Recently on a trip to LA I found myself up early. Still on East Coast time I flipped through the channels in my hotel room. After watching the daily news replay for the third time I flipped to an episode of Modern Family. In the episode Gloria asks Mitch and Cam what they are doing to celebrate their adoptive daughter, Lily’s, Vietnamese heritage. Mitch and Cam look blankly at Gloria. “It never occurred to us,” they say, “She’s just Lily. Do you think we should do more?” What ensues is a hilarious outing to a Vietnamese restaurant but it got me thinking.
Growing up in my family, the Friday after Thanksgiving marked the start of Christmas. We’d journey to pick out our Christmas tree—always the largest and most “how the heck will we fit that through the front door???” We’d haul out the decorations gathered from trips to Austria and Galveston, Texas. We’d hang the handmade wreaths and the handmade felt wall hangings. We’d replace the music by the piano with carols and hymns and switch the radio stations to “All Christmas, All the Time.” And then there was the food.
Weeks and weeks of baking and cooking. There were traditional German wedding cookies, cutout cookies, orange cookies. Hand cut egg noodles for the Christmas Eve beef soup, garlic junk, and olive cheese balls. Our family’s cultural traditions: a weird and wonderful tapestry of German meets Texan. It was, and remains, who we are.
My friend recently met a woman at the grocery store. She had been adopted from Korea when she was a child and now, at 50, she was a resident of Del Ray. She observed my friend and her son and said, “He’s adopted, yes?” The woman went on to recall her own upbringing. As a young child she embraced the new language, her new culture, and her new family’s traditions. Every night her parents reassured her with the words “You are not different. You are American. You are just like us.” The key was assimilation. The key was to appear like every other family.
But we’re not like every other family. My son has a different skin color than mine. His eyes are different than mine. His hair is different than mine. He is American. And he is a part of our family. But he is also Chinese. To try to deny that element of who he is would be like denying the left hand in favor of the right.
This week my family hung red lanterns in the windows and firecrackers by the door. We cleaned the house and swept away the old year’s dust. We strung red and gold twinkle lights by the eave of our roof to scare away the ghosts and spirits of misfortune. And we filled red envelopes with money for our guests. Then we started a new tradition.
I got the inspiration from my family’s German tradition of Easter egg trees. I found a branch and colored it gold – for good fortune. Then I pulled out the Chinese zodiac ornaments I had bought during our time in Guangzhou. Together my husband, my son and I decorated our Chinese New Year Tree. Is it a traditional Chinese New Year event? No. But my family is a blend of German, Texan, and Chinese. When we celebrate the New Year with friends and family next week we will have handmade dumplings, longevity noodles, fried rice, almond cookies, and of course quesadillas. After all, they are my son’s favorite food.
About the Author: Jennifer Jones is an adoptive mother, playwright, storyteller, and solo performer. She frequently blogs about her adoption experience at Letters to Jack, where this was originally published. You can also find her on Twitter.