Heritage camp and honoring the raped

Readers respond to articles about summer camps for foreign adoptees and the media's coverage of rape.

Published August 20, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Summers at Camp Ethnicity," by Janelle Brown.]

I adopted a daughter from China 19 months ago. She's now two and a half years old. I know she's not going to grow up "Chinese-American." She's something the world's never seen before: a Chinese girl brought up by Jewish American parents. I plan one day to take her on a trip to China, and we'll celebrate the Chinese New Year, but beyond that I have no illusions that I will give her a Chinese heritage.

I also have no white guilt whatsoever. China, after all, didn't want her. And for all practical purposes, my daughter has won the Baby Lottery. She's growing up abundantly loved and with the opportunity to fulfill her potential that she never would have had.

Yet I'm glad that she has so many cohorts. My guess is that they're going to figure out their identity together. It will probably be far more interesting and unusual than anything we parents try to create for them.

-- Kerian

A very insightful article on a delicate subject. But I have to question the utility of such summer camps if they can't even get the nomenclature straight. It is "Indian," not "East Indian." The term "East Indian" is quite offensive because it harks back to the East India Company at the beginning of colonial rule in India. There is no country called "East India" and neither is this term valid in a geographical sense. If those who run the camps and those who bring their kids to these camps can't even get that straightened out, then I feel pretty pessimisstic about their utility.

-- Saurabh Jang

I have a 17-year-old son who was adopted from Korea at three and a half months. He attended heritage camps several times during his childhood, the last being during the summer before his freshman year in college. I have mixed feelings about the camp; he used them much more as social outlets than as a source of knowledge about Korea. In general I think they helped him, if for no other reason than for giving him a few days where he didn't feel like a minority. Parents who send their kids to heritage camps are trying their best to help their children and are at least addressing the fact that their children were born part of a different race and culture.

When we adopted our son, we just wanted a baby. We didn't really think about what it would mean to raise a child of another race. As he grew, though, we realized that for him to feel good about himself we would have to make him feel good about where he came from, and that meant learning more about Korea. It turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences of our lives. Having a child come to us from another country opened the world to us in a unique way.

We feel a connection to Korea and to Asia that is deep and profound. We cook Korean, have Korean art in our home, and have taken Korean language lessons. We visited South Korea in 1995, not on a "Homeland Tour," but as a family of tourists. We had our hearts warmed by the welcome of the Korean people and their acceptance of our mixed family. Our lives have been enriched by the addition of our son and his country far beyond our expectations. We think that our acceptance of things Korean into our home has helped our son to be the well-adjusted young man that he is. If heritage camps can open the eyes of other families to the culture of their children, they are worthwhile.

-- Carol Haaksma

[Read "The Shame" of Rape," by Margot Magowan.]

In "The Shame of Rape" Margot Magowan never explains one of the central assumptions of the article: why the lack of publicity contributes to a sense of shame. Publicity might easily work the opposite of the way she hopes: rather than honor the women's valor against their attackers, the media might sensationalize the stories and would certainly open their experiences to the commentary of people with their own agendas who may have little or no regard for the women's dignity or feelings. I fail to see how publicizing rape victims' stories and identities would aid their recovery or change society's view of these crimes in any significant way. The author's faith in the good intentions and abilities of the media seems rather naive.

-- Sarah Ponichtera

Magowan argues that the media has one basic reason to shield rape victims' names -- that victims are somehow partially at fault for being raped and should be ashamed. The argument goes on that since this is a bogus concept, there's no point in shielding names. However, there are other issues at work.

For instance: basic respect for privacy. If rape victims want to publicize their situations, they are certainly free to do so, but it's irresponsible for the media to try to increase ratings with names and faces in such cases.

Magowan mentions Erica Pratt, the 7-year-old who chewed her way through duct tape to escape her captors. If Erica Pratt was raped, we certainly haven't seen that detail publicized, and in my opinion, that's how it should be. I doubt a 7-year-old can make an informed decision about the connection between her publicized rape and Google name searches for the rest of her life. I certainly don't think the media is justified in making that decision for her.

In the case of the Ratliff kidnapping, the media should have withheld the detail that the girls had been raped -- not the girls' names and faces, which were of course public knowledge for other reasons already. The fact they had been raped had not even been medically verified at the time and was babbled by a self-serving policeman who was trying to explain how miraculous the timing of the girls' rescue was. It was irrelevant to the larger story, particularly since Ratliff is dead and there will be no further concerns of jurisprudence.

The girls involved have decided to face their situation as best they can and should be commended for their courage, but thanks to CNN, that was never really their decision. It should have been.

-- Wes Simonds

Margot Magowan is right on. The day after the girls escaped and the attacker was killed, I was relieved to read the newspaper story and know that the girls had lived -- and had taken some gutsy action-hero steps to save themselves. I felt proud for 14-year-old girls everywhere for a moment. The next day, I read a strange elliptical AP story in which one of the networks seemed to apologize for interviewing the girls on TV. For the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. Why couldn't these two be celebrated in the media? Because they were raped -- and because they were raped, they were now expected to be silent. Shame on the media for propagating this hypocrisy. It is the girls' right to decide whether to speak.

-- Tracy Dobesh

By Salon Staff

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