MSUToday
Published: Jan. 27, 2012

Faculty conversations: Andrea Louie

Contact(s): Erica Shekell Office of Communications and Brand Strategy erica.shekell@cabs.msu.edu

Andrea Louie, director of the Asian Pacific American Studies program and associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, has spent about 10 years working on a project studying the adoption of Chinese children by American parents.

She has been interviewing white adoptive parents and their children — who are now teenagers — in St. Louis since 2001. She also has been interviewing Asian American adoptive parents in the San Francisco Bay area.

She said that there's a perception that Chinese American adoptive parents, when compared to white adoptive parents, naturally have a form of Chinese culture and identity that they pass on to their children, but her research indicates that that isn't always the case.

Adoptive parents might teach their children Chinese culture by having them learn Chinese language or history, going on heritage tours to China, taking Chinese dance lessons, eating certain foods on Chinese New Year or having Chinese people in the child's life. Some people have criticized the more celebratory approaches to Chinese culture, saying that they're superficial and don't get at issues of race or other heavier issues that children will have to deal with, she said.

But parents are making greater efforts these days to teach their adoptive children about Asian and Asian American culture, particularly as compared to the 1950's after the Korean War, when a large number of Korean orphans were adopted into the U.S., she said.

"There was this sense that love is color blind, love is blind, and that we're not going to really pay attention to the background of these children," Louie said.

But many of these Korean adoptees, who are now adults, have said that they wished that race, culture and adoption issues had been talked about and that they’d had Korean and Korean American role models growing up. The practices surrounding early Korean adoption — the first large group of transnational adoptees to the U.S. — are often used as an example of what today's adoptive parents shouldn’t do, Louie said.

She said that it is important that parents teach adoptive children not only about Asian culture, but Asian American culture as well.

"I think that the piece that a lot of people leave out is that their children are Asian American and that there's this rich Asian American culture that exists now within the U.S.," Louie said. "It's very easy even for children of immigrants or immigrants from Asia to create this dichotomy between Asian culture and American culture instead of looking at what is being produced as Asian American culture."

Louie helps organize a mentoring program that pairs Asian American and Asian international students at MSU with local children adopted from Asia. The program, which is sponsored by the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions with a grant from the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, provides an opportunity for the children to meet role models who are like them.

The students and children recently met at a Chinese New Year celebration held Jan. 22.

"It was really gratifying to see the mentors and the children meet," Louie said. "We're hoping that this will give these children who are adopted from Asia a sense of what it means to be Asian American as well."

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Andrea Louie, director of the Asian Pacific American Studies program and associate professor in the Department of Anthropology. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

Andrea Louie, director of the Asian Pacific American Studies program and associate professor in the Department of Anthropology. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

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