This is soooo tricky.
Part of me wants to say, let her lead the way. Let her guide the response. But, I also know that in my own life, by four or five I was all too aware of my difference in the world, and never told my parents about the teasing/questions/harassment I endured. So, I urge you to respond. Make her feel safe and protected. It’s easy to brush things off as “ignorance” or advocate silence as a way of “not sinking down to their level”. But that’s a flawed philosophy, because it denies your daughter the space to feel hurt or angry or confused. It denies her the chance to stand up for herself, to fight back. We’re talking about racism here, not some petty misunderstanding from folks who “just don’t know better”. Teach your daughter that people shouldn’t say things like that to her. That she shouldn’t have to be made to feel bad about being Chinese or adopted, or both.
I’m still working on the best way to talk about these things. And the truth is, there probably isn’t any one thing you can do or say that will soothe the pain. But please, respond. And teach your daughter to respond. You wouldn’t teach her to tolerate sexist comments from kids on the playground, so why ignore racially motivated ones? It seems to me that because Asians are portrayed as the model-minority and put into a racial “grey area”, people are unsure about what it means to make fun of Asian characteristics. But let there be no doubt in your mind – jokes about slanted eyes, yellow skin, dog-eating, “ching chong” language or any of the other usual suspects are RACIST, and should be addressed as such.
I’m glad to hear that you’re educating yourself about how to deal with these things from adults. One thing I think is helpful is to know about Asian American History, as well as current events. Chinese Exclusion, Japanese Internment, Vincent Chin: they may have happened decades or a hundred years ago, but they still shape the ways that Asians are perceived, portrayed and treated. And things are still happening today that only prove how far we are yet to come.
Probably the hardest thing about growing up the only Asian kid in a white family, and one of three kids of color in my entire elementary school was that I had no role models, no one to look up to. In any sense. There were few Asian characters in TV, movies or books (and the ones that were there often relied heavily on stereotypes) and all of my teen magazines promoted a standard of beauty that I could never attain, simply by the nature of my skin tone, face shape, eye folds, hair color, etc. If a local/regional adoptee organization had some sort of mentorship program, I would definitely try to get involved. Even intermittent contact with an adoptee – someone who looks like you, someone who has been hurt in the same way, someone who is there to legitimize your daughter’s feelings on a level that you never will be able to to – could be extremely beneficial.
Whew. That was a mouthful. The bottom line is that this is hard. There’s a lot more I could have enumerated here. And it all adds up to a situation with the potential for your daughter to feel alone. But the most important thing is to keep an open line of communication about it. Support her. Defend her. Never question the way she feels – you aren’t living this, she is.