Olivia shared some thoughts at breakfast that made me internally go, “Huh.” And then I sat there a bit dumbfounded for a while. I want to share them, and I want to preface them with the fact that we were having zero conversation related to anything she said. In fact it was very quiet. I was chewing toast, Chris was chewing eggs. These are just the things that came into her head and out of her mouth.
O: “Americans just look at us all the time. It makes me frustrated.”
C: “It makes me frustrated too.”
O: “Yeah. And they don’t like it when white people like us have black kids.”
L: I didn’t say anything, just kind of looked at her. Thought, I did think it was interesting that she included herself in the “white people like us” category.
C: “Who doesn’t like it?”
O: “Black people don’t like it when white people have black kids.”
Wow. Let’s chew on that for a bit, shall we?
Now, before you start telling me that we plant this stuff in her, we don’t. It was kind of shocking to hear it come out of her little mouth, but very telling. As a family we talk very openly about adoption and everything connected with it, at a level that is appropriate for her. However, we live in a culture that is not our home culture, and with that come certain challenges.
For a long time Olivia was either too small, or didn’t understand enough Creole to know what was really going on around her or what was being said about our family when we were out in public. A lot of adoptive families have shared, either in person or through their writing online, their experiences with raising a mixed race family in North America. It’s challenging, to say the least, and people don’t often self edit before they open their mouths, even if they are well intended. Chris and I have had several conversations about what things would be like when she could finally understand some of the things we hear and see here in Haiti. Apparently she is incredibly observant.
I won’t lie, our experiences here in Haiti as an adoptive family have had their moments. There are some people who are incredibly sweet and tell Chris and I that they are so thankful we decided to adopt one of Haiti’s children. There are a lot of people who are genuinely interested in our family and want to know about both kids and are very kind. Then, there are people who make zero effort to hide their opinions and feelings about foreigners adopting Haitian kids. In my experiences and observations it is generally people with more education that express their gratitude and kindness, and people with less education tend to be more critical and less okay with it. And, that makes sense, because both of those groups have entirely different experiences and understandings of adoption as a whole in Haiti. Those things are deep and layered and would take a long time to get into and I don’t want to go there today.
Something that really struck me about Olivia’s observations was what she said about Americans. We like Americans. We have American family. Chris is part American, and in a couple of months Alex will also have his citizenship, so we’re pro-American in this family. Olivia’s observations stem from seeing foreigners in Haiti. And, she’s kind of in a unique position because she is Haitian as well as Canadian (and maybe one day American too if we can muster up the energy to go the Immigration route with her). There are times when we are out with visitors and Haitians assume she is just a Haitian tag along with the foreigners. And, there are times we meet foreigners and they start saying “bonju” to her and using whatever Creole they might have. Usually Olivia just kind of stares at them, sometimes with a bit of a head cock, wondering what on earth they’re doing. As her mom I know what’s running through her head and I will admit I sometimes let them embarrass themselves a bit before I politely say, “She speaks English”. It’s funny what assumptions we make, isn’t it? What’s more interesting is that Olivia sees all of this and without really realizing it on our parts, she’s formulating thoughts and feelings about it.
What I love about the age that Olivia is, is that she hasn’t developed all those filters that we have as adults. She doesn’t know what is the right or wrong thing to say. She just says what she thinks. This morning I couldn’t help but think of what most foreigners would think if they’d heard her say what she did. Kids can be good mirrors. It makes me think about how Haitians perceive me when I’m out. Am I speaking and acting with respect, or am I looking at people in a way that would even be rude in my own country? (And I’m Canadian, so there are a lot of things that are rude!) How do we interact with the poverty and way of life? Are we acting like tourists? Do we really have the right to stand, stare, and snap pictures?
Lots to think about.