Friday, June 23, 2000

Camp gives adopted kids a day in China


Youngsters get a taste of the culture and land where they were born

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Laura Schoettmer leads a group of chicks during the Chinese game of Eagle Catch Chicken.
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
        When Aliza Spicehandler turns 10 in two years, she'll take her first trip to China since she was adopted from that country in 1992. For now, the 8-year-old Montgomery girl explores her heritage at places like DragonFest2000, the first local Chinese Culture Camp where adopted Chinese children and others experimented with chopsticks, made a dragon hat and performed a Chinese ribbon dance.

        “I want her to learn as much as she can about her culture of origin and to meet other Chinese children,” said Judy Spicehandler, Aliza's mother. “It's important for her to have a complete sense of self — her Jewish side, her American side, her Chinese side, all blended together.”

        The camp, sponsored by Families with Children from China — Greater Cincinnati, was held last Saturday at Finneytown High School. More than 200 adults and children attended the day-long camp filled with demonstrations, classes and crafts.

        Heidi Johnson of College Hill, chairwoman for the event and mother of Eve, 31/2, got the idea for a culture camp after attending a similar camp last September in Colorado. And, she's read about the experiences of Korean adoptees who note how important it is to stay connected to cultural heritage from early on.

        “Our children will never see their parents,” Ms. Johnson said. “It is not possible to trace back. To keep their self-esteem, they need to have a positive image of China. Having a positive image of China will carry over into their lives. "If China is good, I am good.' It's important for them to have connections with their country.”

        As a music teacher for Finneytown schools, she knows that the arts reflect a society, so songs, dances and crafts became a big part of the camp. Organizers connected with the Cincinnati Contemporary Chinese School, which helped find Chinese speakers and performers.

        “It's important that the children have Asian people as positive role models and to have those people in their lives in whatever way they can,” said Brenda Raymond-Ball of Sharonville, a camp organizer and mother of Samantha, 41/2, and Katrina, 2. At DragonFest, Fan Wang-Cahill led groups of giggling children in Chinese games, including Catch the Fish (played like London Bridge), Eagle Catch Chicken, Drop the Handkerchief and Looking for Friends.

        The children tested their dexterity picking up gummies, marshmallows and noodles with chopsticks. They made Chinese lanterns, egg carton dragons, dragon kites and more. 2000 is the Year of the Dragon.

        Irene Kern of West Chester brought her daughter, Mia, who will be 4 on July 2. Mia's Chinese name, XiaoHuan, means “the little happy one.” She lived up to her name as she colored her dragon kite.

        “She enjoys meeting with the other children from China,” Mrs. Kern said. “She's starting to recognize people who look like her. And we're learning.”

        Like other families, Mrs. Kern believes it's important for her daughter to learn about her birth country.

        “It's her heritage,” she said. “I am from Switzerland. I go back once or twice a year. I know how strongly I feel about my heritage, and I hope one day she will feel the same way about hers. She's proud already. When people ask her name, she says, "My name is Mia, and I'm from China.”'

        Following a buffet of Chinese food, the children practiced songs and dances for the evening performance. They watched Kung Fu demonstrations, wrote Chinese calligraphy and “built” the Great Wall with blue, yellow and red cardboard blocks.

        Meanwhile, parents attended sessions that included Chinese cooking without a wok, Chinese language, racism, paper cutting, calligraphy, Mah Jong, Buddhism and Chinese holidays and traditions.

        “If parents aren't willing to learn, as well, the kids will never get it,” Ms. Johnson said. “Once a year is not enough. If we provide opportunities for the parents, it will help the children.”

        Aliza Spicehandler is eager to learn more about China, and Ms. Spicehandler does what she can to encourage her, reading her Chinese folktales and playing Chinese music.

        But, she said, it's good to have events like the culture camp so Aliza can learn and be energized by people with expertise about that culture. For example, participants got to hear Ming Ke, a PiPa virtuoso. The PiPa is one of the principal Chinese musical instruments.

        Says Ms. Spicehandler: “The result of the PiPa concert was she wants to study to play the PiPa now, so it worked.”

       



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