After reading Lisa’s post on politicizing kids, Z of It’s the Thought that Counts sent in this screenshot of political birth announcements found on the sidebar at FiveThirtyEight.com, accouncing kids as “Our Littlest Democrat” or “Our Littlest Republican”:
Z points out the company “only offers Republican and Democrat announcements — no Libertarians, or Greens, or anything else.”
I went to the website where you can buy these announcements, and I noticed that they had a section for adoption announcements, so I clicked on it. Here is one of the three options:
The other two also showed infants, and one of them also included text about the child being born in China.
I’m a volunteer court advocate for children in foster care in Las Vegas, so my immediate reaction was annoyance that the announcements all focused on the adoption of infants, without a single image of an older child, which sort of normalizes one type of adoption (of newborns) while ignoring the other. But I also realized there were only three of them, so whatever. But then I googled “adoption announcements” and looked around. And there are adoption announcement websites that show older kids and sibling groups.
In my search I came across this website, where you can buy customized announcements that have images representing the country your internationally-adopted child is from, with your child’s photo next to it and the announcement text on the back. Here is the image for Brazil:
One of the images available for Russia:
This really creeped me out–it’s like you’re sending a 1970s-era postcard that romanticizes the “traditional culture” of a country, and also, “Look what we got while we were here–a kid! Just like these!”
I think the idea is probably to celebrate or acknowledge an adopted child’s origins, but it comes off as a weird exoticization–linking your adopted child to people working in rice paddies or a dancing Russian doll. There is also the issue of how all these images depict the country as preciously pre-modern and rural (the girl carrying fruit on her head, the wagon pulled by oxen). On the one hand, none of the pictures have any clearly negative portrayals of these countries (the images all depict the home countries as very cute, really), but the message is also, implicitly, that these children, since they’ve been adopted by Americans, are being saved from lives in these cute but undeveloped nations, where they might end up working in rice paddies.
I have a couple of distant relations who have adopted children from other countries, and I’ve noticed that other family members often talk about this in terms of them “saving” these children from a presumably dismal life in those countries. So it’s not just about adopting a child you will love; it’s also about the White American as savior, giving a child not just a loving family but a modern American lifestyle. I’ve specifically heard this attached to ideas about how girls are supposedly treated in China (from family members who, to my knowledge, know nothing about China except what the average person can pick up on the news, and also don’t show much concern about gender inequality more broadly)–that if the little girl hadn’t been adopted, she’d have suffered a horrible life in China because they “treat girls like dirt” there, etc. And though cutesy, I think these images sort of play into this same discourse about other countries as backward (or, to use a more positive word, “traditional”) in comparison to our modern culture.
Anyway, thanks to Z. for pointing to one form of labeling of children (politically) that led me to another form–labeling kids as exotic and inherently “ethnic.”
UPDATE: In a comment, Elena brought my attention to one I didn’t post. This is one of the images available for India:
If you look closely, this appears to be a picture of colonial-era India, where a dark-skinned Indian is rowing a boat while two White men gaze at the people on shore. What a great sentiment to use to announce you’ve adopted a child from India!