This is me last April when I went to Rome with my wife. The timing of our trip happened to coincide with the inauguration of the new Pope. Here I am, April 23, 2005, the evening before the inaugural ceremony, in front of the Vatican.
Birth Country: Colombia
Decade of adoption: 1970s
I was born on July 1st, 1971, in Bogota, Colombia. I was adopted when I was six weeks old, by American diplomats. My parents were unable to have children of their own, so while they were posted to Colombia, they decided to explore the possibility of adoption.
At the time of my adoption, I was malnourished and jaundiced, and my mother used to go to the orphanage every day to feed me lunch. After a few weeks of that, they just sent me home with her while they waited for all the paperwork to be completed.
My parents didn't make any effort to raise me as a Colombian, or to familiarize me with Columbian culture, as some adoptive parents do, but for that I am grateful. I was born in Colombia, but I don't think of myself as Colombian. My parents just raised me as a member of their family, which made me feel like I fit in. Fitting in is very important when you're a child. At least it was for me.
I am familiar with the generalities of "latin culture" as I also got to live in the Dominican Republic for a few years, and in Mexico for 3 years. I speak and read and write Spanish, and people on the street will often just speak Spanish to me, especially in places like Miami, but I don't consciously think of myself as a Latino. I think of myself as an American, and as a yuppie suburbanite.
For some other adoptees that I've talked to, cultural identity is incredibly important, and their need to know about Colombia and where they come from is a driving force in their life. For me it hasn't been that way. I identify with American culture, and already feel like I have all the pieces that I need to, to know who I am.
That's the important part. It's knowing who you are. Until you know that, you never really feel whole. Whether it's something you can get from your adoptive family and your adoptive community, or whether you have to go back to your birthplace to search for something that's missing in your life, well, it's a very subjective experience.
I think my parents did the right thing, by not making me feel different, and not making me feel like I wasn't like them. I am grateful to them for just taking me in and making me theirs, culture and all.
People ask me all the time if I ever want to look for my birth family, if I feel like I'm missing something. Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I am content with what I have, and I don't feel like I'm missing anything. I don't feel the need to find a birth family.
My wife wants me to search though. She is very curious about where I come from physically, even though I tell her that my laugh and sense of humor are like my Dad's and my Uncle Jim's. My easy going-ness and perhaps even my procrastination I get from my Mom. Sorry, Mom.
If I had any advice to adoptive parents, it's to always be honest. Don't feel like you need to take your child to Columbian Day festivals in New York, or a Salvadoran Festival in Milwaukee, but do tell your kids where they're from. Never hide that they were adopted. Tell them how special they are, and that even though they're adopted, they're there because you chose them. Other parents just get what they get, but adoptive parents get to choose their kids. That always made me feel special. If your kids get older and they want to learn about their birth country, and possibly their birth family, be supportive, and offer to learn with them. If you're afraid of losing them, you don't need to be. You are the parents, they are just curious about the biology.
And like any parents, tell your kids you love them, every single day.