I’ve been thinking a lot about the general lack of response to our claim that our culture, language, and identity have been destroyed, and by the willful replacement of this with “culture” and “heritage” camps and the like. This was touched on in the item Neo-colonialism: APs on the front lines of Empire, but I’ve since expanded on this in a response to a fellow adoptee who is the “reverse” of many of us, adopted as a “white” child into an “ethnic” family. I’ve always regretted that my adoptive family showed little in the way of interest in their cultural background except as that fit into the national mythology of immigration and assimilation. Are there any TREs who have experienced the reverse? Meaning, in any way were educated about their adoptive cultural roots such that these were expressed in a manner resistant to the dominant model?
I tend to be hypersensitive to (particularly verbal) expressions of hypocrisy (e.g., “there’s only one right way, my way”). Ignoring the problematic question “where does ‘white’ start,” for adults who are trying to assimilate, they (I assume) must first build up an impression of “what it means” to be “white” (one has to put that in quotation marks because Italians and Irish, for instance, weren’t necessarily white when they first immigrated to the US). Of course, in some way, even non-unwhite people have to do this insofar as they wish to obtain the markers for middle-class (or higher) rectitude.
So then, for assimilating adults (or adults that are trying to assimilate), their children (adoptive or otherwise) could potentially observe the disparity between “who the person is” and “what they think white is”. Just as the assimilationist narrative (from assimilators) often speaks of being “American” as opposed to “white” or “middle class,” being raised by a Hispanic father–what I remember most about him was not that he was Hispanic, but how persnickety he was about his upper middle status. To this day, he never fails to introduce himself as Doctor Lopez, and will correct you if you reply with “Mister”.
Back to hypocrisy, many of the failings I credited by father growing up were precisely because of the disparity between his middle class claims of rectitude and, for instance, his violent temper, his dictatorial attitude, and his sometimes unrestrained emotionality. (I saw him cry more often growing up than my mother.)
There seems to be a very prominent class element at work in this question. Amongst the poor sector of Irish, Italians, Poles (I’m referring to them because I’ve seen them first-hand) there is frequently a lot of talk about specific traditions; at least more than I encounter in middle class settings with similar backgrounds. That’s the flattening you are speaking of, where acculturation = assimilation.
So I’m wondering if one couldn’t locate the rupture, the moment of disparity between an adoptive parent’s “who I am” and “who I’m supposed to be” that couldn’t also, in lieu of actually discussion about “the old country” and “Baba from Volgograd”, be the sort of “cultural discussion” you are asking after.
This rupture for me (in terms of my adoptive father) was meeting an Irish exile in France when I lived there. She was a member of the IRA, wrote poetry in Gaelic, and was forced to leave her son behind her. Her description of Ireland was something I had never heard mention from my father, and this bothered me immensely.
This has also come up in discussions with adoptive parents who have black children especially….one of the things they say to me is that it helped them to stop and reconsider their own “ethnicity” along these lines, especially for these borderline cases (the Irish and the Italians). The Italians, it must be pointed out, are still working out their assimilation in reality shows that are by all accounts a continuing minstrelsy.
I think this is extremely important, to consider that we have a cultural identity that is worth more than an economic identity. I see it as an act of resistance.
I think I could have really bonded with my father over this kind of thing.
In some of the Soviet literature, there’s the phrase “writing for the bottom drawer”–meaning, composing documents that you know will never be publishable (due to censorship). In Zinoviev’s Yawning Heights, a seemingly shallow character gives voice to the terrible sadness of never knowing if such bottom-drawer work is any good or not; it’s never given the chance to live or die in the life of social ideas.
Growing up, I would only know what US culture disclosed about my “ethnic” background and, even more particularly, any sort of rooted-in-the-earth positive notion of whiteness. For you (from what I’m getting from your description), there’s was a whole (real) Ireland out there that was obliterated, not even on the map. Thanks to “censorship,” whatever “Irish” (in Ireland) is was never given the chance, live or die, to play out in the social life of ideas.
Growing up, in countless things I (on principle) took a position opposite of my adoptive father. And my opposition was vehement, but weak in the sense that I had “no argument” for it. He said, “you’re a communist now, but just wait till you grow up and have to pay taxes.” I rejected what he said, but I had nothing further than that.
Living with a caricature of other peoples of the world, I vehemently reject that caricature and nonetheless have precious little beyond that. (All of the “counterarguments” for the caricature come to me via US-sponsored markets, yes?) I appreciate this group precisely because it is not saturated in the same way, if at all, with that caricature.
With my adoptive parents, they were so removed from their own ethnic heritage that, even for them, trying to connect to it was a farce and futile. My mother never tried. My father donned his (reputed) Scottish tartan once, but was embarrassed by it. But they were so many generations from their motherland they didn’t feel any loss for us to connect over.
This lack of ethnic connection might have made the loss of my ethnic heritage seem less important to them. What they failed to realize was, what a lot of Americans fail to realize, is that even a Heinz 57 mutt American is rich with American culture and ethnic legacy: my mother’s southern cracker, my father’s midwest farm boy, his Scotch/Irish spirit, her British stiff upper lip. When you live the dominant culture of a region, it’s easy to lose perspective and see that you actually have any culture at all, and when you think you have no culture, you don’t think about yourself being a factor in the annihilation of another person’s culture through assimilation. And even if you do, you probably have no concept how TOTAL your culture’s influence is. I believe the majority of Americans take their culture for granted. When you’ve forgotten your immigrant history and you can visit your forefathers’ graves and other cultures exist only between the pages of National Geographic, you also can’t grasp that you’re part of an empire. If you feel generic, it’s easier to rationalize children are blank slates. For some Americans this generic feeling is disturbing, and maybe that explains why there are also a lot of adoptees who are adopted by what I’d call culture junkies.
Living here in Korea, I’m all too aware of American culture, it’s reality and its influence, both good and bad. And how fitting in takes super human will, but assimilation is apart from will.
I’ve no doubt adoptive parents honestly believe they are improving the life of an ethnic child by providing family and opportunities, but they really don’t think about how they are/must be the prime perpetrators of total cultural reprogramming after identity annihilation.