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« United we stood, but divided we'll stand taller | Main | Pre-emptive regime change: China's turn »
Saturday
Oct282006

A bigger definition of 'us,' a better nation at heart

Three years ago this week, my adopted daughter Vonne Mei was born deep in the interior of China. The very next morning she was left in a basket outside the gates of a provincial government building. Nine months following that fateful choice by her birth parents, Vonne Mei landed in Minnesota, my wife and I at her side, and immediately joined our United States.

As America celebrates its 300 millionth citizen - quite possibly an immigrant - let me tell you how we came to this life-changing decision.

I will confess something right off the bat: As a kid I never liked Asians.

And why would I? I never came across one throughout my entire childhood, instead learning about them primarily as our enemies in various wars - both hot and cold. Later, as Asia emerged economically, the negative images persisted: "Those people" wanted to bankrupt us, pure and simple.

When my wife, Vonne, first proposed an international adoption, I was plenty wary.

First, we already had three kids - the old-fashioned way. What would it do to them to introduce somebody from a different culture? Shouldn't we just be satisfied with the children God gave us?

Second, when our first-born Emily suffered cancer as a toddler, we got a serious dose of the isolating treatment that often accompanies the odd child. I'll never forget watching parents whisk their kids off the playground the second Em's hat would fly off, revealing her illness. Would we run into similar situations with a child so clearly not our own? Why pick that fight?

Finally, was it fair to remove this child from her culture? Besides all the normal psychological issues associated with adoption, this one would be both trans-racial and trans-national. We had already adopted - in a virtual sense - several girls in India through a Catholic charity group. Why not let it go at that?

I won't tell you that all those fears have been overcome or that they'll ever be. I also won't tell you that trans-racial adoption is easy, because it isn't.

Moreover, I won't let you call Vonne Mei "lucky" or assume that my wife and I are noble or good for having done this.

Honestly, we adopted overseas for all the same selfish reasons why anybody wants a kid in the first place, which is probably the only thing we have in common with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

So why China?

My sister already had a Chinese daughter, which meant Vonne Mei wouldn't be alone in our extended family. Plus, the rigorous approval process impressed us deeply. Heck, I got checked out more to adopt than I did for my top-secret government security clearance.

Then, there are all those surplus girls in China, thanks to its strict one-child policy designed to curb population growth. China has 1.3 billion people today, but without that policy it would have increased to at least 1.7 billion by now, straining global resources even more.

Because Chinese prefer boys overwhelmingly, girls are far too often either aborted or placed in orphanages. And because Chinese culture still frowns upon adoption, the outlook for these lost daughters is fairly grim.

My wife and I felt strongly that because China is making this difficult effort, then it's incumbent upon others to do what they can to help. China's one-child policy is the biggest reason why our planet's population will top out at just over 9 billion near 2050. Show me something that addresses global warming more comprehensively than that.

Yes, there are orphans in America who also need good homes. We understand that argument just like we understand why so many Americans adopt from the former Soviet Union so their kids can pass as their own. We're not trying to be exotic any more than they're trying to be duplicitous. We're all just choosing to help others in a way we feel works best for us.

Over the next half-century, most of global population growth will occur outside the West, meaning as we age demographically in North America and Europe, we'll need to accept even larger flows of "those people" into our communities and homes. We'll need a bigger definition of "us" even as that transforms who we are as a nation.

As a father of a Chinese-American family, I won't tell you that's easy, only that it's a journey worth taking.

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