Daily Gazette Article
April 14, 2005

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'The child comes to you with his own history. I think it's important
to acknowledge that history. ...It's part of who they are.'

Wyantskill resident and president of International Adoptive Families (IAF)


Wearing a special dress and hat from her native Kazakhstan, 4-year-old Natalia
Bankoski looks out the window of her family's home in Wynantskill in Rensselaer
County.  She and her sister, 8-month-old Anna, were adopted by the Bankoski

BY JOANNE E. MCFADDEN . For The Daily Gazette.  When Penny Manly of Glenville decided to adopt two children from abroad, it was important for them to be from the same country -Vietnam. This would make part of her adoptive parenting job easier - educating her daughters about their birth country.

"It is important to foster their birth heritage and to make them aware of their birth country," Manly said

Manly; who is a middle school guidance counselor for seventh- through ninth-graders, said that it becomes particularly important as children get older. 'The theme of what is going on for students at this age is establishing their personal identity -who they are, where they've come from, and what their roots are," she said

In 2000 and 2001, Americans adopt- ed about 127,000 children annually. More than 15 percent 9,000 of those were intercountry adoptions. Last year, the state department issued 22,884 immigrant visas to orphans coming to the United States from 21 different countries.


People who adopt children from other countries often travel long distances and have interesting stories to tell. Cindi Fabozzi, founder and director of Family Tree Adoption Agency in Clifton Park, asks adoptive parents if they would like to make "life books" for their children.

Such books describe the journey they took to bring the child to America, the paperwork they had to fill out, information about the orphanage and the village from which the child came. In some cases, parents will even go to the spot where the child was given up and take a photograph.

While this type of information doesn't mean much to a very young child, it will when they start to grow up and have the ability to understand their adoption, should parents decide to share the experience with their adopted children.

But beyond the adoption itself: many parents choose to foster the culture of the native countries from which their children came.

"The child comes to you with his own history," said Heather Bankowski of Wynantskill, who serves as president of International Adoptive Families (IAF), a organization with about 100 member families who have adopted children from all over the world.

"I think it's important to acknowledge that history and try to keep them aware of their roots and to validate them in some sense. It's part of who they are," said Bankoski, who adopted two girls from Kazakhstan.


Gathering together with others who share a similar experience is one way to do that. Families with Children from Asia (FCA) puts on a Chinese Culture Day once a year, where families gather to listen to Chinese story- tellers, make kites, have their names written in Chinese characters, and do other culture-related activities. The group also holds a Moon Festival in August.

IAF organized an Eastern European Heritage Festival, where children watched a play in Russian, played games, did ethnic crafts, enjoyed a puppet show and ate Eastern European food. "Ideally, you need to make connections with people from those countries to get that expertise," Bankoski said.

People from different ethnic communities are an excellent resource. Chinese native speakers teach Chinese classes, and IAF is working on organizing Russian language classes for younger children.

There are also increasing numbers of culture camps available. In 1986, parents who had adopt- ed children from Korea organized Camp Mujigae (translates to "Camp Rainbow"), which has grown to serve between 200 and 300 children from infancy to age 18 each year.

Volunteers from the Korean Presbyterian Church conduct the cultural program, which in- cludes crafts, dancing, Tae Kwon Do, music, language, history, folklore and cooking. "Cooking is probably the favorite of every- one," said co-director Heather Murphy of Albany.

The camp takes place at Parsons Child and Family Center in Albany at the end of June and at- tracts kids from allover the country. Older children, in grades 6 and up, spend two or four nights at Sage College as part of the camp.

Now that they have grown up, Korean adoptees in their early 20s, like Murphy, are running the camp. "We want to pass it along not only to other Korean adoptees, but also to our children so that this becomes our camp," Murphy said.

This August will be the fifth year that Manly and her daughters, Lienne, 9 and Kalliyan, 7, will travel to Fraser, Colo., to the Vietnamese Heritage Culture Camp run by Colorado Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families. Besides recreational activities such as swimming, horseback riding and crafts, there are culture-based workshops.

In addition to the Vietnamese culture camp, the organization runs similar camps for families with children from Cambodia, China, East India, the Philip- pines, Korea, Latin America and Russia.

One small yet important component of the various culture camps are sessions where adopt- ees can talk about their adop- tions and ethnic identities. Also, the camps might be one of the fIrst places where children are the majority, Murphy said. "

The whole camp, is people who look like them," Manly said of the Vietnamese Heritage Culture Camp. "It's not an experi- ence you can replicate, which is why it's a priority for us every year," despite the travel.

As intercountry adoption trends change, additional camps are forming. For example, Kazakh Aul of the United States Association for American and Kazakh Families, based in Providence, RI., is planning a summer 2006 family camp in New Hampshire.


Manly also shares her children's native culture with her daughters' friends and class- mates. Teachers open their class rooms to her to give presentations, where she talks about geography, does crafts, and brings some Vietnamese food to share. Recently, her daughters and some of their friends donned the Vietnamese cultural dress, the aoi dai, and performed a candle dance, something the Manlys had learned at culture camp, in their school district's talent show.

When she was in second grade, Lienne's Brownie Girl Scout troop represented Vietnam at a global awareness day. "1 think there's a real value in others knowing and being able to tell with pride about their heritage," Manly said.

Some families also take the children on trips back to their native countries. The Bankoskis took their first child back to Kazakhstan with them when they adopted their second child. They wanted her to be a part of that process. It was also a rare opportunity for the women at the state-run orphanage to see one of the children who had been adopted.

Pat Wilcox of Westerlo, president of the Albany chapter of FCA, and her husband are taking their daughter on a trip to China this summer, where they plan to visit the orphanage from which she came.

These kinds of visits can have a tremendous impact. "The whole country looks like you, and your parents look different," Fabozzi said.

"It's overwhelming for the children to be in a culture where they're not the minority," she said

Manly said that tour companies are starting to organize heritage-based trips to Vietnam, and she plans to take the children when they are older.

While Wilcox is interested in teaching her daughter about her birth country, she said that personally, she considers her daughter an American.

She and her husband also teach her a little bit about the few ethnic traditions - Czech, Polish, Engllish, Scottish and Irish - that survived from her grandparents.

For more information, visit www.fca-ny.org www.geocities.com/internationaladoptivefamilies/ or www.campmujigae.org .

The Daily Gazette.  www.dailygazette.com .  Thursday, April 14, 2005