Thursday, October 11, 2012

Somewhere Between: Documentary

While doing thesis research, I came across this documentary called Somewhere Between.  It is about four girls who were adopted from China and their experiences in identity exploration.  It would have been a perfect source for my thesis, but it hadn't opened yet.  The movie just premiered in California over the summer and is finally coming to Boston next weekend! 

It opens on Friday, October 19th and will be at the Kendall Square Landmark Theatre for one week.  (Details here)

On the documentary's website, it says that the primary themes are "identity formation, family, adoption, and race.  The film focuses on the intersection of all these themes through the coming-of-age-stories of four girls.  As they discover who they are, so do we.  Through their specific stories, we as viewers come to understand more fully the meaning of family and the ever prevalent cultural disconnect between stereotyping and race -- whether we are adoptive families or not."

I am SO EXCITED to finally see this documentary, and urge you to check it out, too.  I recently finished taking the GMAT exam for graduate school and I am now looking forward to revisiting my thesis.  I hope to publish it in article-format in topical academic journals.  In the future I would also love to make my findings more widely accessible as a book for adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents.

I would love to hear from followers while I work on these projects, so please feel free to send me an email ( with any suggestions or thoughts you have.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Now what you've all been waiting for... my hypotheses!

Research Question:

  • What influences parents’ socialization strategy?

  1. Parents will be more likely to emphasize Chinese culture if they have prior interest in and knowledge of Chinese culture, and parents who adopt older children and/or multiple Chinese children.
  2. Parents’ attitudes toward the importance of ethnic exploration play a large role in shaping their choice of strategy.
  3. However, not all parents who want to pursue Chinese socialization are able to due to limitations in the opportunities and resources available to them. Living in more urban areas and in more diverse communities with a greater presence of Asians will be positively correlated with Chinese socialization. Furthermore, families with a stay-at-home parent and/or ethnically Chinese parent(s) will also be more likely to provide exposure to Chinese culture, as stay-at-home parents may have more time to devote to their children and ethnically Chinese parents may have greater knowledge about Chinese culture.

I will be using data from my survey (300 participants) and in-depth interviews (26 participants).

Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kids Will Be Kids

As I read through transcriptions of the interviews with adoptive parents, this exchange amused me. It's a reminder that even though children adopted from China have unique stories and a past quite different than the 'average' American child, at the end of the day, they're just kids:

PARENT: we try to get her to watch some [Chinese TV shows]. But generally, she wants to watch, what is that stupid program, you know, all of the stuff that the other girls watch which isn't anything Chinese. That one, that kid's program with all of the music and stuff, the singing.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, Glee? (laughter).
PARENT: Glee, right. She's definitely into Glee.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Relation to Wider Debates in American Culture

The post-adoption experiences of Chinese adoptees and their parents reflect wider debates about ethnic stereotyping and discrimination, as well as ethnic authenticity.

  • As ethnic minorities, Chinese adoptees have constrained "ethnic options" (Waters, 1990). Dorow (2006) illustrates adoptees’ lack of ethnic options with anecdote from a German American father, who was resistant to cultural emersion because he did not cultivate a connection with his own ethnic roots but “has realized that while he had the option of not being German American, because of his daughter’s race [and appearance], she will not have that option” (242). Due to adoptees’ constrained ethnic options, Chinese socialization is important to foster a sense of familiarity and belonging with the ethnicity that society will assign to them.
  • Chinese adoptees may also be subject to "ethnic expectations (Jacobson, 1008, citing Tuan). Because adoptees look Chinese, others will expect them to have knowledge of Chinese culture. Chinese socialization can help adoptees cope with ethnic expectations that may be imposed upon them.
  • Furthermore, Chinese adoptees will likely encounter prejudices and/or discrimination at some point in their lives. Having a well-developed sense of racial and ethnic pride can be a crucial ‘survival skill’ against racism and prejudice.

For parents who choose to pursue Chinese socialization (either under the acculturation or bi-cultural socialization models) must confront the issue of authenticity. Because the majority of parents who adopt Chinese children are not Chinese themselves, their ability to provide Chinese culture for their children is questioned. But what, exactly, is 'authentic' Chinese culture?

  • Many adoptive parents focus on traditional Chinese culture but do not incorporate modern Chinese culture.
  • Furthermore, most focus is on Chinese people from China, rather than the history and culture of Chinese-Americans.
  • Parents tend to pick and choose which aspects of Chinese culture to acknowledge and eliminate or minimize aspects that conflict with their existing value system.
  • Many parents engage in 'symbolic ethnicity,' in that they focus on symbols like holidays, clothing, and food to participate in Chinese culture. For many, this is more realistic than true immersion in Chinese culture.
  • As a result, an adoptive family subculture has emerged. Some adoptive families only participate in 'Chinese cultural activities' at events with other adoptive families (such as ones hosted by Families with Children from China, or FCC).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing a Senior Thesis

Some of my friends who are thinking about writing theses next year have been asking me about what it's like to write a thesis. Here's what I think:

I hear lots of seniors complaining about their theses, and there is definitely culture that promotes complaining (or bragging?) about how much suffering goes into completing an honors thesis. I'm not sure if thesis-writers are truly so unhappy, or if it's just a way of building solidarity, or if people are just complaining because everyone else is.

I've accumulated dozens of books that I'm not looking forward to lugging back to the library and a huge stack of notes attempting to organize my thoughts.

I have no doubt succumbed to thesis-induced stress at times, but I LOVE writing a thesis.
  • I get to devote myself to a topic that I am intensely curious and passionate about. I decide the direction my research goes and I can pursue what interests me.
  • I work on my own schedule, at my own pace (bounded by the looming March 8th, 2012 deadline). No set class schedule or assignment due dates. (Note: this may be a drawback for some people, but I enjoy it.)
  • I have the opportunity to develop a relationship with a renowned professor. There are few things cooler than seeing your own adviser being cited in books you're reading. (Yes, I realize how nerdy that sounds, and I'll embrace that...)
  • I will have a finished product that I can point as the capstone of my Harvard experience. My thesis has been an opportunity for me to fuse my academic training with extracurricular interests, and see what emerges.
All that said, writing a thesis is hard work, but I'm loving the process 100%!!!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Parents’ Socialization Strategies for Raising Chinese Adoptees

Parents’ socialization strategies face two central tensions:

  • The tension between sameness and differentness within the family
  • The tension between Chinese and American identities.

Richard Tessler (1999), a scholar of China to U.S. adoption, outlines four models of socialization. My research will investigate what factors influence parents' choice of socialization strategy. The four models are:

  • Assimilation: focus on American culture (rejection differences)
  • Acculturation: focus on Chinese culture (acknowledgement of differences)
  • Alternation (or bi-cultural socialization): balance American and Chinese culture, with the goal of making children feel comfortable alternating between cultures (acknowledgement of differences)
  • Child choice: parents allow the child to decide which strategy to pursue (My research will not address the child choice model, as I believe that even if the parents want their child to lead the way in identity formation, the parents’ actions and attitudes exert huge influence on the child’s choice.)


In the past, the assimilationist model was most popular. Families rejected racial differences within the family and adopted a 'color-blind' approach, raising their adopted children as if they had been born into the family. Because most of these families are Caucasian Americans, their rejection of differences is virtually a rejection of Chinese culture. While these parents claim that race does not matter to them, denying their child’s racial and ethnic background can have serious repercussions. Most likely, these parents have good intentions and simply do not realize that “Race does matter and will matter to and shape the life of every child of color” (Steinberg and Hall, 2000, 295). Today many scholars and adoptive parents look to the cohort of adults who were adopted from Korea in the 1970s as a “cautionary tale.” Many of these adoptees are critical of their parents for neglecting to address race and Korean culture, which has led to the current rejection the ‘clean break model’ that calls for the adoptee to fully assimilate.

Acculturation or "Culture Keeping"

Today some members of the adoptive community have embraced acculturation, or “culture keeping.” The term “culture keeping” was introduced by Jacobson (1998): “Culture keeping is meant to replicate partially the cultural education internationally adopted children would receive if they were being raised within a family of their own ethnic heritage” (ibid, 2). Many parents are unable to fully engage in culture keeping because they lack knowledge of and experience with Chinese culture. For some, it may also be too time-consuming or difficult to access resources and opportunities to engage in Chinese culture.

Bi-Cultural Socialization

Other parents reject both assimilation and acculturation in favor of Tessler’s bi-cultural socialization model. Tessler is a proponent of bi-cultural socialization: American socialization allows the child to share the culture of their adoptive family and be accepted by their peers; Chinese socialization is important because the child is phenotypically a minority, and thus may be treated by others as a minority. Bi-cultural socialization will help foster a positive esteem of their ethnic subgroup, which will empower children to handle racism with confidence. However, bi-cultural socialization (like culture keeping) can be difficult and requires commitment from adoptive parents, who often have little knowledge of Chinese heritage and may lack opportunities for exposing their children to Chinese culture.

‘Normal’ Ethnic and Racial Identity Development

Before delving into a discussion about racial and ethnic identity formation, it is crucial to distinguish between race and ethnicity.

  • Both are socially constructed categories.
  • Although there is not a way to biologically distinguish between races, a racial categories are made based on "perceived common physical characteristics that are held to be inherent” (Cornell, 2007, 25).
  • Ethnicity is defined by perceived common ancestry and shared history, symbols, and practices.
  • My research will focus on ethnicity and ethnic identity, but race plays a prominent role in both.

Now... on to identity formation! Identity construction takes place largely in adolescence, and is an ongoing, dynamic process (Smith and Howard, 1999; Phinney, 1987). Below is a rough sketch of the stages of ethnic identity formation that children ordinarily move through:

  • Developmentally, children first become aware of ethnic differences at a very young age.
  • However, children “initially learn from others what [ethnic] group they belong to” (Phinney, 1987, 15). Thus parental socialization strategies play a crucial role in the nascent stages of ethnic identity formation.
  • When the child enters adolescence, he or she has acquired the cognitive capacity to process and interpret ethnic stimuli and assert their own ethnic self-identification (Phinney, 1987).

Identity formation of children adopted from China deviates from this 'normal' developmental model because they must incorporate being adopted into their identity, as well. Furthermore, Chinese adoptees’ who are adopted transracially must cope with an additional "layer of difference" (i.e. being a different race than their parents). Parents’ method of negotiating the layers of differences within the family can have profound implications for transracial adoptees’ ethnic identity formation.

Because the adolescent years are a crucial time for identity formation, one’s family and caretakers during his or her youth have a huge impact on their identity formation.

  • By fostering open communication about adoption and identity, parents can facilitate identity achievement (Smith and Howard, 1999).
  • Furthermore, studies have indicated that "parental sensitivity to race or culture, respect for the child’s cultural heritage, living in integrated areas, and exposing the child to positive aspects of his or her heritage are important in promoting positive self-image and adjustment” (ibid, 171).
  • While parents can aid in identity achievement, they can also put up barriers for the child, even if it is done inadvertently. Smith and Howard assert that if the family “is conflicted or negative about adoption or child’s birth family, the child has a harder time coming to a healthy resolution of identity issues” (ibid, 168).