By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism
Smiles were in plentiful supply on the faces of 13-year-old Ea and 8-year-old Brant Pedersen on Saturday night at the Cheyenne Country Club, two Chinese children who have found a forever home in the Cowboy State.
The two adopted children were among a loosely connected host of family, friends and extended family of people of Asian descent or fellow adopted children, all celebrating their Chinese culture with a local Chinese New Year Festival.
It’s an event that Bryan and Sara Pedersen have been holding for nine years that came about as the two were casting about for a way to celebrate and share their adopted children’s Chinese heritage.
When they found there was no Chinese New Year celebration in Cheyenne, they decided to make their own.
The couple found an acclaimed lion and dragon dancing team from the Colorado Asian Cultural Heritage Center to demonstrate authentic Chinese dances, a bit of authentic culture celebrated around the world.
Children enjoyed watching the bobbing head of the dragon as it chased the pearl of wisdom continuously around the room — chasing, but never quite acquiring it.
They also had fun scrambling for oranges that were thrown by the dancing lions, whose job at New Years is to chase away all evil spirits from every nook, cranny and shadow in the space.
Adults were having a good time, too, watching the children having so much fun.
From A Faraway Land
But Ea and Brant haven’t always had such big smiles on their faces.
It’s taken time for them to find happiness in a home so very far from everything they once knew.
Under Chinese customs, parents go to live with sons when it’s their time to retire. This cultural norm had dire consequences for baby girls during China’s one-child policy.
Families just didn’t want a girl for their only child because of what it would mean for their retirement. No son meant no proper home to go. And the one-child limit meant hundreds of abandoned baby girls left at orphanages across China.
Ea was among these abandoned children, but she also had an extra strike against her. She was born with a cleft palate. As a girl, she would likely face a very dark future in her birth country.
That dark future, in fact, is one of the reasons Bryan and Sara Pedersen chose her.
Not because they couldn’t have children of their own. In fact, they have two healthy biological sons, Dane and Brock.
“This was a conversation that came up when we were dating in college,” Bryan Pedersen told Cowboy State Daily. “We both said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to adopt someday. And it wasn’t like it was a goal or anything. We just assumed that someday we just would.
“Giving someone a family is the biggest way to make a difference in a life for sure.”
When The Best Day Is The Worst
Ea, however, at the tender age of 22 months, was certain with every cell in her body that this was not so lucky. Not so lucky at all.
From her toddler-sized vantage point, strangers had arrived from out of nowhere and stolen her away from everyone and everything she had ever known. Worse still, none of her caregivers had objected — even though these strangers didn’t look a thing like anybody she’d ever seen.
“We were essentially aliens,” Bryan Pedersen said. “Nothing in China looks like me, talks like me or smells like me. So, it was very traumatic.”
That caused a lot of tears in the Pedersen household for the small girl who just couldn’t yet understand what had really happened to her or why.
Ea Gets A Brother
Eventually, with time and love, Ea came around. The tears stopped. There were hugs and smiles. Though she would still sometimes forget and start a sentence with, “When a new family adopts me …”
But she has finally come to realize that she truly has found a forever family and a wonderful new life. There’s no going back, and now she can be happy about that.
These days, she’s not only often wearing a smile of her own, but she’s quick as well to help bring smiles to the faces of others.
At the party, she was often helping smaller children. She twirled around the room with a small baby, making it laugh as they danced together.
In fact, it is that endearing trait of hers, being so caring to others, that decided Sara and Bryan on adopting another child from China.
By 2018, though, China had abandoned its one-child policy. Girls were no longer being abandoned. Instead, it was mostly boys with medical conditions that were filling up China’s orphanages.
That brought the Cheyenne couple to a beautiful baby boy named Brant.
He had a heart condition and two fingers fused together. The boy was from an area where agriculture is predominant, which makes the family believe the fused fingers were probably the main reason for his abandonment.
While fused fingers might have made it difficult for him to work in something as hands-on as agriculture in China, America has plenty of jobs where the mind is more important than hands.
And so once again, the Pedersens found themselves choosing a child where they could maximize the positive impact for one more of the world’s orphaned children.
Tensions Sometimes Spill Over
Sharing their family’s Chinese New Year felt even more important this year, Bryan Pedersen told Cowboy State Daily, after China sent a military spy balloon over the United States.
While many Wyomingites and Americans in general were understandably indignant about China’s breach of American air space, the father’s first thought wasn’t about shooting the balloon down.
Instead, he was thinking about how this development could affect Ea and Brant in school with their friends. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he’d already seen how sometimes tensions could spill over in a negative way for his children.
“A couple of kids in school, you know, because kids are kids and kids can be terrible, informed Ea she was responsible for the pandemic because she is in fact from Wuhan,” Pedersen said.
Of course, neither Ea nor Brant had anything to do with the COVID-19 pandemic simply by being Asian. And Ea was already in America well before the pandemic, arriving in 2011, as was was Brant, who arrived in 2018.
Sharing some of the culture with the community at large felt like one of the best ways the couple could help their children transcend such behavior toward those of Asian descent.
“I think it’s important to share it in our community as much as possible to, you know, slow it before it starts,” Bryan Pedersen said. “And share that there’s a difference between the CCP, you know the Chinese Community Party, and the people of China.”
Many people of Chinese descent have left their country for various reasons over the years, including the one-child policy. They came to America for freedom, and do not necessarily agree with everything the land of their birth is doing in the world.
“The actions of the CCP doesn’t represent the ideologies of all the people in China,” Pedersen said. “There are great people everywhere in the world.”