La Semana (July 2016)
Updated: Sep 22, 2018
I was honored to be invited for a second year as a Parent Educator at La Semana Culture Camp! "La Semana is a week-long culture day-camp for children in elementary through high school adopted from Latin America and their family members. Different from traditional summer camps, La Semana is designed to promote self-esteem and foster an understanding of Latin American culture and history. The children learn Latin American crafts and dances, try Latin American foods, hear Latin American music and are exposed to written and spoken Spanish. The children also take a class that focuses on age-appropriate topics related to adoption."
I gave a presentation on racial identity development so parents can have an understanding of what their kids might be experiencing. In this presentation, I share a lot of my own story, though I am not an adoptee. Given my friendships with Transracial Adoptees and other People of Color raised by White parents, I know personally how similar the experiences can be.
I have to give it to these parents, they are wonderful. And they're HUNGRY! Getting to provide a little food for thought and then hearing about their experiences was very powerful for me. Each time I give a presentation like this, I learn more about the audience and am consistently humbled. I learn a little bit about how to provide a better presentation, and how to confront some of my own biases.
One of the most poignant moments for me was asking parents point blank why they adopted children from another country, race, or culture. I was inspired by this video (which was in my presentation but couldn't be shown due to technical difficulties):
This dude does not mince words! And I appreciate him. As I asked the parents this question, without any initial guidance, I got a lot of beautiful and sweet answers, answers that really touched me. The innocence in their responses was really beautiful. Some experienced too many challenges trying to adopt domestically. Some had been international travelers and valued a global culture and wanted to express that in their families. For some it was just meant to be. I brought a gentle challenge to the group about the idea that some kids experience anger and resentment during their lifetime, and that there are levels to look at in terms of rich White Americans paying money to take poor children of color out of their countries, their enculturated environments. Even if those weren't a part of their conscious intentions, these are realities that need to be acknowledged.
Overall, the parents were amazing, like I said. And they were so hungry to know how they could do right by their children, how they could be supportive, what they should avoid. It got really complex at times, and it was cool to see parents offering examples to each other on how to parent in a respectful and supportive way.
Something new this year was an opportunity for me to talk to the campers themselves. I was invited to speak to the Ayudantes (helpers), the senior teens. These were kids 17 and up who had gone through camp and returned to volunteer, support the younger kids, and help run programming. I had no idea what to expect - kids can be deadly silent or really engaged. I came without expectations, knowing I could always just repeat the information I gave to the parents.
It. Was. Incredible.
This was one of the best experiences of my life, I think. I come to this identity development work fully centered on my own experience, research I've found which tends to validate what I've experienced, and friends with similar experiences. I come under the assumption that I as a Mixed adult have something in common with transracially adopted teens. I assume that this powerful experience they get to have of going to a camp every year in a space that is full of people in similar family circumstances will both provide healing and prevent further identity damage.
I can't tell you how moving it was to encounter a room of 40 young adoptees who were confident, outspoken, asserting their identities, and supportive of one another, even through a variety of experiences in their families and social groups. I started off with telling them about me and my experience. At first they were quiet, but when something resonated, that ripple of noise and conversation and laughter came through the room. There were a few who were obviously leaders and more outspoken, but many of the kids were vocal about their experiences.
What I learned is that through coming to camp, these kids developed a stronger sense of who they were. Obviously some are more confident and actualized than others. And there was this general knowingness and mutual comfort among them about experiences they've had that have challenged their identities. But if even for one week a year, they can be fully who they are - Guatemalan, Colombian, Mayan - that's incredible! And you can see it in their beings. I was on the verge of happy tears throughout most of the meeting. Pure joy.
I briefly met up with a friend, a transracial adoptee who does some programming for the younger kids at camp. She said I was beaming and it was clear I'm doing what I'm called to do. I couldn't have said it better myself!