“But how are you going to understand her when she starts to talk?”

by Lisa Ercolano

Juliet had only been part of our family for two weeks when I got my first introduction to the confusion and curiosity that international/trans-racial adoption can spark in some people.

My little daughter was bundled like a burrito in a puffy red snowsuit and slung on my chest in an infant carrier while I went about the task of doing the weekly grocery shopping. As I placed the Romaine lettuce, bananas, yogurt, milk and other foods onto the conveyor belt, the middle-aged cashier craned her neck toward Juliet and peering hard, said bluntly “Is that YOUR baby?”

Proud as could be that this gorgeous six-month-old was, indeed, part of our family, I patiently explained that Juliet had been born to her first parents in China, but they were unable to raise her, so our family had adopted her and would have the privilege of bringing her up. As the cashier scanned and bagged my groceries, we continued to chat about adoption, and the many female children in China that were in need of homes.

“There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” said the cashier, as I was paying and getting ready to be on my way. “How will you guys understand her when she starts to talk? Do you speak Chinese?”

That may have been the first time someone asked me a silly question, but it sure hasn’t been the last! As any Caucasian parent of a child of color knows, the questions and comments come at you hard and fast – and from seemingly every direction – when you are out in public together.

During another trip to the supermarket, a well-meaning but ignorant older woman stopped to admire the baby and pronounced “She must love the color red, coming from a Communist country the way she did! And rice. She must love rice. All Chinese people do.”

I forced a smile, muttering something to the effect that Juliet was only a baby, and hadn’t tasted rice yet, and certainly hadn’t expressed preference for any colors. Then I went on my way as fast as my legs could carry me. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to laugh, or cry.

If I had a dollar for every person who told me that Juliet would someday be great at math, the violin, and martial arts, I’d have a nice nest egg. Those kind of  comments were especially difficult to deal with, as the people making them seemingly meant well. Yet they reflect certain stereotypes about Asians and were offensive to me in that way.  My daughter was, and is, an individual.

So my stock response was to say “That’s very nice of you, but she’s certainly too little right now to do math, play an instrument, or take self-defense classes. It will be fun to see who she is as she grows up.”

And it has been fun.  As it turns out, Juliet is pretty good at math, but doesn’t like it much. She definitely loves rice and Chinese food, but also digs into a Chipotle chicken burrito, cheese pizza or sushi with equal gusto.

Instead of choosing to play a musical instrument, she began begging for ballet lessons almost as soon as she started to talk, and has spent most of her non-school hours in the dance studio since then.  She doesn’t have a favorite color; her preferences vary from day to day, depending on her mood and what she is wearing.

And, to my knowledge, she has never set foot in a karate dojo, though she continues to be asked by classmates and peers if she is a black belt. She’s heard that one – and so many others – so many times that she just sighs in response.


  1. A great story. Kudos to you for being able to take these comments in stride. It is surprising what can roll off of some people’s tongues sometimes.

  2. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    Our Life in 3D, I honestly think most people mean well, and I have learned that through the years. At the beginning, in fact, I was so darned excited that we were entrusted with Juliet that I couldn’t wait to share everything that anyone wanted to know. I still feel that way, and get a little frustrated when overly polite people sort of verbally beat around the bush when they want to know if she is adopted. So instead of asking, they say things such as “Oh, gosh, is her dad ASIAN?” Usually, I will explain politely, though I have been known to retort (if I am feeling impish) “You know, I’m not sure. I never saw his face.” Bottom line is that my philosophy (for better or for worse) is that that which is unspoken has more power than that which is brought out into the light. We wanted Juliet to hear her adoption narrative from the beginning, in a natural way, before she was old enough to comprehend it, so that it would be a “normal” thing once she was more cognitively and emotionally able to understand. It seems to have worked so far.

  3. It’s a crazy experience but there’s a lot of love and happiness in there and that’s what matters the most! =>

  4. That comment about speaking Chinese is just crazy! But I agree with you, I think people often ask odd questions as their way around pointing out the obvious. I’m currently parenting two little boys who are the same age and size, but one is Caucasian and one is Hispanic. I have had several people ask if they are twins. But you can tell that it’s just their way of fishing for more details. People are curious creatures.

  5. Love it and hate it all at once. But the reality is that people will continue to ask rude, nosey, and inappropriate questions forever. We might as well get a laugh out of it after the fact!

  6. Denise Poshard says:

    love your sense of humor! thanks for this!

  7. It certainly is crazy how ignorant some people are. I admire you taking all these (stereotypical? racist?) comments in stride — your daughter as well. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Lisa Ercolano says:

    I think I had had Juliet in my arms about 8 hours before the questions started, right there in China, in fact. When our group of Caucasian parents were out with their new Chinese babies in public, curious Chinese citizens would gather around us. This was back in 1994, and they obviously were confused about why we white people were holding Asian babies. (I am told that back then, not very many Chinese people were cognizant of international adoption.) It continued when I returned to the States with the baby. And you know what? I n most cases, I have always welcomed questions and well-meaning comments, because it offered me two things: the chance to tell people about the miracle of adoption and the chance to talk about adoption in a natural, relaxed (and yes, sometimes, humor-filled) way within Juliet’s hearing. It is my view that if we, the adoptive parents, are comfortable with the way our children came into our families and take it as a natural thing for ourselves and our kids, then our children will grow up feeling that adoption is just one more natural way for children to join their families. So questions allow me to “evangelize” a bit about the children here and around the world who need homes, and they let Juliet hear her story, over and over, as something to celebrate and talk about, and not something to whisper or be hush hush about.

  9. The sheer stupidity of some people never ceases to amaze!
    Great post 🙂

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