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!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The (N)One Percent Solution

This is a bit of a catch-up post (I began writing lit ate in February) and a bit of a current affairs post; I'm using it to start plugging some of the holes between now and the point where I ran out of time for blogging a couple of months back.

The times truly are a-changin' in the China adoption community 'round these parts.

Reading my Chinese New Year (CNY) posts from previous years, you've probably noticed that this family spends a lot of time celebrating the Chinese new year... sometimes with weekly events all the way into March.[1]  At a minimum we've attended dance performances by Miri & her classmates at Lakeforest Mall's annual CNY event, we've volunteered at & enjoyed the annual CNY celebration organized by the local Families with Children from China (FCC) chapter, our MIT group has gotten together for a luncheon & lion dance at an area restaurant, and we've attended the annual CCACC CNY banquet (usually with another dance performance by the kids).

Of all those events, the FCC celebration has always been the biggest and most varied, with 2015 marking the event's 20th anniversary.

Well, we celebrated CNY a little less this year. For the first time in two decades there was no FCC celebration. There have been bad weather cancellations in the past but this year's situation was very different; for a cancellation to occur, there has to be an event planned in the first place -- and this year there was NO event planned.

Part of the problem is that the Garrison Forest School seemed to forget about the FCC-MD event they've hosted for the past several years. When overtures were made about reserving the field house as usual, the FCC rep was essentially told, "It's booked, but we have an opening in late March..." (a full month after Year of the Rooster began.)

However, the 800-pound panda in the corner of the room wasn't the lack of venue; it was the lack of support from the community.  Approximately 500 people were sent emails asking if they would take charge of some of the overall arrangements and/or operations. FIVE emailed back saying they would.  That's one percent of the people polled via email (thus the title of this post). Things were slightly better on the web-based signup sheet, but when I checked there were only 9 volunteers (including the 5 emailers) for 31 positions. There were simply not enough people able/willing to give the event enough of their time to guarantee there would be an event in the first place.

Before anyone starts trying to make excuses, let me say that I do understand. Life is complicated (more so by the day, it seems) and families are constantly pulled in multiple simultaneous directions by multiple simultaneous A-Number-1 priority responsibilities. Taking on the added responsibility of being in charge of any part of an event this large (and without pay) is daunting, problematic. difficult, and a real imposition. In short, I get it... really, I do.

That said, this is a lot more than just folks being too busy to attend a popular event. How popular? Despite the lack of volunteers this year, the number of respondents saying they enjoyed the FCC CNY celebrations, looked forward to them, and planned to attend this year constitutes a very large majority of those polled.  All these families have grown through adoption from China, some by quite a few more than just one.

And yet the demographics of those respondents, and the community they represent, have changed. China first opened its borders to international adoption in 1999, and 4,108 children[2] were adopted into American families that year.  The numbers peaked in 2005, the year AJ first filed her papers; a total of 7,903 Chinese children became part of an American family (an article on the CNN website ups that number to 14,496). But then... Politics. Rule Changes. Economic changes. An evolving Chinese national self-image. Over the next four years, the total number of China/USA adoptions dropped by roughly 1,000 each year. In 2010 there was a slight "bump" from 3,000 to 3,401 (I like to think the Pipsqueak is the 1 at the end) and then the downward trend resumed. The finalized 2016 numbers show only 1,687 intercountry adoptions from China to the USA  -- just over one-third the number from the year China first opened its borders to IA.

The results of this change have been most obvious at the FCC CNY events. The first few years we attended (during The Wait), the crowds included rug rats of all ages as far as the eye could see; the need to dodge fast-moving schools of little kids while listening to babies cry was a happy necessity for one and all. There were scores of women wearing tees emblazoned with maps of China doctored to look like ultrasound photos, Chinese flags, and/or the words "paper pregnant" (and we all Got It). A Chinese child of middle school age was a rare sight, and conversations tended to revolve around advice on what to do once in China if there were bonding problems, medical problems, bonding problems, communication problems, bonding problems... In short, the vast majority of the involved community was families that had recently returned from China with a small child and families waiting for their turn to travel.

Fast-forward to the last couple of FCC CNY events, and the crowds (although still large) weren't quite so voluminous. There were few newly-minted families and actual babies stood out in the crowd. Small batches of tweens and young teens would sit & gossip instead of run around with the younger kids, and sometimes would even put on a dance performance (inevitably to pop music, not classical/folk). Conversations tended to revolve around "I remember when" and "Oh, he's so cute!" or "Oh, she's so tall!" and upcoming school events or even driving tests. A number of the fast-moving rug rats we had to dodge in those early events were absent altogether, now being teens with social, school, and/or athletic events that were more personally important than the adoption community's CNY celebration.

Then came this year, when there simply weren't enough volunteers to do the work. What used to be a major focus in the newly (or recently) minted families' lives has normalized into just one more thing to think about putting on the calendar, just one more block of time to fit into already-crowded schedules. Yes, of course most of the families with children from China still consider CNY a special event and an integral part of their children's personal culture & identity -- but the vast majority of those children are aging into American tweens and teens for whom China is the place on the other side of the planet where they were born. A few are dedicated to learning all they can about it and maintaining as strong a Chinese identity as they can, but many -- having grown up in a multicultural, multiethnic, multinational world -- are now at a point in their lives where it is simply more important to spend time with their peers, participate in their chosen sports and groups, and just live day-to-day.

Are there problems rooted in adoption and the ethnic & cultural differences between the adoptees and their "bio" siblings and friends? You damn well bet your bippy there are, some beginning to peek out from the shadows and others waiting for later in life... but right now most of the community is at a point where CNY is just one. more. thing. to squeeze in between aaaalllll those other things on the calendar that make up everyday life. The paperchase, the trip to China, all the myriad emotions and events and work and difficulties and triumphs and tragedies of the actual adoption are receding into the past and it's more & more necessary (and appropriate, IMO) to emphasize looking forward.

These changes have repercussions far beyond the boundaries of the annual FCC CNY celebration. For example, acceptance of Chinese adoptees by native-born Chinese communities varies by area and by group; some of the younger teens already have stories of being ostracized for "not being Chinese enough" either here or overseas while others have been embraced with open arms[3] -- and a common topic of conversation among the parents is the continued acceptance/nonacceptance of their children as Chinese adoptees become a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall population. Another arena is the weekend programs many of the kids attend to learn Chinese language, culture, and dance. Many such programs were set up, often by groups established by the American-born Chinese community, to cater to the adoption community but as enrollment steadily erodes (especially in lower grades) there are rumblings that the future of many such programs is in jeopardy

The FCC CNY celebrations have been a fairly regular milestone in our lives for over a decade, and weekend Chinese school & the associated dance performances have been rocks in the sea of our family schedule for years. It will be interesting to see how that changes in the next 2-3 years as the demographic represented by my niece continues to shrink.

But I'm still hoping for at least one more big FCC CNY event; it really deserves to not end with a whimper...

[1] The Chinese new year wanders back & forth from late January to late February because it follows a lunar calendar that's based on the phases of the moon as seen from Earth and has a year that lasts 354.367 days.  Conversely, the good ol' Gregorian calender (the "regular" January-thru-December thing) is a solar calendar; it's based on the Earth's orbits around the Sun and has a year that lasts 365.2425 days. This difference results in lunar dates sliding forward and back against solar dates -- a problem only partially solved by the use of a lunisolar calendar in which an entire extra month is added periodically to keep it in synch with the seasons.  We're used to this because lunar/lunisolar calendars are also used by Judaism (and other modern religions)... which is why Hanukkah overlapped Thanksgiving in 2013 and then overlapped New Year's Eve in 2016.

[2] Figures taken from the U.S. Department of State's website.

[3] I am not pointing fingers or singling out any particular group. This is a problem with ANY group; I clearly remember at least one synagogue denying my admission to religious school in 1970 to prepare for my bar mitzvah because I "wasn't Jewish enough," having just returned from living overseas and not attending services regularly. Idiocy & bigotry know no borders.

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