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Forging Bonds with Immigrant Families

Our friendships have enriched our understanding of the culture my daughters came from and the people they left behind.

It all started five years ago with a nervous phone call I made to a Chinese-Canadian community association in Ottawa, looking for a Mandarin speaker to play with my 14-month-old daughter.

Bin, a 27-year-old pediatrician from Shanghai, answered the phone. In halting English, she offered her services. She started coming to my house twice a week to sit on the floor with Cleo, singing Chinese folk songs, playing clapping games, and saying “duck” and “doggy” in Mandarin. Bin knew more about Chinese adoption than most Chinese immigrants we’d met. As a pediatrician in China, she had seen grieving parents walk away from a daughter after birth. Over long talks about China and Canada, we became good friends.

Her husband, Fenji, a wonderful cook, taught me how to make Chinese dumplings. Bin, meanwhile, wanted me to teach her how to make muffins. We shared Chinese New Year feasts and Christmas dinners. We took Bin and Fenji to museums and on drives in the country. When my husband traveled to Shanghai on business, he shared a meal with Bin’s family. When she applied for a job in her field, I was her only Canadian reference. And when Bin landed a new job, she took us out for Beijing duck to celebrate. My husband helped Bin and her husband buy their first car, and taught her to drive.

Bin became much more than I had hoped. At a time when there are so few Chinese role models on TV or in the media, this strong, educated, ambitious, Chinese-Canadian woman with a kind heart and a quick laugh was a wonderful role model for our daughter. And for Bin and her husband, we became exactly what they needed: compassionate guides in their new country.

Winning Match

Two years ago, based on our friendships with these new immigrants from China, my adoption agency, the Children’s Bridge, launched the Friendship Program to match new immigrants with adoptive families. After an article about our experiences was published in a Chinese newspaper, many immigrant families came forward to be matched. The organizer of the program hosted a picnic for all the families to break the ice. All of our children played together. It was wonderful.

A few dozen families now participate. Some family pairs meet regularly, helping each other with English and Mandarin. Others go out for Chinese food every few weeks. Most participants found exactly what we found—relationships that far exceeded their initial expectations. They are tremendously important for families who want to raise their daughters with a sense of where they come from. And a bonus is the ability to help newcomers find their way.

As for our family, we no longer need a formal friendship program. This Chinese New Year, we had our pick of invitations to dinners at Chinese-Canadian friends’ homes. Our friendships have enriched our understanding of the culture my daughters came from and the people they left behind.

Shelley Page lives in Ottawa with her husband and daughters.

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