Celebrating life in between cultures.
Seeking out culture and a sense of one’s place in the world is often far from a straight-forward path to travel, especially for those who hold mixed identities. At Root & Seed, we recently had the opportunity to discuss some nuances of these experiences with Laurie Freeman, who adopted her daughter Amanda (Min JiaXue) from China in the early 2000s. Finding Amanda, it was love at first sight:
“She was a year old when we met her. I couldn’t stop holding her.”
Amanda grew up conscious of the culture she shares with her ancestry, and the one she was brought into. Often, this consciousness was forced from the comments and assumptions of others—at the age of three, when a stranger asked Laurie where Amanda was from Amanda asserted, “I’m from Farmington Hills."
The Freemans tried to be open with their daughter. “We would talk about it a lot,” but dinnertime conversations arose from her identity as an adopted Asian, Jewish American. “Things happened with her at school, she was like a kid without a country, the Chinese kids didn't see her as Asian, and the Jewish kids saw her as a novelty who did not resemble other Jewish kids.”
Embracing the beauty of both sides
Amanda’s parents wanted her to know about her roots, even as Laurie felt torn for taking their daughter away from the country she was born into. In celebrating the Autumn moon and helping other families planning to adopt from China, Laurie discovered more about Chinese culture, which she found held a lot of parallels with her own. “Both cultures are very old.”
“When Amanda was little we celebrated Chinese New Year every year with a group in Detroit with other families who had children who were adopted from China. We bought her enough Chinese dresses in China so she could fit into another one at every age.” Laurie also helped her daughter experience parts of Jewish culture she had missed out on herself while growing up. “She loves meeting our extended families, going to Bat Mitzvahs and family events. She started Sunday school, took Hebrew, and sang in the Temple choir. She did many more Jewish activities than I did as a teen, like attending summer camp with Jewish kids from around the country.”
The power of stories
Laurie began to notice that as a child, her daughter navigated aspects of her identity through narratives that she felt represented parts of her own story. In a blog post featured on Dim Sum & Doughnuts in 2016 (which we encourage you to read in full!), Laurie shared some of the meaningful roles and stories that played in a young girl’s life:
“She was fearless. In 5th grade, they were told to bring their favorite book to class. She loved the story about a Chinese baby who found her forever home, while being both escorted and guarded by a ladybug who stayed with her on the entire journey. Amanda’s teacher asked if she wanted to read Shaoey and Dot to the class and Amanda didn’t hesitate. She sat in a chair, like an author reading to a group, and even fielded questions at the end of the story from classmates who didn’t hold back.”
Amanda also found meaning in Jewish narratives of home and family.
“At the beginning of 8th grade, Amanda had her Bat Mitzvah. She did a beautiful job and the Rabbis were impressed with her voice and her D’vora Torah, where she tells the congregation about her Torah portion (bible story) and what it meant to her. Ironically, that week’s story was about the Israelites moving to their new land and how they were to plant crops and offer portions of their first harvest to the widow and the orphan and make their land a community for all people. Amanda related this story back to her own. She spoke about how she came to a new land with her forever family.”
Forging new paths
As Amanda grew older, Laurie observed that her teenage daughter became more reserved with sharing her background, no longer readily supplying information to curious teachers and classmates. “I realized then that it’s her story to tell and it’s up to her if and when she feels comfortable telling it, no matter where she is in life and with whom.”
“At college it was a fresh start,” Laurie muses. “No one saw her parents,” and perhaps some of the pressure to define herself in relation to her family was taken off Amanda. Still, she continued to discover and embrace pieces of her identity in her own way. In a search for more answers to her ancestry, Amanda took a DNA test to find out if she has any relatives (and even found third cousins). She hopes to deepen her connection with her Jewish heritage by going on a birth-right trip to Israel one day.
“Because of the experiences she’s had, it's shaped who she is. We’re happy that she doesn’t feel obligated to present herself as a footnote in history, a member of this amazing group of 80,000+ girls who arrived in the U.S. legally as citizens, but more accurately as immigrants by no choice of their own. And each child brings with them their unique story to tell.”
Please give Laurie’s blog post, “It’s Her Story To Tell” a read on Dim Sum & Doughnuts.
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