The first time my family went to an African cultural festival, we were not on the premises for more than two minutes before we were approached by hair care professionals.
“Bring the baby here,” the beautiful women with sleek and stylish hair shouted, “We’ll show you how to get the frizzies out.”
At first I was offended by their remarks, as they implied that I did not even try to manage my then two year old daughter’s hair. I had after all spent a good deal of time making two French braids in her curly hair that morning and was very proud of her cuteness that day. I did know what they were talking about though. As caucasian parents of a bi-racial child, they assumed we might not know how to look after afro hair and they were kind of right. About $70 right – the amount of money we spent on their product, which really did work miracles on our little girl’s hair.
Many families formed through adoption are multicultural and adoptive parents take it upon themselves to find ways to connect with the cultural heritage of their children. Particularly prevalent in international adoptions, culture keeping, as it is sometimes called, helps adoptive families learn about their child’s birth heritage, while also fostering a connection to the child’s life before adoption.
The food, music, art, and traditions of a culture can be researched and experienced as a family and one of the most accessible ways of reaching out to a child’s ethnic community is by attending a cultural event that highlights these aspects of the child’s birth culture.
Choosing a Cultural Festival
Many cities throughout North America hold annual multicultural festivals that showcase several ethnic communities in one place. With a variety of music and dance performances, food vendors representing many cultures and an international marketplace, multicultural festivals are ideal for adoptive families who are looking for a more general exposure to the child’s culture.
Festivals that focus on a particular ethnic community allow adoptive families to experience more aspects of their child’s birth heritage in depth. There may be workshops in which members of the family may be interested and the experience itself will be more culturally immersive. Aside from being exposed to products and services relevant to the child’s ethnicity, adoptive families can also speak to professionals to seek advice on everything from hair care – as in our case – to the best place to find red envelopes for lucky money. It is also likely that the adoptive parents will be in the visible minority, giving their child the experience of blending in with the crowds.
How to Prepare for a Cultural Festival
Best approached as a family experience rather than something special only for the child who shares the cultural heritage, there are a few things that families can do to get the most out of the festival.
- Read articles and books that describe food, music and traditions of the ethnic group before hand. If this is the first experience the adoptive family will have with the culture on a large scale, this preparation will help get a sense of what to expect.
- Watch videos of the advertised performers or past events on YouTube to better understand the tone of the festival and get everyone excited about going.
- Learn to speak some relevant phrases in the language that will be primarily spoken at the festival. Knowing some polite phrases may help when talking to vendors.
- Get a festival program ahead of time or look at the event’s website to get an idea of which parts of the festival will be most relevant to the family. This is especially helpful if it is a large event and it is not possible to see everything in one day
Ask other adoptive families to attend the festival as well. Sharing the experience with another family who understands the importance of preserving culture for transracially adopted kids will only enhance the overall experience.
Enjoying Festival Day
Even though the experience is for the whole family, let the kids create the flow for the day. For some kids, a cultural immersion will be a welcome experience, whereas other kids will be uncomfortable with the prominent reminder of their adoption status. It may be a good idea for parents to discuss with their kids some goals for the day.
- Find souvenirs that hold some relevance for the adoptive family such as artwork by an artist from the child’s birth place or a recipe book that features dishes from the child’s country of origin.
- Speak to professionals about hair and skin care. Find out the names of products, salons and places that cater to the child’s ethnicity.
- Look for resources to take home such as issues of cultural magazines, recipes of traditional dishes, information on education programs, as well as free product samples.
- Seek out information on local connections such as culture camps, youth activities, music and dance ensembles, places of worship, and community centres.
- Enjoy traditionally prepared foods and take in the entertainment. Video tape the performers if possible to watch at home.
After the festival research recipes, musical performers, books and places of business that piqued an interest at the festival. If the event was enjoyed by everyone in the family, make a point of going to it regularly and invite other friends and family as well.
Going to cultural festivals helps most adopted kids feel a connection to their biological heritage and broadens the horizons of the adoptive family as well. In our case, going to the African cultural celebrations each summer is not only a pleasure, it is also a necessity – we need to get our year’s supply of hair product!