Marylin Kress began her adoption journey as a young woman contemplating her future family. In May, 1994, as a single parent by choice, she adopted an eight-week-old baby girl from China. Marlyn currently co-directs Stars of David Chaverim Chapter in the Southern NJ/Philadelphia area. She is also a member of the Adoptive Parent Leadership Coalition whose mission is to strengthen the voice of adoptive families through a network of adoptive parent support groups.
Seeing Disney World Through My Daughter's Almond-Shaped Eyes
Okay. So here's the question. When you are traveling on vacation, do you really think about your child's ethnic makeup when choosing a place to go? This was something I pondered when deciding to go away this summer. I have read countless emails on various listservs on the topic. Usually they focus on Caucasian parents who have African-American kids. They seem to want to pick a place where they feel their children will be welcome. They talk about the Bahamas or other islands that have a large non-Caucasian population where the kids will feel what it's like to be part of a majority.
I think all of these ideas are commendable. I just don't know if I follow the same thought process when I'm planning a vacation.
Maybe I should back track. I am the single mom of an incredible seven-and-a-half-year-old daughter whom I adopted from China when she was eight-weeks old. She has been raised with what I believe is a healthy love and respect for her birth culture and ethnicity. She has also been raised as a Jew--having had an Orthodox conversion when she was one. Zoe is that wonderful composite--a child who is proud of both her Chinese and Jewish selves and is comfortable wearing her two skins.
This summer we went to Florida and Disney World with Zoe's grandmother. One of the nice things about Disney World is that tourists from all over the world go there. There are representatives from any culture you can think of: Asian, Greek, Israeli, Russian, African American, African, Islanders, Caucasians, Europeans. The cacophony of languages is at times stimulating as well as deafening. So, at any given moment you will find yourself standing next to someone different from or the same as you. Everyone is usually very friendly and open about where they come from, how long they are staying, and what little tips they have discovered to make your stay more fun.
Zoe notices all the Asian families. She particularly notices them if they are a combined family unit: you know, mom, dad, and kids. Then she wants to know if they are from China, Korea, Japan, or America. She wonders how I can tell the difference between people from China and Korea and Japan, while she can't. I try to tell her about the subtle changes in facial structure that I have learned to discern over the years and the differences in language that I can hear. But she is still mystified. And enthralled at the same time. She also notices the adopted kids with their Caucasian parents and asks me, "Mom, why are so many of the moms blonde like you?" I have no answer for that one--it mystifies me, too.
So back to the Disney World thing--I will share with you something that I've noticed since I adopted Zoe and we became a multiracial family. It was not anything I was consciously looking for. I noticed the lack of color in some of the performances. We were excited to see a show at Epcot that was a mini version of the Broadway show "Blast." In a show with over thirty musicians and dancers, over 90 percent were white, a few were African American, a few were Hispanic, and I don't think there were any Asians. I said something to my mother, who looked at me as if I were, well--not nuts exactly, but on the verge. For many years I have noticed the lack of diversity in the media and in cultural events. Am I the only one who sees this? Oh yes, there are always the tokens, the one or two that make up the troupe, but they stand out. It doesn't seem natural to me.
So I guess what I'm trying to say, is no, I do not think of the makeup of a place before we attend. But, while I want my daughter to feel that it is her inherent right to attend any event and feel comfortable there, I want her to be able to visit a place and not feel like an outsider.
This time, at Disney World, we tried to hit the exhibits that on previous visits we hadn't had a chance to see, with one qualifier: the China exhibit at Epcot is always a destination. Each time we see the acrobats, Zoe's enthusiasm increases. She feels akin to them, especially the little girls. She asks me if she would be an acrobat, too, if she were still in China.
Then, there's the food. Chinese is always number one--followed by other Asian varieties. My daughter could eat Chinese food until the cows come home. So of course we had dinner at the China pavilion, where she ecstatically dipped into the food choice of the moment.
After we left Epcot, our trip to Disney World was pretty uneventful. We visited every park and went on the rides we had missed on previous trips. We also went to the various shows that we had missed due to a lack of time or overcrowding. We tried to take it easy because of the heat, which was debilitating and which colored our trip. At the Magic Kingdom, Zoe got to see Minnie and Mickey and the parade on Main Street. There, it wasn't important which ethnicity was under those costumes.
So, yes, we went on a vacation any American family might go on, but seeing the world through Zoe's almond-shaped eyes did change my perspective.