Program teaches adopted children about heritage

Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 6, 2006

This story misspelled the name of Linh Song, the founder of Mam Non.

Jessica Boullion
Charlie Hoang Smith, 9, a child adopted from Vietnam, sports in a dragon costume at Mam Non Day at St. Paul Lutheran Elementary last Saturday. (EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily)

Adopted children from Vietnam mingled with students from several campus organizations in the gymnasium of St. Paul Lutheran Elementary School in Ann Arbor Saturday.

In celebration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, they wore emperor hats and performed lion dances as they helped the children and their adopted parents learn about Vietnamese culture.

"This encourages kids to have a positive attitude about their background," said University alum Linh Song.

Song, who is Vietnamese, founded the program, which she named Mam Non, in 1999. Her family adopted a Vietnamese child, and several white families who had also adopted Vietnamese children started asking her family questions about Vietnamese culture.

This is not uncommon, Song said. Many children adopted from Southeast Asia find themselves in communities where Asians are a minority.

This year, LSA junior David Duong, executive director of Crossing Borders, said his group collaborated with Mam Non to give the children an interactive virtual tour of Vietnam by recreating a small village.

Students from Crossing Borders set up a makeshift Vietnamese marketplace in the elementary school, including projections of landscapes, colorful costumes and a house adorned with traditional Vietnamese decorations.

Duong and other members handed out branches of Hao Mai, a yellow flower that symbolizes hope in Vietnamese culture.

In the middle of the gym, the students and children danced and played Vietnamese games. Around the perimeter, students helped children make emperor hats, write characters in Chinese and learn how to pronounce their names in Vietnamese.

Dylan Williams, an adopted Vietnamese child, said he enjoyed the celebration. He said he loved the games and crafts.

Marie Lowry, from Redford, came with her daughters Adele, who is from Vietnamese, and Claire, whom she adopted from China. She said the festivals have helped her daughters develop a sense of their native identities.

"They like talking about what they did (at the festival), because it gives them some status at the school," Lowry said. "They have a lot of pride, and they feel they belong somewhere."

She said the student facilitators provide role models for her daughters and other children to learn what it's like to be Asian Americans.

"We like to get them excited about identifying as Vietnamese, that it's a unique and positive experience, and not just being different from their peers," she said.

Through these festivals and online information exchange, Song said Mam Non hopes to educate parents about basic Vietnamese-American history, stereotypes and how to facilitate their children's experiences in connecting with the local Asian American community.

LSA junior Theresa Tran, Vietnamese Students Association co-chair, said she enjoys coming to the annual celebration because of the children's curiosity about Vietnamese culture.

"They ask questions like, 'You've been to Vietnam? What it's like over there?' " she said. "It's always really funny to talk to them."