Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Cultural Context

Today, this day after New Year's Day when the gyms reopen and throngs of people flood through the doors to work off their holiday calories, I went to my first "Zumba" class. Zumba is an aerobic workout class done to Latin Music and incorporating the fundamentals of Latin Dance, such as salsa, merengue, samba, etc. It was an awesome workout. I left having worked up a good sweat and feeling a little more guapa and tranquila. ¡OlĂ©!

As I was moving to the rhythms of the latin music, I thought about my year in Spain and how thankful I am to have an insight into Spanish culture. And of course, I've spent the majority of my life right here in Texas! It is impossible to grow up here without a bit of the local Mexican culture rubbing off on you, and for that I am happy and grateful! It made me glad that even though I would never pretend to completely understand the various latin cultures with which I've rubbed elbows, I do have a context for them! And today, I felt humbled and thankful to have a context for the dances I was doing and the music I was listening to. When the Zumba instructor spoke Spanish to our mostly latino class, I knew what she was saying, and when I heard the music, I could dance the salsa with a little bit of flair!

Last night, Brian and I watched a video, which is part of our required adoption training. The video was called "Grief and Loss in Adoption". The idea is that the hub at the center of the wheel of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptee) is loss. Obviously the birth parents have to grieve the significant loss of their child when they make a plan to place for adoption. Whether the adoptive parents are choosing adoption because of infertility or not, they still have to grieve the loss of their genetic continuity. What I hadn't stopped very long to consider, though, was the significant losses that an adoptee faces: loss of medical information/history, loss of knowing biological family, loss of nation of origin (in the case of international adoption), and a loss of control over the whole process (the adoptee never chose to be placed for adoption and didn't choose their adoptive family).

One of the people interviewed in the video was a lovely woman in her 20s or 30s. She was adopted from South Korea as an infant and raised in a caucasian family in Baltimore, Maryland. She spoke with a southern accent, and talked about her experiences of loss through her adoption. One of the things she has grieved as an adult was the loss of her identity as a Korean. Although she feels like an American girl internally, externally she is Asian. She spoke of not really fitting in with the Asian community because although she might look Asian, she has no grasp of Korean/Asian culture. What she did know, though--without a doubt--was that she was a Cockran (the last name of her adoptive family).

Her suggestion to American families adopting from abroad was to think of exposing not only their adopted child to their culture of origin, but to have the mindset that the whole family adopts a bit of that culture. So in our case, just as we will adopt an Ethiopian child/ren into our family, our family will also become a little bit Ethiopian. Brian and I thought that made a lot of sense. While we will never be able to have a firm grasp on all things Ethiopian, we can make an effort to become a little bit Ethiopian as a family. We can go as a family to eat Ethiopian food (which we did today for lunch!). We can play Ethiopian music at home and celebrate certain Ethiopian holidays as a family.

My hope is that if my child/ren one day return to Ethiopia, that they will have the same sense that I had today in my Zumba class. Although they won't have a 100% grasp of life in Ethiopia, I hope the rhythms they hear, and the flavors of the food they taste will be just familiar enough to feel a part of it all because they have a context for it. And on days when my child/ren feel like they're not quite part of any one ethnic/cultural community, I hope they will know without a doubt they they are Owens!


J at said...

What a lovely, insightful post. There is indeed so much gained, and so much lost, in adoption. It's wonderful to make so much joy out of so much pain, but ignoring that pain probably isn't wise.

I'll bet you could learn to make Ethiopian food as well. Mostly it seems to be yummy vegetables that are stewed. Not sure about the injira (sp) though. We sure love Ethiopian food around here.

I think you're in for a wonderful experience, and that you're going to learn SO much. About each other, about your self, and about a whole different culture.

Cherry said...

I agree with J, that really is a beautiful and insightful post.

I wasn't adopted but I did grow up as a Chinese American with hardly any Chinese traditions. Even though I grew up and still live in a very Asian heavy area, only now am I being exposed to Chinese traditions but through my co-workers who assume I know them all. My father was going through a tough time with his own family and identity when I was growing up so he wasn't really available to share and teach us about the traditions, language or life in China. I feel I missed out a lot on knowing my heritage and he still doesn't talk too much now. Eric encourages me to engage with him more so I have at least a few stories to tell our kids.

You are going to be great parents.

BTW - I LOVE Ethiopian food!

Anonymous said...

For your Q. on
Here are some tips for Addis
- Piazza an older city center full of energy:
- Bole-Road: from Meskel square to the airport is one of the main streets and you will enjoy a walk there as there are many shops, cafes, and it is buys. In this link, it is the street running from the top-left corner all the way to the right-bottom
You will enjoy a cafe called Lime tree, and you can pick the current issue of WhatsOutAddis (
- Transportation

If you need more info email at
abysonline AT (


Tracy said...

Thank you, Anon!

I'll check out those links!