Aminta Arrington is the author of Home is a Roof Over a Pig, a memoir about her family's move from the United States to a small village in China, and how she, her husband, and their three young children adapt to their new surroundings.
Q: You have written that the first Chinese character you learned was the one for "home," showing a roof over a pig. Why did you choose that concept for the title of your book?
A: I played around with a few titles, but I felt this one paid homage to the importance of the Chinese characters in the narrative, the sense of discovery I had in learning their meanings, as well as the universal idea of “home” and our need to find a sense of home in China, and that in fact, we did.
Q: Referring to your daughter Grace, who was adopted as a baby from China, you wrote, "I had come to China, in part, looking for the life my daughter had lost." Do you feel that your family found that life? What were the other reasons that your family decided to move to China, and what experiences were the most surprising?
A: I had to acknowledge that Grace will never regain the life she lost. But, she now speaks Chinese and is completely comfortable in Chinese culture. Because of these abilities, she can access China whenever she should want to or need to. And I am satisfied with that. Not only that, but she has experienced China in the safety, love, and protection of her own family; China is not something that belongs to her alone, it is all of ours. Moreover, China to her is not an abstract concept or a place on a map, but a host of people that we care about and who love her.
And now that she is reaching adolescence, I see in many ways that she will benefit greatly by the opportunities being an American has to offer. One that readily comes to mind is the American educational system and its acknowledgement of “multiple intelligences.” Knowing what I know about Chinese schooling, Grace would have withered under its single-minded focus on passing the exam and getting a high score. She would then have had to live the very circumscribed life of few opportunities that avail one who does not score well.
And she knows this. So our time in China has also de-romanticized what she left behind, and shown her that her adoption is a part of her identity that she should embrace. Although we have always tried to give her all the richness of Chinese culture, I think she can also appreciate being an American better now.
Q: What did your family members think about your writing this book?
A: My husband Chris realized that writing provided me with the emotional outlet I needed to process everything that I was experiencing. He was always supportive. On a more practical level, he’s happy that our family has a record of those early years in China. The kids were (and are) too young to have much of an opinion, but I hope it will be more meaningful for them as they grow older and process the portion that China will always play in their identities.
Q: Do you plan to continue teaching and living in China?
A: We sense that we are nearing the end of our time in China. We’ve always felt that once our kids reached middle school, that we could no longer keep them in Chinese school, and at the same time, we had the responsibility to bring them back to America to socialize them as American kids. We are now at that point.
Q: Are you working on another book?
A: I wish I were! I miss being in that creative place of thinking and writing. But real life gets in the way. Although I have ideas, I don’t have the time to pursue them. I’m now at the dissertation phase in a PhD program in Intercultural Studies, so, along with teaching and carting the kids around to their various activities, most of my creative energy is taken up.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb