This documentary aired on PBS’s P.O.V. on August 31, 2010 – and the blogs were buzzing with criticism and comments. I must admit – my feathers were also ruffled at first.
After watching only eleven minutes of this documentary, which led up to the first meeting of Donna Sadowsky and Fang Sui Yong (now named Faith Sadowsky), I was incensed that the mother had come to China without learning any Chinese! (I later saw that she knew a word here and there, but not enough to have a basic conversation). As the two of them spent time at the agency together, with the filmmaker herself stepping in as a translator, it became very apparent that adopting an older child from another country presented a whole new level of unforeseen challenges for this family. This was my main disappointment in the Sadowsky’s life: the unforeseen. Why did the family not learn Chinese, in order to be able to communicate with this child? I cringed when I heard the mother announce to Sui Yong that her name would be “Faith”, and then hearing the adoption agency translator struggle to pronounce it correctly. Did Donna Sadowsky not know that East Asians have a difficult time pronouncing “TH” before choosing such a name? Could not more effort have been made to find a name that would have been easy for Americans and Chinese to pronounce?
It was hard to see the lack of racial and cultural awareness in the family at first. Did the family not understand what it meant to bring Chinese girls (yes, they adopted an infant from China a few years earlier) into their white, Jewish, Long Island family? Were they not asked the four questions before they adopted internationally and transracially?
Luckily, by the last thirty minutes, the family made some real strides in attempting to raise their Chinese daughters (yes, they adopted an infant a few years earlier). The high point of the movie for me was when Donna Sadowsky picked up the phone and made an appointment with Dr. Amanda Baden, who came over to the house. If only more time had been spent in the documentary focusing on their dialogue! If only we could have witnessed their progress on learning how to raise two Chinese-American daughters, not Chinese daughters in America.
Overall, I found the film to be a catalyst for “leaning into discomfort” and would recommend viewing it. I think that the photo and the title set the audience up for a sweet story – which it is not. The family was loving and provided many physical comforts that native-born Americans don’t even enjoy. However, they admit that they are learning and have some growing to do. I also chastise the many Sadowsky criticizers out there by applauding this family for exposing their life to public view and critique. It’s an extremely brave thing to do. In the end, Faith makes a brilliant transition, to the point of not being able to speak with her foster family over Skype. Faith now needs the translator.