My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward...

I wasn't going to do another 9/11 post, but after watching many of the shows memorializing the events (especially MSNBC's rebroadcast of their original coverage of that morning) I couldn't keep my mind from going in a related direction.  I apologize if this post is a little long; I'll condense it as best I can, but I have a lot to say.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

A decade ago we watched aircraft carrying an assortment of "everyday" people turned into instruments of death & terror, and a day that dawned bright & sunny (at least here & in NYC) took on a type of darkness that no one was truly prepared to confront.  We saw hatred turned physical, a hatred of a nation so virulent that innocent men, women and children -- some not even U.S. citizens -- were considered proper targets.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

As part of a Foreign Service family, I've grown up being used to being told "don't go there today," "it's not safe over there for you," "the police recommend Americans avoid this neighborhood," and so on. Even back in the early 1980s, I remember trying to ensure I had at least one alternate route to & from common destinations, being aware of any vehicles that seemed to be following me on the road, and looking beneath my car for "packages" as I approached it anytime it was parked outside the garage.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

My parents have been confronted at a Christmas party with, "What are you doing here?" I've walked out of the house to find "Damn Jews" painted on the street out front.  I've had co-workers ask me to give them cash for lunch "because you people always have money."  I've worked with people who regularly used terms like, "slant-eyes," "gooks," "Chinks," and even worse. One memorable secretary even told me interracial relationships are a sin against God. The icing on the cupcake is the uncountable number of jokes I've heard that equate being adopted with being unwanted, or not good enough, or at "best" something to be ashamed of.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

Ten years after the events of 9/11 unfolded, I find myself working with individuals who say they don't understand why we don't just "shoot all the Muslims" -- even while we work alongside caring physicians, nurses and therapists who follow that religion.  I have been asked how I deal with my niece being of another race, how I feel about my niece being from a Communist country, and whether our parents have accepted their adopted granddaughter.

This is the kind of world my niece is growing up in. And yet...

And yet I know how easy it is to dwell only on the negative, to allow sadness and horror and hatred to be the facade of daily life while something altogether different (and better) is just behind, hidden in the shadow of that facade.  As clearly as I remember the events I listed above, there are other things I remember as well.

I remember the scenes of people everywhere in the world crying, and praying, and building makeshift memorials to the victims of 9/11. I remember the U.S. flag being flown proudly, even defiantly, by individuals in nations that were not supposed to be our friends.

I remember being engaged in discussions by individuals of many nations who really wanted to know what it was like living in the U.S., who wanted to hear things first-hand from an American instead of depending on what the local press, student group, or government mouthpiece had to say.  I remember being a young boy in Chile, with friends of widely varied nationality, background and social standing. I remember my friends in grad school in Belgium, where a glance around the table at a bar after class would show an average of at least five nationalities, all teaching each other jokes in various languages and even hatching a couple of international marriages.

I remember the Sunday school teacher who asked Mom if I could attend every week not because she wanted to convert me but because she thought it would be good for the other kids.  I remember the holiday sleepovers at friends' where I enjoyed helping decorate their Christmas trees, usually after they'd asked Mom (and then me) if that would be okay.  I've worked with people who left the company after it was bought by another and there were major staff shifts only because they felt the changes left the company too racially homogenized.

I remember the friends, relatives and co-workers whose only reaction to the news that my sister was adopting a baby from China was joyful congratulations -- then no-strings-attached support during the many years of waiting, and honest clamoring to meet the Pipsqueak once she'd come home with us.

And I know my family. Look at my parents' generation, my generation, and the next generation, and you will see represented every major religion, every major racial grouping, multiple nations of origin... and we are a family, sharing major life events, sending holiday cards, visiting (when we can) back & forth across the entire North American continent.

This is the kind of world my niece is growing up in.

I look at this amazing little girl, a U.S. citizen born on the other side of the planet, being brought up in a minority religion by a single mother who doesn't look like her but who loves her better than life itself, speaking a language alien to her birthplace that she nonetheless is learning by daily leaps & bounds -- and I see a future of hope, a world where many are working toward making who she is matter and what she is unimportant.

I look around at work and I see people of almost every racial background, from multiple nations on multiple continents, working together to provide care to patients without concern for the fact that some patients dislike them because of their ethnicity or religion. I look around at family gatherings and I see cousins who care more about each other than about the things that make us different.  I look around at my friends and I see people of incompatible religious and/or political beliefs who have made a point of spending time together because they genuinely like spending time together.  I look around my neighborhood and I see neighbors of diverse backgrounds cutting each others' grass, picking up groceries for each other, and taking care of each others' pets.

And I remember the co-worker, one of our nurses, who took me angrily to task for referring to Miri as "my adopted niece." She literally interrupted a linen change and -- with the resident's smiling support -- told me loudly and angrily, "She is your NIECE. It doesn't matter where she came from or how she joined your family. She is part of your family, she is loved, and that's all that matters." (And somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard a small voice say, "Amen!")

This is the kind of world my niece is growing up in.

The foundation has been laid by her grandparents, but (more so now, on the anniversary of 9/11 than ever before) it is up to her mom and me and the rest of her adoring family to keep working to make it the kind of world we want her to be growing up in.

I've got my game face on... do you?

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