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Finding Home in Two Worlds

Part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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By Laurie Stern
Produced by Ellen Guettler


Diego with his mother Laurie Stern and father Dan Luke
photo by Sue Herridge

Once a month, we get together with a group of families who have adopted Guatemalan-born children.

Our son Diego is six. He's a Mayan - Tzutujil Mayan. There are maybe 60,000 Tzutujiles who live in a couple of small villages in the mountains of Guatemala. Most Tzutujiles are small and strong like him.

As Diego gets older, he's noticing the physical things that set him apart from his friends. That's one of the reasons we wanted to be in a group like this, because these kids have something in common. And in a way, they're growing up as cousins.

A lot of the families in our group really like going to culture camp with their kids. We respect that.

But Diego's culture is complex. He is a Minnesotan. He is an American. He is a North American. He is a Native American. He is a Central American. He is a Guatemalan-born American. He is a Tzutujil Mayan. They're all Diego.

And we feel like we can give Diego more authentic information about who he is by spending time in his village. During Diego's adoption when he was a baby, I stayed with him in Guatemala for nine months. Dan and I went back with him when he was three to visit his biological mother, Isabel Xicay Petzey, and her three children. Now Diego is six and we're going there again.

The journey to Diego's village is spectacular. You take a boat across this huge volcanic lake. There are three volcanoes around it and a dozen small villages. Santiago Atitlán is one of them and it sprawls from the base of one of the volcanoes to the lakeshore.

On our fourth or fifth day in Santiago Atitlán, I ask my son Diego, "Who are we expecting to show up?"

"Isabel," says Diego.

We don't know whether she'll bring the children or how many she'll bring. We're kind of hoping that she'll bring Juan.

"Juan and, what's her name? My sister's name? My sisters?" asks Diego.

"They were Julia and Josefa," I say.

"Julia and Josefa and Juan and me are all brothers. Brother and sisters," he says.



Next: part 2