Chinese Adoptions Surge in New York; adoptees learn Mandarin

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Mar 12 13:52:34 UTC 2006


Chinese Adoptions Surge in New York, East Meets Upper West Side March 10
(Bloomberg) -- Cece Nealon-Shapiro, 12, is learning two languages:
Mandarin, to prepare for a June visit to the land of her birth, jand
Hebrew, as she studies for her bat mitzvah next year at home on
Manhattan's Upper West Side. ``When you're 4 months old, you don't have
any traditions,'' says Vivian Shapiro, who adopted Cece from China in 1994
with her partner, Mary Nealon. ``Our family traditions were created by us,
both the Chinese traditions and the Jewish traditions.''

Manhattan's Upper West Side is the Chinese-adoption capital of the U.S.
About 20 percent of 50,000 Chinese children adopted in the country in the
past 20 years live in New York, according to Families with Children from
China, a support group with 2,100 member families. Most live in a
2-square-mile area (5 square kilometers) between Central Park and the
Hudson River. The surge in Chinese-born children is filling up $300-a-
semester language classes and Sunday-afternoon dumpling workshops. It's
also fueling demand for Mandarin-speaking nannies, as parents seek to
prevent the identity crisis faced by Korean adoptees of the 1970s.
``Parents have to educate the children on their background to answer
questions like, `Why don't I look like you, Mommy?''' says Rhonie Lester
of Spence-Chapin, a nonprofit agency based in Manhattan that has worked
with the Chinese government since 1992 to place thousands of children.

Families with Children from China's New York chapter is its largest, more
than three times the size of the No. 2 chapter in Los Angeles, says its
president, David Youtz, a vice president at Morgan Stanley in Manhattan
and head of the firm's Asia Desk. And Manhattan's Chinatown is the biggest
in the U.S.

Opportunities to Connect

More than 201,000 Asians settled in New York City and its suburbs between
2000 and 2004, the most of any metropolitan region, according to an
analysis of 2004 U.S. Census Bureau data by the Brookings Institution, an
independent research organization in Washington. As a result, adoptive
parents have greater opportunities to connect their children with their
heritage, says Barry Radick, an Upper West Sider who adopted Olivia, 11,
from China in 1995. ``The city has become so diverse,'' he says. ``There's
a great interest in multicultural knowledge and in the schools. There's a
greater exposure to other cultures.'' China Institute and the New York
Center for Chinese Culture are filled throughout the school year with kids
as young as 3, says Wesley Chaney, children's programming assistant at the
China Institute. The after-school sessions add some tests and homework to
the regular academic load, he says.

Dancing and Dumplings

A summer day camp, held in three-hour morning sessions at the institute on
East 65th Street, helps children build their language skills. It
incorporates traditional Chinese fan and ribbon dances, theater styles
such as marionette and shadow puppetry and Peikuan opera, or drama
accompanied by pipe music. Registration for this year's camp, which runs
just more than $900 for a week, is almost full. In past years, students
were still enrolling days before the sessions began, Chaney says. The
institute is planning its first-ever trip to China for 7- to 12-year-olds
this summer. The two-week tour likely will take families to Beijing and
Shanghai, although an itinerary hasn't been set, Chaney says.

Interest in the $25 dumpling-making classes, where parents and children
learn to make the Chinese New Year treats, has surged in the past two
years, Chaney says, and there are long waiting lists.
Paper-lantern-crafting lessons are gaining popularity, he says. English
Ads, Chinese Papers Mandarin-speaking nannies have become a cultural
touchstone for blended families, as well as a way for the children to
learn the language. The Nealon-Shapiro household, which now also includes
4-year-old China-born Gabie, has been hiring bilingual nannies for 12
years. The couple has recruited the childcare providers by placing English
want ads in Chinese newspapers. The response rate has risen dramatically
with each ad, Vivian Shapiro says.

``We get a lot of responses,'' she says. ``We've always had Chinese
babysitters. We're very close to them and their families.'' Certain
language skills, Mandarin in particular, increase a nanny's wages by
$20,000, says Brian Taylor, president of the New York Domestics nanny
agency. ``They do typically earn more of a salary because the language
brings more to the table,'' he says. ``They're more of a complete

Cut the Red Tape

China has been the No. 1 source of overseas adoptions in the U.S. for five
years, displacing Russia. In 2004, U.S. adoptions of Chinese orphans
doubled the combined totals of placements in other countries, according to
statistics from the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Last
year, 35 percent of the 22,728 foreign children adopted by U.S.  families
were from China, more than any other country. At least 95 percent of
Chinese orphans are girls who are given up by their families in favor of
male children. In January, China extended its one-child policy, which
applies to more than 90 percent of families, through 2010. Since it was
established in 1979, the policy restricting procreation has reduced the
population growth by as many as 300 million people. It now stands at 1.3
billion, and the government aims to limit growth to 1.37 billion by 2010.

Balance and Flexibility

For Youtz, embracing Chinese culture is a way to balance negative
headlines about China's human-rights violations and attacks on democratic
protests. He lives in suburban New Jersey with his wife and four adopted
daughters: 11-year-old Sophie Ming and 22-month-old triplets Nora Pingmei,
Alice Tingmei and Anna Raomei. ``We wanted to make sure our kids didn't
grow up hearing only negative things about China,'' he says. ``We stressed
this incredibly rich heritage and encouraged people to study the language
and dance and celebrate holidays.'' Like many adoptive families, the
Youtzes kept the names their daughters were given in China as middle names
to give them flexibility as they grow up, David Youtz says. ``It gives
them the option when they're in their teens or 20s to leave it out or
celebrate it,'' he says. ``Other people don't tend to have extremely
multicultural names. It's wonderful.''

`Looking in the Mirror'

That flexibility wasn't an option for a generation of Korean children
adopted in the 1970s and 80s, Pertman says. More than 141,000 Korean
children have been adopted by American and European families since 1955,
and a lot of parents didn't address their ethnic identity, he says.
``Korean kids with white parents would literally grow up not comfortable
looking in the mirror because they expected a white person to look back at
them,'' Pertman says. Families with Children from China has worked with
Pertman and Korean adoptees to learn from their experiences, both good and
bad, Youtz says.

``Some feel it's a wonderful way to form a family,'' he says. ``Some feel
international adoption should be outlawed.'' The FCC grew out of an
enclave of Upper West Siders who made the first adoptions without the aid
of an agency in the early 1990s, says Aileen Koger, a co-founder of the
group. Koger was completing paperwork at the U.S. consulate in China in
1992 to bring home Qui Meng, now 13, when she and another family she was
traveling with met some fellow New Yorkers. ``It turned out we all lived
on West 90th Street,'' she says. ``When everybody got home we reconnected
and had lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown.''

Her daughters, Qui Meng and Mei Lan, 11, have developed clear identities
as Chinese New Yorkers who write and talk openly about their experiences,
Koger says. Qui Meng told her mother her class was taken aback when she
raised her hand during a discussion on immigration and said she was a
Chinese immigrant. ``Afterwards, one of her friends commented that she's
so open about it, and my daughter was like, `Why wouldn't I be?''' Koger
says. ``She has a very strong sense of identity.''

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