It wasn’t until I was in my 40s (yes, you read that right), that I started making friendships with Latina women. By this I mean Latina women who grew up within their Latina families, language, and culture. Non-adopted Latina women.
Why? Why did it take me so long to be able to make connections with other Latina women? Because from the moment of my adoption at age 2.5 months, my Latina identity and environment were replaced by a white, Jewish one. Now, there is nothing wrong with having a white, Jewish identity – if you are white and Jewish. But what if you’re not?
I grew up with so many truly wonderful people and things around me. There were hard times for sure, but there was always love, friendship, family, educational opportunities, vacations, warmth, food, shelter, etc. All feelings and things that no one can or should take for granted.
Yet, still, something was missing. Not only the figment of mi mami in Colombia, but me, myself. My identity as the Latina I was born to be, thanks to all that had transpired in the lives of my ancestors.
It’s crazy hard to say these things, to say that I got hurt even though I was raised by people who loved me, who had the best intentions, but who wanted me to be – and who were erroneously told I could be – the product of their ancestors and not mine.
Again, it all leads back to the damaging, majority viewpoints that have dominated the system of adoption since the late 1950s. Telling adoptive parents that they don’t need to see color, that they should fully assimilate their intercountry transracially adopted child into their family, along with name change, new language, new religion, new environment, is to tell adoptive parents not to see all of their adopted child. It’s how it was done back in the early days of intercountry transracial adoption, and, sadly, much of this continues today even though experts – the adoptees who have lived this whitewashing – have started speaking up on how the impact has been harmful despite the intent being good.
I speak not to be hurtful but that, hopefully, guardians, foster parents, and adoptive parents of children of a different race and ethnicity than theirs can understand and learn to do things in a way that helps raise racially comfortable and competent individuals.
It took me decades to start breaking down my internalized whiteness. And it is an ongoing process. It started with legally reclaiming my original last name, Forero, about 20 years ago. This was NOT done to deny or disrespect my (adoptive) parents. Absolutely not. It was done to respect myself. To recognize I have always been here, that I have always been Colombian, that I have always been part of another family as well as my adoptive family, and that I have always had worth just as I was and always have been.
My light brown skin has never been white. And that’s OK. My dark brown eyes have never been blue. And that’s OK. Spanish filled my brain from within the womb. And that’s OK. My ancestors didn’t come from Eastern Europe. And that’s OK. I was racially incompetent. And that’s NOT OK. I am still surprised when I look at pictures of myself and see an Indigenous Latina woman. And that surprise is NOT OK.
Recognizing differences amongst people is not problematic. What’s problematic is discriminating against people based on visible and invisible differences. What’s problematic is pretending not to see people fully. When we put our blinders on to others, we put our blinders on to ourselves as well. Every child, every woman, every man has history that is carried in their genes. No one is less than anyone else. Everyone deserves to be seen.
“Time’s much too short to be living somebody else’s life.”
Today, I dedicate I Ain’t Movin’, by Des’ree to my fellow transracial adoptees. May you all walk with dignity and pride.
(Originally posted on my facebook feed during NAAM2019)
Angela Tucker be invited to the Red Table to address transracial adoption from
the perspective of an adult adoptee was possibly a landmark moment for many of
us. I‘m thrilled that she had the chance and the courage to speak on a subject that
adoptees know creates disruption, and frequently outright hostility.
I waited all day for it to appear watching a back catalogue of episodes including one that I couldn’t bring myself to watch before that day, addressing the question “Should white people adopt black kids?” in which the guest is a white adoptive parent and notably absent are any adult adoptees.
It’s not lost on
me that one such episode on white privilege the family discuss the meaning and
impact of the quote “Prejudice is the emotional commitment to
ignorance”. In another episode on relationships between black women and
white women, Jada talks honestly about the difficult feeling she gets around
white women, especially blonde white women. Later I will think of this and
imagine what she would say if she were asked to fit in with a group of blonde
white women the way it seems they expect Angela can do in a black community.
Angela expresses things many adoptees will relate to in one form or another, while others may not. For example, she currently feels more comfortable in white communities and parenting white foster children, and I see a lot of criticism online for that, from both adoptees and non-adoptees.
If there’s one thing we know about being an adoptee it’s that we can hold changing perspectives on our own experience over time and offering others the space to be where they are is to offer it to ourselves.
moment that touched me was when Angela said “I’m hoping that I live to see the
day where people say, when I say ‘I’m adopted’, they say ‘oh my gosh, did
someone try to keep you with your family first?’ instead of celebrating her adoption and
expecting gratitude for it. When Jada said “I’ve never thought of it that
way before” I exhaled, there’s healing in having your experience seen and
acknowledged that way. I’ve felt it lately with friends, who told me
“You’re really opening my eyes”. In a world where people actively
fight to deny my reality, I’m so healed by having people in my life who can and
do shift their perspective. Equally, I can see that those moments have often come over several months in
which I share openly and not without misunderstandings. So perhaps it’s a lot
to expect a 20 minute show to shift perspectives very far in one day. It will
take time and more of our voices to build understanding.
Back at the red
table, a tonal shift in the conversation occurs swiftly with Angela’s vulnerable
admission that she feels fear in the company of black people, in this moment I
sense she lost some of her hosts empathy as Gamma tenses and asks her to
explain why she chose the word ‘fear’. The fear of black people is so
inextricable with a legacy of discrimination and violence it’s hardly
surprising the word fear is alarming, I myself held my breath. But ‘real talk’
is at the centre of the show and to understand transracial adoption is just
that, real. Gamma had shown evidence of it herself in an earlier show when she
admitted she had found it easier to accept a white man into the family than a
As a fellow
adoptee what I know is that the fear I feel around people of my own culture is also
an implicit memory of my own relinquishment. Around people who look like those
who gave me up and those I’ve lived without, I feel vulnerable, rejectable. Can
a non-adoptee ever truly understand that feeling?
Getting into her stride, Gamma soon advises Angela to ‘counsel yourself’ for questioning how she could teach a black (foster) child to be black, Gamma points out that Angela counsels white couples in transracial adoption. Angela however, doesn’t counsel white people on being black, she doesn’t counsel them on fitting in to black culture, instead she uses her lived experience as a transracial adoptee to educate adoptive parents on the hazards, missing racial mirrors and role models. That’s not the same thing as actually being a black person trying to fit into a black culture they’ve grown up without.
You can’t counsel yourself into belonging.
You can’t learn belonging any more than you can learn to be a peacock. You may learn enough to hang out with peacocks without alarming them but try to fly and you’ll know you’re not peacocky enough pretty quickly. Just so with the iceberg of culture. A myriad of secret handshakes lie beneath, unspoken tests and initiations sit between ourselves and others.
Belonging is at the heart of identity. Those who think it’s enough to decide who you are independently of others beliefs, are underestimating the role that being seen plays in our identity. Self-acceptance in our identity is a small, sometimes inconsequential island, validation of our identity is a continent. For transracial adoptees there can be a lot of sea between our island and that continent.
I think about Angela sitting at that table with three generations of black women, secure in their kinship with each other, bound together by biology and a shared history. Across the table Angela sits between a white couple who raised her, and look nothing like her, and the black women who gave birth to her – who looks like her but is foreign to her. I try to imagine what Angela needed from those women across the table chiding her to counsel herself.
I think there
could be healing both for Angela and many adoptees who relate to her if they
could have said, “I’m sorry you have to struggle to belong with your own
people, I completely understand why you feel that way. We want you to know that
for us, you belong right here at this table here with us”.
Angela and all adoptees – you belong at our table, your voice is important to us, thank you!