as they would a biological child, with little to no reference to their first heritage.
It was obvious by Ashok’s life choices that he very much considered his heritage a huge part of his identity, perhaps completely. So much so, that until the filming of this documentary, he hadn’t spoken to his adoptive parents for 8 years. He had been living near his first mother in close contact with her. The reunion of Ashok with his adoptive mother brought me to tears. I can not imagine not being in contact with either one of my sons for so long, and I really identified with the emotion of his mom.
Curtis’ and Ashok’s first mother had experienced many challenges in her younger years, the result of a cycle of poor parenting role models and alcoholism. This of course, led to the apprehension of her sons. But since that time, she had made some extreme changes and was at a place where she could have a meaningful, healthy relationship with both of her adult sons. Her strength of will was inspiring to see, and the courage she had to meet the adoptive parents of her sons put many things in perspective. On the other hand, I felt for the adoptive parents as well. They had made some poor parenting choices as well (specifically, not keeping the boys in touch with their heritage), but they too, were doing what they had been taught to do.
The outcome was that while Ashok had cut ties to his adoptive parents and had come to identify only with his first mother, Curtis identified with neither culture. It really seemed like he felt caught between the two, stuck in a vacuum of non-identity, not wanting to choose between the two, but also not fully identifying with either. In fact, he said that his Ojibway mother would often lovingly tease him about his white ways.
This was a great movie to see because it really drove home the angst that can happen for any child, but especially for those who are adopted. When adoption happens cross-culturally, it’s so important for there to be contact with the first culture. Curtis and Ashok’s parents could easily have maintained contact with their first family through the adoption agency with letters and pictures, but they could also have found an Aboriginal community in their area to connect with, attend feasts and pow wows with, and to arrange for mentors for their sons (specifically when it came to dealing with racism). It may not have been the same as connecting with their original people group. Language and traditions would have been different, but social experiences would have been much the same. The boys could have learned so much about how “white society” has treated Aboriginal people through the years, and they could have learned to have pride in their heritage.
With so many years of the “colour blind” philosophy most of us have been raised with, so much rich culture and tradition has been lost. We’ve been desensitized to off-handed comments and the subtext that can actually be incredibly offensive and oppressive to people, and can subconsciously push the assimilation agenda that should be long gone from our country. I blogged about my own experience with this here.
We also discussed ways in which our social sphere may change with the adoption of a child into our family. Not only will there be first family members to include (in varying ways), but also a foster family, medical professionals, the child’s friends, and perhaps cultural aspects. This could include becoming involved at a Friendship Center or other cultural community center, attending cultural activities, incorporating traditional practices, foods, language, etc. in to our own family’s traditions, and most of all, celebrating the differences a new child introduces our family to. This is all something we’ve already been researching and discussing between ourselves, but watching that movie really brought home just how important it really is.
Adding a child to our family that has a different cultural background is something that I would love to do. But even if the child we adopt is from a very similar heritage, the realization that they may be accustomed to different ways of doing things and different ways of celebrating is so important to recognizing their identity as a unique person.
Only three more weeks to go!