The Band-Aid of Heritage and Culture Camps and What They Cover Up

Heritage and culture camps are very popular among adoptive families with children from other countries as mini-vacations with similar families (which mostly means white parents with adopted children from Korea, China, India, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and so on). Google “heritage camps for adopted children” and you will see dozens listed that take place all across the country. They are largely run by adoption agencies and adoptive parents, though increasingly they include adult adoptees as presenters and mentors. The camps are billed as ways to strengthen adoptive families and to build pride in the children’s culture and heritage. They are part post-adoption services and part easy way to focus “positively” on a country that is thousands of miles away, where a different language is spoken and the child’s original family still lives.

Ethiopian culture camps are relatively new. My sister and I arrived in the U.S. from Ethiopia in 1994 when we were 6 years old. There were not many Ethiopian adoptees at that time, never mind culture camps. So my sister, our other siblings, and I went to programs for adopted kids and adoptive families a few times when we were little (mostly events sponsored by the Center for Adoption Support and Education in Maryland). Thankfully, my parents purposely raised my siblings and me in a diverse community where I had Ethiopian families as neighbors and classmates. Many people of different races, religions, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses surrounded us.

In my adolescent years, I began to question my identity. What did it mean to be Ethiopian, black, and American? This quest for my identity was a journey that I had to take on my own. Although they loved me, it was not something that my parents could teach me or be a part of.