Saturday, January 19, 2008

Arcticle: "Adoption Across Races Has Challenges"

Jan 14, 2008 04:30 AM
Lauren La Rose

It was a small gesture, but a significant one to Danica Denommé – and one that spoke volumes about the dedication of her adoptive mother.

Knowing that Denommé, then 14, and her twin sister wanted to go to Caribana in Toronto, their mother drove three hours from Zurich, Ont., where they had been visiting family, into the city to attend the annual celebration of Caribbean arts, music and culture.

"The whole time she was like, `I can't believe I'm doing this.' I could tell she was thinking, `I'm the only white person,'" she recalls, laughing. "But I will always remember that.''

Now 19, Denommé, who is black, recalls the occasion among many examples of her parents stepping outside their comfort zone to engage the sisters in the community.

"I believe that they did everything they could, and they did such a great job of letting us learn all about different cultures, supporting us with whatever we wanted to do – any activity, they said, "Sure, go for it," says Denommé, of Abbotsford, B.C.

She is among several transracially adopted youth and adults who participate on a panel in workshops designed to address the concerns of parents adopting a child of a different race or cultural background.

"Building Skills for Transracial Parenting," offered by the Adoptive Families Association of B.C., is two day-long workshops aimed at addressing some of the challenges that parents adopting outside of their race will likely encounter.

"With intercountry adoption, there's been a real influx of families adopting children of African heritage from the States in the last 10 years, and all of those families are finding themselves with issues that they perhaps hadn't anticipated," co-ordinator Yvonne Devitt says.

One such example: the attention a mixed-race family will get when out in public.

"When we cover that piece on the workshop sheet, you kind of get that deer in the headlights look from a lot of families going, `Really? People are going to notice me and say stuff?'

"The huge value is, if they've spent an afternoon thinking about that and how to respond, that they're a little bit prepared when it happens."

Lea Harper, 24, an occupational therapist in Vancouver, was raised in Victoria by white parents after being adopted from South Korea at age 1. "I think you can never really understand racism unless you've actually experienced it, which my parents obviously haven't because they're both white," Harper says.

"They were super, super empathetic and always willing to listen and we had a really open relationship talking about things like that on the rare occasion something did happen."

The workshops also focus on how to celebrate the child's culture, while exploring tough issues such as dealing with racism.

In one exercise, parents are split up and assigned to different racial groups where they attach words connected to stereotypes about a particular background to posters bearing the face of an individual of that race.

For some, it can be a difficult and emotional exercise, Devitt says. "Those are the words and ideas that are going to be attached to your child from people you don't even know,"' she says.

Denommé says some parents come to the workshops with the idea that they are colour-blind and race won't be a factor, but having a child of a different background makes that approach untenable.

"It's my personal opinion that if you're going to adopt children from a different background, then race will matter – it has to matter," she says.

"That's something your children are going to experience on a day-to-day basis, so don't ignore it."

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