Do you wear items that identify you with your original culture?

This was in today’s search phrases:

…wearing items that identify an individual with a culture outside his or her adoptive country slows down the assimilation process…”

God forbid we wish to slow down assimilation. Question open to interpretation, but as a starting point, do you “wear items” that identity with your original culture?

13 thoughts on “Do you wear items that identify you with your original culture?

  1. I do wear clothes or jewelry that represents my own culture. My belief is culture and its value is embedded in my blood. Interests of culture cannot be silenced via assimilation, though my adopters seemed to overlook my DNA and culture at every turn when I was growing up. I hope other adoptees will answer this question. I never turned my back on my blood.

  2. Absolutely! But that’s mainly because I lived for 12 years in Japan (my ‘original’ culture – I’m Japanese American mixed…). And I proudly wear items from my Norwegian culture, the culture in which my family raised me.

    Weird that the quote makes a point to talk about the “assimilation process”. Assimilating to what? What is the “normal” to which we are supposed to be assimilating? I think wearing my identity in cultural items makes me a unique individual – and if that makes me stand out, so be it.

    • It seems to me that the original search phrase was based on advice to adoptive parents. It’s creepy how openly it ascribes to “assimilation”. Plus it is strange how it gives weight to the superficial appearance, tying directly into profiling and the like. Creepy.

  3. Yes I suppose I do wear items of ethnic and cultural significance. But I have never really looked upon it in that manner. The jewellery and odd item of clothing that I wear which represent my culture, I wear because they have personal significance. When I was younger in my late teens I wore clothing and jewellery that were from my birth culture in the vain hope that it would somehow make me more acceptable to other members from the Chinese community. It did not they were just as suspicious and wary of me as they ever had been.
    My APs made no effort, if anything actively sought to distance me, to separate me from anything and everything that might connect me to my birth culture. Why they did this I can only surmise. Partially I believe it was just they way things were done back in pre-multicultural Britain in the late 50s early 60s. For me and I can only speak from personal experience assimilation is a euphemism for deletion. In my case I think it was hoped by denying contact it would lessen the desire and somehow make one more of a citizen – almost like a born again Christian. You would be a born again Briton almost evangelical in the acceptance of society’s rulings, culture and heritage. The one flaw in that assimilation hope is/was my face. That was the one thing that could not be expunged. My face was a permanent passport to roots to my true beginning
    The items that I chose to wear these days that of cultural significance are also of deep personal significance to me. Yes they may well indeed “identify” me as being Chinese though I would say it is self evident from the outside by my facial features that I am “Chinese”.
    I have no desire to be assimilated now I am who I am, as complex and as compound as that is. I have already lost much of me in the transracial adoption process. What I have managed to piece back together of myself I cherish and hold on to whilst always moving on and moving forward.

    • Your comment really strikes a chord. That Chinese would be suspicious and wary, yet wouldn’t have a problem, say, with a British fashion designer appropriating such symbols or apparel, is very telling. When I think of what I might wear now, it is only because it has been “validated” by my having moved back; eight years here has given me a bit of “cred” I didn’t otherwise have. It is interesting to note how this plays out in the greater culture, especially in terms of power differentials. By this I mean to say that similarly a non-Arab in the States might wear a kufiyeh as a sign of support for the Palestinian cause. This would be less “questionable” than someone like me wearing it without a valid “connection”. Only now that I am comfortable with the culture and the language do I feel able to even contemplate navigating this minefield of what I can claim as “culture”.

  4. This search phrase really bothered me.

    On rereading, the search phrase is speaking of cultural apparel that might: “identify an individual with a culture outside his or her adoptive country”. The greater problem is one of “slowing down assimilation”, and it is interesting to me that this be given such an open emphasis.

    The “adoptive culture” seems to go back and forth in this regard, and it seems to be a function of which side of the adoption divide one finds oneself whether this is positive or not. Meaning, if an adoptive parent sets up a culture camp for the adoptee, this is okay. If the child, on the other hand, lingers in the “homeland”, than this retards assimilation, and is to be negated.

    The adoptive culture gives us things like Roots, and “History Months”, and ethnic studies, and pride parades, and as long as we are participating in an event prescribed for us, this is okay. But if we take on the trappings of cultural identification outside of this, then we are punished.

    Growing up I shunned such cultural affiliation, except for right after the arrival of Roots, and my high school chose to have a “Roots Day”, where we were encouraged to show our ethnicity via dress. This usually simply meant wearing the colors of the flag of the nation we were “of”. I hardly think this apropos today, or valid then.

    It’s ironic in many ways, because my acculturation growing up had me dressing “American”, by this I mean to say that I absolutely stuck to core principles of buying and wearing only that which was “Made in U.S.A.”, i.e., Converse, Levi’s, Hanes, etc. This carries over to this very day, except I know that Converse is owned by Nike, and Levi’s are made in Central America, etc. I have found a few local Lebanese brands to bring this notion forward, but these are mostly manufactured in China. Nonetheless, when I head back to the States, I do go to Army/Navy clothes stores to “stock up” in what I want to imagine is still supporting local companies with unionized workforces. Old habits die hard.

    To answer the question, what I allow myself in terms of cultural identification via apparel is based on having returned, and is limited to the kufiyeh, which comes in a huge variety based on country of origin as well as purpose. There are symbolic meanings given to patterns and colors, and these I am obliged to acknowledge, for political and religious reasons. Given my context—urban Beirut—there isn’t so much of the “traditional” apparel one might see in the villages or outlying areas. I have received a lot of this type of thing as gifts, but have yet to wear them. There are things like skullcaps and types of jewelry that I own but don’t wear. Given the context I find myself in here or in the States, I imagine they would be asking for trouble.

  5. It’s funny. When I was little, my parents (who had traveled a lot), would dress us in Indian clothing or encourage us in other ways to “embrace” our original culture.
    But, they did it…wrong. Probably because it was for themselves and not for us.
    I had already internalized the hatred and “otherness” people felt toward us from where I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and I didn’t want to do anything else to make myself stand out more.
    I already stood out in our white family, in that white town and white state. Why would I purposefully do something else to be considered even more of an outcast?
    But, it was also about power, too. My parents are chock full of crazy and had some ludicrous ideas about adoption. I had learned early on, as many adoptees do, that I did not want to talk with them about adoption. Me, attaching myself to my Indian heritage was kind of like letting them into my world, thoughts, opinions and feelings about adoption and honestly, I have felt that they just don’t deserve that privilege.
    In the last few years, I have become almost obsessed with mehndi – and I wonder if that has roots in my DNA, in my lost culture. Now, living far away from where I grew up and far away from my family, I feel freer to explore this idea than I did when I was younger.
    It’s still a mixed bag, as it is with many adoptees, because Indians who have grown up with their culture know I don’t really belong. But I’m trying to let go the idea that I am “fake” or an “imposter” when embracing my history – even if I don’t exactly know what that history is.

  6. I would say yes. Maybe I don’t run around in traditional Korean clothing, but I do wear what’s current in Korea. Some days I wear my hair like a KPop star, and like most Asian woman I’m pretty addicted to Forever21. I also shop online straight from Korea via YesStyle. Because of the shape of my eyes, I’m kind of required to do my makeup a certain way as well.

    I feel that dressing like our home countries also come down to our gear and accessories. Most of my bags/purses are by Korean designers, and I have Korean bubble stickers encrusting the back of my IPod. I also wear American things I see many Asian people wearing. For instants my main pair of opticals are Ray-Bans. A lot of Korean-Americans wear them, because we generally have big heads and Ray-Bans accommodate our noggins well.

  7. I come back to this item because I wanted to make an addition to the question. This would be: “If wearing such an item revealed political or religious affiliations, would you still continue to wear them?”

    How to acknowledge the possible power of the symbolic nature of what we wear, which is often seen as “style” divorced from, say, history or context.

    I’m reminded of the book, “Recovering the Sacred”, by Winona LaDuke [link]; for one example discussed above.

    Locally I’m reminded of this in what I described above as what I do wear. So, for example, the black kufiyeh I wear (it was a gift from a friend from the Beq’a Valley) “expresses” different/overlapping affiliations, and is seen/ignored/noticed based on the power of the perceived meaning. I try to be sensitive to this perception. With local tensions high, I notice I get more “looks” in the Christian neighborhood of my university, as well as comments from my Syrian friends. Given that I am “known” in both locations, this isn’t necessarily a problem.

    But then there is the subject of beards here, which can define one’s religious affiliation. At the American University, the custodians have “clean-shaven” as a job requirement, and so this can also take on political manifestations, as well as that of disempowerment.

    This also came up in a recent online discussion of an adoptee in the Olympics; It was expressed to me on Twitter that the Olympics (their history, symbology, etc.) were neglected for the “story” of the adoptee herself. This reminded me of skateboarders wearing T-shirts sporting Iron Crosses, willfully ignoring the history and power of such symbols, much less their offense to many….a focus on form and not on content.

    But this also seems to be a function of where we are in the “class hierarchy”; those on the upper end ([white] male skateboarders) get to do this; those on the lower end (men of the Muslim faith working for a “secular” university) don’t.

    Just some food for thought….would be interested in how this might change your above answers if at all.

  8. I’ve always pretty much dressed like Leopold Bloom.

    What can I say; I like an Irish tweed.

    Raised in a Jewish household, discovered my Irish Catholic father 3 years ago, and my Manchester-born Jewish mother (with an Irish born Jewish grandmother…my maternal line is by way of the same type of Lithuanian/Polish pogroms that my adoptive grandparents hailed from, coincidentally, therefore my natural father’s Irish-ness is way more verboten and therefore more alluring to me ). Jewish atheists, or Jews who aren’t Jews, or Jews who refer to themselves as “culturally Jewish” and stridently assert our Jewishness when we feel threatened or vulnerable or powerless, but don’t believe in god, but also don’t talk about not believing in god.

    I dyed my hair red and sang Clancy Brothers songs long before I knew that I was Irish. I’m wearing my father-in-law’s Irish fisherman sweater as I type this. If I can slim down to my college weight, I’ve got a trunkful of vintage kilts awaiting me.

    Made aliyah to Dublin a few months ago. Book of Kells, y’all.

    I do fear being hated, as a Jew, by the Irish, and vice versa.

    Mostly my identity, more than anything, is as an Adoptee. My earliest ethnic identity, even though Adoptedness is not an ethnicity, I know, I know…but it felt like one and still feels like one to me. It overrides any other cultural identification. More than being female, more than being NJ-born or NY-raised, more than being a musician, or Jewish, or not Jewish, being adopted is my biggest identifier.

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

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