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Our Week at Heritage Camp

As we sang the American and the Indian national anthems, a lump formed in my throat and I felt a deep pride in my family and my country. Where else would there be such an open-armed celebration of both adoption and cultural diversity?



Wearing a long skirt studded with beads and bits of twinkling glass, my daughter, Kiran, proudly carried the Indian flag; beside her, a boy named Bradley held an American flag. We were gathered with other families for the opening ceremony of East Indian Heritage Camp (EIHC) in Fraser, Colorado. As we sang the American and the Indian national anthems, a lump formed in my throat and I felt a deep pride in my family and my country. Where else would there be such an open-armed celebration of both adoption and cultural diversity?

I’d heard of family heritage camp only a few months before. Kiran had turned eight in June, and my husband and I felt that, while she was too young for sleep-away camp on her own, she was old enough for heritage camp. Perhaps most important, she was still at an age when it is exciting to take trips with Mommy and Daddy.

I wanted Kiran to see other families like ours, to help normalize the idea of her adoption and the reality of our bicultural family. There are only a handful of adopted children in our New York City suburb, and even fewer Indian adoptees. Sometimes, strangers will notice us together and ask, “Are you her babysitter?” That certainly wouldn’t happen here. At EIHC, white parents with Indian children are the norm.

Many events involved Indian games and festivals. One morning, we performed Rangoli, a ritual to welcome the day. We also staged a celebration of Holi, a springtime festival marking the letting go of grudges and negative emotions and making a fresh start.

For part of each day, the kids were split into same-age groups for activities led by Indian-American counselors. One of the highlights of camp for Kiran was meeting sisters from Denver who were originally from Cuttack, the city in Eastern India where she was born.

I believe that heritage camp gave Kiran something that even a trip to India could not: the sense of having a peer group. Her fellow campers were Indian-American kids. Like Kiran, many of them were more likely to reach for the hot dogs at lunch than for the traditional Indian chappatis, dal, and rice. She also got a glimpse of her future—attractive Indian-American teenage girls who helped her with her hair and makeup before the final evening’s “Spice of Life” party.

I am sure that, as Kiran gets older, she will have questions about her birth family and culture. She may have to cope with feelings of grief and loss. But her experience at heritage camp with other young Indian-Americans will, I believe, help her realize that she is far from alone.

–Nelly Edmondson Gupta lives with her husband, Rishi, and daughter, Kiran, in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

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