Immigration and adoption: Two sides of the same coin?

This comment came in on the RAD discussion, and I thought it expanded nicely into a topic of discussion on its own:

Got to your Twitter feed somehow and have been reading some of your articles and wanted to share something that I guess is not necessarily on topic, some points resonated with me. I was born in Lebanon and moved when I was 5 years of age through a variety of English-speaking countries.

Trying to find myself within this alien situation was quite easy though, as I grew up, this did set me against one of my parent’s who I guess felt I was choosing nurture against my nature and brought with that its own struggle: Acceptance from the people around me or the people I come from or is it possible to do both?

Us expat Arab children would always sit together uncomfortably at soirees, which I always felt was a result of feeling like we should be talking like Arab children whilst our parents had grown up Arab conversations, with many unable to even speak the language. Maybe even a bit of inferiority complex from being around people who viewed you as different and alien took it’s toll on a few, though I had enough of the old country in me as a brace from the pressure of the environment (went back to Lebanon as one of the parents thought it would be a good idea for me and my siblings whilst still relatively young).

The only reason I was able to make it through without giving up on either was one of my parents who allowed me the space to find myself and never made me feel guilty or ashamed of the organic thoughts I was having. It’s still a problem to this day now though. Imagine for instance trying to marry a non-Lebanese woman and the problem that would be seen as by the extended family.

I often used to wonder what kind of person I could have been, had I stayed in the old country and not had to deal with this self-diagnosed schizo-like thought process growing up somewhere alien brings. But happy to be me with all the good and bad. I think wasting so much time on matters trivial to most in a desperate attempt [to understand] the world around me has been fulfilling.

Anyways, I hope this is taken as it was meant. Have a great time in Lebanon. —Mahmoud

First, thanks to Mahmoud for his thoughtful reply which I greatly appreciate.

I’ve argued previously that the immigrant going through deculturization and assimilation is similar to the adoptee to a certain degree, though we see here what the “backbone” of the “home country” and family can provide. Some questions arise from this that I think make for good points of discussion:

Just how similar are these situations? Does this make for any kind of bridge between us and our [often] immigrant adoptive parents? Is it possible to attempt to provide such “backbone” to adopted children, as opposed to the “spine-ectomy” of cultural camps and the like?

3 thoughts on “Immigration and adoption: Two sides of the same coin?

  1. I’ve argued that adoption is a kind of “perfected” immigration in that it ensures little resistance to cultural destruction by the “immigrant”. So it was interesting to read this:

    Over [at] Twitter, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer slammed “the cruel hypocrisy of the GOP immigration plan: allow some kids to stay but deport their parents.” [link]

    It would seem that this formerly “hidden” logic is now being applied overtly to immigrants….

  2. From Vijay Prashad’s The Karma of Brown Folk:

    The lives of migrants to the United States came under special scrutiny from those who fashioned themselves as guardians of its cultural inheritance. Benjamin Franklin, for instance, was struck by the entry of Germans into his “anglo-saxon” domain, so much so that he worried that they would “soon so outnumber us that [despite] the advantages we have, we will, in my opinion, not be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.” Anything less than total assimilation to the core of “anglo-saxon” culture was tantamount to treason. Since “assimilate” means to “make similar,” there is an expectation among some U.S. residents that those who are different may be transformed into those who are similar, or, indeed, identical. There are some who cannot become even similar (let alone identical), so the attempt to assimilate is futile for them. This is indeed the tenor of Thomas Jefferson’s remarks about blacks in Notes on the State of Virginia (1787) and, notably, in a letter Jefferson wrote to James Monroe in 1801: “It is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.” Without “blot and mixture,” the United States was to be a homogenous realm for the free enterprise of the “anglo-saxon.” Of course, the Untied States was never homogenous, given that the early Republic already contained within it Amerindians, blacks, and Catholics—all “blots” on the surface of the white, Protestant Republic….

    The problem with U.S. multiculturalism as it stands is that it pretends to be the solution to chauvinism rather than the means for a struggle against white supremacy. Whereas assimilation demands that each inhabitant of the United States be transformed into the norm, U.S. multiculturalism asks that each immigrant group preserve its own heritage (as long as it speaks English). The heritage, or “culture,” is not treated as a living set of social relations but as a timeless trait. “As an Asian or African,” an Iranian intellectual complained, “I am supposed to preserve my manners, culture, music, religion, and so forth untouched, like an unearthed relic, so that the gentlemen can find and excavate them, so they can display them in a museum and say, ‘Yes, another example of primitive life.’ ” Desi schoolchildren encounter this “encyclopedic” notion of culture, as an inert set of artifacts that can be saved and preserved, when their teachers as them to wear “Indian clothes” to school as part of show-and-tell. Consumerism seems to be the main drive for this kind of multiculturalism, with all that is seen as “fun” adopted while all that is deemed to be “fundamentalist” is abjured. The hijab and falafel are welcome, but the “Arab-type” is to be feared. “There is difference and there is power,” June Jordan noted, “and who holds the power shall decide the meaning of difference.”

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

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