By Dorothy Birker
“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but it will never break.” ~Chinese Proverb
Recently a group of families gathered at the EECO Centre to celebrate the Chinese New Year. There were traditional red envelopes, beautiful silk dresses, and lucky foods like long life noodles and good fortune oranges. The adults chatted and visited while the kids played and made special Year of the Sheep crafts.
In some ways it was a very typical Chinese New Year gathering, and in some ways very different. This celebration was hosted by a group of Okanagan families who have adopted from China. While most of the parents are Caucasian, most of the kids are Chinese born Canadians who have come a long way to complete their forever families.
The celebration is a way to honour the culture and history of our children, but it is also a way to normalize for kids the distinctive make-up of our families. We seek to expose our kids to their cultural heritage, to embrace Chinese traditions, and make them part of our now global family. And we look to connect in some ways to others that have shared similar experiences to ours.
Donalie and Jason Banman had one biological son Josh when they adopted their daughter Jade in 1996. International adoptions happened less then and the Banmans travelled with just two other Canadian couples to China. They were living in Regina at the time and had a supportive network welcome them home. When Jade was two they moved to Medicine Hat and Donalie experienced a less positive response one day.
“I remember taking the kids for a walk one day when this older man looked at our family and said ‘Now what were you thinking?’, says Donalie. “I was so shocked at first I didn’t know what to say, but then I told him that every child deserves a family and she fits ours perfectly.”
The Banmans moved to Lake Country when Jade was four. Although this small community wasn’t very culturally diverse then, it has been very welcoming.
In 2005, the Banmans travelled once again to China to bring home their youngest child, Lily. It was a perfect time for Jade to also travel back to her country of birth and see the orphanage she used to live in.
“It was very interesting and I was glad to take it all in,” says Jade. “It made me think about my adoption going but Lily’s experience was very different too.”
To an outsider, Jade’s family might seem unique, but for Jade, it is simply her family.
“I don’t usually think about looking different from my parents,” she says matter-of-factly. “But then sometimes I look in the mirror and think, oh, I really do look different. Then I just shrug it off.”
“I want to understand my heritage but I really identify myself as a Canadian,” Jade continues.
“I don’t notice people identifying us as being different anymore at all,” says Donalie. “I don’t know if it’s because we’ve lived her so long and everyone already knows us or if it’s because I am not as vigilant about it. When Jade was going to school she was one of only two visible minorities. Lily’s classroom is much more diverse and I don’t think it’s a big deal to anyone.”
Each family attending the celebrations has had different experiences and come to this point in their journey their own way. But we do share a common thread and being open to new cultural experiences and learning about our children’s heritage and traditions has only expanded our opportunities to celebrate more often. Gong Xi Fa Cai (congratulations and best wishes for a prosperous New Year).
Dorothee Birker is the coordinator for The Respect Network in the Central Okanagan. She is also the proud mother of Zhen, adopted from Xian, China in 2010. The Respect Network, funded by Embrace BC, is a group of community organizations in the Thompson Okanagan region that seek to have all community members welcomed, valued and respected. Join the movement and take the Respect Challenge at respectnetwork.ca.
Here is the second story and picture.
Photo – Jade, Donalie, Jason and Lily (front) Banman