Memories of a train ride in China on July 4, 1996, evoke bittersweet emotions for Mary Anne Kiernan of Fairport.
“It was the best day, but a powerful day,” Kiernan recalls about the day she and husband Bob Lazeski adopted their daughter Anna from Anhui province. “As we passed rice fields and people with oxen it struck me that we were taking Anna from her culture.”
When Kiernan and Lazeski returned to Rochester with their infant daughter, they wanted to do something to keep Anna’s Chinese heritage alive.
The two founded Families with Children from China (FCC) — a local chapter of a national organization committed to providing support and cultural opportunities to families that have adopted from China and Taiwan.
Forty families attended the first meeting in September 1997 and currently 90 families are enrolled. Their activities include hosting traditional Chinese holiday celebrations, sponsoring an annual cultural weekend for families at Keuka College and, most recently, organizing a fashion show.
“Over the years we’ve done a lot to share ancient Chinese traditions with our families,” says Kiernan, who is also the group’s current president. “The fashion show is an opportunity to share contemporary Chinese American success stories.”
At the FCC’s Year of the Dragon Fashion Show & Benefit, the latest fashion from top-name Asian designers such as Jason Wu, Katherine Kwei and Joseph Altuzarra will be showcased.
The evolution of FCC to include a fashion show has been natural and occurred as the adoptees like Anna, now 16, have grown.
“As they’ve (the adoptees) gotten older, they realize by the quirk of luck, they were lucky enough to hook up with their forever families,” says Mary Hammele, 52, of Fairport, co-chair of the Teen Group Fashion Show at FCC.
Hammele and her husband, Kevin Glover, adopted two girls from China, Bo, 14, from Guangdong province, and Hao Ying, 14, from Chongqing.
Bo was adopted when she was 15 months old and Hao Ying was adopted as an older child at 7 years old.
The goal of the fashion show at the School of the Arts on Sunday is to raise money for educational and vocational opportunities for teenage orphans in China who are approaching an age where they will be turned out of institutional care and have to fend for themselves.
Often, the teens face a bleak future, as they have no family support and didn’t receive much education because orphanages lacked funding, Hammele explains. The older orphans may also be viewed as “unlucky” by society because they were abandoned by their parents and were not lucky enough to find another home, she adds.
FCC selected Half the Sky’s Million Rainbows program as the recipient for the fundraiser, which offers mentoring and educational assistance to older orphans living in China.
FCC hopes to raise $3,000 through ticket sales ($15 per person) and proceeds from the sale of items donated by Asian designers.
For the past several months FCC members have been soliciting Asian designers and retailers for donations and even huddling in the cold in pre-dawn hours outside the Target store in Henrietta to be among the first to nab the Jason Wu for Target line that sold out in hours.
Many designers loaned their gear for the show and some donated their art work to help the cause. Among the items up for auction are a red Joseph Altuzarra dress retailing for more than $700 and a hand-knotted Katherine Kwei purse retailing for more than $600.
There are two parts to the show. The teens and students from the University of Rochester’s Chinese Student Association will model contemporary cutting-edge fashions from the Asian designers.
Stores such as Kohl’s loaned pieces from its Vera Wang line called Simply Vera and The Country Ewe loaned pieces from the Samuel Dong collection.
The younger children will model traditional Chinese apparel featuring dresses with Mandarin collars as well as outfits representing the minorities in China, such as a colorful costume from the Yi people.
Danette Porter, 47, of Scottsville will be cheering on her daughter Annie, 4, as she models a pink satin gown.
“I think it’s a great cause,” Porter says.
Experts in the adoption field also see the value in events like the FCC’s fashion show that embrace an internationally adopted child’s heritage.
Catholic Family Center, in Rochester, works with families pursuing international adoption to address cultural issues and maintain the adopted child’s culture in a supportive way.
“We tell our families that ‘When you adopt internationally you are not just adopting a child, but a culture,’ ” says Kathryn Young, an adoption social worker at the Catholic Family Center. “Maintaining a child’s cultural heritage is a big part of the adoption process.”
Young says things adoptive families can do to help their internationally adopted child maintain their heritage are: travel to the child’s birth country, hang artwork from the native country in the home, prepare traditional foods and experience cultural events and activities like the fashion show.
“The fashion show is such an amazing opportunity to honor where their children originally came from,” Young says.
“It’s a wonderful thing.”