Academic journal article Sociological Focus

(Ap)parent Boundaries: Parents' Boundary Work at Cultural Events for Families with Children Adopted from China

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

(Ap)parent Boundaries: Parents' Boundary Work at Cultural Events for Families with Children Adopted from China

Article excerpt

The adoption of children from China by American families represents a rich case study for an expanding sociological literature on boundaries: it brings to lite many of our most salient borders and highlights their very permeability. This paper represents one aspect of a larger research project on parents' efforts to bridge perceived ethnocultural boundaries within the China adoptive family. Through ethnographic fieldwork and semistructured, in-depth interviews, I examine parents' interpretations of and participation in Chinese cultural events organized by and for China adoptive families. These events are significant sites for social research on boundaries because they: (1) appear to assume permeable ethnocultural borders; and (2) bring previously incoherent individuals together as a bounded group. Drawing on classic and contemporary theories of ethnic identification and collective identity, I reveal how parents activate existing symbolic and social boundaries and create new symbolic and social boundaries in their efforts to construct community. In particular, I demonstrate how previously incoherent parents cohere as a bounded community by actively distinguishing themselves from "authentic" Chinese/Chinese American referents and the "imagined community" of biological families. Likewise, I reveal how the community's boundaries and cultural events both mask and alienate a growing percentage of the China adoption contingent: African American and Asian American China adoptive parents, lower-middle-class and working-class China adoptive parents, and the adoptive parents of Chinese sons. Through this case-based analysis, I add general theoretical and methodological contributions to the diffuse boundaries literature.

There are ferries arriving and departing from each of the covered docks that stretch before me, and all I know about the ferry that I need is that it's yellow. Worried I'll miss my passage to the day's events, I make my way up the waterway; poking my head into each of the covered areas. Inside one such dock, I notice a white woman standing in front of a ferry ticket booth. Her hands rest on the grips of an empty stroller as she calls after a young white boy and an even younger Asian girl. The boy and girl are laughing as they chase each other around the space. From one of the benches inside the covered dock, a white man and a preteen Asian girl smile as they watch the two children play. I step into the space to allow the people behind me to enter; they are a white woman and a young Asian girl who hold hands as they chat about the day ahead. Relieved to have found the right dock, I head toward one of the empty benches and take a seat. (Fieldnotes, May 14, 2005)

In November 2005, the nation's 50,000th Chinese adoptee joined an American family. This occasion marked the increasing institutionalization of adoption from China in the United States. It also signified the continued, rapid growth of a China adoption contingent in this country.1 Recently, this contingent has become the object of broad public interest. Cable news programs such as National Geographic follow American parents' China adoption trips. U.S.-based corporations such as American Express and Kodak utilize China adoption story lines in their commercials (Creedy 2003). Newspaper articles like Derr's (2005) "Journey to Joy: Couple Adopts a Daughter from Half a World Away" and Smith's (2004) "Love Has No Borders: Couple Bridges Desire for Children with Chinese Adoptions" profile American families created through adoption from China. Such treatments have helped make adoption from China part of the American consciousness.

As the headline "Love Has No Borders" also indicates, China adoption represents a rich case study for an expanding sociological literature on boundaries: it brings to life many of our most salient borders and highlights their very permeability. This paper represents one aspect of a larger research project focused on parents' efforts to bridge perceived ethnocultural boundaries within the China adoptive family. …

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