Interethnic Adoption Experiences

Go ahead, look it up! The topic is virtually non-existent. There is a plethora of information about interracial adoptions and it’s effects on children, parents, and even society alike. We are familiar with stories of families who have adopted children from China or children from foster-care, whose race differs from their own. But, these are a far cry from what happens in private adoptions. I would like to discuss my personal experience being an interethnic adoptee, a person who was adopted by parents whose ethnic identity differs from her own.

If I were black, it would be apparent that my race was different from my family’s. No one would be trying to convince me to assimilate into the culture that I was adopted in. In fact, I’m sure that people would see it as insulting to tell me such a thing. However, I do bear a resemblance to my parents that is stronger than just the color of our skin. For this reason, I face a societal challenge.

For one, adoption, in this country, is an institution that is clothed with shame and secrecy. When shared, it is not uncommon to be met with uncomfortable looks and preconceived notions. There are various reasons for this. For one, adopted persons are the only people who have their birth records sealed. No other person, in any other situation has their birth certificate sealed from them. Sealing people’s records and making them unattainable permeates a culture of secrecy. Secondly, there is an assumption that adoptive parents are deemed to have a crown of sainthood because they chose to raise a child that they did not bear. Society often paints adoptive children in a negative light. News stations or magazines delivering news of crime will never fail to mention that the person who committed such a crime was adopted, if that person is. It’s easy for one to think: “Wow, look at those adoptive parents. They took him/her in, and this is how he/she repays them.” Such media exposure permeates the idea that adoptees are rebels and that adoptive parents can do no wrong. If you are reading this, and you are a rational person, then, I’m sure you know that this is BS! Adoptees come in all shapes and sizes. Are there adopted people in jail? Yes. Are there adoptive people who have committed heinous crimes? Of course! Are there adopted children who have made monumental strides in society? Yes! Look at Steve Jobs, for example. Are there abusive adoptive parents who have made life unbearable for the children they adopted? Yes. Are there excellent adoptive parents who have raised happy and healthy children? Absolutely. But, this is not depicted in the media and is most certainly not the general consensus of society.

With that being said, the sealing of the birth certificate encourages one to “pass off” what “appears” to be true. If my amended birth certificate says: Cristina Fernandez, born to Isabel and Jose, from Pinar del Rio and Santiago, Cuba, then what tends to reflect back is: “why make life hard for the people who adopted you? Why don’t you just let yourself pass as their biological daughter and tell people that you are Cuban. After all, you’ve been raised by Cuban people. So, what’s the big deal?” Allow me to tell you why this is insulting, if you are too big a fool to not have understood why already. I am not perfect. Why? Because I am a human being and by that logic, I am an imperfect person who makes mistakes on a daily basis. I can’t say that I have committed any major crime in the eyes of local law enforcement. However, in God’s eyes, we all fall into error in comparison with Holy and Righteous Almighty Creator. On that same note, my parents are also human beings who have made errors throughout their life. Please do not get me wrong. I don’t intend to write this post as a complaint towards my parents, or to make a list of everything they’ve ever done wrong. That’s irrelevant and quite honestly, unnecessary. My point is that we all make mistakes. Holding anyone in such high regard because you deem something that they have done as a “good deed” borders on idolatry. So, I beseech you… please do not idolize me or anyone else that you deem is a “righteous person.” We are just people. My parents choice to adopt had nothing to do with infertility. It was a calling from God, and as usual, He is to receive the glory… not my parents and not anyone else. So, to tell me that I need to “make their life easier” by lying about my genetic make up and my ancestral heritage is actually quite a sinful transgression of God’s law. People who argue for this also fail to see beyond the present scope. If I, one day, have biological children, they too will carry that heritage and so on. So, this “secrecy” can only go so far. Secondly, denying people of celebrating cultural traditions puts you at a loss of learning and loving people beyond country borders.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the words “you’re Cuban,” be told to me with condescending looks. As if somehow, I’m “rejecting” Cuban-ness. Cuban is not a religion. Cuban is not even a race. Cuban is a nationality. I was not born in Cuba. I was born in The United States of America in St. Petersburg General Hospital and my name at birth was Tiffany Lynn. A sample of my cheek cells will CONFIRM that I have 0%… allow me to reiterate that… ZERO PERCENT… trace of any hispanic ancestry. None. I was raised by people who I have zero genetic relation to. But, they are my family. Family is not made up by DNA. It is made up of love, memories, and connections. But, the fact of the matter is that society is asking me to accept an ethnicity to which I have ZERO affiliation to JUST BECAUSE I have a spiritual, emotional, and legal connection to people of that ancestry. To illustrate, think about people in your life who you are not related to, but love dearly. Oftentimes, close friends become family. Imagine that you are hispanic, but you’re best friend is Korean. Obviously, because you have a Korean best friend, you will probably take interest in his or her interests, and expose yourself to Korean food and art. But, does that mean that just because you love your dear friend, you now must identify as Korean to the world, including the census and demographic questionnaires? Can’t you love your friend and his or culture, but still take pride in your arroz y frijoles con platanos maduros y tostones? The logic surrounding their arguments is flawed beyond repair.

My personal experience being an Irish/Native American/Middle Eastern woman (according to the DNA swab test from ancestory.com), living amongst a mostly Hispanic culture has presented some challenges. The stories I share have NOT come from my parents. In fact, my parents aren’t fools enough to think that my food preferences and music tastes are a threat to our relationship. But, in the Hispanic community, I’ve faced adversity and discrimination. In part, I believe that a huge part of this has to do with Hispanic people not being open to adoption on a cultural level. Obviously, I don’t speak for everyone. My parents are Hispanic people who chose to adopt. But, as a culture, it’s looked down upon. When I’ve expressed my own interest in adopting a child from China (for which I am currently on a waiting list), I’m met with condescending remarks, such as “just wait to have you’re own so you don’t have to deal with adopting someone else’s kids.” These same people literally lose all the color in their face when I say “I’m adopted.” Dare I say, they don’t even apologize. Not being able to have biological children in the hispanic community is like a curse. Thus, there is even more pressure for children adopted into hispanic families to conform to this status, in order to expunge that shame pointed towards infertile mothers. This idea has been echoed throughout so many conversations with Hispanic women. This cultural view towards adoption is one struggle that I have had to face, and I must say, the most offensive.

Statistically, Miami houses a large portion of Hispanics, particularly Cubans. Thus, a lot of Cuban people are never forced to associate with other people who are not Cubans. In fact, a lot of people are not even forced to learn English, which further decreases your chances of making meaningful relationships with other non-Hispanic people. Therefore, the culture and traditions are relived, generation to generation, without exposure to other cultures and traditions that differ from their own. This has presented issues for me because I have had a lot of exposure to diversity in college and in graduate school.

In the Cuban tradition, it is virtually unheard of that someone live on their own before they are married. In fact, it’s almost like an abomination. I have done the unthinkable! Usually, people like this are those who like to party and have intimate relations with unmarried partners, none of which interest me. For one, I’m an introvert. Secondly, my relationship with God is my priority, and the two instances mentioned above would directly impact that relationship in negative ways. So, why did I move out? For one, I wanted to live closer to work. Another reason is because I cannot afford, physically, emotionally, and financially, to keep up a house in Miami on a teacher’s salary. Lastly, because I felt that it would drastically improve my relationship with God. All of these reasons, to an observer looking in, seem like responsible adult choices. I’m not a teenager. I’m 26 years old. My goodness, I’m bordering 30! I have a career and a master’s degree. I’ve proven that up to his point, I’ve made nothing but rational, adult choices. Now, stay with me. Being exposed to other people that have moved out for similar reasons exposed me to the truth that not everyone who moves out before marriage is some type of stereotypical slutty and irresponsible person. Sound logic would follow in that: can you imagine a 50 something year old bachelor or bachelorette living with their parents simply because of a stereotype? Not necessity or because you want to care for elderly parents… but just because of a stereotype? Of course not! What if you were an orphan? If that logic doesn’t apply to them, it should not apply to me either. Meeting people who have left home for the sake of education and maintained their core values to heart showed me that the stereotype didn’t fit most people, in general. I’ve made some friends who have traveled across BORDERS (meaning that their family is not even in the country) who have kept true to their values and certainly are not partying or having sex with multiple strangers. Interestingly, I had this one girl in my class, who was Muslim. I believe that she was about 21 at the time and was interested in getting married. In her culture and traditions, the idea of dating is non-existent. You are pretty much either engaged, or friends. There’s no in between. Although she was miles away from family, she was interested in marriage following this same tradition, despite the fact that in the states, a dating relationship typically precedes marriage. My point is that she was heavily exposed to a different way of life, far from family, and yet, still chose to keep that way of life, despite societal pressure. Meeting her was an awakening that this stereotype and way I had been taught to think was wrong. But, many of those Cubans, which I spoke about earlier would likely not find themselves exposed to a population diverse enough to question these concepts that they have been taught throughout the years. So, to many people in Miami, I’m the “rebel,” so to speak. This label has caused some havoc not only from family members, but, the average person I come into contact with, such as hairdressers, supermarket clerks, etc.

Another difficult area has been that of supreme loyalty to the family. In the Cuban culture, loyalty to family is everything. It’s common to hear “la madre es lo mas grande que hay,” or “a mother is the biggest thing there is.” With all due respect, God is the biggest thing there is. Neither one of my moms is bigger to me than the one who created me and put me in her womb. I may look like my mom, but I’m not created in her image. I am created in the image of God. How do I define family? Blood relatives? No. Adoptive relatives? No. Family are the people who have visited me when I was sick in the hospital. Family are the people who cried with me through deaths, broken hearts, and severe menstrual cramps (those who know me know I suffer from a condition of severe cramping where my knees lock and I can barely move). Family are the people who love you unconditionally, regardless of your major in school, your job, or the color of your hair. Family sees your soul, much like God does. With that being said, I do have blood relatives that I consider family. I have adoptive relatives that I consider family. But, I also have blood and adoptive relatives that I don’t consider family. It’s nothing personal. I either don’t know them or their only relationship to me is based on personal attacks and abusive behaviors.  For goodness sakes, I have had “family members,” which I’m using the term VERY VAGUELY, call me, my mom, and my grandparents to GOSSIP about this blog and get this… I’VE NEVER MET THEM! Haha. They called to gossip that I was being disloyal to the family by advocating for open records, despite the fact that I have never spoken ill of my family and made it quite clear that having a piece of paper does not change the facts that already are. Although the records are sealed, the facts still remain. Having the records open will do nothing more than facilitate a plethora of current difficulties for adoptees, such as passport status, social security status, citizenship status, and birthright status’ (as for tribal affiliation and Jewish affiliation. But, this supreme loyalty to the family has caused discrimination against adoption advocates in the community because their desire to own their identity, rather than having one’s family own their identity, is a form of Cuban heresy. Many Cuban people believe that only Cuban parents really love. Just the other day at the nail salon, I encountered a very well intentioned woman who said just that. Controlling people, making others stay home until they are married, and expecting undying loyalty is often masqueraded as “love.”

The way that a lot of Cuban people were treated back in the 1960’s and 70’s in excusable. Many American people called Cubans derogatory names like “spicks.” My mom can tell you stories about how she was bullied by American children and made to sit in separate classrooms for the “Hispanic kids.” Although my family is noticeably white, they reject that identity because there has really been no connection to other white people in the country. “American White people” are like a different race in the Hispanic community. They go by names such as: “los gringos, los Americanos, etc.” None of these are really derogatory names, but the message is clear: there is a barrier. I get it. I more than get it, I feel it. I’ve been met with comments more times than I count about how Americans are “different” and it hurts. I’m loved by my family, obviously. But, I’m not loved by the culture I was raised in. I’ll never fully fit in, and it goes past the blonde curls and hazel eyes. I’m not “really” Cuban. For goodness sakes, I entered their culture in the most shameful way possible: adoption. Similar to biracial people, I somehow feel like I never fit into each group, at least not completely. My cousin married a great woman, from Jacksonville. The rehearsal dinner was in Miami. The caterers were Cuban. At the rehearsal dinner, the bridal party pretty much stuck together and the groom’s party did the same. I was sitting with the groom’s side, well.. because their my family. lol. The caterer said to me as he handed me the plate: “yo pensaba que tu eras del lado de los Americanos.” Translation: “I thought that you were from the American’s side.” That distinction was made so incredibly clear to me that night. I wasn’t sitting with the bride’s family because I didn’t know them, not because of our shared or lack of shared cultural ethnicities. The distinction between Hispanics and “Gringos” in Miami is undeniable. But, for people like me, it means not fitting into either one fully.

Naturally, I find that people from the island are extremely racist. Any Cuban-American in Miami will tell you that their parents have had “the talk” with them about the provision of bringing home someone that’s black. The fact that I literally VOMIT at the thought of racism makes me a “liberal” in many Cuban people’s eyes.

Lastly, the undying loyalty to the Catholic Church has also been a ostracizing factor for me. I’m not Catholic. I was excommunicated from the Church upon request because my undying loyalty belongs to the God of Israel, whose breath of life is rooted in Jerusalem, not Rome. I don’t pray the rosary. I don’t take communion. I don’t eat pork (which that in itself automatically disqualifies me as Cuban, right? lol). I felt sick to my stomach sitting in a room with a large group of people, feasting over ham on a pagan holiday. It didn’t feel right to me. I was having a complete crisis of conscience. But, yes, hold your gasps. What you must understand is that in Cuba, there was very limited religious freedom for a very long time. Due to landmarks (which help tourism), Catholicism was not barred as heavily as other religions. The island also houses a lot of religions based on spiritism that were rooted out of Catholicism, so hated by God, as expressed in Deuteronomy 18:9-13. But, this is all that people had access to for so very long! The belief in God is innate, as we are made in His, so to cling on to the spiritual provisions handed to them was absolutely natural. I’ve had the privilege to live in a country where I have religious freedom, and thus, I’ve read the Holy Scriptures. I throw away any culture and tradition for the sake of God Almighty, even eating a long-time diet staple. Not being Catholic has also caused many Cubans to decide to disassociate with me.

I share this story because I hope that it gets to the hands of others with similar experiences. With so little information about the effects of the inter-ethnic adoption coupled with the pressure to conform and topped with expectation of adoptee loyalty, it’s no wonder that so little information is available.

 

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The Most Common Misconceptions about Mental Health

 

Unfortunately, the media and pop culture have painted a picture of mental health issues that is incorrect, leaving the public uninformed. As a double major in education in psychology and a future school counselor, I feel a responsibility to share with you a more accurate portrait of some of the most popular mental health concerns today.

First, depression. Most people think that depression is a synonym for extreme sadness. In reality, people with depression are not always sad. Those with depression have lost an ability to feel. Depression is a sense of numbness, hence, an inability to enjoy things that one once enjoyed. Being numb can sometimes be more frustrating than feeling sad. Feeling numb can make one forget what it feels like to be alive. It is easier to trigger sadness than it is to trigger happiness. Happiness happens in the moment. To illustrate, try remembering one of your happiest memories. For me, it was the 90’s. My cousin and I use to play all day during the summer, go in the pool, and watch cartoons. My grandmother would make us hamburgers and hotdogs and we would say we were at the best summer camp there ever was, “camp Mima.” My mom would take us to get ice cream at Carvel and we would take our dogs with us, Philly and Sammy. I’m blessed to say that I had an incredible childhood full of love and laughter. I look back and I feel a mix of emotions: joy and nostalgia. Of course, my situation may be different because the person I shared all of these memories with has passed on. The feelings of nostalgia are amplified and can feel like sadness. How quick, though, did a happy memory become somewhat cumbersome. It is difficult to re-create a happy memory. Sadness, however, is easy to recreate. A sad memory can instantly bring us to tears, which is why people cry during movies. This is where we get the idea that depressed people are “sad.” The bottom line is that when one is depressed, sadness is the easier emotion to recreate, hence, taking them out of their “numb” feeling. Depressed persons are more likely to pick a sad movie because they crave emotion. The lack of serotonin in the system does not allow for proper functioning and regulating of emotions. So, often times, medication is prescribed.

This is different from temporary depression, such as grief. When one is grieving, the emptiness and hollowness in your being is a reaction to the loss you have experienced. You may experience this numb feeling as a defense mechanism to your sadness. Your body craves a break from the crying. While you may have a decreased appetite, your body will eventually realize you are starving, so this feeling of numbness gives you a “break” from complete sadness, so that you will muster up the ability to get out of bed or eat a meal. But, this does not imply that you have a chemical imbalance or a lack of serotonin in your system. If such symptoms persist past a certain point, according to the DSM, then it would be appropriate to seek medical attention.

In order to show respect for people who battle with depression, please don’t say “I’m so depressed” just because you lost your bracelet. You are spreading ignorance and you look like a fool. 

As for anxiety, I can speak from personal experience. I have generalized anxiety disorder. It is a fairly genetic condition. It can also be brought on by traumatic experiences that are re-lived through exposure to certain stimuli. I was first diagnosed with anxiety in 2012 when I almost got into a car accident due to having to pull over and throw up due to anxiety in traffic. Just the other day, I was crossing the street in downtown Miami to find my knees shaking at the crosswalk. Movie theaters make my heart race (generally, dark and loud places make my heart race). On one occasion, crossing the street in miracle mile, I could feel my stomach doing backflips and I nearly went blind for a few seconds. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is not a “feeling.” It is a condition. My body produces excess adrenaline, causing fight or flight responses during something as minimal as crossing the street or watching a movie at the theaters. Without aide from medication, I typically want to hide out from the world, in fear that anxiety will strike. For this reason, people who do not handle their anxiety typically develop agoraphobia, a fear of leaving their homes.

I mean, just imagine for a moment, that you experience disabling anxiety when you cross the street. Agoraphobic people feel that if they leave their homes, a panic attack is waiting around the corner.

Everyone feels anxious. People with generalized anxiety disorder, however, feel anxious in day to day living. Typical pre-presentation jitters could cause vomiting and temporary blindness or deafness. Typical to people with depression, lack of serotonin, along with excess of adrenaline, play a role.

But, why do we say that anxiety and depression go hand and hand? Well, people with anxiety may fall into depression, not because they have no interest in activities, but because they want to participate, but live in fear. Similarly, people with physical conditions, like someone who was in a horrific accident, could suffer from depression if they are physically unable to do activities they once enjoyed. I have never suffered from depression. That is not something I have ever had to struggle with. But, I do suffer with disabling anxiety. I’m not broken. I’m just imperfect, just like you.

Please don’t say:

  • You’re too young to have anxiety 
  • What could you possible be anxious about?
  • Medication is really not very good for you.
  • Why do you have anxiety?

Because the answer is:

  • Anxiety has no age (Additionally, I know a lot of people much older than me who have less responsibilities than I do)
  • I have a genetic predisposition to anxiety
  • If I didn’t take medication, I would end up having to pull over in traffic to throw up, I would be unable to cross streets, I would have insomnia, and be at risk of becoming agoraphobic
  • Anxiety is just as much a part of me as my height, my hair color, and my eye color. I’m not “going through something.” I have a neurological condition
  • I’m not crazy. I’m in my right mind. I am very emotionally healthy. But, the excess adrenaline clouds my judgement and causes racing thoughts (ex: call someone. they don’t answer. they must have gotten in a terrible accident)
  • I don’t have anxiety because “something happened to me.” Just like some people are born with diabetes or blind, I was born with anxiety. Just because you cannot see it or touch it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. 

 

OCD

Lots of people think that OCD means obsessively neat. Obsessive compulsive disorder is a need to perform certain rituals in order to ease anxiety. For some people, this does involve having things in a certain place, organizing, or excessively washing one’s hands. For some, the “rituals” include having things in a certain place, asymmetrical balance, washing hands a certain amount of times, etc. These rituals can differ from person to person. The definition of obsessive compulsive disorder is not “fear of germs” or “super neat.” Samantha Pena shares her story.

In order to show respect for people with OCD:

  • do not self diagnose yourself with OCD
  • do not use OCD as an adjective for neat or orderly
  • do not use OCD as an adjective for clean