Converging Identities

[flag]A few weeks ago, on Saturday, March 19th, the Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO) organized and performed in “Tridentity,” a bi-annual cultural show celebrating with song and dance the mixture of its members’ two cultural identities.
The celebration featured many different groups ranging from Asian fraternities and sororities to student organizations, like the Student Korean Adoptee Association. The Student Korean Adoptee Association was developed as a support network for individuals who were raised by American parents but were originally born and adopted from Korea. International Adoptions have become popular in the United States, –American parents adopt not only from Korea; a large number of Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan and Russian children are also raised in the Unites States.
Almost 200,000 children have been adopted from Korea, making the United States the fourth-largest recipient of Korean children. In 2003, the U.S State Department reported that 1,790 children had been given homes in the United States. At a more local level, Bethany Christian Services, whose national headquarters are based in Grand Rapids Michigan, reported adopting 108 Korean children to expectant families.
Peter Herman came to live in Traverse City when he was four years old from Seoul, South Korea by a simple twist of fate. The hospitality business senior was destined, along with his older brother, to arrive at another home but when his papers got mixed up he arrived instead, on his mother’s doorstep. A special education teacher at Traverse City West High School, Herman’s mother took on the task of raising the two boys alone with the help and support of family members. Herman describes his relationship with his mother as “very close.”
Korean adoptions first became popular after the Korean War, which started in 1950 and ended in 1953, when many bi-racial children, the sons and daughters of American G.I.s and Korean women, were born to unwed mothers. Filling up the country’s orphanages and suffering abuse and discrimination due to their mixed background, Holt International was born out of the concern of Henry and Bertha Holt and their adoption of eight Korean children.
Since that time, children have come to America from Korea for different reasons, mainly due to the stigma attached to children who are born to unwed mothers. Although attitudes are improving in Korea when it comes to adopting within the country, many Koreans want to have children that are blood-related because there is a strong emphasis on genetic ties between parents and their children in their culture.
Adoption is a very expensive process. A typical adoption ranges from $18,000 to $24,000. Different agencies have different requirements; basically adoptive parents must be between the ages of 25 and 45, have to have been married for at least three years, divorced only once before, and have more than four children living at home. Some agencies also have weight requirements, to ensure the health of adoptive parents. Income also plays a factor; prospective adopters must make at least $25,000. Resources are available to help off-set the cost of adoption with organizations like The National Adoption Foundation, Love Knows No Borders, and Ours By Grace– all help by providing, loans, fund-raisers, and other forms of financial assistance to would-be parents.
Funding an adoption, however, is not the hardest part of the process. Once a child is adopted, the family faces the challenging task of making an interracial family work. It has been said that if a couple is thinking of adopting a baby of a different ethnic background, they must first consider whether or not they would marry outside of their race/ethnic group or religion or if they wouldn’t mind their son/daughter marrying outside that group. The answer to that question is a good indicator of whether or not the couple is willing to deal with the possible prejudices and difficulties raising an interracial family could impose.
[ang]Journalism senior Angela Schiappacasse said she noticed when she was around five that she was different from her parents when a woman stopped her and her mother in the grocery store and asked if Angela was her mom’s daughter. “When you’re little, you don’t realize that you don’t look like your parents,” Schiappacasse said.
Once the teen years roll around and questions of personal identity arise, a young adoptee may encounter difficulties when they find their identity divided between two cultures. Many camps, day schools and travel programs have been established to help adoptees connect back to their ancestral roots.
MSU’s Korean Student Organization helps to organize and run a culture camp for young adoptees. Other camps, like the Sae Jong Camp in Frankfort, helps to provide a support network by introducing other adopted kids to each other while trying to educate them on their background.
Jennifer Shinn, a merchandising management senior, attended several cultural camps as a child and even went to Korean School in Washington, DC on weekends to learn through song, language, and games basic knowledge about Korean culture. Shinn said, “I hated going when I was younger, but as I got older I learned to appreciate it.” Shinn has also been a member of the Korean Student Organization and was on their E-Board during her freshman and sophomore years at MSU.
“Cultural camps can be a great foundation before a heritage journey,” said Becca Piper, who organizes trips to Korea through Adoptive Family Travel, an agency based out of Wisconsin, for Korean Adoptees and their families. Heritage journeys bring individuals to Korea to see the country by visiting schools, viewing the landscape, and seeing historical sights and if possible show them their place of birth, foster home or orphanage they might have stayed at or even reconnect with family members.
Each journey is tailored to the participants. Groups can include up to thirty-five people with sometimes three to four separate groups all-visiting at the same time. The ages of participants range from as young as four to adults in their mid-thirties, the majority being in their early to late teens. When it comes down to it, Piper says that “very little is about travel, mainly it’s about building a foundation for kids.” Often the trips bring closure and help the adoptee to develop a greater sense of self.
While finding an identity may be the biggest challenge to adoptees, many feel that their life in the United States defines who they are. Schiappacasse does not belong to any of the Korean student organizations on campus because she feels that her lack of awareness for that part of her past would make it difficult for her to identify with it in a group setting. “I am completely Americanized and don’t feel that there is anything missing in my life,” she said. Although Herman has traveled to Korea and even met up with family members, he also identifies more with his American life adding, “I am completely whitewashed. This is my life and I accept it.”

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Live And Let Live

Last week a monument featuring the Ten Commandments sat on the steps of the Capitol Building in Lansing. The monument originally sparked controversy when former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore refused to remove it from his own courtroom. It is currently on display across the nation because people like James Cabaniss, head of a group of war veterans, travel with the monument and believe the commandments should be displayed publicly.
Yet, we’re not one nation under only one God, and many non-Christians were upset by the display. Chemical engineering senior Hardik Dalal is a practicing Hindu and said the monument “bothered” him. “The federal government, granted is not totally independent of religion, but it should take measures to try to not associate itself with one type of religion,” Dalal said.
[pentagram] At the same time, east of the Capitol, in the city of Okemos, local Wiccans were also upset with this public display of Christianity, stating religious monuments like that in government places send the message that the Judeo-Christian way “is the only way it should be.”
Many people may not be aware of how many Wiccans there are, especially in our community, and most are not familiar with any of their beliefs. Although the official number of Wiccans is hard to estimate because many keep their faith a secret, there are approximately 750,000 in the United States. This makes Wicca the fifth largest religion in America behind Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.
Wicca is a fairly new religion, derived from the Northern European pagan beliefs in a fertility goddess and a horned god. In 1952, Gerald Butler published the first book on Wicca, Witchcraft Today, which became very influential in the creation of modern Wicca. The religion was formally introduced in the United States during the 1960s.
There may also be several misconceptions about Wiccans, two of which being that it is based on “black magic” or “devil worshipping,” both untrue. Wicca is a religion based on nature. Its followers are greatly concerned with the environment because they believe that moons, stars, plants, rocks, animals and humans all have souls that should be respected. Some believe in a higher being, while others do not, but none of them believe in a satanic figure. Since Wiccans do not believe in Satan, they have no connection with the “dark arts” and do not believe in performing evil magic. Their Law of Return is best summarized with this: “All good that a person does to another returns three-fold in this life; harm is also returned three-fold.”
[cards] Wiccans have eight sabbats, which are major and minor holidays, per year. The four minor sabbats occur with the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices, while the four major holidays fall between the dates of the minor ones. The days of the major sabbats change from year to year and rituals are usually performed either on or within a few days of the actual holiday.
For Wiccans, the afterlife is also something left open to interpretation. Some members believe they will be reincarnated, experiencing life in many different ways before they transcend to something completely unknown; others believe in no afterlife, and think our only influence as human beings is what we create and leave behind on Earth.
Wicca as a religion offers its members a lot of flexibility. “Wicca is different things to different people,” said Kevin Duff, LCC student and creator of the Wiccan Rune Reader, a Web site dedicated to teens who are curious about joining the neo-pagan religion with parents who are a unsure about it. “There are no set standards; just be yourself.”
The accepting and open-minded approach of Wicca is what first attracted theatre freshman Rebecca Simons to the religion. She felt, “Christianity was prejudice.” In high school, Simons had a group of friends who were gay or bi-sexual and they could not identify with Christianity because many Christians disapproved of their sexual orientation. Simons felt there had to be a religious alternative and began to examine Wicca, despite her Presbyterian roots. She found she agreed with a lot of what the religion had to say.
[handbook] While Wicca itself encourages tolerance and advocates a “live and let live” approach, many individuals outside Wicca still subscribe to the negative stereotypes associated with witches, believing Wiccans are involved with the previously mentioned “dark arts.”
Katherine Duweck, a recent graduate of Eastern Michigan University and an Okemos resident, recalled an incident in high school concerning this kind of misconception. A girl asked Duweck to take off her pentacle, thinking it had a Satanic connotation, because “it made her uncomfortable.” In Wicca, the pentacle is a five-pointed star many wear to identify themselves as Wiccan. The symbol is connected to the elements of the Earth but many mistake it for a Satanic symbol.
Despite the stereotypes and no matter your faith, there’s something to learn from just about any belief. Dawn Botke-Coe, the owner of the Triple Goddess Bookstore in Okemos, said there is truth in all religion. “The key is to have faith in something.” It’s easy to get that message when stepping into Triple Goddess, as there is a little something for everyone, despite any religious affiliation. As Duweck explained, “…To not explore can limit so much.” If anything, as college students, we should be open to and accepting of new ideas, regardless of our own faiths.

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Reaping the New MEAP

“Read the questions to yourself as I read them aloud to you,” instructed a deadpan voice from the front of the classroom, while number-two pencils rolled off desks in rhythm to the ticking clock on the wall. The voice returned. “You have 30 minutes to complete this section.”
Sound familiar? It should. With the conclusion of most high school careers comes a host of tests, most of which start like the one just described.
These standardized tests come in many forms, but for Michigan students, the most important are the MEAP and the ACT. The Michigan Education Assessment Program is taken throughout a student’s career in the public school system to measure academic success, and the ACT, a college entrance exam taken also during a student’s junior or senior year of high school. With the latter, the incentive to do well is obvious: if you want to get into college, you have to do well on this exam. The incentives for the former…well, let’s just say they’ve always been lacking.
[granholm] Dr. Mark Conley, professor of education, said elementary and middle school students may still make an effort on these tests for the approval of their parents and teachers. “But as kids get older, they are really ruled by obvious incentives, and there just aren’t any tangible reasons in their eyes to perform well on the MEAP,” Conley said. It wasn’t until recently that a cure for high school students’ apathy came in the form of the Michigan Merit Award. Passed by the state legislature in 1999, the class of 2000 saw the benefits of doing well on the MEAP with the emergence of a $2,500 scholarship for those receiving scores of 1s or 2s on all portions of the exam.
Many MSU students have reaped the benefits of this award. Nevine Sharif, psychology senior, said the Michigan Merit Award acted as an “incentive to do well” on the test, stating she took the test twice to receive a better score and get the scholarship. However, due to state budget cuts, the award has been threatened and the relevance of the MEAP as a determinate of academic success questioned.
In January, Governor Granholm signed a bill to transform the MEAP into a new test, beginning in the 2006-2007 school year, called the Michigan Merit Exam, which will be more like a college entrance exam. Conley said standardized tests structured like the ACT lack the “intimate connection to the Michigan high school curriculum” the MEAP achieves by being structured by educators from across the state. Sharif said taking the two tests was stressful. “Combining the two would make things easier,” she said.
In her State of the State Address, Granholm proposed changes to the current scholarship that would award $4,000 to every student who completes two years of college, instead of the merit award currently in place. Granholm said “we are, in essence, extending the promise of public education in Michigan” and “picking up the tab for tuition.” However, with a state budget in the red, making this dream a reality could be difficult.
In the end, after time is up, the pencils down and the budgets changed, any alterations to standardized testing and financial rewards for successful scores must be done with the intention of encouraging others to attend college. Let’s hope Granholm’s new plan will give younger students the incentive and the funds necessary to come to MSU with a little less worry about debt and a little more time to enjoy being a Spartan.

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Playing in the Grass

It’s winter in rural Montana and just outside the small, picturesque town of Phillipsburg lies a log cabin amidst the rough terrain, wild woods and brilliant blue of the Montana sky. One might expect to see the reincarnation of Henry David Thoreau waltzing through this setting, but instead one is more likely to encounter a pack of idealists dedicated not to the preservation of man and nature, but of democracy. Within these mountains lies the headquarters of Project Vote Smart, one of many non-profit, grass-roots organizations working to educate voters even after the 2004 election.
Project Vote Smart’s goal is to provide unbiased, factual information to citizens in five basic areas: biographical information, campaign finance issues, interest group ratings, voting records and issue positions via the National Political Awareness Test. Vote Smart was founded to create a Voters Self-Defense system to protect voters from biased information about candidates both at local and national levels. In order to insure the information remains objective, Project Vote Smart does not accept money from lobbyists, governmental organizations, corporations, businesses or special interest groups, but solely from the private donations of over 46,000 individuals and numerous charitable foundations. My brother, Ted Lawless, is an MSU graduate who now serves as the Vote Smart national director. Workers at his organization, he explained, must “check their politics at the door.”
[vote] During the course of the months leading up to the election, a small staff, aided by 40 interns and several volunteers, administered the National Political Awareness Test to candidates, conversed with the media and checked facts to keep voters informed. On November 2, Lawless said, “[P]eople were calling by the hour, thousands of average citizens calling on their way to the voting booth.” Between November 1 and 2, the Project Vote Smart website received over 16 million hits and their office took 3,000 calls from people doing last-minute research.
Meanwhile, somewhere closer to home and with a slightly different agenda, representatives from the Michigan Democratic Party were also making a concentrated grass-roots effort to inform voters during the 2004 election. Repeatedly canvassing dorms, talking to students and re-registering voters all lead to a constant effort to educate voters on why and how the Democratic candidates could best serve their political needs. John Fournier, political theory junior and current president of the MSU Democrats said, “We are the legs of the organization.” Although Democrats may have lost the war nationally, they won the battle locally: 90 percent of MSU students voted, 78 percent of which voted Democrat. Since the election, the MSU Democrats have been trying to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in the past election and concentrate their efforts on the upcoming 2008 elections.
While Democrats were busy promoting Sen. John Kerry, the Michigan Republican Party led an aggressive grass-roots effort to talk to friends, families and neighbors about George W. Bush’s plans for a second term. The Republicans tried to approach everyone despite some peoples’ strong feelings of opposition regarding the current administration’s stance on issues such as the war in Iraq and gay marriage. In a state that has voted Democratic in the past four presidential elections, Nate Bailey, communications and research coordinator for the Michigan Republican Party and an international relations sophomore, stated that sometimes the campaign was an “uphill battle.” The Republicans, too, are doing some re-evaluating now that the election is over. They hope to reclaim the governor’s seat after losing in 2002 to Jennifer Granholm. They also wish to reinforce the Republican majority already apparent in the state legislature. In the last few moments of the election, all three organizations felt the intensity of the past year whether they were taking phone calls informing voters, handing out last minute flyers, or calling registered voters.
When asked wither Project Vote Smart’s mission has changed, Lawless replied, “[M]any people see an election as the capstone of their involvement in politics and wait for two to four years to take part again. In a way, citizens have ‘hired’ public officials to represent their concerns in Washington or Lansing. It’s now the citizen’s job to evaluate or supervise these officials and make sure that they are performing as they promised during the campaign.” The best ways to stay informed are to read the newspaper; educate yourself about political ideals and, at best, keep an open mind. After all, politics can be tricky, and it’s hard to see the top from down here.

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