Denying the Homeland…

November 23, 2009 redmaryjanes 8 Comments

Denying the Homeland….The Americanization of Ma Weihong

On June 16th, 2009, I stood in a guard shack in a foreign land where I was handed one of the four greatest gifts of my life. I was surrounded by people who did not speak my language. They were having me sign documents filled with writing that I could not discern. In my arms was a child whose looks were so very different from mine. She was crying hysterically, calling out in Mandarin for a woman I did not know. I had been in China for one day. It was chaotic, emotional and bittersweet.

We stayed in Beijing for two weeks. We toured all of the national treasures, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Ma Weihong struggled some, but overall seemed comfortable with us. We had decided to name her Sophia a long time ago, and she was responsive. But whenever someone asked for her name, she would say “Ma Weihong”. Of course she would…she was almost four years old and this had been her name all of her life. I had very limited knowledge of Mandarin, but I knew how to say I love you. So I would l say “I love you Ma Weihong” in Mandarin and then “ I love you Sophia” in English. Sometimes when I held her at night I would call her Ma Weihong. I wanted her to know that even though I was calling her something else, I knew her Chinese name and that that name did not need to disappear.

After we returned home to the United States, I became dedicated to helping her learn English as quickly as possible and also to helping her maintain her Mandarin as much as I could. We have friends who own a Chinese restaurant near us and also a neighbor who is Chinese who all speak fluent Mandarin. My father had a Mandarin tutor on retainer to help Ma Weihong keep her native language.

At first, she talked with our friends who spoke her language. She was shy, but she would speak with them. She became very excited when Ni Hao Kai Lan came on television. She would talk along with the show and loved it when Mandarin words came through. She would count in Mandarin along with the characters. She would sing beautiful songs in her native tongue in the car when we were driving.

After about a month, things started to change. She was learning English very quickly and was becoming more comfortable with her American family and American life. And with each step that she was taking bringing her closer to us, she was decidedly leaving her past and China behind. My father bought her the Little Mermaid in Mandarin, she barely paid attention to it. She started shying away from the Chinese people we would come into contact with. She would not speak with our Chinese friends in Mandarin anymore. She made it very clear that she only wanted to speak English. I would count along with Ni Hao Kai Lan in Chinese and she would say “No Mama, one, two, three, four”. When I called her Ma Weihong, she asked my “Why Ma Weihong?”. When people asked for her name, she said, “Sophia”.

I was riding in the car with her the other day and I heard singing. I have always loved to hear her sing. I turned off the radio so I could hear her sweet words and my heart just sank. In place of her beautiful Chinese songs, she was singing over and over in English, “yummy yummy tummy chicken”.

As time passes, she has become more and more like all of the other children around her. She now calls Mandarin “China Talk”. She still refuses to speak it. She told a friend of mine that she won’t speak Chinese because she doesn’t want to be different. This saddens me, but I understand. She just wants to be like every other child in her home, her preschool and her ballet class. If you ask for her name today, she will tell you, “Sophia Jane Weihong”. She is comfortable with that. I guess I am too.

8 responses to “Denying the Homeland…”

  1. TanyaLea says:

    I think this is a very profound post. It is the reality of what all of us will eventually face as international adoptive parents. I see both sides. I understand her wanting to embrace the culture that now surrounds her in order to fit in and feel like she really belongs…yet it also makes my heart sink to know the harsh reality of that, and that she is letting go of her homeland cultures. I think in time, the key is to find balance. To continue to embrace where she came from and adopt some of her native traditions, while allowing her to truly become part of your family in the way she desires. I have yet to walk a mile in those shoes, but I've learned so much from those of you who have gone before me. Thank you for your honesty and sharing this heart-felt story.

    Blessings and Hugs,
    ~ Tanya

  2. Shirlee McCoy says:

    This was a beautiful post, Kimberley. I've felt much the same as I've watched Cheeky become Americanized. She has not denied her homeland yet but perhaps that will happen one day.

    I think you are a wise mother to allow Sophia to move into her new life at her own pace and in her own way. Right now, she feels she must turn away from her homeland to embrace her new life. I think in time that will change.

    Cheeky still loves Eli, BTW. We were looking through China photos the other day, and she pointed to his picture and told me she misses him. :o)

  3. Eileen says:

    My daughter was younger when she came home, but initially she loved to hear Mandarin. A couple of months later, we were at a park and I saw a Chinese mother who was speaking Mandarin to her daughter. I approached her and asked if she wouldn't mind speaking Mandarin to my little girl because I was sure she'd love to hear it. This sweet woman said she'd be happy to and smiled at Maya and spoke just a few sentences in Mandarin. She only got a few sentences in because Maya broke out in hysterical sobs. I'd never seen her react that way to anything. She clung to me and buried her head in my shoulder and refused to look at the Chinese woman. The interaction had not gone as planned!

    To this day, three years later, she still wants nothing to do with the Mandarin language. It's only been recently that she doesn't attach herself to me like velcro when she's around Chinese women. Chinese men and Chinese children don't seem to scare her, but Chinese women almost always elicit a fear reaction.

    Our International Adoption pediatrician told us that Maya's reaction is not at all unusual. She said that adopted children, when choosing to embrace their new life, usually push away the old life and anything associated with it. She said it's a coping technique. The two lives are so dissimilar that they're very difficult to mesh.

    I expect that as she gets older, she'll want to know more about her life in China. Right now, she's happy where she is and would prefer to leave the past untouched.

  4. Stefanie says:

    It really breaks my heart to think of our children must endure to make the transition into their adoptive families. My hope is that they will someday come to fully embrace who they are: Chinese and American.
    Thanks for sharing this insight you've encountered with your sweet Sophia.

  5. lighthousegal says:

    You post brought back so many memories for me. My girls were 1 when they left China and moved into our family. But there were distinct times that they embraced and then shunned anything to do with China. They have both lost the language, but due to bonding issues getting them into a class early was not something we could do, then both of them adamantly declared they did not want to attend Chinese classes. Now, 7 and 5 years later, they both say they want to start learning Chinese and they both proudly proclaim to anyone who will listen that they come from China. I am sure we will experience a change again and they may reject Chinese things again. It saddens me that they feel they have to choose, that there is such pressure to fit in. All I can do is pray that I can provide what they need to learn to integrate the 2 parts of their past into a healthy, confident adult.

  6. Annie says:

    Beautiful post!! Thank you!

  7. Kris says:

    i am speechless… such a beautiful post kimberley. and you wonder… how will this change as she grows and matures? how will she come back to her heritage over and over, and will she yearn for it? my guess is yes.

    thanks for sharing this.

  8. KLF113 says:

    Hearing their native language can be a trauma trigger for some kids, just something else to think about. It's not just that they are trying to fit in & embrace everything American. Hearing Mandarin stirs up scary feelings, a traumatic event in their lives (being taken from everything/everyone they knew). I had every intention of keeping the Chinese language in my daughters life, but it was just too upsetting for her. We are keeping our options open but for now we have stopped the dvds, the cds, and the Mandarin-learning playdates. She needs some more healing first.

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