Heritage Camps for adopted Indian children

Just over a week ago SM commenter DesiDancer returned from a trip to Colorado and emailed me the following about a wonderful experience she had there:

I was invited to come teach dance classes at the East Indian Heritage Camp, last weekend. The organization, Colorado Heritage Camps, Inc. offers a series of ethnic camps (Latin American, Chinese, Korean, Desi, etc) every summer, for adopted children and their parents. They draw on members of the ethnic community to volunteer and help engage the families in culturally-minded activities during a 4-day camp, up in the mountains. In addition to fun stuff, there are also panel discussion with several different age groups, dealing with cultural identity, issues that may affect adoptees and their parents, and several child psychologists contribute to the curriculum. In addition to the dance classes I taught, I sat on a panel for jr. high aged kids, discussing reclamation of culture, biculturalism, and other issues…

Over the course of 4 days, several of the activities included Ayurvedic medicine, traditional dance, Bollywood dance, Rangoli drawing, traditional vegetable painting/block printing, games like Cricket and Gilli-Danda, yoga, cooking classes, music lessons, and lectures on Indian holidays, Indian weddings, travel to India, Indian history–with a weird specialty class in Freedom Fighters, and a book group. We ate desi food, and every night was a party with desi music. The closing night of camp, all the little kids (and big kids) performed dances from their classes, and the parents in my adult class performed a dance for the families, too. I’d spoken to one of the Directors of the camp about getting a DVD of “Calcutta Calling” to screen at the camp, one evening, but I think she is going to arrange it for next year instead. Though she said she watched the video stream at PBS…They loved the documentary.

Some of you may recall the “Calcutta Calling” documentary we blogged about some time ago. In it several adopted Indian children who grew up in white families came together for the first time and took a trip to India. According to DesiDancer these camps might help to fill in some of the missing pieces for these mixed families by bringing them together with similar families:

Nobody was looking at the kids or the parents strangely, nobody had to explain, “yes, she IS my daughter” or any of the usual weirdness or unkindness that these families may encounter in their daily life. And all of the families are there because they support their child’s biological heritage and culture, and they want to include as much of it as they can, in their families, even if the parents don’t quite know how to go about it. This camp is a start in the right direction.

Sounds like they are always on the lookout for volunteers as well:

Year after year, children tell us that their counselor was the MOST important part of camp for them! Many of their parents agree! Our counselors are enthusiastic young adults, some adoptees themselves, some not, who have the same ethnic background as the adopted children at each camp. They participate in all of the camp workshops and activities with the kids, but MOST importantly, serve as positive role models for the children and families who attend camp. [Link]

130 thoughts on “Heritage Camps for adopted Indian children

  1. also, some weird trivia: adoption was discouraged strongly in medieval europe by the roman catholic church because it was a way to perpetuate family lines and wealth which might otherwise go to the church as a bequest. the adoption of the descent of a sibling, like julius’ caesar’s adoption of octavian (augustus), was rather common up until that point to continue lineages which would otherwise end.

  2. You are right Kush Tandon. Indians have always adopted the less “fortunate” relatives, not children from orphanages. It further reinforces the theory that in the Indian culture, charity begins and ends at home. In the Western culture, good deeds are extended to anonymous recipients. Indians don’t “give at the office.” They give to poor relatives. No value judgment here – just what I have observed.

  3. For those who are familiar with these camps or with desi kids adopted by Americans of different ethnicities, why do you think they are a good idea?

    SP- the point isn’t to shove desi culture down the kids’ throats, but as Sonya said– many of these children don’t have any positive brown role models in their hometowns, so before they even decide that they don’t like desi culture, they haven’t been given many opportunities to EXPLORE it. This camp is one such exploration and may turn kids on or off. They may hate bharatanatyam or ghazals, but discover that they enjoy cooking or the desi bling… and so be it. It was never written that we had to accept all 100% of our culture to be a valid member of it.

    Floridian (re#94)- you sound like an awesome mom!

    Sonya (#102)– sheesh. I’m not sure why there is such a weird stigma about desi families who choose to adopt. I’m even less sure why every random in TheDesiCommunity feels it’s ok to give their 2 paise on the matter. With so many wonderful, beautiful and selfless reasons for people to choose to adopt, I don’t see why it’s (sadly) often treated as something shameful. -but with due respect to razib’s qualifier, most of the insensitive morons that I’ve experienced asking these kind of questions are not born of GenX or outside of India. Thankfully I think times and prejudices are changing, slowly.

  4. It further reinforces the theory that in the Indian culture, charity begins and ends at home. In the Western culture, good deeds are extended to anonymous recipients.

    i believe there is some truth in this, and i think this is due to a lot of complicated issues (for example, the post-reformation rise in marriage ages and the emergence of a class of single adults who formed fellowships and guilds across family bounds), but, note that before the last few decades charity within even the western context was extended within the local community. that is, to people who you knew was neighbors.

  5. razib: the race is irrelevant. the ideology is. i admire and emulate the “way of the WASP” in its most liberal incarnations.

    The race is completely relevant because it’s a part of the ideology. The ideology of whatever “WASP” is supposed to be about is deeply connected to its own history – which is a history of race in America. To abstract liberal WASP ideology (“conscience, civic-mindedness, industry, success, use, and anti-sensuality”) from its material roots is ridiculous. How is that construction not based on a vision of an oppressive, racist America? How is that construction not based on a definition of a lesser Other? “Whiteness” has always been defined based on a negation of blackness/brownness/redness. “White” – and its subtypes, WASP, White Trash, etc etc – are all derivations of a concept of race that fundamentally was only developed in opposition to the identification of people of color, particularly in the Americas and Africa. If you believe in the “Way of the WASP” you tacitly accept all of this, whether you like it or not. None of these ideologies are separate from their material and social realities. Otherwise, ideology alone could erase history and erase its own subtexts. Don’t pretend the race is irrelevant. I’m assuming you live in the US. Like Common said – it’s all around you.

    Seems like a healthy society should have some level of challenge to the dominant group, whoever that may be. only within parameters of shared values.

    Values are not static, they are dynamic and change according to various pressure. “Shared values” is a construction that is in constant flux; challenges to those values are critical to that flux. You can’t arbitrarily constrain those values. You assume arbitrarily that the construction of a South Asian American identity will be a socially undesired threat to the white mainstream. Perhaps, but the threats to the mainstream provided by other distinct communities – Black America, for example – have by and large pushed this society to reform itself. If you believe in this American ideal (which I don’t, really, but that’s another issue), I don’t understand how distinct cultural groups oppose this. Unless what you seek is monolithic white supremacy – and again, race is fundamentally connected to this.

    1) it isn’t weak. Not an argument, but I guess I didn’t put one up either.

    2) you are wrong on number #2 really. see here. or, see the appropriate chapter re: awf edwards in dawkins’ most recent book, ancestor’s tale.

    I read the link – literally can’t argue with that. So your assertion is that race is, in fact, a biological reality? Or are you making a more subtle point?

    no a master race, but yes, i believe that maximizing admixture might just lead to supercharged genetic combinations. i believe it has in the past (there is current work which will be published that will clarify what i’m saying for those genetically & anthropologically inclined).

    And by that token, mixing of “races” is the key to this maximizing admixture? Please do point me to some of this work that clarifies your point. Sounds like eugenics to me so far.

    Communal divisions are unfortunately a reality of the power structure. it isn’t either|or. iceland is genetically 40% celtic and 60% norwegian. but culturally it is old norse.

    I never said it was either/or. My point was not with respect to various ethnicities that have now been subsumed into whiteness. I am speaking specifically of the relationship between whiteness and “colored-ness”. From America to Britain to France to Russia to Australia, we find racial ideologies specifically separating white from brown/black/yellow/red/blue/purple/green. These ideologies then relate directly to how power is distributed in those societies. They also are connected to the economics and politics of that society.

    I understand that you feel that we shouldn’t have communal divisions, but we do. Furthermore, like I said, community and culture does not have to be a bad thing. The construction of whiteness is a claim to the end of community and culture, but it is an unstable construction based solely on the negation of the Other. Why can’t we understand ourselves as people of various flexible and permeable groupings – racial, cultural, sexual and otherwise – that interact with one another on a mutually respectful basis? Why do we have to buy into this idea that we must become one all-powerful monolith? That is a highly dominating and oppressive idea that smashes difference and diversity, and certainly has been one of the key elements of claims of “cultural genocide” by various people of color.

  6. I read the link – literally can’t argue with that. So your assertion is that race is, in fact, a biological reality? Or are you making a more subtle point?

    And by that token, mixing of “races” is the key to this maximizing admixture? Please do point me to some of this work that clarifies your point. Sounds like eugenics to me so far.

    whether race is a biological reality depends on what you mean by “race” and “biological reality.” population genetics is a statistical/probabilistic science, so if you say “race” is a platonic ideal, no. but yes, there are genetic correlations which map on rather well to continental races.

    the british biologist armand leroi makes a simple case for why admixture my result in increased fitness. i have some more subtle arguments, if i may say so myself, but you’d have to have read r.a. fisher’s genetical theory of natural selection for it be coherent in a few sentences. but the gist is that increased genetic variation results in increased phenotypic variation and increased phenotypic variation leads to increased fitness variation. as for whether it is eugenics, sure, i don’t care if you call it that, but all of modern genetic testing is eugenics then (e.g., askhenazi jews testing to see if both are tay sachs carriers before marriage).

  7. as for the rest of your comment yeti…i think i know what you’re trying to say. but it is kind of a lexical knuckle sandwich, so i’ll try and get to it later if at all.

  8. That is a highly dominating and oppressive idea that smashes difference and diversity, and certainly has been one of the key elements of claims of “cultural genocide” by various people of color.

    some difference deserves to be smashed.

  9. Floridian, Comment #104, you are great and your comments are great too. I totally agree with you in Comment #112. My earlier comment (#109) does not reflect the true situation in India. Even my freinds and relatives adoption is about 30% ..of the less fortunate relative type.

  10. How come white people are the only people who adopt? Does anyone know any Indian people who have ever adopted a child?

  11. I have desi friends back home who’ve adopted. I plan to adopt, have always wanted to.

  12. I know lots of desi couples as well as “mixed” couples who have adopted, and there has been a significant increase in domestic adoptions within India of late.

    Our experience has been quite similar to Sonia’s report – we’ve received more stares, rude or odd comments, and intrusive questions we’ve received have come from folks in India and desis than anyone else…some from East Asians as well…

  13. Whoa – please believe me when I say I can write a better sentence than the one above…clearly it’s past my bedtime…

  14. hairy_d:

    re comment #23, i do not work in the ngo sector but have some experience working with it.

    in terms of starting a non-profit or charity org, it all depends on what kind of an org and the scope/scale of it. also, if there are pre-existing umbrealla orgs, it is easier to link with them and start a local chapter. the procedures can also be different in different countries… a staring point for cananda is here… but i do not have direct experience in starting npo/ngos as such. hope that helps a little… good luck!

  15. Amusing to see the belief that “white” culture is non-tribal, inclusive etc. whereas brown people need crutches like bharata natyam, lessons about indian freedom fighters, whatever. This doesnt reflect the reality I have experienced outside of NYC or SFO (maybe most of the interactors live there). Brown children are going to be considered different, whether or not they are adopted. These camps are one (and a small) component of helping indian-origin children to fill in the gaps of their ethic and cultural history.

    I have previously commented on “white” cultures peculiar fascination with blonde women, white males bizarre obsession around sports and aversion to participation in music/dance. These are as peculiar to me as the indian preference for “wheatish skin” or indian men who are overfocussed on economic success and under-involved with their spouses.

    Finally, I have to agree with Gaurav that there is a peculiar strain of self-hatred that shows up in discussion of religions and traditions amongst (mostly) hindu indians. Here is a really peculiar recent example from an ultra-ultra liberal indian hindu:

    Good stuff. But this week Sen went further and suggested in an interview that Christian faith schools are different. “Christian schools have evolved and often provide a much more tolerant atmosphere than a purely religious school would. A lot of people in the Middle East or India or elsewhere have been educated in Christian schools.” He has friends who went to St Xavier’s Jesuit-run public school in Calcutta and he says: “I don’t think they were indoctrinated. But the new generation of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools are not going to be like that.” Intriguing words from a man from a Hindu Bengali family.


  16. thank you sumiti – that made my day – it was just the information i needed

    appreciate you taking the time to look this up.

  17. How come white people are the only people who adopt? Does anyone know any Indian people who have ever adopted a child?

    yeah, and has anyone ever seen an instance of a non-white couple with white adopted children?

  18. yes, I know of a desi couple who adopted a white baby. I don’t find it to be very common, for many of the reasons mentioned up-thread…

  19. For Yeti, mishgmm, JOAT: (about 100 comments back)

    As always, I’m late to the comments, but let’s be real here, folks: we Maharashtrans all know that after the age of 25, married Marathi-speakers know one word and only one word, laganaa, which they use on their single friends with increasing frequency. Do our kids really need to learn more words than that? Better for them to feign ignorance about the language so when asked,”Arre, tusa lagana kemaa honaar?” they can think the nice mami or atya is asking them if they want tea and sweets, right? ;-)

    • my apologies for transliteration errors.
  20. BrooklynBrown: I love my people. My primary marathi knowledge comes from the proud tradition of Marathi Verbal Abuse: nirlijja, nalayak, halcat, etc etc. Recently went to MAIYTRA in Chicago, had a nice bonding moment over that with the other Marathi folks whom I so rarely see. I think we can teach our kids to feign ignorance when necessary and still be able to dis Gujjus in their native tongue when needed.

  21. dude gautam, Its telugu and not telegu (You’ve used the wrong spelling like a hundred times

  22. DesiDancer,

    A belated kudos to you for getting involved in these activities (apologies for the delay, I was sidetracked by some of the ‘excitement’ elsewhere on this blog during the past few days).

    It sounds like you’re doing a great job — well done. Is there no limit to your talents ? ;)

    Very inspiring. DD gets the prize again for being the nicest person on SM this week.

  23. “yes, I know of a desi couple who adopted a white baby” Where did they find a white baby to adopt? Supply has not met demand since the 1950s. Since the late 60s, at which time it became ok for the mothers to keep illegitimate children, there have been few white babies up for adoption. The only recent source has been Eastern Europe (a lot of them suffering from their birth parents being alcoholic) and, oddly Brazil. Israelis looking for adoptable kids got more or less white-looking babies from Braizl. One objection raised to interracial adoptions is that the kids are “second choice”. Whether that is true or not, it is difficult to disprove, the demographics being what they are.

  24. I am not against adoption of Indians by white or any other Americans. But has anybody ever questioned why the Indian government HAD been so willing to get rid of there orphans (problem) by liberally sending these children overseas instead of dealing with the problem at home? The loss of culture that Desi adoptees have experienced is similiar to what the African slaves experienced in the U.S. in respect to loss of culture. The black American culture is something that has been created because they have been stripped of the culture of their ancestors. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, black Americans are still treated unequally. They have another culture to deal with this injustice (i will not say sub culture) What does an adoptee have American and in most cases white American culture. (how does that work?) You can claim that you are all American, but this place it not a melting pot only a salad bowl. Everyone here has some kind of culture.

    I can bring up topics about this subject all day. How about Indian citizenship. I know that’s been discussed on SM alot. I was born an Indian citizen. I never chose to become an American citizen, but I am. I never took an oath to the U.S., but I’m an American citizen. No one is going to take my American citizenship away from me. To get my Indian citizenship back I would have to become an OCI and then live in India for a year and then beg the Indian government back for something that was unjustly taken away from me.

    I am not Bittu, but this is a part of his story.


  25. I can bring up topics about this subject all day.

    Please don’t. Your ignorance is unbearable in anything more than small doses.

  26. I didn’t have a chance to read all of the comments. Two of the posts did catch my eye. There is one post from suarav from July 2006 that states that we have to be careful about choosing to participate in heritage camps for adoptive families as some people believe that Hinduism equals Indian meaning that to be Indian means to be Hindu. I have to agree that in adoptive family circles, that some families believe that Hinduism is Indian identity and in fact, one can come across white Americans who have converted to Hinduism or who feel compelled to take their children to Hindu temples for services, etc. I wanted to point out that India is a very diverse religious country and that South Asia, in particular, is extremely diverse. Hinduism is a majority religion in India but is not the only ancient religion in India or South Asia. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have been in India before the Portuguese and other westerners brought their forms of Christianity to India. You will also find many other distinct and important religions. It is true that adoptive forums with regards to India love to talk about Hinduism topics but other religions rarely get noticed even when events are posted. In our area, the Catholic diocese actually includes two to three different Indian groups on their cultural diversity team. There are other country groups in South Asia also represented on the Catholic diocese cultural diversity team as well. We also have in our area other Christian churches who are totally Indian, but are not Catholic. Why not study the history of other religions in India if one is to learn to recognize the Hindu gods, for example?

    Raju from August 2006 misses the point by not realizing that there are many NRI, OCI card holders, and others who are neither but are South Asian and part of the overall diaspora are adopting from India and other South Asian countries. Citizens in India and Sri Lanka are also adopting. It is easy to dismiss these adoptees as not being within the overall community of adoptees because they have an easier time of blending in with their families even if only one parent is from South Asia or is of South Asian ancestry. I even saw on another forum two adoptees exchanging posts – both were adopted from India to the USA, one to a NRI/OCI family and the other to a white family. The one who was adopted into a white family saw the one adopted into the NRI/OCI family as not quite American as someone born into an Indian family as if that adoptee had lived his life in India, but the reality was that that adoptee had lived his life in New York, the USA, not India. The adoptees who are part of Indian and South Asian families probably are not likely to attend heritage camps since they are living in a family with parents of South Asian heritage. Don’t discount this other group who are members of the diaspora who adopt both within India and South Asia and outside of the region.