Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What's wrong with this costume?

A lot! According to wrong www.tolerance.com "the "Indian" get-up prevails each year as culture-turned-costume. But did you know few Native Americans wore buckskin and headbands and even fewer wore them together? Did you know "war paint" and feathers carry religious meaning and were never worn by Native American children?"

Wow! Who knew?

My daughter left the house the other night in high spirits dressed as Hannah Montana...and she looked great and she thought so, too. By the time she came home, however, she wasn't so thrilled to be Hannah Montana. Someone at the party told her she didn't look like Hannah Montana (like anyone but Hannah Montana would look like Hannah Montana).

She asked if she could have another costume for her school "Halloween Runway" and I agreed. Then we sat down and looked at costumes online. As we were looking, I would make suggestions-and she would say, "no, I don't think so." It finally dawned on me that the models in the costumes were mostly BLONDE-like Hannah Montana-and my daughter knew she 'didn't look like that'.

She would stop and consider costumes modeled by brunettes-"Indian Princesses" were consistently dark haired-but she knows that Native Americans rarely if ever dressed like the costumes displayed and she thought that was "making fun" of Native Americans (YEAH!).

At the end of the day, she settled on a Renaissance period costume (modeled by a dark-haired girl, of course).

The entire episode made me realize that something a 'simple' and fun-spirited thing like a Halloween costume can send messages we aren't even aware that we send. And unfortunately, the messages aren't always positive.

They ask you to consider the difference between 'scary' costumes and violent ones. They ask you to consider whether or not your 'historical' costume, like the "Indian Princess" furthers mis-information about historical figures. They ask you to consider if the costume furthers the notion in our culture that 'blonde is beautiful', which makes a statement about who/what is beautiful and what isn't. It was not a coincidence that the majority of costume models we looked at were blonde.

These things may seem a bit silly or overly politically correct-but unless you have experienced bias, racism (or any other ism)it really isn't our call.

So when you are out trick-or-treating, take a look at the costumes and judge for yourself. Then, when things settle down talk to your kids about what you observed and ask them how they would feel is they were Native American and no one understood their culture or traditions. Ask them about the "Mental Patient" or Hannibal Lecter costume effect on reinforcing our fears of people who struggle with mental illness.

By asking them about how they would feel in another person's place, you open the door to conversations and actions that show how you are combating 'isms' one at a time. As always, you are the best example.

Happy Halloween,
With Respect,

Monday, October 29, 2007

Help kids in San Diego

Please donate on pair of new pajamas to the kids in the San Diego area who have lost so much.

Send on pair of NEW pjs to:

SCRIPPS Hospital
Attn: Pajama Drive
9888 Genesee Ave
Mailstop LJ36
La Jolla, CA 92037

Please include a short note and a picture of your child.

Please do it today!

With Respect

Fear of MRAS or Each Other!

Yesterday was one of the first crisp fall days in New York and so we headed to the Bronx Zoo's annual "BOO at the Zoo" event.

We had a blast-as we always do at the Zoo. Magic shows, story-telling, sing-a-longs, hay rides and trick-or-treating were just some of the activities.

As the day drew to a close, we wandered in to a tent where John Farrell was hosting a sing-a-long. Towards the end of his performance, he invited all the kids to come up to the front of the room and join hands-which they did. When he invited the adults in the audience to do the same thing-we couldn't/wouldn't/didn't join hands.

We kind of looked at the person who was sitting next to us and quickly turned away, putting our hands in our laps. There was no hand-holding on our end.

The kids, on the other hand, were having a ball-clasping the hand of the kid next to them without a second thought.

The difference was remarkable.

Now, the adults may have been fearful of germs-after all MRAS is making headlines. And it is scary stuff! Maybe we were uncomfortable with sharing ourselves with a stranger. But maybe we were somehow afraid of each other. This was a very mixed crowd-highly diverse as you would expect in a borough of New York City. Maybe we were afraid-not consciously-that someone elses ethnicity or race would rub off on us.

Whatever the reason, while kids joyfully and without hesitation grabbed anothers hand, the adults were uncomfortable and suspicious.

I wish that the kids' lack of bias would rub off on us so that we might truly be able to embrace others-without hesitation or judgement. But I do have faith in our kids ability to look past differences and thrive in a multi-cultural world-if we don't screw it up.

With respect,

Friday, October 26, 2007

Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton go to school!

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, there was an article on the front page of the Personal Journal about the relationship between fashion labels and bullying.

Not only do the kids need to have designer clothes to be safe from teasing from other girls-they have to be the right designers! I guess I wasn't surprised that designer clothes were important statements for kids-I caved in and bought my daughter a pair of UGG boots when the knock off pair didn't make the grade. What surprised me is the hierarchy of designer duds.

Of course, this in not being helped by the fact that more and more designers are -targeting young girls and girl-to-girl bullying is growing at an alarmingly fast rate. One-third of middle school girls surveyed answered "yes" when they were asked if they had been bullied due to the clothes that they wear.

Many of us use our clothing to reflect how we see ourselves, but as adults we are much less affected (hopefully) by the criticism of others. Many of us have been able to find our sense of style-eclectic, traditional, hip or whatever and live with it.

Our daughters don't have the luxury of the same point of view. What they wear matters-even in elementary school and becomes a point of differentiation and potential ridicule.

While the brain pool contemplates why fashion is so important to girls' identities parents are faced with the consequences of fashion bullying.

Beyond lobbying your school for a uniform (a parents dream and a fashionista girl's nightmare) there are some things you can do:
1. acknowledge that fashion bullying exists-especially for girls

2. Look at the images of fashion in the media-from Angelina's mom and daughter
matching Chanel bags to Lourdes' (Madonna's girl) Juicy Couture sweatsuit.
See what happens to the children who aren't dressed in designer duds-what
is their race, socio-economic background, etc. Do you and your daughter see any patterns?

3. If it is feasible, get a few designer pieces and help your child
accessorize the pieces she has. It is said that the women in France-arguably among the chicest in the world have a few fabulous outfits and know how to tie a scarf 100 ways.

4. help your child develop her own sense of fashion-what looks good on her
how does she feel when she wears certain clothes, capitalize on what
she thinks she looks good in.

5. Set an example by showing your daughter that you are comfortable with
your style-whatever it is. If you "need" designer clothes just because
they are designer clothes, then this might be a good time to look at that.

And always talk and listen to your kids-ask them how they feel and be supportive. A statement like "I am sorry that you feel that way" goes a lot farther than advice to ignore feelings. "Don't worry about that" or "You shouldn't feel that way" are some of the most self-esteem deflating statements in the world.

Remember, fashion bullying is alive and well-just like all other types of bullying and its consequences are just as real, too.

Have a great weekend.

With respect,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday is book day!

This one is an oldie but a goodie. In fact, after a recent teasing incident this book was read to all the kids in my daughter's school-followed by a discussion. This book does double duty-it is fun, has beautiful illustrations and packs a powerful message without hitting you over the head.

Take a look at
Giraffes Can't Dance
and share it with your kids, your kids' schools and anyone who will listen.!

With respect

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mom, are you gay?

Remember the days when we used the word 'gay' we meant happy? My friend Gay does!

But when my daughter asked, "What is gay", I had to think for a minute about the answer. My daughter tends to ask me these types of profound questions when we are in the car, so thankfully, I could buy a little time while I 'concentrated' on driving.

Having gotten over my urge to jump right in, I asked her what she thought it meant.
She replied when two women love each other like they were married. Pretty smart, I thought.

"Can boys be gay," she asked? That was an easy one-I just repeated her answer.

Things got a bit trickier quickly. She wanted to know if she was gay because she like the girls in her class (she likes the boys, too but she seemed to have forgotten that). Hmmmm....how to explain that one. We talked about what married people share-homes, family-building, committment and love and why that was different than having friends whom you love in a different way. Then I added that if she is gay then as she gets older she will have feelings-like marriage-to other girls.

I was really congratulating myself for some of these answers. It seemed to me that I was answering the questions she was asking, not giving her more information than she wanted and using her own knowledge as a jumping off point. Not to mention the lack of emotion in the discussion-it was clearly a 'different strokes, for differnt folks' kind of conversation.

Until we got to her final question-"Mom, are you gay"? I nearly drove off the side of the road when she asked that question and really had to stop myself from shouting, "NO I AM NOT GAY". Thankfully, I managed to answer her calmly with a simple 'no, I am not".

As I thought about this it started to bother me. I have many, many gay friends in my life-and I am glad that I do. It never has mattered to me who they slept with. I am supportive of their lifestyles and choices and don't think twice about what being gay might actually mean to them. How shallow is that?

And what about my horror about being pegged as gay? What is that about? I have to admit that I am not too thrilled with my reaction, but I am pleased that we were able to have a calm conversation that presented my daughter with the facts-as I know them to be-and that I was able to reign in my emotional response to her final question.

I truly believe that being gay is totally ok. Now I know that for whatever reason it is only ok for other people. That realization is definately the stuff that bias is made of and is MUCH harder to keep from passing on to our kids because it can be hidden deep within ourselves.

So remember, when your kids ask about something as innocent as 'what is gay' take a deep breathe and see how you feel-really feel-and act accordingly. At that point the choice is yours.

With Respect:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who is Piyush?

Piyush Jindal was just elected Governor of Louisiana. Educated at Brown University, he is a Rhodes Scholar and the winner of many prestigious awards. When he was elected to Congress he was in his early thirties and may have been one of the youngest people ever elected to Congress.

Do you know who Piyush is? You may know him better as Bobby Jindal.

Ok, strike one..

When Piyush was a youngster-pre-school age-his classmates renamed him Bobby-and the nickname stuck. While we can be grateful on his behalf that the nickname wasn't derogatory in and of itself, it may reveal the desire that he may have had to be more "American" and his contemporaries desire to-at best, make their lives easier by giving him a common name, or-at worst, consciously or subconsciously showing their biases and bigotry for people of color.

You might think that this arbitrary re-naming is something that has gone the way of the horse and buggy-but you'd be wrong. Just recently a Yahoo group that I peruse spent time and energy discussing a situation where a teacher had requested that a child "Americanize" his name because it was just "too difficult to pronounce." Yikes!

Even thinking of that makes my blood boil. Who can't take a few minutes to learn the correct pronunciation of someones name.

Unfortunately, in most of the coverage I have heard or read about Bobby Jindal, the lead is always that he has 'broken the color barrier', or that he is a first generation Indian-American who's parents came to the US from the Punjab region of India.

Strike two!

Bobby Jindal is truly a remarkable man-educated at Brown University, he is a Rhodes Scholar and has won several prestigious awards. When he was elected in Louisiana, he was already quite accomplished. He helped the University of Louisiana expand the number of endowed chairs and his policies were key in increasing the University's retention and graduation rates. And that is just the beginning.

While his politics are a little (ok, a lot) more conservative than my own, I can't help but be impressed by his accomplishments-none of which have anything to do with the color of his skin, his heritage, or where his parents were born.

Now, Bobby aka Piyush, may not be upset or offended by his renaming and the focus on his race and background, it would be nice if we could evolve to a place where the focus was on the man and his accomplishments. All of our accomplishments-Bobby Jindal's included-represent our 'whole person' and surely race, ethnicity, heritage form a part of who we are. But it isn't all that we are.

Like Dumbledore who was a kind, intelligent etc, etc who happened to be gay, shouldn't we talk about Bobby Jindal in the same way-a young, up-and-coming, newly elected Governor of Louisiana who is of Indian descent?

Wouldn't you want that for your kids?

So let's be careful with our own 'leads'-especially around our kids. By leading with a person physical, racial or ethnic background we send the subtle (or not too subtle) message that these things are the most important factors about a person.

I don't know about you, but I want my kids judged by her abilities and her soul FIRST. Her heritage is a wonderful part of that, but it isn't the only part. If we want our kids to be able to live and work with people of all shapes, colors, sizes etc, then we need to model that behavior-every day.

I almost forgot-congratulations Piyush Jindal!

With respect,

Monday, October 22, 2007

We've made a breakthrough-thanks, Albus!

Well, who woulda thunk it?

JK Rowlings recently revealed that the beloved headmaster of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, the late Albus Dumbledore, was gay! According to Rowlings, the signs were there all along-if one read between the lines. The object of Dumbledore's affections-his boyhood friend and rival wizard Gellert Grindelwald.

According to Rowling, the reaction has been mostly supportive, leading many to believe that we have turned the corner on our ability to accept a person's sexual orientation-and not let it get in the way of his/her other qualities. Is it possible that the smoke has cleared and we are able to see the real person-who happens to be gay?


We are certainly a long way from the fury over the sexual orientation of one of the Teletubbies and from 2005 when PBS decided not to distribute an episode of "Postcards From Buster" that had been criticized by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings for including lesbian characters.

No matter what your sexual orientation, the acceptance of Dumbledore as a kind, caring, dedicated and talented person-who happens to be gay-is a major step forward in respecting and celebrating all cultures, choices and 'abilities'. All of our children will be the beneficiaries as this new-and hopefully-lasting attitude removes one spoke in the wheel of bias.

Let's try not to screw it up with our own biases.

With respect,

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"I went to a Chinese restaurant...."

That harmless phrase was the beginning of one of those common school-yard clapping songs-the 21st century version of "Miss Mary Mack"-that my Asian-born daughter came home singing the other day. I didn't think too much about it until I realized that the song came complete with gestures-one of which involved pulling the sides of the eyes into a long slit (aka Chinese eyes).

I hemmed and hawed about what to do. I felt that this gesture was disrespectful and could lead to other stereotyping and teasing, but since I sometimes go off half-baked I decided to cool my jets for a bit.

The results of yesterday's poll swayed me. All of the voters indicated that they would take some action-evenly split between intervening immediately if their child was bullied or helping the child deal with the situation and then intervening if the child needed further assistance.

I opted for contacting the school and the teacher. Thankfully, their take on the incident was similar to mine-not appropriate, disrespectful and must end-and the teacher took immediate action in the classroom and the school principal readily acknowledged that the problem was not likely isolated to the third-grade and they would be taking action school-wide.

Later in the day, I got an email from the teacher. She had spoken to some of the kids involved-none of them had really listened to the words or understood the implications of the gestures. Her comment-when do we learn what the words mean?

The answer, I think, is "when we teach them what it means". My daughter was furious that I went to her teacher-she said she wasn't upset by the song or the gesture. I had to explain to her that both were disrespectful and inappropriate and that I was standing up for what I felt was right-and the school was supportive.

My daughter learned two valuable lessons-1) The importance of standing up for what you believe-even if it doesn't effect you directly and 2)why that particular song and gesture were inappropriate. With luck she will begin to evaluate other things with a more critical eye-asking herself and her peers to be more considerate of others and figuring out that is never ok to make fun of the way anyone looks-ever.

These are lessons that need to be taught. They don't happen automatically. So, if you are parenting on autopilot-as we all do-take a minute and listen to what your kids are singing, what they are saying to their friends and others-and make sure that you like what you hear-or do something about it.

With respect,

Monday, October 15, 2007

Run, Jenny, Run!

Jenny Bowen got the most amount of votes in the race to carry the Olympic torch in Beijing in 2008.

Of course, the final decision will be made by a committee in China but it is pretty amazing that Jenny and her organization, Half the Sky, have made such an impression. If, in fact, that Jenny and eight kids from the orphanages that Half the Sky supports gets to run, the impact for the kids in orphanages in China will be enormous.

While many people in and around adoption from China continue to fret over the length of the wait for their children and the implications of the new requirements for parents, the Half the Sky Foundation is focused on the children who remain in China's orphanages. They supply much needed support to the children and the facilities who are waiting for their 'forever families' including 'Granny's' to love and hold them, schools, and playgrounds.

Jenny Bowen and her team have done a remarkable job at working with the government in China to take care of the kids in China.

Maybe if Jenny and the kids do run, it will not only raise awareness for the children in China, but for kids in need all over the world.

Whatever happens, my hat's off to Jenny and the people that have made this happen. I am proud to be a part of it.

With Respect,

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Fun! Will the real Hannah Montana please stand up!

Halloween has become a BIG holiday. The Wall Street Journal reported that Americans will spend over $3 Billion (yes, billion) on Halloween costumes, decorations and other Halloween paraphernalia.

And if my unscientific survey of elementary school girls is any indication it seems that a significant portion of that money will be used to procure Hannah Montana costumes.

I got a chuckle the other day, when my daughter and her friends (all of Asian decent) discovered they were all going to be Hannah for Halloween. The girls starting laughing as the each modeled Hannah's signature long blonde wig and 'became' Hannah. One girl said, "a Chinese Hannah Montana?" They'll never believe this."

I am hoping that we will be able to get a photo of the Hannah's at the annual Halloween party...I am sure Hannah would be proud.

Have a great weekend.

With Respect,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday is book day!

October 11, 1492 is the actual day that Columbus landed in the New World and this book is a great choice for young readers who are interested in history (or readers you want to get interested in history!)

Rather than the usual pandering to the Columbus myth, this book puts kids right in the story asking them to imagine the excitement and pitfalls of sailing with Columbus. The first line of the book immediately draws the reader in with a description of Columbus's life as a ten-year old dreamer. From there, each chapter asks the reader to consider some of the least 'romantic' aspect of exploration, like, 'how would you pay for it', 'how would you prepare your fleet', 'how would you steer', 'what would you do if you lose hope', 'could you survive on shore' and 'could you get home safely'.

This book will make would-be explorers stop and think about the realities of exploration as well as let them gain insight into some of the challenges that Columbus faced.

With Respect,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Columbus can teach us about updating our thinking.

On Monday, people in 33 of our 50 United States celebrated Columbus Day. Of course, this immediately begs the question "what happened to the other 17 states?" Do they know something we don't? Or is it purely a bureaucratic oversight?

Not knowing the real answer, I started to look into Christopher Columbus's story. I had grown up singing "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, thinking that Columbus had, in fact, discovered American.

As it turns out, Columbus 'discovered' land that was inhabited by hundreds of thousands of native people that had arrived in what is now the Americas, around 800 BCE via the Bering Strait. Not only that, but Columbus made four trips to the New World,was arrested in his own colony and sent back to Spain in disgrace.

His fourth and final trip brought him within 9 miles of his goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean to get to China and India, but his stubbornness and arrogance caused him to turn around. He didn't believe the native people knew an overland route to the Pacific.

Columbus was greedy and an incredibly bad leader-his own men and the indigenous people couldn't stand him. He died broke and forgotten in 1506.

Wow! Who knew? I had always held Columbus in the highest esteem-a hero even. But faced with additional information, I had to revise my position. Columbus, far from being a hero was a failure and by all accounts a miserable guy to be around. Not only did he not find a trade route to the "Indies", and fail to find the amount of gold he promised Ferdinand and Isabella, he was imprisoned in his own colony and was an all around jerk!

Of course, he was a brilliant sailor and navigator and his contribution to our world is enormous, but at the very least Columbus was a complex dichotomy. Maybe even a bit of an enigma.

With this new information, my bias about Columbus and his endeavors-which up until now were positive-have shifted. I can not just accept the information I was taught as a kid. I must face the fact that there is more to Columbus than meets the eye.

Hmmmm, this sounds familiar doesn't it. We develop biases based on data that may or may not be accurate and we own them. Ok, we are human. The question is what do we do when faced with additional and/or conflicting information. Do we rigidly hold onto your old beliefs or do you modify based on the new information?

I am suggesting that we teach our children to evaluate their biases and beliefs as new information comes their way. When it comes to the biases that can lead to bullying, rigidity is not something we want to promote.

So, if an when my daughter comes home humming a tune about Columbus, I will tell her the entire story-the good and the bad-and let her make her own judgement about Columbus.

With Respect,

PS: Max got out within hours of my triumphant announcement that I had fooled him. Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lessons from Max

Sometimes lessons can come from the most unusual places!

I can sometimes feel a bit like trying to change the course of a river. I look around me and wonder, "am I really making progress", or "can we really make our future bully-free?"

Yes, there are times that I want to give up and let it be someone elses problem.

But then, something happens.

What happened this time was Max.

Max is our 2 year-old beagle-poodle mix-we call him our designer dog gone bad as Max was in a puppy mill waiting with his head on the chopping block. Max is one determined dog. He likes to roam. I have spent more days and more money trying to keep Max safe and in the yard. Yet Max always finds a way out.

Oh, I can keep him in for a while but eventually he finds another escape hatch and I have to find out where it is and then how to patch it up so that he can't escape.

You have to hand it to the dog, he just doesn't give up. There are times when I think he is smarter than I am-or maybe he is just focused on one objective-exploring the neighborhood.

Today, I found his latest path to freedom and spent some time putting up yet another piece of fencing. So far, he appears to be flummoxed, but I know that someday soon he will be visiting his friends on the other side. He just will keep looking and sniffing until he is successful.

This lesson from Max couldn't have come at a better time for me. It can get tiring and frustrating to carry the bully-free future flag.

But like Max, I am going to keep looking and sniffing-focusing on one child, one school and one community at a time. I know that we can successfully eliminate bias and bullying.

Won't you join me?

Where do your lessons come from?

With Respect,

Monday, October 8, 2007

Money, Money, Money-its a rich man's world!

I was watching Larry King interview Suzy Orman. They covered a wide range of topics from the mortgage meltdown, to consumer credit card debt and how to accumulate wealth. Larry King asked Suzy how much money did one have to have to be truly wealthy-able to live their lifestyle without touching the money.

Her answer-$100 million dollars. Yes, that is right. $100 million.

I remember talking with my friend Bob Grossman in the 80's about his plan to accumulate $1 million and live off of the $80k in interest. Bob did accumulate his million-but doesn't feel that 80k is enough to meet his needs.

So, where does this leave those of us who haven't accumulated 1 million let alone $100 million. We used to be called the 'middle class'-the people squeezed in between the rich and the poor. We used to represent the bulk of the US population. Yet we are an endangered species. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that the next generation of Americans will be the first generation that can't expect to live better than their parents!

As the middle class is declining in the United States, we are seeing the creation of yet another divide between people. And we can see the consequences of this schism in other countries right now. And it ain't pretty.

We live in a non-middle class area. For me, I could care less. But my daughter has been asking me lately if we are rich? I say, of course, we have are rich in love and laughter and family-we have food, are healthy and have a roof over our heads. What she really wants to know where we stack up in the wealth area compared to her friends-they kids are talking about money and the lack thereof in the third grade. Her friends have moms that don't work, that take vacations to Florida at the drop of a hat. Her friends take tennis lesson, horseback riding lessons, piano, violin, and what ever other lessons their parents believe will make them 'better people. To my daughter these kids have everything.

But, when her friends do come here they have fun and alway wish that their parents spent time with them doing things-raking and jumping in leaves, catching butterflys, baking and other 'middle class' activities. Apple picking in the fall, picking berries in the summer, planting a garden, walking our own dogs, shoveling our own walks, putting money in the piggy bank, donating to local charities and helping wherever and how ever we can. We are just like millions of people all over the country. But, if Suzy Orman and the Wall Street Journal are to be believed, then we are an endangered species-our kids will either be rich or poor.

Given those dire predictions,how do we instill the values that made our country great in our children-a respect for money, the value of earning a dollar, saving vs. spending, and respect for people who don't have as much money as they might.

Money hasn't always been considered an "ism" like racism, sexism ageism etc, but we are getting to the point where we are going to have to face the reality that our kids are going to have another 'ism' to deal with.

Like all other 'isms' the time to start helping your kids understand that money-having some or having none doesn't define the value a person can bring to their lives is right now.

With Respect

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thursday's book on Friday!

At the Mouth of the Luckiest River is an oldie but a goodie. The book was first published over three decades ago, but is remarkably free of negative Native American stereotypes. The book tells the story of an Athabascan Indian boy and his determination to keep the peace between his tribe and the Eskimos. The young man must confront his tribe's medicine man-one of the most powerful members of the tribe-to stand up for what he believes is right.

This book may be a bit hard to find, but like many classics is worth the effort.

Have a good weekend.

With respect,

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ethnic Role Models-the Reprise!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of ethic role models for children by relating how my daughter responded to receiving a doll-Wan Ling. Some people thought that it was a shame that my daughter's self-esteem was buoyed by a look-alike doll and not from her inner strength-or my parenting!

In response to one of the poll questions, one person wrote about a friend who's nephew has down syndrome child:I think not seeing images of kids like himself--I think this also goes for physically challenged --in movies, cartoons, and especially animated movies (his favorite) really does a disservice to him and other children who are only use to seeing images that look like only like themselves.

But perhaps the most important comment came from an astute 12 year old girl who joined her family from China via adoption from China. Melody was responding to the comments made about American Girl's new "Asian" doll, Ivy Ling-a sidekick to another American Girl doll named Julie:

My Mom bought me the Julie books and the Ivy book several weeks ago. I like that there are some Asian influences in the books, especially, the one called, "Happy New Year, Julie", but I found that the majority of the books barely expressed the fact that Ivy was Chinese. Some of the books barely mentioned Ivy at all. I would like for AG to come out with a historical, Chinese-American doll that is not just a side-kick.

This is not about all of us looking alike. And, it is true that some Asian characteristics are more prominent in some people. In fact, Ivy looks great as a bi-racial doll. It would be fine if one of her parents was Caucasian and the other Chinese. But remember, Ivy Ling is not a bi-racial doll. She has two full, Chinese parents. All of the adopted Chinese-American children that I have ever met have certain characteristics such as almond-shaped eyes, and I would like a doll to look like that.

It is easy for us to make judgements about what others-who may be different than-us feel should be important. But until we walk in their shoes, we have to listen to what matters to the people directly effected. Until we can do that, it is all too easy to pass off ethnic role models and people-first language as political correctness on steroids.

In the case of ethnic role models, it seems that kids feel that they need more.

I hope people listen.

With Respect,

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Saga of the Olympic Torch-Should Jenny withdraw?

Yesterday, I voted for Jenny Bowen, the founder of Half the Sky-an organization dedicated to making the lives of children living in orphanages better-to carry the Olympic Torch.

Jenny, an American, lives and works in Beijing. She said she will run with eight Chinese children who are orphans.

On many levels this is a wonderful thing-it raises awareness for the kids who are left behind in China's orphanages, the publicity could help Half the Sky raise money which could help more children, its a great image of international co-operation and it is great showcase for adoption.

Today, I read some of the comments on the site. There are some people that think Jenny is 'cheating'. They question how she could have gotten so many votes in a short period of time. Indeed, her votes nearly doubled in less than 24 hours and it appears she is closing in on the leader.

This is a perfect example of the power of the internet-adoption groups-representing thousands of families formed via adoption-all over the world are being rallied to Jenny's side.

Of course, in many cases the rank and file Chinese citizen is not privvy to groups, blogs and other lightning fast communciation tools. It is easy to see where the idea that Jenny was cheating could come from.

So, is Jenny's selection really a good thing? I am certainly not as sure as I was yestday. I wonder how we would react if a Chinese citizen had carried the torch in Atlanta or Salt Lake City? I suspect there would be outrage that one of 'our own' got supplanted by someone who was not a citizen. Should Jenny win, what impact will it really have on international relations? on adoption?

The Chinese have a long tradition of saving face. How will they handle the international public scrutiny on their adoption policies. Not only will the world comment on what happens to China's children, but the Chinese themselves will be made aware of just how many kids are leaving the country or languishing in orphanages. Much of this information has been kept from rank and file Chinese citizens.

So, like most complex questions there are positives and negatives. I know which way I am leaning. Maybe the eight kids representing all the children in the orphanages should carry the torch...

What do you think?

With Respect,

Monday, October 1, 2007

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and the Olympic Torch Relay!

Please take a minute and vote for Jenny Bowan to carry the Olympic Torch in Beijing. Jenny is the founder of the Half the Sky Foundation which is dedicated to the children in China that are still in orphanages. The program has done some incredible things-increased the number of foster parents, improved orphanage conditions dramatically, provided education and medical care. In short, this organization is performing miracles. We would love to see Jenny represent the orphans of China-usually girls. They are a group that is often forgotten. Please vote for Jenny today-and pass this onto anyone you think might be interested.

Vote here:http://pub1.chinadaily.com.cn/olympics/torch/members.shtml?mid=212

Good Monday morning and welcome to October. October is a busy month-the Supreme Court begins its sessions today, harvest festivals begin popping up all over the country,kids gear up for Halloween-second only to Christmas in terms of retail sales.
Beijing is choosing their Olympic torch bearer and people all over the world put their own unique spin on the transition from summer to autumn.

We celebrated Asian Mid-Autumn festival last night-albeit a few days late-we ate moon cakes (we liked the winter melon the best), the kids made dumplings and we ate delicious, homemade and authentic Chinese food. Seated at our table were three Shanghai natives, one girl who's mom is Chinese and her father white, one woman born in Uruguay, a couple of plain old Americans of European ancestry and a girl who joined her family via adoption from China.

It was quite exciting-people speaking in Chinese and Spanish, the kids trying to communicate with the the non-English speaking group, the English-speaking rolling Chinese words around on their tongues, and the non-English speakers doing the same with English. Of course, there was plenty of Spanish thrown in to the mix.

As I was shooed out of my kitchen when the Shanghaiense women took over, I was able to sit back and watch the show. Not once did I hear the kids-or adults-become frustrated by the difficulty in communication. Not once did I hear anything about the 'unusual food'. The kids-and adults-listened in awe as they were told the story of the Mid-Autumn festival communicated in Chinese, Spanish, English, and pantomime.

Of course, there were some goofs-we forgot to treat the older women with the respect they deserved. We should have seated them at the head of the table-but everyone sat down willy-nilly. But in general, we managed the evening without international incidents.

We were lucky to truly bring authentic experiences to our children. It broadened their horizons and gave them insight into a distinctly different cultural experience.

With more of these kinds of experiences the kids (and their adults) will truly be able to understand and respect culture, choices and 'abilities'. We are five kids closer to a bully-free future!