'Tis the season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, love, joy—and being reminded that your culture doesn't matter. For many, the holidays are one of the most important family events of the year. Whether you celebrate Christmas or something else, most people gather with family around the close of a year. For those of us who are transracial adoptees, far too often, that means the non-white cultures get pushed to the background and whiteness is uplifted as the most important.
Well on behalf of all TRAs, I say "fuck all that shit".
I talk all the time about White adoptive parents needing to creating multicultural families. WAPs need to make a conscious effort to incorporate ALL cultures into the family values and traditions. You can get away with celebrating pure whiteness when you are a white family. However, when you adopt across racial lines, you are no longer a "white family", you're a multicultural/multiracial family, and you should act accordingly.
This includes the holiday traditions. Holidays, year-round, are special and important bonding moments for families around the world. These are times that we celebrate old traditions, develop new ones, reconnect with family we haven't seen, meet new additions to the family. Share family stories, history and so much more. So when you have non-white people in the family and the family only celebrating the white people and white traditions, it is very alienating to us who are not white. Just imagine sitting around with your family, the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally, the people who are responsible for raising you—sitting around laughing, sharing stories and history and not a single part of that includes you. It sucks, it's hurtful. It's a slap in the face every year that reminds us we not really a part of the family.
You're probably (or should be) wondering, "well how do I make my family traditions all-inclusive, Rebekah?" Glad you asked. It doesn't need to be some over dramatic Lion King on pride rock announcement or festival that makes it seem like a burden to involve brown people or draw more attention to the fact that we don't fit in. It can be little things. Normalizing something means that you create a process in which you are taking ideas or actions and re-introducing them to be seen as "normal". In other words, find ways to include all cultures in your already existing traditions. You don't have to stop celebrating your white family traditions, just include the others as well. Meld them together. Make it a normal thing to celebrate more than one culture, because that is what your family is.
Here are a few ideas. I'll use Christmas in my examples as Christmas was/is a big deal in my family.
Put racial mirrors In Your Traditions
In my family, every year we would pick a night in early December to go pick out a Christmas tree and then have a night of family time while we decorated the tree. We would throw on the Christmas tunes, pick a Christmas puzzle to do, heat up the apple cider and start pulling out all the Christmas decorations. One of my favorite decorations was this dark skin black Christmas tree topper. My parents had a white one and this black one. I remember being so excited for Christmas because we could put an angel on the tree. Because we have both white and black people in the family, we came to the agreement to swap the angels each year. One year, we would use the white angel, the next it would be the black angel. I don't know how to explain how happy I was knowing that THIS year, I would get to see a beautiful dark skin, a black angel in this elegant white dress perched atop our tall, perfect Christmas tree. In addition to the tree topper, family was big into books, we had several Christmas books that featured black kids or stories about black holiday traditions like Kwanzaa. We also somehow managed to get our hands on black nativity scenes. Anything that reflects whatever race your TRA is. Putting it up around the house just as you would white racial mirrors, allows us to see ourselves reflected in our family celebrations too.
Mind you, we did this without the internet and in Olympia, Washington where the only thing black was the paved roads. Today y'all have the internet and so many options to purchase black things, so I really don't want to hear excuses as to why you do not have racial mirrors around your house in 2017.
Create New Traditions
As adults our tradition has become not caring about Christmas gifts. Getting everyone together in one spot, on the same day is cause enough for celebration. Growing up, we had little traditions like drawing names out of a hat that that family member was who you were shopping for that year. Or my Grandmother's tradition of making a giant bowl of rice pudding. By bowl, I mean those giant bowls that only grandmas have and I have no idea where they purchase containers of that size, it like a 5 gallon bowl that looks elegant and expensive. Grandmas smh. Anyways, she would hide an almond in this Titanic sized bowl of pudding, and whoever got the almond in their serving, got to open presents first. So here are roughly 30 grand kids gorging ourselves with rice pudding trying to find this almond, more for the bragging rights than anything.
But my immediate family, started a family tradition that I personally have always been fond of— making our own ornaments. I don't know if it was because we have three black kids in the family, or because we were not exactly flowing with cash and couldn't afford to buy new decorations every year. I'm leaning more towards the latter. Either way, it was a tradition we started doing together. We used to take Polaroid photos (yes we still had Polaroids) of the family or us kids, and decorate a frame, hang them up. Or make one out of school project we did throughout the year. Whatever we wanted, the point was it was something we did as a whole family and represented us as a whole, not something chosen for us. With adoptees, a lot of us just don't feel included because we are essentially taken from one family/life and dropped into another. Nothing every really changes within this new family, we just exist in this place. Creating new traditions, even ones that are not necessarily race focused, make us feel like we're being included. Well, made ME feel that way. I can't speak for every adoptee on the planet, but I feel like that we share an overall general experience here. We don't relate the traditions that existed before we got there, because they were not created with us in mind. Also, it just pure family bonding time. I'll have to write a separate piece on how my mom and I bonded over watching musicals and doing my hair, but without those moments, I don't think we would be very close today. Little bonding moments matter. Finding ways to bring the WHOLE family together, will help TRAs feel loved and included. It won't solve everything, but it will help.
Music & Food
Don't underestimate the importance of food and music. Every culture on this planet has some form of music and food, and those two things also happen to be the centerpieces of most celebrations. Use this to your advantage. For my family, music and food was already a main part of our celebrations, we just needed to tweak it to include some non-white music and foods too. We were a little better on the music side than food. My grandparents have one of those old vinyl players that you have to crank and also a player piano. Most of us grew up singing in church, and/or play instruments. It was only natural that one of the main attractions around Christmas was to play and sing songs with the player piano. My grandparents, who were born in the 1920s, grew up in the jazz and all the old school era. They had quite a diverse selection of music that we grew up listening to. It was how I was exposed to artists like Louis Armstrong, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, and more. We regularly played these artists on the vinyl players and their Christmas albums. It was fairly normal to have black music in the house, at least around the holidays. I wrote a piece about how music was my first introduction to my blackness and racial mirrors. Incorporating black music (even though it was not done consciously) was one of the ways I was able to do that.
Food was also a big deal in our house. I mean how can it not be? Food brings people together and as a family of 50+ people—food was the main event. It was a 2-3 day ordeal. Lunch the day before, the main dinner, and breakfast the next day. The one thing I will always attribute to the holidays was cooking with my Grandmother (R.I.P) and how much it meant to her to teach us grand kids about her Danish culture and traditions. One of her staples were ebelskivers. No that isn't a typo, it's a traditinal Danish pancake, made in these cool looking pans.
Never in my life have I heard of these outside my family, and anytime I try to explain to people what they are, they think I'm mad. I spent most of my college career trying to explain to people that my family didn't just make this up. How could we, there's a literal pan that exist specifically for it. I assure you, they are a real thing. But back to the point, my grandma took so much pride in sharing her danish foods with us and we all loved it. One of the highest honors was to receive a brand new cast iron pan from her, which you could only accomplish by getting married, (I have yet to accomplish this). Now just imagine if we also included our TRA cultures—African-American, Ethiopian and Taiwanese food traditions in the celebrations too. It would mean even more. Like I said, this doesn't mean you need to stop your previous traditions, just add the others too. I still to this day love that my family connected and proud of their Scottish and Danish cultures...I just wish they were also proud of my black culture. Scottish and Danish are not my cultures. It gives me, as a TRA the feeling of being on the outside looking in. Smiling from the sidelines but never being able to participate because we cannot and will never relate to white cultures. The wild thing is it wasn't an issue of being against foods from those cultures. We regularly sought out (as much as you can in Washington) soul food, Ethiopian and Taiwanese foods to eat, and most of my family actually likes these foods, we just never bothered to include them in our celebrations. I think a lot of that has to do with white privilege and WAPs just never having the thought that they should diversify meals, cross their minds. I swear sometimes I think WAPs just need a good shake to wake up and realize we're not all white.
These are just a few things to get your gears turning, thinking about how to take the cultures of your family and mix them all together. It's about celebrating everyone's differences, not demonizing them by hiding those of us who are different. Let this year be the year that you bring the family together and create a holiday around love and acceptance.
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