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FCC Leader Spotlight

Luanne Billstein Toledo, Ohio FCC

If you try to catch up with Luanne Billstein, you might want to look for her updates on Facebook. This mom of four kids, two of whom were adopted in China, is intent on staying connected, both to the contemporary and ancient culture of her two pre-adolescent Asian girls. She and her husband, Bob, are also parents of two sons, ages 18 and 21. 

Staying connected --- it is something Luanne is clearly passionate about as she quickly recaps various efforts to unite groups around the Asian culture in the “small town” area around Toledo, Ohio.
She describes the FCC group as a pretty loosely organized group whose largest event is their Chinese New Year banquet at a local restaurant. The group also holds its popular “Ladies Nite Out” each month, educational seminars for parenting adopted children, and playgroups for the kids. She says when her family moved to the area five years ago, she started the 100 family Toledo chapter of FCC after being active with the Atlanta chapter since 1998. She has stayed active and drives activities such as the “China Care Club” which is part of the China Care Foundation. The club holds a monthly “Dumplings” playgroup, which is run by Chinese American college students for young adopted Chinese children. Luanne is eyeing the mentoring program (for older adopted kids) within the China Care group, and says, “It doesn’t exist in Toledo as of yet, but that may change…”  

She discusses her family’s 3-year experience with weekly Mandarin classes at the local Chinese school. She recounts the barriers to success for that type of program and says, “My kids whined and complained incessantly about having to go, particularly since it was held on Friday nights.” Then she quickly adds, “However, our high school now teaches Mandarin, and they both agreed to choose that as their language for high school.” While attending Chinese school with the girls, Luanne would often make suggestions to the directors of the school, and they invited her to be on the Board of Directors. She says, “Well you know, I completed my 3 year stint on the board, and now they’ve actually made me an honorary lifetime member” and chuckles.

It is obvious that the passion to connect and integrate into Chinese culture runs deep for Luanne, although she is quick to point out that she cannot actually transmit culture to her daughters, nor experience life as Asian women. She recaps some of her learning about race and culture and says, “When my kids are eventually out on their own, and out from under the protective umbrella of our home, no one will look at them as see them as the children of white parents. My daughters will be seen in their own right as Asian American women, period – not Luanne’s and Bob’s daughters. We are trying to prepare them for that reality that will one day come ---- that’s our goal.”

For now, she continues to pursue connections for her family, as she clearly sees her family as Chinese-American/Caucasian. She recaps how she connected the local Chinese community of more than 3000 people to attend and participate in the Toledo Dragon Boat Festival. “At the time I became involved with the dragon boat races, the Chinese Association didn’t even know this event took place in our town.” The races were organized as a major fundraiser for a non-profit for local education. Now with the Chinese community involved, in addition to the racing, there is an area of the festival called “China Village” where booths are set up for cultural activities, artifacts, food and entertainment. Again, due to her interest and involvement, Luanne was asked to be on the Board of the Chinese Association of Greater Toledo. They hold family picnics in the Spring and Fall where approximately 400 members of the organization, mostly Chinese or Chinese American, get together to grill out, play badminton, and socialize. The FCC group has always been warmly invited but, of course, that takes some of us out of our comfort zone, and many families don’t participate. That’s too bad, because culture and racial identity are things that can only be “caught” by being around Chinese American people—building relationships will usually demand we come out of our comfort zone. Racial identity is so important. “I recently posted to the group about the writings of a biracial African American/Caucasian adoptee that was adopted into in an otherwise white family, and his experience and perspective on race and culture in our society. He writes very well on having a foot in each culture – black and white – and what that is like. The similarities to what our FCC families are going through are quite apparent. He is doing a presentation for us about building racial identity in transracially adopted children.”

She then talks about her next goal for the group which is a plan to bring together kids of the “tween” age, as her girls are, and find fun activities for them to do together so they can group in friendship regularly instead of just once or twice per year, as it has become. “The years between ages 10 and 14 are so important as our kids begin to pull away from Mom and Dad and try out their own identities, figuring out who they really are.”

FCC-Toledo held a screening of the film “Adopted-The Movie” and it’s partner film “We Can Do Better” in which the grown international adoptee struggled so tremendously with identity issues and destructive tendencies. Luann emphatically states, “And you know, we can do better,” her voice rising.

Well said Luanne, I think you will. Thanks for bringing inspiration and challenge for all of us to do that.
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