From June 2011: "How do you raise a child in two cultures? That's a big question for me right now. Sky is Marshallese and we don't want to take that away from her. I'm aware that in adopting her to raise in an American home, we inherently changed her culture, but she was in the RMI International adoption program from birth and as such, could have been matched with a family living in the US. Is living in the Marshall Islands better? D and I always thought it would be. Here, she can hear her birth language, can learn it and through that can learn about her culture and communicate with her birth family.
On the other hand, she lives in an American home. She eats American food, listens to American music, and is being raised in an American way. Will this make her less Marshallese and more American? Probably, unfortunately. Sometimes, I think the best we can hope for is that she won't reject her birth culture, like some of the adoptees here have. The majority of Marshallese employees here on Kwaj work in unskilled positions and live on Ebeye, an island commonly called the "Slum of the Pacific". That doesn't inspire cultural pride.
Will it be enough to try and teach her the language? To encourage friendships with other Marshallese children? To buy her Marshallese dresses and play her Marshallese music? And even if we do all that, will she see herself as Marshallese and will she be accepted by the Marshallese as one of them?
I don't know but I think in teaching her the language and introducing her to other Marshallese children we can give her the opportunity to decide for herself when she can, rather than make the decision for her."
Four years ago we were just starting out, both on Kwaj and as a family. We didn't know any Marshallese people beyond Sky's teachers at school. We had no connections to the culture or to Ebeye. We made some small efforts to learn the language and to help Sky keep it: her teachers at school spoke to her in Marshallese when they could and I hired a high school girl from Ebeye to babysit her two afternoons a week with the caveat that she only use Marshallese when they were together.
Of course it wasn't enough. I'm sure this will sound cynical to some but nothing would have been enough to "keep Sky Marshallese". She lived in an American home and was being raised by American parents who were trying to inculcate her with American rules and values. While American and Marshallese cultures both share an underpinning of Christian values, that's where the similarities end. One of the main tenets of American culture is independence and many of the other things we value support that. For the Marshallese, the focus is on inter-dependence. Historically, no one survived if they were independent- life here was just too hard for one person or one family to make it on their own and Marshallese parents still teach their kids those values.
So where does that leave us? We were very lucky after Fire's adoption to be adopted into his birth family (side note: adoption is part of the social fabric here- a way to spread the wealth of children and to ensure that all children were provided for. It was also a way to blend two families and a source of pride because of that). His grandparents became my Auntie and Uncle and we spent almost every Monday afternoon for three years visiting with them at their house on Ebeye. The family took Sky in and loved on her, just like they love on Water now. Before Uncle got sick, the kids were spending whole days over there and we were working towards Sky and Fire staying for the weekend.
It makes me sad to say that even that exposure to the Marshallese culture wasn't enough. While the kids spend time on Ebeye, they're not parented by Marshallese parents. They don't speak the language so their cousins can't influence them the way that children do when they play together. While Sky and Fire are ethnically Marshallese, they will never be culturally Marshallese because D and I aren't. Our kids are American because we are.
Sky and Fire still come with me to Ebeye every Monday. Fire is young enough not to notice the differences yet, the stares and the fact that his cousins aren't speaking English when they play. He loves going and I hope he never looses that but Sky fights having to go. She doesn't feel like she fits in, because she doesn't. She looks Marshallese but you can tell that she's not, just because of how she dresses and carries herself. She feels like an outsider there. Happily, she doesn't seem to have a negative view of Ebeye and not of Marshallese people, like some adoptees here do.
D and I are still trying to make marble cake instead of oreos but it feels like a bit of an uphill battle. We're going to keep fighting it but the decision will still be theirs to make.
This post was in response to a writing prompt from:
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