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Vietnamese Heritage Camp - A Marvelous Family Experience

By Cindy Roberts

An adoptive family attends Vietnamese culture camp.

In August, 1999 we attended Colorado Heritage Camps, Vietnamese Culture Camp in Denver, Colorado for adopted kids and their families. When I asked our adopted son Tommy, age 8 from Vietnam, if he would like to go, I was amazed by his answer! Tommy was recently adopted as an older child. He has only been home 2 plus years and has gone through periods of rejecting anything Vietnamese, or totally being afraid of another Asian person. When asked why, he would say he "was afraid someone would figure out he was Vietnamese, and take him back to Vietnam."  So when I asked him if he wanted to go to Vietnamese Culture Camp, I was expecting a tearful event. I sat Tommy down and explained what the camp was and showed him the camp brochure. Tommy's answer was, "Oh yeah, I want to go! Cool!" When I was shocked by his answer, and asked why he wanted to go, he said, "I want to see other kids who look like me!" Like duh, Mom! So off we went to camp!

Months before we went to camp, Tommy was bragging to all his school friends where he was going this summer, he wasn't talking about the family trip to Hawaii, he was talking about Vietnamese Culture Camp! His school teacher was amazed at the new child that had come alive. Tommy was teaching his friends at school how to speak Vietnamese during recess. It was the first time he had spoken Vietnamese sense he got off the airplane in American!

So we finally arrived in Denver, Colorado for Culture camp.  I took Tommy age 8, Ben age 7 (Tommy's biological brother from Vietnam), and Tanner age 7 (our second born biological son). We have 6 kids, but because I booked airline tickets so late, we could only afford to take half the kids. Next time the whole family is going! Every moment of this whole weekend was jammed packed with fun! It would be hard to pin point one part that I thought was better than another.

Just the company of being in a room full of adoptive parents from Vietnam was amazing in itself! We live in the Southern California area, but we are the only family that I know of with adoptive children from Vietnam. So just the gathering of all these people in itself was very rewarding. Most of the families were from the Denver area, but there were quiet a few of us who flew in for this event. People came from New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois for Culture camp. The mix of kids was great! There were a lot of older kids between the ages of 5 and 13.

For the parents, there was never a dull moment! I learned how to cook Vietnamese Spring Rolls by a world class chef who happens to be adopting from Vietnam. Candice Pruett gave an enlightening talk about biracial adoptions. Jessica Medinger's, a "Vietnamese airlift baby from the 70's" talked about growing up adopted and her search for her birth parents. Binh Rybacki from Vietnam spoke about Vietnamese Culture and the traditions of a Vietnamese family verses a typical American family. Dee Paddock, a family counselor, gave a hysterical talk about adoption. I have never laughed so hard and cried so much in the same day. 6 months later, I am still thinking about what these wonderful people had to say. We went to Vietnamese Culture Camp for the kids, I never imagine Mom would have this much fun!

The kids at camp were separated into groups by age. They enjoyed Vietnamese art projects, a Vietnamese puppet show, Vietnamese folk stories, learned to make moon cakes, and at the end of one night dressed up in
traditional Vietnamese clothing, carried paper lanterns they had made earlier that day and had their own little Moon Festival parade. This was followed by a wonderful lion dance troop that put on a spectacular show! I think my kids favorite part was the camp counselors they spent the two days with. The counselors were Vietnamese teenagers from the Denver community. The kids were also exposed to an adult lead adoption talk just among the kids, and the kids were encouraged to draw a picture about how it feels to be adopted.

Quotes from the Roberts' kids about Culture Camp:

"My favorite thing about camp is when I saw the lion dancers, and when we made kites with the consolers. I also enjoyed seeing my cousin Joe from Vietnam." Tommy, age 9, adopted from Vietnam

"My favorite thing at camp is when I made new friends." Ben, age 8, adopted from Vietnam

"My favorite thing at camp was when I met Todd (a counselor). I liked it when I built a kite that flew very high. When my kite broke, Todd fixed it. Then we caught at least 12 grass hoppers. I also liked the Lion Dance, and meeting my new cousin Joe. I made a lacquer box, a dragon puppet, and moon cakes. I learn at camp that I was born year of the Monkey!" Tanner, age 8, biological son

More Information: Current Vietnam Adoption Culture Camp events and dates provided on the Families with Children from Vietnam website. Or visit the Heritage Camp Website.

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