Immigration Series: The 5 things my Immigrant Parents Taught Me About Leadership

We recently celebrated America’s Independence Day. I’ve always loved the fourth. Growing up it meant beaches; BBQ and much-needed bonding time with the familia. Now as a full-fledged adult I am reminded of the moments in my life that have taught me what it truly means to live in this country. One of the things I love most about America is its willingness to open its doors to others.  That is why I love Leviticus 19:33-34, which says  “When a stranger remains with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who remains with you as a brother, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” My parents were immigrants to the US in the late 1960's when they arrived here from the Dominican Republic. My stepfather came to the US from his home land of Nicaragua. 

That’s why the recent issues at the border with separating children from their parents have many immigrants and their families outraged. Katie Annad wrote an article for Vox Media about the emotional impact this treatment has had on children. When I think of these families I can’t help but think of my parents and all the sacrifices they made for their kids to carve out una buena vida (a good life). It is foolish to assume that their sacrifices didn’t come at a great cost. However, their sacrifices came with many lessons that have greatly impacted my career and that of my siblings.

Here are five ways being the daughter of immigrants helped me grow as a leader: 

1.    Stay Motivated.

 Papi and I, 2015

Papi and I, 2015

Nothing screams motivation more than leaving everything you hold dear to move to a new country, experience language barriers, racial and cultural discrimination, all to have opportunities for a better life. I feel fortunate to have been there to see my parents struggle in real ways to achieve their dreams. I am so blessed that I lived every risk they took with them.  When your parents are immigrant’s motivation is the driving force behind what they have risked and given up in exchange for our success. I could never repay my parents for what they gave up but they have in turn become my motivation to continue to grow and develop. I believe what influenced me to stay motivated in my career is that my dad taught me to dream and dream big! He taught me that no matter what obstacles I faced I could reach for the stars and shine brightly. My mom taught me the value of bringing excellence to everything I do. Because of her, I have learned to work hard and learn form my mistakes.

2. Speak Your Truth.

 Mom and I, 2016

Mom and I, 2016

Proving yourself to others and defending your actions is another consequence of being an immigrant in a new nation. Often time’s immigrants live their lives on the defense. Regularly having to explain who they are as if they owe others an explanation was frustrating for me to see as a child. I frequently experienced this when mom went to my school demanding that I be given not just the education that was available but the one I deserved. What I learned from this and many other experiences that I witnessed was the value of finding my voice. As I grew it made me work hard to make sure others less fortunate than me had a voice too. Speaking my truth taught me to have empathy for others.  That explains why I dedicated my career to the field of social work.  I found my voice and now I make sure others find their voice too.

3. Integrity Builds Connections.

 Mom and Alex, my (step) Dad

Mom and Alex, my (step) Dad

Immigrants work and they work hard. My mother was always busy. If she wasn't learning English (her native tongue was Spanish), she was working two jobs, attending college or strengthening ties to her new community by attending church, visiting inmates or caring for the sick. Did I mention she welcomed immigrants into our home while they began their life here in the US? She made every moment count.

My step-father still gets up every morning at 4 am to go to work managing a parking garage in the city. Is it because he loves it? Not necessarily. He knows that he made a promise to his family and to his employer. He has always said “ Hay que trabajar (we must work).” This philosophy has stayed with me. Recently, he asked me how my new job was going. As I shared my list of struggles he listened quietly and then said “ Are they still paying you?... Then keep doing good work.”  He reminded me that at the end of the day in our career all we have is our word. Integrity builds trust and can take you far. 

4. Pay it Forward.

My parents' story would have been very different without the opportunities that others created for them. My mother and Father continued to pay it back their entire lives. I can’t tell you the number of relatives and friends that lived with us as they arrived in America. Back then I didn’t understand why I had to give up my room and privacy. Now I know that my parents were doing exactly what was done for them. They both worked in factories often working 2-3 jobs to bring the rest of his family to this country. It’s easy for us to sit on our porch and think, “ wow I made it…or look how far I’ve come.” My immigrant parents taught me that you never do this alone. I was taught to remember where I came from, honor those that paved a way for me and remember to reach out and pay it forward. Paying it forward is important not just for our career but also for our community to thrive. I'm a firm believer that we all need to support each other. We need to make time for coffee, lunch, and networking with those coming up and those that hold our hands along the way. When was the last time you took your mentor out for Café?

5. Be True to Yourself.

 I didn’t always appreciate it when my parents were unapologetically themselves. Like when I saw my stepfather iron his work uniform with such pride. He never pretended to be anyone other than who he was. And, almost to a fault, he is a truth teller. My parents (on both sides) are known as people who are respected, honest and trustworthy. This is because they are and have always been true to themselves.

Being true to yourself is critical for business leaders as well. You need to establish trust if you want people to buy into you, your vision and support your team. I learned from my parents that I'm much more relatable and trustworthy if I bring my authentic self to work. Being genuine in the workplace helps to establish strong ties that can last a lifetime.  As a leader, I want to be approachable, share my interests, and develop my team.  When mistakes are made I keep it real and give grace. The best way of building rapport is to be transparent and genuine.

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My parents may not be seen as great leaders to many but to me they are. It is because of them that I have grown into the woman you see today. As we raise our son I hope to pass down the importance of staying motivated, speaking his truth, having integrity while paying it forward and being true to himself. If he can learn those values he will be doing just fine. 

Is this Real Life? My Best Friend Has Cancer

Mel and I talk every day.

 Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Sometimes we talk twice a day. We chat about everything from marriage to kids and career. She is amazing at a giving me advice about a ton of life challenges but she steals the show when giving me career advice. You can find her always pumping me up and giving me time to reflect on what I have accomplished. We were introduced to each other about 14 years ago as a mutual friend thought we would be a good support to each other as we both struggled with infertility. She was right!  I always say our grief brought us together but our love kept us together. Mel is just another way God used my loss to give me an amazing gift. I think that’s why we are so good at comforting each other now…now that Mel has cancer. To use the term best friend at 44 years old seems silly.  Mel is so much more than that. Over the last 14 years, we have kept it real, grown in love, and raised our kids together, all from over 600 miles away. My life’s journey has been one of uprooting and starting fresh. Hers has been constant and full of much growth. Somehow we have made it work.

Many tears have been shed. We laugh, we cry, and we cuss people out privately who just don’t get the struggle. Many of you may remember the piece that I wrote “The Five Things I learned at Harvard” where I shared what I learned last winter at the Harvard Latina’s LEAD conference. As soon as I told Mel about it she said, “I’m going with you.” That’s how she is. She is loyal to a fault. As she walks this journey now I’m the one going with her. While at LEAD we were immersed in a group of strong Latina’s on the verge of something great.  What I didn’t realize is that Mel was about to emerge on a journey that will show the world how strong she is. Our time in Boston, albeit cold, gave us the chance to catch up face to face after a long eight-year hiatus. This trip left us inspired and knowing that we had to do it every year.

When the opportunity for me to take on a new position in Florida presented itself Mel was the first person to say, “ You are ready.” Here was my journey moving me further away from her when she needs me most. I send her care packages to help ease the challenges that chemo brings but that isn’t enough. Not to me.  What she doesn’t know are the times I cry silently like when she first told me what her treatments would ultimately do to her body, or when she described losing her hair as “my hair painted the walls of my shower.” Even in that, she discusses how she plans to glam up. If I could describe her in one word it would be resilient.  As I lean into what Mel needs from me I have discovered four ways to support a loved one experiencing cancer;

1.     Be there.  Don’t offer platitudes. Just hold their hands (in my case virtually) and let them talk. I listen intently and when she asks I make her laugh by moving on to point 2. Send brief text messages, listen intently, and cry together when the moment calls for it.

2.     Shoot the sh**t about everyday life. Like I said, Mel and I keep it real. Often times a day or so after treatments I check in. Mel gives me her update and quickly says “Ok tell me all about you. I need that.” We laugh about crazy life stuff, talk about my new life in Florida, and share dreams we have for our kids. We simply keep it real.

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3.     Pray. Mel and I have had our own faith journeys but we have always prayed for each other. Shortly after she told me about her diagnosis I read a quote that says, “ Today…you are loved. You are thought of. You are prayed for.” That is how I want Mel to feel every day. A verse that keeps coming to mind is Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

4.    Give. It doesn’t have to be something huge or overly expensive. Just something that lets your loved one know you are thinking about them. Warm socks, blankets, or even ChapStick can help ease the challenges that come with treatment. Give of your time. That’s right. Time is so important. Be intentional about taking care of those you love.

Mel and I have no idea what lies ahead. What we do know is that we will face this together. As I see her face this journey I am reminded that Mel is brave even when she cries. Mel is courageous even when the news is hard. Mel is beautiful especially when she smiles.  Above all things, Mel is loved.

Striding: The Price of Rewriting Your Story

When we first moved to North Carolina many people had asked us the same question “Why in the world would you move from New York to North Carolina? Who does that?” My answer has always been the same… “I love moving.” However, the truth is more complex. Change was always hard for me. I loved for things to remain the same. Until I married a soldier that is. During the first five years of our marriage we moved 5 times to 5 different states.  Let that sink in. Can you imagine that?  Just when we were about to set “roots” it was time to pick up and start over. I became a pro at moving. It was incredibly hard and yet full of real life lessons like, my home is wherever my husband is. This idea may be counter culture but has been the guiding force of our 19-year marriage. And now, my home is where they, my husband and son, are.  Which is why moving without them has been difficult.

Rewriting Our Story

I love clean slates. Don’t you? Adena Friedman said it best: “Starting a new job can be nerve-racking, but it’s also exciting. You’re embarking on a new future, positioning yourself to write a fresh story.” Two weeks ago, I relocated for my career without my family. I’m in the middle of my very own fresh story and sometimes it’s hard.

 Our new home.

Our new home.

Starting a fresh new story is full of new adventures like learning a new organization, trying new foods and almost coming to tears when you realize that Marshall’s is literally minutes from your new place. I am in awe of the many different families that I see in my new community. Families that look like our little crew and many that don’t. Although our new space isn’t the same style as our home in NC, I am very excited to decorate and transform our new house into a home. Daily I am leaning into what life in Florida will be like for our family. It’s exciting, new, and inevitably comes with a price.

The Price

I told a friend just the other day that I feel like every comfort I have had has been stripped from me. Its cathartic and chaotic. Leaving me feeling exposed, naked and vulnerable. I didn’t anticipate feeling that way.  My connections, community and church feel as though they too have been stripped in a way. What I’m learning is that sometimes when God moves you into purpose you will be left feeling vulnerable. The same friend shared that when I am vulnerable “humility steps in and allows you to trust God with your whole life.” I have been in comfort for over 15 years. That comfort made me feel secure…safe. In the striding there are real losses. Walking into your purpose comes with a cost.  Here are the top 3 “costs” I have experienced so far:

1.Connections- This is the first time in my adult life that I have relocated to a new city without my husband. As our son completes his end of year exams we have been forced to separate for a month’s time. It doesn’t seem too long until you are living it. Living it is hard. I also am no longer able to do life with my closest friends.

Prior to this stride I had convinced myself that I didn’t need new friends. This relocation forces me to engage with new people and be intentional about forming new connections. That isn’t always easy.  Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a psychologist and author, says the best way to find friends is to follow a passion — “and whether it’s golf, tennis, bridge or art, participate in your chosen activity regularly. That allows you to have contact with the same people over and over, and familiarity breeds friendship.” My husband and I have already started planning how we will get involved in local art groups and possibly local activist organizations. I agree with Dr. Levine, familiarity does breed friendship. I know that I need to be patient with the process.

 Celebrating and doing life with these ladies was an honor. 

Celebrating and doing life with these ladies was an honor. 

2.Community- Over the last 15 years, I have lived in a small rural farming town. Traffic was great, community was close and if I’m being honest, life was peaceful. My piece Moving: Striding into Our Purpose should shed some light on why we made the decision to leave our comfort for the unknown. If I am being honest, relocation often is the opposite of peace. I do have peace in knowing that I have stepped out in purpose, however, finding a new doctor, getting to know new neighbors and connecting with our son’s new school doesn’t make me feel peaceful. I think what God is allowing me to see is that when it comes to community, my peace should be in knowing that he has a plan beyond what I can see. He knows who I need and when. While I wait I will be intentional about getting involved in my community even when it puts me out of my comfort zone. Living in a new neighborhood is something I am excited about experiencing. What I love about our new area is that it offers community meet ups and opportunities to connect.  I think this will help us establish a sense of community when our world just got very big.

3.Church- Over the past 9 years The Cove Church has shaped my family’s spiritual growth. Our son has grown into a great leader and we owe that in part to our church. In a piece I wrote for the Foster Moms Blog I share how Spirituality Raises World Changers. This piece was relatively easy to write because of The Cove’s impact on my own son’s life. Last weekend I got to visit The Cove one last time and I freaking loved it. Finding a church to replace it was not one of the top new things I was looking forward to. I am lucky that I can still watch the service online.  As I look forward to what another church can offer us, I am often asking myself which space is the best fit for us?Where will my son continue to grow into a world changer? Where will I find my new people? Knowing that Florida is where I am meant to be gives me comfort that the church I will belong to is here too. Finding a church can be stressful, however, the process of joining one can also be one of discovery and full of wonderful experiences.  I embrace that.

 Last weekend at The Cove we celebrated race day. He loved it!

Last weekend at The Cove we celebrated race day. He loved it!

Why Stride?

Sometimes you outgrow your space, community and life in an area. That is when God moves you somewhere new. Our stride to a new area was primarily because we were living in a place where we were no longer fulfilling our purpose. Leaving North Carolina for Florida during a season when we were comfortable in our routines, connections, community and church has its losses. The gains are becoming more evident every day that I am here.  We also know that being an example to our son during this time of transition is critical. I hope our son learns that change can be painful, but it can also bring beautiful new beginnings. Here’s to our new beautiful new beginnings.

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Living Openness in Adoption: How Relocation Changes Everything.

 The embrace 5.6.2018

The embrace 5.6.2018

When we finally decided we were going to move I went on a mission to ensure our son got to spend time with those that matter to him most. We knew that saying goodbye to his friends, family and even teachers would be hard, but how do you prepare your child to say goodbye to his parent of origin?

Adoption is real. It’s hard and it’s beautiful. If you think about it adopted kids have been saying goodbye to loved ones since before they could remember. At least for our little man it was like this from the moment he caught his first breath.

Experts Say...

 copyright April Dinwoodie (website)

copyright April Dinwoodie (website)

This month I had the honor of hearing April Dinwoodie, adult adoptee and advocate, speak to a room of adoption professionals about the need for openness in adoption. April encouraged that adoption is a human rights issue and not a one-time transaction. She described adoption as a life long journey. April boldly shared that children are not commodities. This phrasing brought it all home for me. I remember thinking " He's not just our family."

April noted that best practice recommendations support children’s basic human right to connect with and have information about their biological roots. This is why we have been so intentional to ensure that our son have information about his family of origin. However, having information was not enough he needed connection as well. This is where adoptive parents can put their love in action. If it is safe, I am a firm believer that connection with biological family is critical to adopted children. 

As we stride into the next chapter for our family, it means saying goodbye to loved ones. When you have an adopted child it may mean saying goodbye to a biological parent they barely know. It may be awkward but so necessary. So we planned and last Sunday he spent time with her. The woman who carried him, has his same eyes. 

He hugged her tight and held her hand. He asked me to take pictures. We took lots of them. He got to play with his baby cousin and met his uncle and aunt for the very first time. At that moment we realized the magnitude of this moment. His two families sharing a moment with him.

This visit was different from all the rest because for the first time he met his extended family. It was magical. He played and laughed with them, gave hugs and even asked to visit again before we take off to our new life and home.

 

Family is our center of gravity
— April Dinwoodie

I have discussed with him that moving away doesn’t make her any less his family. People often ask us how we do it? How are we ok with having him spend time with her as if love or the concept of family is confined to just us. We like to think of it, as there is enough love for all of us. Our conversation with her is about a promise we made to her over 12 years ago. It was a promise to give him a full, happy life and how this move is part of that promise.

 We are family 5.6.18

We are family 5.6.18

Changes in Communication

This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a new way to stay in contact. How will we modify our communication? We have decided to set up a private Facebook page for both families to connect and exchange photos. In addition, we will be intentional about visiting often. I hope our little man learns that in his life he will sometimes have to say goodbye to people he loves deeply, but although those goodbyes will be painful, it doesn’t mean those relationships aren’t worth the pain.

Adoptive parents we owe it to our children to find ways to honor their parents and families of origin. Connection is a way to honor their relationships.

Moving: Striding Into Our Purpose

 Spring of 2017

Spring of 2017

We made a bold decision this month. A decision for our family. An important one for our son. A huge career shift for me. We are moving. It’s not been an easy one to make but definitely the right one. Striding lead us here. Striding means to walk with long decisive steps into a specified direction. That pretty much sums up our life over the last several years.

Over the last 15 years our NC life has been filled with love and laughter. We have built lasting friendships with great friends that have become family. Our son has bonded with other adopted children and through my work has met adult adoptee’s like Rhonda Roorda who have inspired him to share his own adoption story. We found a church that helped our son grow his faith. We have spent many years here with our family sharing traditions and raising our children together. We have built a life here and its been good.

 Our sweet home for the last 14 years. 

Our sweet home for the last 14 years. 

Striding for Our Son: Being multiracial in our area can be hard. As our son has grown older, we are finding that living in an area that is demographically lacking in diversity is not the best for him. When you have a family that looks the same you don’t have to constantly justify that you are a family. In my post “The New South” I talk a great deal about some of the tough moments we have experienced as a family here in North Carolina. Moments like my husband being confused as our son’s case worker rather than his daddy. Or times when my husband and I have had to navigate tough conversations with our son about being called the N-Word, police brutality, and why people stare at us. Over the last 2 years hubby and I have engaged in deep conversations about our desire for him to experience many different people from all around the world. That is why we have traveled to many countries with our little guy. We wanted him to know the world is big and full of different kinds of people. What we realized is that we want him to have the rich diversity we had growing up. For us to give him that meant we needed to relocate.

 Getting updated immunization for his new school in FL. 

Getting updated immunization for his new school in FL. 

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Striding for Our Marriage: I’d like to think that anyone who spends time with us knows that we love each other deeply. It’s hard when some in your community don’t embrace that. We knew when we got married we would face adversity. I would argue the many multiracial relationships do. Being a multiracial couple has its challenges. The part of the country you live in can influence that greatly. Many have made assumptions that we weren’t together. We are typically offered separate checks at dinner and struggle with the million stares we get when we are out around town. I’m not saying the relocation will fix the experiences we have had as a couple, but having less of it would be amazing. The bottom line is that we want to live in spaces that make us feel less like unicorns and more like a loving couple. We are also keenly aware that in order for the South to change, families like ours need to be visible within the community. Which is why we aren’t leaving the South.

Striding into Purpose: Since November of 2017, God has positioned very specific people to lead me in this new direction. It started with a 2-hour conversation with a mentor that lead to this site being created and has recently exploded into what I now know to be my purpose. So what is my purpose? It’s pretty simple really. My purpose is to use my experience, story, and platform to help other adoptive/ multiracial families thrive. I’m now striding in my purpose and that is why I know it is time to go. I’m just so excited that my purpose is also positioning me to move my family to an area with more diversity and opportunities. That it is taking us closer to my sister, her family, and a new church that I have admired for a while. I’m ready to lead in purpose.

My talented dear hubby has also stepped into his purpose. In the summer he will return to school to complete a degree in Environmental Science at Penn State. Relocating will give him access to opportunities to serve the community and planet. His passion in caring for the planet has influenced our son who believes daddy is a hero. His new position as a Campaign Manager has placed him in the center of a national debate on what our role should be in caring for the planet. Stay tuned and watch this guy change the world!

A Final Thought…

I have LOVED my job here in NC. Leading a great team that supports families in the post reunification and adoption realm has taught me so much about leading with grace and empowering others to lead. If I’m being honest, my purpose has always been in adoption. I was telling friends just the other day that my love for adoptive families came way before I was an adopted mom. The work came first then the baby. The exceptional training's I have received like The Adoption Competency Training and Learning to Lead have prepared me for my new role as Director of Adoption Services in Tampa Florida.  Opportunities to lead initiatives through the QIC-AG have put me in the same room with great influencers like Dr. Bruce Perry who recently interviewed with Oprah about the impact of childhood trauma on the brain. To say I have been granted amazing opportunities is not enough. What I know now is that I have been striding. Striding lead me here. God has lead me to take long decisive steps into a future that I could never have dreamt up for myself or for my family.

 

And suddenly you know...its time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings

My First Podcast Interview

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Mi gente!!!! I'm really excited to let you know that I was just interviewed on the Multiracial Family Man podcast to discuss my Afro-Latina experience, our multiracial life in the South, and our transracial adoption. It was great fun!!!! I think I over shared a bit, but I’m glad I did. A million thanks to Alex for being a wonderful host! 

You can find the podcast on any of the links below:

iTunes

Libsyn Podcast Network

Stitcher 

Excerpt from the Multiracial Family Man Site

"Ep. 158: Ligia Cushman is an Afro-Latina with Dominican roots who grew up in New York City.  She is married to a White man, and together they have a multiracial son, whom they adopted.  Ligia and her family live in the South, where she is an active advocate in the adoption space.
Listen as she talks to Alex about her Multiracial experience, her views on race and adoption, and how Multiracial experience differs from North to South."

For more on host, Alex Barnett, please check out his website: www.alexbarnettcomic.com or visit him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/alexbarnettcomic) or on Twitter at @barnettcomic

To subscribe to the Multiracial Family Man, please click here: MULTIRACIAL FAMILY MAN PODCAST

Why We Will Always Celebrate Our Son's Adoption Day

Words matter. I think they matter even more if you have experienced adoption. Phrases like “your real mom” or “your real child” are difficult to hear and yes-adopted families hear these often. For example, the phrase “Gotcha Day” has sparked a huge debate in the adoption community.

What is Gotcha Day?

"Gotcha Day" is a phrase that denotes the anniversary of the day on which a new member joins a family through adoption. It is sometimes also called “ Home Coming Day","Family Day", or "Adoption Day" – For many intercountry adoptive families, this day may differ from the actual adoption day. 'Gotcha Day' is often associated with annual rituals or celebrations.

Over that last few years, there has been a huge debate in the adoption community on whether we, adoptive parents, should celebrate our child’s adoption day. Karen Moline, author and the adoptive mother of a child born in Vietnam wrote “Get Rid of ‘Gotcha’” for Adoptive Families magazine in which she says: “Gotcha is my typical response when I’ve squashed a bug, caught a ball just before it would have rolled under the sofa, or managed to reach a roll of toilet paper on the top shelf at the store. It’s a silly, slangy word...I find the use of ‘gotcha’ to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive.”

Our Decision

I have said it once; I'll say it again. Every adoption journey starts with a story of loss. This loss cannot be ignored or loved away.  This loss can be ambiguous for the adoptee especially if they were adopted as an infant. So here is the thing most people may miss about adoption. Adoption is not just a story of loss. It starts there but can grow and evolve into so much more. To our family adoption is both an act of love and loss.

In our home, we use “Adoption Day” as a day to honor our story. Our story is hard, full of loss and surprisingly beautiful.  However, many believe that no matter what name you use, Gotcha Day, Adoption Day, or Family Day it is a disingenuous day created by adoptive parents to celebrate their happiness while also possibly recognizing their child’s loss.  Some have even said that gotcha day is a narcissistic response to adoption by the adoptive parent.

 3.2.2018 Celebrating our Adoption Day with cousins and granparents

3.2.2018 Celebrating our Adoption Day with cousins and granparents

Last night, in our family, we celebrated the twelth-year anniversary of the day my son’s adoption was finalized. As usual, it was low-key, quiet, and a generally private affair. As he has gotten older, he decides how he wants to spend this day and he always chooses to spend it with his family.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the child I prayed for and eventually adopted would think that my honoring his joining of our family, all be it an unnatural process, would be a way for me to boast about his loss. Those who know our story and our love for our son know we would never do anything to hurt him intentionally.

Articles like The Insensitivity of Adoption Day Celebrations by Mirah Riben,  by the Huffington Post, challenged me. I began to think are my husband and I getting this all wrong? I decided to really go to the true experts on adoption and all things gotcha day…adopted kids. I took time to interview Jaden (12) and Ella (13) about their adoption journey and how celebrating their adoption has impacted their lives.

Meet the Kids

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Ella was adopted from Guatemala as an infant. She calls her adoption day “gotcha day.”One day, when driving through a rainstorm, she asked if it rained in Guatemala and the rest is history! Ella quickly learned that there is a great need for umbrellas in Guatemala, especially during the rainy season. Ella then created her Ella’s Umbrellas initiative. Those who received umbrellas shared that during the rainy season they don't have anything to cover their children with and the umbrellas reduce their children's chances and during the dry season it keeps mom’s to protect their children from the sun. Ella has donated over 750 umbrellas so far and hopes to send over 1,000 by the end of 2018.

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Jaden was adopted domestically from NC. Jaden calls his day “Adoption Day.” Many of you have read about our mini superhero on my blog. He has been featured in posts like “Adoption: A glimpse into the day our son was born” and “Where did you get that baby?” which paint a picture of some of the beautifully complex moments adoption has thrown at us.  His heart for people is evident in the way he loves his family. His insight on his own adoption experience is what has led me to share our story.  Jaden will be the first to tell you that when it comes to his adoption he has double-dipped feelings about it and that is totally ok. I took some time to ask Ella and Jaden the following questions.


Why do you like to celebrate your Gotcha Day / Adoption Day?

E: “ Because we celebrate that me, my mom, and dad all became a family.”

J: “ We celebrate it because it reminds us that our story is special.”

How is this day different from your birthday?

E: “Umm on my birthday we celebrate the day I was born, but on my Gotcha day we celebrate the day we became a family.”

J: “My birthday is cool because it's about celebrating my life. You know, the day I was born. Celebrating my adoption day celebrates my family. Its how we came to be.”

Why is it important that your adoption day is celebrated each year?

E: “It’s very important to me because we get to celebrate as a whole family and every year we make it a special time.“

J: “It reminds me that even though I sometimes get sad about my adoption it can also remind me that it’s a good thing too. I also like that on my adoption day my family takes the time to tell me my story.”


Adoption does start with loss but it doesn’t have to end there.  Over time it can become many layers to a complex journey. It's important that we as adoptive parents not only celebrate our child's journey into our family but also that we honor their story. No matter what word you choose to celebrate your child’s day, the important thing is to celebrate your child.

 

 

Who gets to Claim Afro-Latinidad?

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Who gets to claim Afro-Latinidad? That's the question I posed to my niece Ashley, 23. Her response was quite shocking. Ashley shared that when she was younger she would tell her fellow classmates that she was half Black and half Dominican. There was always that one person that would say “no you are fully black, you’re not Dominican.” Why? Because she doesn’t speak Spanish. She struggled with owning her Afro-Latinidad because others wanted to define her narrative. The idea that being Latina is only about language is ludicrous. 

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This question has been asked for far too long in the Latino community. Afro-Latinos like me grow up with questions like will I ever be black or Latina enough? How do I chose?  As an Afro-Latina you are often taking off one coat and putting on another depending on who you are with. We get to navigate two worlds that aren't always welcoming of our story.  In my post Parenting in the Hyphen: My Life as an Afro-Latina Mom, I touch on this a bit. This conversation with Ashley sent me on a mission to find her some answers. In my search I had the opportunity to hear a great round table discussion on just that. Who gets to claim Afro-Latinidad? Does Ashley? 

 My niece Ashley with her natural hair loud and proud 2017

My niece Ashley with her natural hair loud and proud 2017

Maria Hinojosa facilitated a great Latino roundtable with Amilcar Priestley, co-director of the Afro-Latino Festival and director of the Afro-Latino Project; Marjua Estevez, senior editor of Vibe.com; M. Tony Peralta, contemporary artist and owner of the Peralta Project; and Jamila Brown, owner of HUE, for an honest and open conversation on Afro-Latinidad.

Hear how her guests respond to questions like: What's it like being both Black and Latino in the United States? Who gets to claim Afro-Latinadad?

I’m glad I asked Ashley the question because it gave us a chance to talk about our heritage, who we are as a people and the importance of never ever letting someone else tell you who you are. Princess, you are Latina and Black, own it all because it’s what makes you shine! 

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Shine bright princess!

Black Panther: Why Wakanda Matters More Than Ever

  Storm & Black Panther credit: Marvel Studios 

Storm & Black Panther credit: Marvel Studios 

 I grew up on X-Men and all things Marvel. If I’m being honest, Marvel comics is what made me a scifi chic at the age of nine. Today, we took our son to see Black Panther. Going to see this movie was literally all he and I talked about all week. It was like waiting for Christmas!! But why? I think for me it has to do with Wakanda.

According to the Marvel Comic Site, “Wakanda is a fictional East African nation appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. It is the most prominent of all nations in the Marvel Universe and home to the superhero Black Panther.”

 Image of Wakanda, credit Marvel Studios

Image of Wakanda, credit Marvel Studios

Wakanda isn’t awesome just because Black Panther is its ruler. Wakanda matters because here you have a place where black people are kings and queens, scholars, innovators, scientist and leaders. This presents the ideas of respect and admiration for black culture that is so needed in today’s America.

Does that mean that we don’t already have scientists  and innovators in the real world? Absolutley not. Those individuals are our real life heros. However, as an avid movie goer, rarely do you see black people in positive roles that don’t include them being slaves or civil rights activists. Wakanda ushers in positive representation of black society that is missing in our media.    

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For my son, and all kids around the world, Wakanda will show them a powerful purpose driven representation of people of color. In our country, kids of color don't get to see superheroes that look like them. I think for those kids Wakanda will teach them that no matter the obstacles they face, they can overcome them and thrive.

 Photographed by Mario Testino,  Vogue , October 2016

Photographed by Mario Testino, Vogue, October 2016

I could not end this post without talking about the beautiful women of Wakanda!  Strong, brave, intellectual, thriving women. That is how I hope the world sees women of color. I’m so thankful that Wakanda’s women are represented by such a talented group of women, one of them being the lovely Lupita Amondi Nyong'o a Kenyan-Mexican actress.  It brought me joy to know that the narrative for women of color is one of grit, grace and growth.