The rare gathering at the Chinese Embassy gave parents and children a chance to meet and connect with families that share a similar story to their own.
CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.
Single mother Wendy Ferguson adopted her 9-year old son Leo from China 18 months ago. She said Leo was worried she would be the only adult wearing Chinese-style clothing at the embassy on Monday evening, but she wasn’t.
Many American families who gathered at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. this week for a special event for families with adopted children from China. All were there to celebrate Chinese culture, but some came out with very little previous exposure to it.
China does not permit dual citizenship. That means the ethnically Chinese children are not Chinese nationals entitled to things like consular services. Still, in addressing the families, Li Kexin, minister at the Chinese Embassy, said the children are essentially ambassadors with a special role to play.
“Chinese and American people maintained a great friendship in the past decades,” Li said. “I believe you have a unique opportunity to help the China-U.S. friendship prosper in the future and help serve as a bridge for cooperation between our two countries. You have good reason to be proud of your loving family, and America. Meanwhile, it’s also important for you to learn and understand your birthplace, China.”
It was a message that resonated with Mei Tonko and her brother, Jace. The Tomko children are not related biologically. Their parents adopted them two years apart, more than a decade ago.
“I just kind of want to know what my life would be like if I wasn’t here,” Mei Tonko, 16 said. “(I want) to try to get a taste of that.”
“It’s very surreal,” Jace Tonko, 15 said, “because I see people like me, and that’s not usually how it is in school and places like that.”
The McEllroys know their family looks different. But at the Embassy event, they were different, just like everyone else.
“It makes me feel more normal. It makes me feel more included,” Karis McEllroy, the mother of two adopted Chinese children, said. “It makes me feel actually honored that there are so many of us that share (this experience). I say that we are a Chinese-American family because we get to experience both cultures.”
According to Linda Perilstein, executive director of Cradle of Hope (one of two adoption agencies that co-sponsored the embassy event) the wait-time to adopt a healthy, Chinese baby can now exceed 10 years.
The Dunfords are getting ready to adopt their second child from China. “We want them to be able to grow with their culture,” said father Ben Dunford, “and go back and experience China and not feel like strangers in their own home country.”
Ferguson, who came down to Washington, D.C. from New York, agreed. “No matter where you are,” said Ferguson, “it’s always important to remember where you’ve come from, what your heritage is, and what it means.”