I’m adopted and have no clue about my heritage or race

Guest post by Cortney

Those “what race are you” boxes are hard to fill out when you’re adopted and don’t know your background.
“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.

Comments on I’m adopted and have no clue about my heritage or race

  1. Found this searching for how other people deal with it. You’re not alone. 28, finally have answers for the most part….want to embrace cultures but feel weird… like busting in on a club I’m not supposed to be in because of how I was raised outside my ethnic roots. Be in touch if you’d like, Courtney. I’m sure we’ve got similar stories!!

  2. Very nice to read such a similar story, the only differences are that I was addopted with 2 days of life and I’m a brazilian. You had a point when mentioning how useless is to know it.
    Here in southern Brazil there are so many people proud of having german or italian heritage, but the only thing they have is the last name and maybe the appearence. The funny thing about it is that I’m already an european citzen due to my adopted family heritage, and I clearly look like a native brazilian, while most of the “european descendants” here couldn’t get their citzenship because they belong to a much further generation of immigrants than “mine”.
    No matter who our ancestors were or what they did, what matters is what we do with our short time on Earth. I thank God every night for giving me such an amazing family and limitless opportunities to be happy.

  3. Hey, so my dad was adopted, from Latin America, and we actually met his family. He “passes” in white America, but I don’t- so I still have to deal with his adoption, DAILY. I get asked if I’m Indian, Lebanese, Iranian/Persian, etc. People walk up to me and practically demand an explanation for “what” I am. Lots of people flat out walk up to me speaking a variety of other languages. I’ve tried “my Dad was adopted” but then they pry, and people insist I know “my” heritage, and I’m still not sure how “my” heritage as a Catholic, American, kind of sometimes Southern (proudly with NORTHERN grandparents) isn’t enough. I’ve tried “I’m Human” but where I live it is so backwards it isn’t well received.
    It’s nice to hear your story, to know I’m not alone in this. I think you are right, we can’t get so caught up in the past that we miss the present. I’m guilty of that too.
    I honestly wouldn’t worry about getting a genetics test done either, IMO, blood does not equal culture, and if you REALLY want to know, go ahead, but while it may answer “what” you are, it can never answer “who” you are. <3

  4. Other fun thing for adoptees…. punette squares!

    Teacher: What do you mean your parents both have brown hair and eyes? You’ve got blue eyes and red hair!

    Sigh.

  5. I just recently had a culture shock just last week at 25. Same situation as you born from teenage parents adopted after birth. I was also taught everything from my black adopted parents at the time in their forties who were married a for 15+ years. I was also a black child. I was told at 7 years old and i was like “OK” asked if they knew my parents and they said no. I am like “OK”. I was a very chill baby and child. My mom had a bachelors in Teaching and A masters in Sociology. My dad went to the army and worked for the City and does contracting. I was never taught it was wrong to be different so i had a colorblindness kind of life for a while being educated wonderfully in very diverse schools. I traveled a lot and everything. I had convos with people and told people i didn’t really know my heritage but looking at my skin i must be black. They always ask if i wanted to. Whats different here is that i really didn’t care, but maybe i would like to know I’m pretty chill. I even joke around when i had some drinks at parties that i could be Irish then i would do an Irish accent. Im very Artistic! I pretty much acted how i wanted challenged myself and always been a positive life. I always heard the word racism and people joke about it. I was always in the fantasy that well i don’t know what I am. My skin is black i got a good family and thats all i need. But then I was racially attacked when i almost died in September of 2014. A glass bottle to the temple from white people while i was defending a white couple. I was pretty banged up but I’m too optimistic to realize how bad that really was i was happy i was alive. But after a few recent broad racial statements from people of a different color and culture I when through my Culture shock. What happened to me had nothing to do with my heritage, of what i don’t of, just the color of my skin. I was involved in other racial profiling but i didn’t take it seriously. I then realized i had an Ideology. That humans are so confused by color and culture, that i was put in a category that is irrelevant. It kinda shook me up but I’m an artist. Cool, chill and optimistic so now all i want to do is create!!!

  6. i can totally relate to this omg i thought i was the only one ! im 25 and i was adopted @ birth also. i don’t know anything about my biological folks or my heritage. As a kid it didn’t bother me because i could actually be anyone i wanted to be. I found out i was adopted when i turned 14 so it hasnt been very long. Now that im getting older im starting to worry about my health or starting a family. i want 2 know if im @ risk for future issues or what to tell my kids if i decide to have any. there are just so many questions and nobody i can ask. any help would be great !

    • I’m 23 and have known that I’ve been adopted since birth, but still have a lot of questions in terms of lineage. Reading these comments, I’m thinking about getting my DNA tested. It looks like it’s really helpful, especially in terms of learning about potential health risks. I think I’m going to try the AncestryDNA kit, as it’s cheaper than the 23andme one at the moment. Maybe you should try it to? They’re only $89 right now, which seems like a pretty good deal to me!

  7. We are in the process of adopting a two-year-old girl and I have been scouring the internet everywhere for information on this topic. Her birth mom is white but has said she has no idea about the race of our daughter’s biological father. Just from looking at our daughter, I would guess that her bio father might have been of Hispanic or Middle Eastern heritage, but that is just a guess. My husband and I are white (though he has brown eyes and we both have dark hair) and she looks enough like us that she can “pass” as biologically related to us so people don’t really ask about her heritage now, but I know she will likely face that at times, and more importantly she will need to develop her own identity. We have done all kinds of training on transracial adoption, but no training has ever addressed how to aid her in developing her identity when half of her heritage is unknown. I know she can get a genetic test when she is old enough, but until then I am eagerly seeking out information and perspectives from anyone who has been in her position. Your post here is the only directly related one I have found so thank you for posting this!! If anyone knows of any groups, webpages, books, etc. for people who have not known their heritage or race, it would be much appreciated!

  8. My new book called “Separated Lives” is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy and years later a friend taking him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh,PA) http://www.DorranceBookstore.com, Barnes& Noble barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

  9. You’re thinking about adopting a baby here in the U.S. In the adoption world, adopting a baby is called “Domestic Infant Adoption.” Adding a baby is a beautiful and life-expanding way to build your family. Sometimes, however, adopting a baby can seem like a pretty overwhelming process. That’s why we’ve put together this slideshow for you about baby adoption. Adopting a baby is something YOU can do. Every baby deserves a loving home. Over the next several slides, we’ll cover the basic steps in a domestic infant adoption.
    Are you interested in growing your family through domestic infant adoption?link [email protected] to connect with an adoption professional who can answer your questions.

  10. I’m thinking of getting the 23&Me test for my husband for Christmas. He was adopted as a baby (he’s now 55) and is getting sick and tired of the questions from doctors, nurses etc. who want to know his family medical history, they don’t seem to want to accept “I have no clue, I was adopted”. He has absolutely no interest in finding his bio-family (and it was back in the day when all adoptions were closed) but his daughter (and I) would love to know his ancestral background.

  11. This so much!

    This is me! Except I now have a 10 year old asking “what is my heritage for school assignments” and I am left scratching my head wondering “Is Gamer an option? Because son, you come from a proud line of Zelda’s and we have the honored tradition of passing along our Mario Karts”

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