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The Culture Connection - Keeping Our Children Connected to Their First Culture

I have a tendency to do things a little “backwards” sometimes. Some people come to know and embrace a culture once they adopt a child from another country. For me, it was my love of and involvement with groups rooted in Indian culture that, at least in part, led me down the path of adoption.

Having always loved Indian culture, I ended up becoming a member of an Indian dance group quite by accident in my early 30’s. This group eventually introduced me to another organization. Heritage Camps of Colorado and more specifically, Indian Nepalese Heritage Camp, is geared toward helping Indian and Nepalese adoptees connect to their first culture and also supporting adoptees and their families in all areas around adoption.

My dance group was very active with camp as representatives from the Indian community. I eventually was invited to come along and support my group’s efforts and also help with teaching dance to the campers. My first times volunteering at the camp were amazing and also fraught with emotional discord for me. I saw beautiful, diverse families that had come together in so many amazing ways. I saw an acceptance of every element this entailed surrounded in unconditional love. I saw my future. I also saw a something just out of my reach. Camp and building a family in this way was everything I wanted...and everything my spouse did not.

I am ashamed to say that it took me years of hoping and wanting and wishing for something different before I could make the changes in my life that I needed to make to finally find my way to be a mother and one of those families. Finally, in the summer of 2016, I attended camp not as a volunteer, but as a family of two and the homecoming and magnitude of finally being able join with so many other families who I had looked up to for so long, was among my happiest ever experienced.

I say all of this as a backstory to explain my very roundabout path towards committing to keeping my daughter connected to her home culture. Over the years, both through my dance group and Heritage Camp, I have seen the power of embracing a culture while also adding in large doses of understanding what happens when cultures blend and even clash. I have seen it be powerful in positive ways and also in ways that challenge yet always in ways that embrace and recognize the messiness that is international adoption, multiculturalism, diversity and our magnificent families.

Having been a part of these groups for far longer than I have been a parent to a child adopted internationally gives me a unique perspective. I have seen kids grow up and move on from being campers to being camp counselors and coordinators. I have seen children learn to dance with joy and embrace music and arts from their first culture. I have seen little kids become big kids and glow with pride of who they are. I see my own child at home with a group as diverse as they come because Heritage camp isn’t just about adoptees. Camp is about adoption and culture and family and she gets to be with an eclectic mix of Indian and Nepalese adoptees as well as siblings, adoptees from other cultures, Indian nationals and countless other configurations.

I am very lucky that I have easy access to these groups. It feels most authentic to me to keep my daughter connected to her culture in this way as she gets to be around others who share many similarities with her vs. me attempting to recreate Indian culture on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I do that too, but trust me when I say that nobody wants my Indian cooking - nobody! We do the holidays and discuss various other aspects but in the end, it is the experiences such as camp that truly seem to connect her the most while still acknowledging and supporting the uniqueness of the culture that is Indian, American and adoptee.

If possible, try to find groups that may allow for this kind of connection near your area. I think the benefit is so worth the effort. Try markets, temples and non-profits that may work in your child’s home country. If you cannot find anything, come visit us in Colorado for Heritage Camp! There are families from all over the US and even at times from other countries as well. Keeping your child connected to their home culture may not always be easy and may even be resisted at times. What I do know after years of working with, dancing with and being friends with many Indian adoptees and their families as they grow up, the rewards are greater than any sacrifice made.

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I love how you keep first culture alive for your daughter. I am not an adoptive parent but love reading the journey of those who do adopt. I found your blog through Lisa of the Adoption Connection podcast (my sister-in-law married to my brother Russ) and was intrigued because we share the same first name. I don't run into very many other Joelle's :). I will enjoy reading more of your journey.

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