Grateful Traveler: Life Lessons from Adoption

Locations in this article:  Los Angeles, CA Paris, France

Chinatown celebrationTraveler Jamie Simons has shared stories of “Eskimos,” the people you meet throughout the world who make your journey extra-special. This week, she tells a story about the Eskimos who live right here in America, who add that something special into our daily lives.

My 6-year-old daughter was adopted from China. My husband and I are not Chinese.

But we made a promise to the Chinese government, our daughter and ourselves that we would do everything in our power to help her understand and embrace her native culture.

So each fall we go to the Moon Festival at a local high school. In winter, we celebrate Chinese New Year at the Chinese-American Museum.

We chose her school in part because half of the student body is Asian and each year 60 kids from China come to study.

Chinese bells It’s so important to us that our daughter feel comfortable in her own skin that she takes Chinese lessons, we celebrate her “Gotcha Day” (the day she was adopted) with other adopted children from China, and many weekends she plays with these same children.

But here’s the thing. My daughter doesn’t really care. She’s oblivious to skin color and eye shape. Her two best friends are blond-haired and blue-eyed.

She’ll often mention that a friend from school looks just like her but when I meet the child she is black or Hispanic. I think for people who live life in an inclusive, heartfelt way, this is the path they instinctively travel—whether you meet them in a mountain pass in Nepal or at a city park, just as we did last summer.

My husband and I had, once again, taken our daughter to a festival for kids adopted from China. In honor of the day, my daughter had donned one of the traditional silk quipo dresses that Chinese girls often wear for special occasions. You could not have mistaken her for anything but what she is—an adorable Chinese child.

At the park, the place was overflowing with girls who looked just like our daughter. She played with them for a while and then she spied a much more interesting celebration taking place just up the hill. A large, extended Hispanic family was having a birthday party for an 8-year-old boy.

The entertainment? A soldier just back from Iraq was putting the kids through their paces as if they were in boot camp. He’d erected obstacle courses, had them marching to and fro, running double time and shouting out, “Hup, two, three, four …”

Without asking the family’s permission, my daughter joined the party. There they stood, a group of Latino 8- and 9-year-olds and a tiny 5-year-old Chinese girl attached to the end of the line. Not one of the children told her to go away. They just included her in the festivities like she’d been invited.

And so she ran the obstacle courses, marched when told to and sang out “Hup, two, three, four …” at the top of her lungs. No matter how much her father and I begged her to go back to her own party, nothing could get her to leave.

Kids Playing togetherFinally in frustration and embarrassment, I approached the birthday boy’s mother. But when I apologized, she just looked at me and said, “Oh, we hadn’t noticed her.”

How could that be? I thought to myself. But all this woman said was “Would you like to join us for cake?”

And so I realized once again that Eskimos—the people of all colors, cultures and countries who teach us a kinder, gentler way—are everywhere. On this summer day they were at a city park in Los Angeles. Tomorrow they might be in your neighborhood or on the streets of Paris.

They are the people of open hearts and open minds who focus not on what sets us apart but on what brings us together. This time it was a little girl who wanted to join the party. It didn’t matter if she was a descendant of Kublai Khan or Moctezuma. She was welcome to celebrate and sing out “Happy Birthday,” just as we do for her on this day.

By Jamie Simons for

Read more from the Grateful Traveler series in our Personal Travel Journals category.

Or read the entry that started it all: Grateful Traveler: An Eskimo Showed Me the Way.

Previously by Jamie Simons:

Grateful Traveler: Relying on the Kindness of Taxi Drivers

Grateful Traveler: Three Global Good Deeds

Grateful Traveler: A Home Stay to Remember

Grateful Traveler: Traveling Solo, But Never Alone