“By the way — what are you?”
I’ve heard this question, referring to my “race” so many times in my almost 30 years on this planet. When I was a kid it didn’t bother me. When I was a teenager, it made me sad. As an adult, it pisses me off to no end… and to be honest, it still makes me sad.
Let’s start with a little back story. I was adopted the day I was born. My birth mother (Life Giver) was a senior in high school and my father (sperm donor), well… I really just don’t know. I know there was a relationship but other than that, I just don’t know.
My mom and dad were married for eighteen years before they adopted me. They had suffered a miscarriage of their first and only child and weren’t graced with another pregnancy. They gave me a life that Life Giver couldn’t. I never went with out anything I needed. Looking back I was a pretty damn happy kid. Mom stayed at home with me until I started school. She attended every school function after she went to work. She was the mom who made cakes and cookies for the class. Helped chaperon field trips. And made all my Halloween costumes on an old sewing machine that had been my grandmother’s. Dad tried to teach me how to work on cars (it didn’t really stick but I did learn how to change my own oil and change a flat tire). He took me to air shows and on fishing trips. We would watch documentaries on WWII and laugh at the Crypt Keeper from Tales of the Crypt.
Now, I’ve always known I was adopted. ALWAYS. Not because it was an open adoption — it was a very very closed adoption — but for the simple fact I have very dark skin and my parents are white. I’ve always thought of my self as Latina or around here “Mexican.” Being a kid raised in the country, I had more to worry about than what “race” I was.
The first time it became an issue for me was when I was thirteen and my band director called me into his office. He explained he was filling out a survey for the district and needed to know what race I was. I panicked. How the hell was I supposed to know!? I started crying and told him I really didn’t know. To his credit, he was sympathetic and tried to calm me down. In his defense he didn’t know I was adopted because he had only met my mother and he said “You two look so much alike!” This was something we had heard many times and we would just laugh and say “thank you.”
It was about that time I started asking questions about Life Giver. But my mother and my father didn’t know much. So when I found my adoption papers when I was about fifteen, I felt like I had struck GOLD! I had names and addresses! I told my mother about it one weekend when I was visiting her and she broke down in tears. This freaked me the fuck out so I decided that I wouldn’t pry anymore.
Flash forward a decade or so, and I’ve been asked if I was Indian, Cambodian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Native American, and African American. Sometimes the questions people ask astound me.
I’ve since contacted Life Giver and she told me that she also considers herself Latina but in reality she is only Hispanic on her mother’s side. Her Father was Apache, or so I’ve been told. All she said about Sperm Donor was he wasn’t a very good guy.
I’m not going to lie and say that we’ve had a storybook reunion and I got to meet all the family I never even knew I had. Nope. Didn’t happen. My husband finally suggested I let it go. He was right — I had become a mess wondering what was wrong with me.
I just wanted to know my heritage so badly! I wanted to look at a ritual, celebration, or rite of passage and say “This is my culture.” I wanted to connect with my past so much that I forgot about the present.
I married a great guy. Who, by the way, is “white” but he describes himself as a mutt. I’m somewhat at peace with not being knowledgeable about my heritage and culture. I still cry about it sometimes but then I remember something. I have painfully straight and thick black hair, my skin is very tan, but not so dark that people know exactly what my “race” is.
Over time, I’ve stopped telling people Hispanic, Latina, or “Mexican.” I simply reply “I’m Human.” I even put it on the court survey when I had jury duty earlier this year. I remember that I’m a geeky, redneck, rocker who has a pretty great life. I remember that just because my heritage is somewhat of a mystery that shouldn’t derail my future. I am me.
No matter what will happen I just have to remember my past, and the mystery of my heritage, does NOT define me or my future. I still cry when I hear people talk about how proud they are about their heritage. How they can follow their family tree back generations. But you know what? Screw it. My future kids will be geeky, redneck, rockers just like their parents. I hope.