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Adoption Blog: The Perfect Blend

Does Location Matter for Visible Adoptive Families?
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In our agency’s adoption classes, many discussions focused on whether living in a diverse community was important for multicultural adoptive families and, if so, how important. As we're looking to move from a New York City apartment into a house, we're exploring new neighborhoods and what living in them might mean for our soon-to-be blended family of five.

In about five minutes, a photographer will arrive at our apartment to take the photos that will go online. A week from now, give or take, our apartment will be listed for sale in the Times, on various real estate websites, and on brokers’ websites. Soon after that, the open house circuit will begin. This is very exciting. And very scary.

Putting aside all aspects of timing (given the fact that our beautiful soon-to-be son, Dylan, will come home from Seoul in around four months and, logistically, we're only willing to sell if we can move before that time), the decision to sell our apartment feels huge and controversial for other reasons.

Dylan’s arrival will make us, a family of five, a larger group. Space, indoors and out, will be at a premium. So we want a house. You can imagine my excitement then when I find the perfect, perfect house within our price range in a fantastic school district located an hour from the city. It's in an area that we like but haven't seriously looked at yet, so I get online immediately. First I check the neighborhood demographics and then the elementary schools. The goal is to determine, broadly, if there is some nice cultural diversity and, specifically, if there is any Asian community to speak of. The answer, as I’d feared, is no and no.

Diversity for us, living in Queens ("the most diverse community in the nation," according to the website of the Queens borough president's office), was not as much a choice as a situation right in our laps. We had it by default, and we appreciated it—a lot, actually—without thinking too hard or asking very many questions. Having grown up in a very small, very white town, with people who, for the most part, shared my ethnicity and religion, I was thrilled that my daughters, Josi and Lilah, have made friends with kids from such varied family backgrounds. None of this actually had anything to do with me, of course. I just sat back and let the girls make the friends they made, carved out a few mommy friendships of my own, and enjoyed the relative ease of a beautifully diverse preschool playdate circuit.

Last weekend we went to look at open houses in the town in question and, taking a break, went out for lunch at the community's only family restaurant. Looking around at the patrons, I imagined our boy there, ketchup on his face, chewing a straw, and I thought about what he'd see at 3, 7, 12. If our Internet search hadn't confirmed it, now I knew for sure he would be the only visibly different customer. What would it mean for him, as an adult, to have grown up, like I did, in such a Norman Rockwell setting? Would it be anything like it was for me? There are plusses, for sure, too many to list, but here's a sampling: great schools, a duck pond in the village center, peaceful beauty, and Josi would no longer believe ducks to be a zoo animal. But what about Dylan’s psyche?

Living in a community with little diversity would have bothered me if it were just the four of us; it's not by accident I've found myself living contentedly in New York City for this long. But I used to know, whether I liked to admit it or not, that if we were to move, we would fit in, at least visually, in the small college town, the homogenous suburb, the lakefront community upstate. Soon, though—and quite happily!—that will no longer be the case.

Since I don't feel comfortable going off the experiences from my childhood growing up in a family that fit in visually, I'm turning to you for advice. I know many people in small, mostly white communities adopt children from ethnic or cultural minorities and those children are happy, fulfilled, and perfectly well-adjusted. At least that’s the way it looks to me. My own aunts, adopted from Korea, went to a public high school in which they were the only nonwhite students. Famously, my Aunt Koree was selected to play Dorothy in the school's version of The Wiz. Both she and my Aunt Kel, different as they are from each other, seem to have thrived in the community in which they were raised. But honestly, I don’t know why but I've yet to find the courage to ask them how it felt.

So I'm asking you. If you have a moment, please share your experiences as transracial families in your communities. What works, what doesn’t, and how did you decide where to live? As we navigate the real estate market this time around, we’ll need all the help we can get.


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32 Comments

Hi Meghan,

I’ve been watching this and cannot believe that no one has replied yet!

We did not adopt transracially, although we thought our child would be biracial (African American/Caucasian) up until the day he was born. Therefore, we prepared for it. And as a librarian, I did a heap of research, read a lot of books, talked with adult adoptees and read their blogs. Our decision was that we would live in a diverse area, primarily due to the conversations I had with adult adoptees who were adopted transracially. The ones I spoke with who grew up in diverse neighborhoods were much happier with their childhoods than ones who grew up in homogenous neighborhoods. Although frankly, even though our children are Caucasian, we have still made the decision to live in a diverse neighborhood.

Here are a couple of books I recommend before making a decision:

“In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories” edited by Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Rhoorda

“Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption” edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah and Sun Yung Shin

And I strongly suggest that you seek out adult adoptees. They are the ones who can truly tell you what their experiences were. Adoptive parents can only tell you their perspective.

Good luck!

By Global Librarian on Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm.

Hi!
As a caucasian adoptive Mom of 2 African-American children and 2 Ethiopian children, ages 7,6,5,&4, I say yes. Location does make a difference.

We live in a fairly small town 2 hours north of NYC. There are 3 elementary schools, one Middle and one High School. At this point in time, our children are in one of the less diversified schools. When they are old enough for Middle School, it will be much more diverse.

There are kids of all different races and I thought of it as quite diverse based on my own childhood in rural upstate NY. That illusion was shattered by my second grader stating at the beginning of this school year, “There are only 18 brown kids in the whole school Mom.”

Even though I know that number is not correct, it is my son’s perception of the situation that is important. Also, he wasn’t considering kids from other racial backgrounds, only his own.

When we go out shopping or dining, I tend to go to the small city south of us where there are a lot of African-American and biracial families. No one looks twice at us.

If we head 30 minutes North to the more rural small city, we get lots of looks. As far as I know, my children have not picked up on the stares yet, but it gets me steamed every time.

I think it is very important for our children to have peers that remind them of themselves. The place they spend the most time outside of our homes is at school, so they need a diverse school district.

I would suggest visiting the school to see what your children will experience there. You may have only seen a small portion of the community. Since you are only looking an hour from NYC, you can easily find areas to shop and dine in that are more diverse than your own town.

Congratulations on your adoption and good luck!

By JMazz on Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm.

Thanks, JMazz and Global Librarian.  I’m really surprised, too, that this hasn’t received a lot of comments yet.  I thought (okay, worried!) this post would really get people fired up!  I read both of your incredibly helpful comments about four times in a row, just to soak in all of the great advice.  Jmazz, it had never occurred to me that one doesn’t stay only in one’s neighborhood or zip code.  How silly of me not to consider the dentist, ballet class, dinner out, shopping, etc! We’re actually looking as close as one or two towns out of Queens, so it’s not like we won’t still spend time here. 

But what you both say about diversity, as well as an incredible post by Danielle (The Paperwork Pregnancies—http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/blogs/post/transracial_adoptive_parenting_would_you_move_for_your_children/), is really on my mind.  In my gut, I know that to give up this diversity for private outdoor space just isn’t what I want!  We’ve got to find away to have it all or, at least, to find other elements to sacrifice in order to have those two important things.

By Meghan on Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm.

Hi Meghan,
In our experience location does matter.  We are a white couple with 6 children from Haiti.  We’ve lived in a mostly white suburban area, a medium-sized European city (also mostly white), and now live in a mostly white state, but purposefully chose a part of the largest city where there is quite a bit of racial diversity. 

We are SO happy that we are here.  Not only did we all gain from having a diverse community to live in, but my children have said things like “People don’t look at us here,” or “I would never want to live in an all-white place.”  My daughters are able to have African American female doctors and other role models that look like them.  We know several other adoptive families and mixed-race families in the area.  My kids feel less conspicuous here and can grow up having friends of varying racial and family backgrounds.  In fact, my oldest daughter’s group of friends is like a mini-UN, and she loves it.  And so do we!

=)

By flaquita92 on Monday, February 21, 2011 at 8:02 pm.

Hi Meghan,

I do think location is important. But I think families can make it work even if they do live in a less diverse area. I have a 4-year-old daughter from China and we live in a suburb of Madison,WI. Our actual neighborhood is distinctly Caucasian. But the daycare/4K program that my daughter attends is pretty diverse. I’ve noticed less diversity in our church and her dance class. But we try to be very involved with the Families With Children from China group here in the area and are fortunate that it is active. I hope that we can continue to be active in groups and events that have a higher level of diversity.

I am excited about attending a culture camp when she’s a little older where I am in the minority in the group!

Congratulations on your adoption and I wish you the best.

By TerriQ on Monday, February 21, 2011 at 8:24 pm.

I think it does matter. I think if more people exposed themselves to the culture and beliefs of others, there would be fewer problems in the world. But specifically on adoption, we’re in kind of the same situation. Although our town is rather progressive, with a large Indian population, our problem is with the school system. While we want our son exposed to many different ethnicities, the “best” schools in our town are 90%+ white, while more racially diverse schools score significantly lower on standardized tests. We have a few years yet to sort this out, but it is something I think about often.

By Jeff on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm.

Jeff,

I would recommend looking beyond the standardized tests. Unfortunately, those tests do not always show a true picture of what is happening in a school. For instance, we were advised to stay away from one of the elementary schools in the community we live in based upon tests scores. (The scores are the lowest in the community, but not by that much.)

I decided to dig deeper. Turns out that school is where many of the more recent immigrant population lives and many of the students are being given standardized tests in a language they are just beginning to speak. Because of the ESL population and fear of low scores reducing their state & federal funding, the school district transferred many of their best teachers over to that school and there are some really progressive programs happening there. Frankly, the fact that the test scores are only slightly lower when close to 20% of the population comes from non-English speaking homes is astounding. Certainly not something to be avoided!

Perhaps the diverse schools in your community are a similar situation? You’ll never know unless you investigate beyond test scores!

By Global Librarian on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 10:42 pm.

Meghan,

We struggled with this also, particularly on behalf of our two Ethiopian children. Our area has a high Asian population, which is great for our Indian daughter, but doesn’t do much for our other two kids. They don’t notice that their school is 30% people of color; instead they notice that almost none of those people of color look like them.

If we were to move to the nearest area with a substantial black population, my husband would be one hour away from work, my Indian daughter would lose her Asian peers, and we’d be in an area with higher crime, lesser schools etc. A new black family recently joined our school community, and that mom’s assessment of the options for diversity in the Bay area matched my own, and she decided to go for the better schools and the diversity we do have in our town, which made me feel better about my tough choice. And although my Ethiopian kids don’t have many black peers at school, they do have black coaches, camp counselors and other adults in the community that they interact with on a regular basis.

I can’t imagine living in a predominantly white community with my children…it would be so much harder for us all. Is there any way for you to upsize but stay in Queens?

By Sharon Van Epps on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:31 am.

Everyone seems to agree location matters. I’m a Caucasian male who adopted three Hispanic children from Social Services. We live in California, where nearly 50% of the population has a Spanish last name, so we’re fine. However, I’ve thought about moving, near a sister in Arizona, for example, but it’s difficult to imagine subjecting my kids to that.

I’ll bet there are more Asians in the community you’re considering than you realize. The suggestion that you check out the schools was good advice. Maybe a teacher, or two, are Asians…

Good luck to you and your new family. You’re about to have some fun.

By David Marin on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 7:48 am.

thanks for all the great comments!
we are in a town with mostly caucasian families but the biggest minority is Asian (still small numerically)...our daughter is adopted from China.
She is in a wonderful day care that is diverse and embraces all cultures.
We do bring her to a dentist that is Chinese (lucky to have one in our current dental practice), take part in a university based play group for Chinese children, have become involved in our state FCC, and she has friends adopted from China (both from our travel group in New England )and also locally.
We try to read books about her culture and all cultures…I am very much into multilcultural music and literature etc.

I do think where you live is important, but we can’t all live in a wonderfully diverse city like NYC…we are within a day trip distance and look forward to going in this spring/summer for several trips..

thanks for this good post, and all the good replies..

By haomom on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm.
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Meet the Author

Meghan

Meghan

New York, New York

I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
Korea

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