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This commentary originally aired on WAMU, American University Radio in Washington, D.C.
By Maria Snellings, Latin American Youth Center (LAYC)
On a recent Saturday morning at Eastern Market, I ran into a classmate, who greeted me and then asked in a whisper, “What are you doing with all these white people?” I nearly laughed at her boldness. “They are my family,” I answered.
With pride, I added that my mom’s side was visiting from Texas and I was tasked with showing them around Washington. But, I get why our family reunion must have looked so strange to her. A group of white people with two token people of color?
My brother and I met when I was three. He and I aren’t related by blood but we come from the same orphanage in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Our mom says it took me a while to warm up to her. She thinks it’s because she was the fourth woman who was introduced to me as “Mom.”
My birth mother loved me but was too sick to take care of a child. So off I went to an aunt. But she was too poor to take care of me, so I was sent on to the orphanage. There, a woman I called “Mom”, looked after me until I was adopted by a loving woman I now call “Mom," a white American from Texas.
Trans-racial adoptions have caught more than just my classmate’s attention. In the 1980s, social worker Estela Andujo followed 60 Mexican-American orphans who had been adopted by either Mexican-American or Anglo families. She found that children raised by white families did not identify with the Mexican-American community but those raised by Latino families did.
More recently, an article in Latina Magazine presented the commonly held idea that adopting Latino children is “less traumatic for them when they can be matched with a Latino family.”
My experience, regardless of whether I was raised by a white, black or Latino family, was traumatic simply because I had been introduced to four different mothers. Being told someone is your mom when you think you already know who your mom is, is disconcerting, especially for a child. Every time I found comfort with each of my first three mothers, I was passed on.
It’s undeniable that being adopted and raised within another culture or race affects a child’s perception of herself and the way she connects with her heritage. But who’s to say the result is negative, especially when the outcome is love.
These commentaries by D.C. area teens are part of a collaboration between WAMU's Youth Voices program, Youth Radio and the Latin American Youth Center.