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Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

A Complicated Journey: Raising a Jewish-Chinese Daughter

Raising a Jewish-American-Chinese daughter/Fotolia VI

Both my husband and myself are used to living our lives as members of minorities; being aliens in a land not of our birth nor of our culture phases neither of us. In fact it feels quite natural. Perhaps it allows us to be fitting parents to our daughter, who, like each of us, was born into a culture quite different than the one in which she resides.

I am a Canadian citizen who grew up in an English-speaking Jewish family within Catholic, French-speaking Quebec. I live in New Mexico (another Catholic place), as a resident alien. My husband, Gong Szeto, is an American-Chinese man who was born to Cantonese parents from mainland China in British-ruled Hong Kong. He emigrated to the United States when he was six months old and was raised in a succession of mostly white neighborhoods in Massachusetts, Alabama and Texas. Gong and I are raising our Jewish-Chinese-American daughter Willow, whom we adopted from Hubei Province in November of 2007 when she was just a week past her first birthday.

Willow is lucky to have two sets of living grandparents, one Chinese, one Jewish, who adore her and are pleased to share their language, culture and rituals. While my family is more ritualistic than my husband’s in terms of celebrating holidays and marking the seasons of the Jewish calendar, we are so fortunate that our daughter is growing up hearing one of the languages of her home country in the household of her paternal grandparents, that she is afforded the opportunity to eat native foods, and that she has a window in her grandparents’ home to Chinese arts and ways of life. Aside from her familial exposure to the Cantonese language, she is also growing up hearing my parents speak to each other in Yiddish, enjoying as much lox as chow mein, and celebrating within weeks of each other both Hannukah and the Chinese New Year. In spite of–or perhaps because of–all this, she is growing up as a typical American child.

It probably does not need to be stated that we hope that Willow is developing an understanding and appreciation of both her Jewish and Chinese heritages and that this will continue to deepen as she develops and is capable of greater understanding and insight into who she is, who her parents and extended family are, and where she comes from. Where exactly she decides to fit herself within this continuum of cultures is left to be seen. She is currently attending a Jewish preschool and comes home singing “Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat Shalom” regularly. She knows she is from China (or at least, at age 3, knows enough to declare, particularly to Chinese people, that she too is from China). What this means to her I can’t be sure. Perhaps I never will be.

What I hope to do as her parent is love and support her to be and become the person she is meant to evolve into: a beautiful mixture of everything her parents are, everything her birth parents and birth country have offered her, everything the continent in which she lives pours into her and all that she chooses to make her own.

It is already a fascinating and compelling journey. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

© 2010 – 2012, Bonnie Schwartz. All rights reserved.

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Bonnie Schwartz lives in Santa Fe, NM, with her daughter Willow and three giant (okay, maybe just large) dogs. She works for an organizational consultancy called Ventana within the Santa Fe-based Academy for the Love of Learning, a non-profit that devotes itself to learning, reflection and valuing the contributions of all.

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