Backgrounder to Asian-Jewish Edition of Havurah
Rise of Asian-Jewish Mixed Marriages
Many began to notice Asian and American intermarriages in the 1990s after immigration from the Far East began to peak. Asian immigration increased steadily after 1965 when Congress reversed controversial racial quotas on immigration from the Far East. In 1975 following the Vietnam War, more than 130,000 refugees arrived in the United States.1 In 1980, 2.5 million Asian immigrants entered as it became easier for refugees to leave Vietnam and for Chinese migrants to leave their country. The figures rose to 7 million immigrants in 1990. With Jewish-Gentile intermarriage increasing during those same decades, and Jewish and Asian communities existing side by side in large urban centers such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, it is reasonable to see how since 1990 Asian-Jewish families have increased alongside the demographic shifts.
Scan your eyes across a hot sandy beach during Spring Break. Amidst the crowded sun worshippers and family vacationers you may catch an adorable Chinese girl running into the arms of her Caucasian father or mother. It has become commonplace to see the faces of Caucasian parents with Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese children. International adoption of Korean children began shortly after the Korean War ended in 1953. The conflict had left many orphaned children as well as children of mixed races who were known as “G.I. babies.” At that time racially mixed families were uncommon in the United States, not to speak of children adopted internationally. China’s One Child Policy, implemented in 1979 under Mao Tzu Deng, prohibited Chinese families from raising more than one child in their household. Families with two or more children were forced to pay exorbitant taxes or fees for that privilege in addition to facing a social stigma for disregarding their patriotic duty. The Chinese government called it “Family Planning Policy” in their effort to control population.
But the tragic result of this parenting by policy was a glut of abandoned daughters. Unwanted girls were abandoned in streets, under bridges, at government offices. Infanticide increased. The underfunded social welfare system was overwhelmed. In spite of communism’s success in bringing an ancient society out of its feudalistic past and into the twentieth century, traditional thinking persisted: in the Chinese family the son cares for his parents in their old age. But the daughter is joined to her husband’s family. Therefore daughters were abandoned in the hopes the parents might rear a son.
Orphanages struggled for years to care for these disregarded gems. The government, concerned with losing face, maintained silence to the western journalists. But in the spring of 1992, China passed the Chinese Adoption Law, which allowed foreigners to apply directly to the government and adopt children from the government orphanages. By December 1992, over 2,000 children had been adopted from China. Since then, over 50,000 children have found homes in the United States, and many more in Europe, Australia, and Latin America.2
As tragic were the effects of China’s One Child Policy, equally so were the effects of Roe v Wade on domestic adoption. Many would-be mothers chose abortion over adoption as a solution to their pregnancy. The supply of eligible children has dwindled in the United States over the last forty years leaving an inventory of special needs children. Parents wishing to privately adopt a healthy child often pay thousands of dollars and wait years before an agency finds a pregnant mother who asks the adoptive parents to pay for her maternity costs. Mothers seeking to adopt are often forced to look across the ocean. The 1988 National Survey on Family Growth reported that out of 2 million mothers (ages 15-44) who sought to adopt a child domestically, only 620,000 succeeded.3 At the same time, foreign adoption doubled. In 1992, there were 6,536 international adoptees brought to the United States; in 1997, that number rose to 13,620 (United States Department of State).4 Vicki Peterson, executive director for external affairs for Wide Horizons for Children, an adoption advocacy organization, pointed out that for a Jewish family, adopting a Jewish child domestically is almost impossible. Therefore, many turn to international adoption.
Virtually any adopting Jewish parent will raise a child who was not born Jewish. It is extraordinarily rare for a Jewish child to be relinquished for adoption. Like more than 24,000 other Americans, Jewish prospective parents often turn to international adoption as a means of building or adding to their family. At one time this was an unusual concept, but no longer.5
Why have so many mothers chosen to adopt from Asia in particular? “The process was streamlined. The costs are fixed and all the charges were up front,” says Holly Meyer, mother of Carrie-Fu whom she adopted in 2005 from Jiangxi province. “The Chinese had systemized the entire process. Most of the available children are healthy and emotionally adjusted. Their parents were not crack addicts. These children did not come from abusive homes where they were ripped from their home by the state and placed in a foster care system. They ended up in orphanages because of a dysfunctional law: ‘One Child Per Family.’” Revenues to China from the 50,000 foreign adoptions brought in to China’s welfare system millions of dollars in funding for their over-burdened orphanages, providing medical care, clothing, and salaries for on-site foster care parents.
Continues Holly, “We felt that domestic adoption entails legal risks from family members such as mothers who may change their mind last minute and find legal protection to keep her baby. Adopting a Jewish child was almost impossible. When we interviewed with the Broward Jewish Family Services in 2003, our social worker explained that they had no Jewish children available. She told us candidly: ‘Most Jewish mothers with unwanted pregnancies choose to abort.’” Across the United States, Jewish parents who are unable to adopt ethnically Jewish children and fear the legal risks and costs of adopting domestically, are choosing to adopt internationally. And most of these adoptions are from China. Today the first wave of Chinese-American adoptees are now reaching bat mitzvah age. They are asking penetrating questions such as “Am I Chinese or Jewish?” and “Which history is my story?”
2 Jack Botwinik. “How We Raise Our Children in Our Chinese-Jewish Family.” InterfaithFamily.com
4 C. A. Bachrach, K. A. London, and P. Maza. “On the Path to Adoption: Adoption Seeking in the U.S., 1988.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, v. 53 no. 3 (1991), pp. 705-718.
Stan Meyer is a missionary at the Phoenix branch of Jews for Jesus. Stan received his theological training at Fuller Theological Seminary. Stan and his late wife adopted their daughter, Carrie-Fu, from China in 2005. Stan married Jacqui Hops, a Jewish believer in Jesus, in August 2014.