I was talking to “someone” from a chat 3-4 years ago, and he somehow stumbled across one of my blogs and decided to e-mail me about my adoption privilege and all the benefits associated with it (from an economic standpoint). I told him that “happiness” is merely subjective to the perspective of the person. He then followed up with this:

So how is your birth country better than your adoptive country, exactly?

I don’t know what it is that attracts you to Chinese people, but I will assume that you only like them because they seem mysterious to you, in a “noble savage” kind of way.

I believe the proper scientific term for your condition is “xenopatriotism” – that is, being patriotic towards a country that you’re not really from, in any cultural sense.

Disregarding the stereotype and prejudice with the term “noble savage”, what do you think?

12 thoughts on “Xenopatriotism

  1. Learning to like my birth country is a struggle. It’s taken several years and great effort at understanding to forgive, which I would do completely if they were not continuing to send their children away: for rejection or for lack of social justice. My own attitude towards my birth country has been the complete opposite of “xenopatriotism,” so I’m a little surprised anyone would come up with that conclusion or generalization about adoptee attitudes towards their birth country.

    For me, I have always been desperately searching for some silver lining – there’s got to be SOMETHING not despicable, SOMETHING dear, SOMETHING I can be proud of since I bear the burden of representing this race, that culture, that country. It’s grasping at straws on some days. It’s not natural: it’s work that I must do to feel more comfortable in my own skin.

    It’s offensive that you were pathologized for trying to love or learn about your birth culture and that such longing is deemed a “condition.” It is sad that we’re not even allowed that small thing…

    The thing missing from this self-important and judgmental person’s criticism is any sympathy for the adoptee. This person wants us to never deviate from our total gratitude for our deliverance from savages, and that gratitude should include a healthy colonial attitude towards those savages. We are supposed to dismiss them and ignore that we are also one of them. We are supposed to be totally secure and happy with the white plus persona foisted upon us.

    What I feel for the family that gave me up is not sentimentalism for the noble savage, but compassion. What I feel for the country that gave me up is not patriotism, but horror for myself and its people. What I feel for its people and culture is not mystery or wonder, but anger and loss.

    My feelings about my birth country are in constant turmoil and conflict. And the more I analyze the politics and economics of the adoption industry and international affairs, the more I am in constant turmoil and conflict about the country I was sent to.

    This is my adoption privilege. A high price to pay for some pretty dresses and a public school education. Though the extra meat did probably add two inches to my height, I am sure.

  2. Wow. I’m sorry you had to be on the receiving end of that. I think if we parse out what was stated to you we can put in perspective these comments in terms of the dominant culture and its views of other cultures–there’s a lot said here in the “unsaid”, as it were.

    Focusing on the economic aspect of things forces the discussion into a framework that, as you point out, is not shared by the entire world, and, most likely, is not shared by the classes that most of us are adopted out of.

    The arrogance on display, demanding allegiance to the adoptive country speaks volumes, as does the question wondering “what attracts you” to Chinese people. In typical American style, this would lump all Chinese people together, Disney “small-world” style.

    The “noble savage” statement is equally telling, harking back as it does to Rousseau, and the so-called Enlightenment. I’d like to counter this reference with one from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:

    The Tunisians were quite right in 1956–and it was a very significant moment in Western (and African) history–when they countered the French justification for remaining in North Africa with the question “Are the French ready for self-government?” Again, the terms “civilized” and “Christian” begin to have a very strange ring, particularly in the ears of those who have been judged to be neither civilized nor Christian….

    The assumption made in everything said to you is that you are now in the land of civilized people: How dare you mourn for the culture taken from you? It’s the same invective hurled at any dissenter: “They availed themselves of our education system, and then turn around and bite the hand that feeds them.”

    I would only say that we’re simply pointing out what the “other hand” is doing.

    Ironically, this notion of “xenopatriotism”, when manifested by new immigrants who stop speaking their language, and put aside their cultural references, and forget their roots, is praised to the skies. We are fine, as long as we kowtow, or Uncle Tom, or know our role.

    This person has no sympathy for the adoptee because this person has no sympathy for anything outside of the All-American norm. I grew up a “xenopatriot”–patriotic towards a country I’m not really from, in any cultural sense–and a fat lot of good that got me.

    That said, I resent most the idea that we might even be capable of pervertedly obsessing on our “home” culture when we know more than anyone the bogusness of such mimickry, of such minstrelsy. I admit I went through a honeymoon period here in Lebanon, but this had more to do with me remaining stuck in my expatriate world. It is in attempting to find entry to this culture, this place, that I am revealed the depths of what adoption has effaced. And I humbly accept that; I have no choice. But I don’t owe anyone an apology for trying to “come home”.

    And I likewise thank my diet of huge quantities of milk drunk growing up for my height.

    That, and 4,000 Lebanese lira (less than 3 bucks) will get me to and from work on any given day.

  3. Oh, it gets even better. When I refuted his argument by saying that his “better off” argument is based on economic value at surface level, he said he is from Russia and grew up in a third world nation all his life, so he knows there is nothing beneficial.

    Well, crap, I can’t argue with that, now can I. >.>

  4. “I resent most the idea that we might even be capable of pervertedly obsessing on our “home” culture”

    Oh, I probably do that. It’s seen as obsessed rather than culturally natural because it has “nothing” to do with us except for being born there.

    Such an example is that I have turned fully to Asian pop music. It’s not “real” culture, but it’s a way I can listen to the language and enjoy it without feeling the pressure associated with language loss. I no longer like English music; it bores me (Except for Christmas music, of course!).

    But other than that, I haven’t listened to English music (sans the radio) on “my own” since 6+ years ago. Ever since I got into Japanese pop, I fell in love with it and haven’t turned back since. I’d totally be studying that language if it weren’t for adoption.

    Many people find it absolutely bewildering that I would care so much about listening to languages I can’t understand and why I remain “ignorant” of my own pop culture music.

    If I had been raised in my birth country, I wouldn’t be receiving this type of reaction. But then again, I wouldn’t have been raised Canadian, either.

  5. Such an example is that I have turned fully to Asian pop music. It’s not “real” culture, but it’s a way I can listen to the language and enjoy it without feeling the pressure associated with language loss.

    What is “(not) real culture”?

    And what is the culture of a place?

    And what is culture that would make one a “xenopatriot”? (I hate this term more and more.)

    I think these are three completely different questions.

    To consume a culture other than one’s own is not such a big deal, and probably has nothing to do with the topic here, and is related to adoption perhaps only in the rejection of the adoptive culture. girl4708 in a different post talks about her affinity for black American culture; I’m talking here about the French culture I loved growing up; you are talking about Japanese pop culture. For myself, I can say that I was trying to escape the culture I found myself in and which I felt no affinity for or toward.

    Especially now, with the “global mix” so prevalent and so easy, we can’t help but consume cultures not “our own”. This is a hugely complex subject, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

    The culture of a place is a different entity. Whereas I often don’t feel like saying I am “American”, I have less of a problem saying I’m a “Jersey boy”, especially with other people from New Jersey. There was a definite local culture when I was growing up, but that has been paved over from Boston to Atlanta now.

    What I know to be “consumable” Lebanese culture–its food, some music, some celebrities–is far and away different from what I know to be culturally local to where I am now. If I don’t say “Lebanese culture” it is because I don’t really see “Lebanon” as a valid entity in this regard. Meaning, to say something is “Lebanese” is rather difficult for a variety of political, economical, linguistic, and other reasons.

    But a tangent. If I look at culture from a Marxist perspective (referring also to Antonio Gramsci and Raymond Williams) then culture is literally a product of a society, and this is very local, and rather fuzzy, and comes with levels of mediation and distance from source that help to explain my New Jersey and Lebanon references above.

    This is different from the dominant culture of a place–the norms and culture that “define” a nation-state, that make for a culture the support of which makes for “patriotism”. In Lebanon, this reflects very particular parts of the country (Mount Lebanon, where the cedars are), very particular ideas of roots (Phoenician, and not Arab/Muslim), and very particular notions of ideological affiliation (European, and not Asian; Western and not Eastern).

    So let’s say that punk music was culturally “of” Britain; to like punk music doesn’t make one a “xenopatriot”. Probably quite the opposite.

    This brings up particular dilemmas for the adoptee. Obsessing about one’s birth country and its culture from afar, to me, is no different than obsessing about any culture, since it isn’t going to be easy to go deep, or really understand; most likely one will be dipping into the dominant culture, and this will likely be “patriotic” to that country in some way. But it is a far step from that to accuse someone of “patriotism” from within that obsession.

    Xenopatriotism: Just Another Way to Blame Someone for Not Being [fill in adoptive nationality here].

  6. “What I know to be “consumable” Lebanese culture–its food, some music, some celebrities–is far and away different from what I know to be culturally local to where I am now.”

    You remind me of how people think the Mandarin restaurant is authentic. I’ve told some friends IRL that no, the food served there is Americanized, and they express total shock.

    Here, in Toronto, you get bits and pieces – if you walk into a dumpling shop and they serve Chinese tea with special dumpling platters, that’s more authentic than anything else you could hope to stumble across – because that IS how they serve dumplings in Asia.

    But these bits and pieces are just that – opportune moments. They’re not a real lifestyle as they cannot be anything but a secluded moment from Torontarian culture in its whole. And by that, I mean a mimicry of the birth culture.

  7. When I had freshly arrived from Korea, I would proudly say: “Unri nari”, which in Korean, means “Our Republic of Korea”. After learning few English words, I liked saying “Korea! Korea! Korea!” or “This is Korea” (by which I meant, “I’m Korean”. I would compare Korea to USA, then to Canada, and think Korea was the best. For everyone, Korea was only a Third World. For me, Korea was the most beautiful country of the world. For my adoptive parents Korea was only a poor country. For me, Korea was my home, where my family lived, where I was happy to live, where I wanted to return quickly.

    That’s only a memory. I don’t know how and when exactly, but it happened within two years that my Korean proudness has been replaced by shame, and my love of Korea by hatred and hurt. Now Korea is a rich country, but I hate Korea.

    Despite all my hatred of Korea, I can still objectively say when something is better in Korea, then I’m told I’m patriotic. For example, I’ve been told I was patriotic, when I said Korean food was better; another time, when I talked about fashion in Korea being two years ahead, according to what I’ve heard on TV.

    I don’t think anyone would tell me I’m patriotic if they knew how I hate Korea. I hate Korea so much that I would spit on their flag that I once respected. I purposely don’t buy anything from Korea. It happens I still miss Korea as much I missed it during my two first years in America, and it also happens during a brief moment that I love Korea as much as I loved when I was a true Korea, but then I hate it more.

  8. The seemingly unentangleable knot: what aspects of me are individuated and what part are actually local (cultural) detritus I’d sooner do without. Surely there are parts of the Enlightenment that I would keep, but have I made them my own? As an adopted child, what’s mine and what’s not becomes even more complicated. I am born in the US, Caucasian, adopted by a Hispanic man, and my sense of alienation growing up was enough that Close Encounters of the Third Kind broke my heart, because I knew I was an alien and needed to leave. I this because I’m gay, because I’m adopted, vice versa, something else? Daniel (above) wrote a sentence: “xenopatriot”–patriotic towards a country I’m not really from, in any cultural sense. Except, I’ve never been patriotic about the US; my xenopatriotism is for Russia. (I’m Welsh, Irish, and German by blood, so I’m told.) I do sometimes feel a “nostalgia” for Wales (I’ve never been), but in terms of “patriotism” it is Russia I would die for, so to speak. Daniel’s remark that this is patriotism for the dominant culture (as opposed to being there) is surely correct, but what I wanted to point out was that the “other country” perhaps needn’t always be only the one of (factually told) biological origins. I suspect it could be anywhere that we attach to–and then that attachment becomes a real basis for interaction upon going. i feel a great love for Antarctica as well–and Saturn.

  9. I think it is important to point out that the term “xenopatriotism” can only come from one who identifies with a prevailing Empire. There are no local nationalisms, only identifications that follow a chain up to a prevailing imperialism, local or global.

    This morning I went to get the newspapers. In this act, I am identified, based on my choice of mediation, to be on a particular side of the War that is about to be unleashed on Syria.

    And so it doesn’t matter how “Lebanese” I might be, as proven by my recent experience going through a checkpoint. No one is identified as Lebanese in these circumstances. The only ones waxing “nostalgic” for something called “Lebanon” are the politicians of the vacated government who wish to maintain their positions of power, and those of the diaspora who have the luxury and privilege of distance.

    Everyone else has relegated their sense of nationality to the powers that be, currently controlling much of the region if not the world.

    And so one is either “with” the regime in Damascus, or “against” it. If I am on one side, then my “national” identification goes up to Russia, China. If I am on the other side, than my “national” identification goes up to the United States, Saudi Arabia.

    Lebanon is erased. Syria is about to be erased. Our sense of “original place” ceases more and more to have any meaning or relevance whatsoever.

  10. I find it very sad that some find it necessary to be so excluding, critical and narrow-minded. Why can’t we like whatever we want to, be eclectic, live as citizens of the world? Adoptees in particular need the freedom to explore, to discover who they are without condemnation,criticism and tight-arsed nationalism in their faces.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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