Bonita, Bonita, Bonita

Reading Time: 10 minutes
I have wanted to be beautiful for as long as I can remember.
Ironically cursed with severe acne as an adolescent, I was used to teachers that, during roll call, would chuckle at their amazing propensity for Spanish and ask: Do you know what Bonita means?
Numbly, I would nod my head and pray to white Jesus that they would leave me alone.
No one listened. Every teacher would excitedly explain, thrilled to pay homage to the A they got in 9th Grade Spanish: It means beautiful. Beautiful name for such a beautiful (they would scan my face and see the acne)…smile. Such a beautiful smile.
Afterwards, a smart aleck with perfect white skin would inevitably turn around and declare: They should’ve named her the Spanish word for ugly. And the class would erupt.
Adopted into a large, white, Mennonite farming family in rural Pennsylvania, I knew that beauty wasn’t supposed to be a high priority. Afterall, you didn’t need to be beautiful to feed the cats, check the chickens, shovel manure, hang laundry, take out the garbage and do a myriad of other chores.
You didn’t need to be beautiful to can beans, peaches, cherries, applesauce and jam.
You didn’t need to be beautiful to go to Church every Sunday and Small Group on Wednesday.
You just had to show up and get the job done.
I grew up on a small chicken farm in Lancaster County where there were not many places where my last name was not known. A few farms over a distant cousin had played outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies in the ‘70s. A few miles away, a great uncle owned a large agricultural business. Other uncles owned dairy farms, chicken farms or pig farms. We were farming people. We weren’t supposed to care about beauty.
As a child, I would watch as my white family members would change various shades of tan throughout the summer.
I would watch them become effortlessly sun-bleached blonde and tan and beautiful. Powerful and pure. Desirable and innocent. White and strong.
In the mornings, I would slather my body in sunscreen and in the evenings, I would layer myself in cocoa butter and Vitamin E oil, wrap my hair and pray to wake up a white skinned, blue-eyed blonde.
I wanted to be the you look just like your mom rather than a is-she-your-fresh-air-kid or were you adopted as a crack baby kind of beautiful. I wanted to be the farm tan and sun-bleached blonde kind of beautiful. I wanted to be the kind of beautiful that fit in seamlessly. The kind of beautiful that you didn’t question.
The kind of beautiful that everyone just recognized as beautiful. Without questions. Without stigmas. Without doubt.
Somewhere around middle school, I discovered relaxers. I don’t remember what first made me realize that wearing my hair in braids and beads was ‘so elementary.’ Was it a locker room conversation? Did someone ask me one too many times why my hair was so kinky? Was it after my white brother loudly declared that girls with short hair like me would never be pretty?
Whatever it was, something shifted.
I wanted to feel the wind in my hair. I wanted to ‘put my hair down.’ I wanted to be beautiful.
And, beauty could be mine for $7.99.
During the next few years, my mom would occasionally relax my hair with home relaxers. The paper cartons showed light-skinned girls with long smooth tresses and wide smiles.
Relaxers for black hair, unlike relaxers for white hair, rely on sodium hydroxide which can cause hair loss and third-degree burns.
Despite the intense burn from the relaxer and the countless horror stories from friends (bald, burns, hospitalization), I would grit my teeth and close my eyes.
Tell me when it starts to burn and we will rinse it right out, my mother would caution, and I would nod and grit my teeth.
Afterwards, I would stand in front of the mirror and swish my hair and wince with pain.
Beauty was pain, right?
The first time I remember being called ‘beautiful,’ was the first day I visited a Waldorf School. I was in 1st grade, extremely talkative, emotive and already classified as a handful.
I guess the teacher had told the class that I would be visiting for a week because as soon as I arrived at the school small white heads poked out of a third story window screaming ‘hello.’
It was equally traumatic and exhilarating.
A tall brick building with a large arched door, Waldorf felt both enchanting and historic.
Large doors with brass handles opened to reveal hallways and classrooms painted in soft fairytale hues: caerulean, rose, dandelion, moss and ultramarine. Pastel silks stretched across windows as elegant curtains and hand painted artwork covered gallery walls in neat, straight lines. Handmade felt puppets, beeswax figures, wooden bowls and spoons crowded in corner tables and display shelves. Chalk art featured fairies and gnomes and whimsical woodland creatures embellished the daily schedules: Circle time, Main Lesson, Snack & Recess, Beeswax, Handwork, Lunch & Recess, Eurythmy, German, Painting.
The first-grade room was on the tallest floor of the building. A bright corner room with large windows and rose colored walls, the room featured wall-length chalkboards, a balance beam, a braided circular rug and twenty-three desks including one with my name.
A teacher appeared at the door, his hands chalky and his eyes kind. I don’t remember what pleasantries were passed or how long I hid behind my mom and sister, astonished and horrified that I was actually expected to spend a full week with strangers.
But I do remember that a girl came barreling through the front door, brown ringlets bouncing and picked me up. “You are so beautiful!”
It was easy to be beautiful then. And, it was hard to be beautiful then. I was a black kid. An adopted kid. A girl kid. A loud kid. A sensitive kid. A don’t make me tell you twice kid. I had isms and quirks. I was hyperactive and talkative.
And, I was desperate to be beautiful.
Beautiful people were wanted by their parents. Beautiful people didn’t have other kids ask them what it felt like to be an orphan. Beautiful people didn’t have abandonment issues. Beautiful people didn’t get asked if they were ‘real’ or not.
Beautiful people were just beautiful people. They weren’t pretty for a black girl. They weren’t you’d be almost hot if you were white. They weren’t my mom said I’m not allowed to date black girls. They weren’t oreos or monkeys or n****rs. They were just always human. And, they were always beautiful.
Right?
I wanted it. I wanted the bluest eyes and saccharine smiles. I wanted blonde hair and white skin. I wanted to be able to buy my hair products from stores that didn’t offer skin bleaching creams in the same aisle. I wanted to be able to feel the air flip ponytails across my back. I wanted boys to stop asking me if I would have a big butt when I grew up. I wanted teachers to stop telling me that if I ever wanted to be taken seriously, I would need to change my name|hair|speech. I would need to apply for diversity scholarships. I would need to tell my story and make sure to say that I was adopted.
I just wanted to be beautiful.
In Elementary School, I was one of 3 black girls in the whole school. The others were a biracial girl named after a flower whose name matched her beauty and my twin sister. The school was small and the whiteness was blindingly ecofriendly. It was May day flowers and wreath dancing white. It was handmade knit socks and crochet scarves white. Sugarless organic fruit roll-up and babybel snack kinda white. Composting and save the trees white. Liberal white. TV turnoff week white. Tie-dye shirt birthday parties white. Handmade purposefully didn’t comb my hair dreadlocks white. Inclusive white yet exclusive white.
And, I was allowed to play.
Waldorf boasted diversity and inclusivity initiatives before they were a “thing.” Every classroom was mainstream and persons with mental health illnesses were included and expected to participate and engage with the curriculum and the community.
At first blackness seemed like a constant show and tell.
Do you need sunscreen?
        What kind of lotion do you use?
                Why does your hair stand straight up?
                            Why does your hair smell like coconut?
Kids asked me questions in between asking another why he sniffed people or why she ate her boogers and didn’t clip her fingernails.
One recess a classmate asked why my knees were ashy and I didn’t know what to say so I made something up: it’s a super power I have that tells me when I need more lotion.
Awestruck, he leaned closer. Woah, I wish I had a superpower.
For at least the first half of second grade, daily recess rituals included hopeful girls asking one another: May I play with you? Status was determined by whether you were the one doing the asking or if you were the asked. Recess and social politics dictated that playing as a threesome was the most desirable. Any more and it became difficult to control dynamics. Any less and your status suffered. After all, playing wild horses required two people to actually be horses and one to narrate the storyline.   
As a child, I would often proudly announce that my schedule was booked – couldn’t play with anyone until December I told a child once…in October. Reasons not to play with someone included if they smelled, if they said something mean about you to another classmate or if you were worried they might become more popular than you.
As an adult, I cringe remembering moments like this. And, in moments of desperation, I want to defend myself and write it off as immaturity and ignorance.
After all, it was immature and ignorant.
And yet, child’s play often mimics real-world scenarios. Somehow as seven and eight-year-olds we knew, innately, what we were doing. We knew these were acts of survival.
As I grew older, I would find that reasons to play with someone would evolve to include hair type and skin color. Reasons that would sometimes include me and exclude other black girls. Reasons that would sometimes exclude me and include other black girls. Reasons that would sometimes exclude all black girls.
In middle school, I transitioned from Waldorf to a small Mennonite school. Out of the over 300 plus children in attendance in K-8, I was the only black girl. An adopted black girlfriend of mine transitioned out of the school just as I began, and I quickly learned from my classmates that there were expectations with being black.
Average at basketball, I tried out for the team and, to the utter dismay of my coach, was only good enough to be a part-time player on the ‘A’ team and a full-time player on the ‘B’ team. Where was my skill? Didn’t I watch basketball at home? C’mon, where was the hustle?
As a seventh grader, a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy I liked gave me his phone number and asked me to call him. When I did, his mother informed me that he wasn’t allowed to talk to “people like me.” I remember hanging up the phone in shock. Later, I cried myself to sleep.
The next time I saw him, I ignored him. He followed me around after choir practice, apologizing Then he told me we should stop being friends. He had prayed about it and it would make things easier for him. And, that was okay, right? I understood?
A few weeks later a classmate, whom often called me an ‘Oreo,’ told me that his parents said that people like me could never be a “Proverbs 31” girl. I walked into the bathroom and cried.
People like me. Oreos like me. Things like me.
In eighth grade, a classmate would, much to the hilarity of my teammates, lift my field hockey skirt to see if I had a big butt. I was too horrified and embarrassed to report him.
In class, a cocky white boy would sit on my lap and apologize with an oops, I didn’t see you there. On the bus rides home, he would whisper sexually explicit things to me and shove me into the wall.  
Late night bus rides after basketball and field hockey games would turn into weekly nightmares. Forced to sit in between horny adolescent eighth grade boys, I would have pens shoved in my hair, pencils shoved down my shorts and hands grope my back, chest and butt.
They would only stop if I cried.
Their apologies were often bold threats and excuses: you are such a baby. Can’t you take a joke? It’s not like we actually like you. You should be flattered we are paying you attention. If you tell anyone we will make it worse for you.
After asking one boy why I was always targeted, he laughed and said: because you’re not, you know, like the other girls.
In desperation, I went to the school’s guidance counselor and confided in her what was happening. She was one of the boy’s mom and told me that she didn’t believe me. Her son would never participate in things like that. Certainly, I was mistaken. This sounded like drama and she heard that I caused drama.
I never went back to her again.
Another time, during track and field practice, a popular classmate wanted a select group of girls to watch her run and then tell her if her butt bounced while she did the long jump. I just really want to have a bouncy big butt. She whined, and then she pointed at me. A big butt like her.
In 9th grade, after a classmate grabbed a hold of my breast in the middle of gym class, I remember feeling astounded that my white male teacher, Mr. T, stepped in. The boy was sent to the principal’s office and Mr. T asked me if I wanted to file a complaint. He said that he was going to and that it would be my decision to write one, but he recommended that I did.
Out of all the times I had been sexually harassed in class and at school, this was the first time that a teacher stood up for me.
This was the first time a teacher didn’t say that it happened because I caused drama.
This was the first time I was believed and supported.
I wrote the damn report.
Later, when a popular classmate would slap my butt, hard, in the hallway in front of a crowd of boys, I chased him down and slapped him across the face.
Never touch me again, I warned. “I just wanted to see how firm it was.” He laughed before declaring: never touch me again, crazy b**ch.
The next day a rumor went around that I was crazy and slapped him for no reason.
No one sat with me at lunch that day. Another told me that I should apologize. No one wanted to hear what had actually happened because no one cared.
People cared what happened to be young, white beautiful people. Once, after the same classmate that wanted a big, bouncy butt told another that a boy had looked at her weird, he was shunned from the next class party.
Just like that.
No one told her stop causing drama. No one accused her of being mistaken.
She was believed because she was popular. She was believed because she was white and beautiful. She was believed.
Just like that.
Historically, the first time I verbalized my ‘otherness,’ was when I was four. My aunt recalls this moment by my alleged declaration: there were “too many white people” at the family reunion.
While I don’t remember this incident, I do remember the first time I learned to associate my skin color with items that were dirty or burnt. The first time I was called a n****r. The first time I was spat on.
Transracially adopted into a rural, white, farming family, my modes of representation were limited to the very few black adults and families I encountered in public places
Although my family was a part of a small, vibrant community of transracial adoptive families that met once a month, I struggled to find racial representation in media, literature, education and music. Many of the adoptive families were large white conservative families that adopted one or two Black or African children.
While, as an adult I can recognize that the transracial adoption group’s goal was to normalize transracial families and provide support and resources for families and adoptive parents; as a child, I dreaded the meetings for many of the same reasons. Abandonment and trust issues, while ubiquitous, are also an integral marker for many adoptees.
Knowing that my story would be told to others without my permission, terrified me.
What if nobody wanted me? What if they told my parents to un-adopt me? What if everyone only knew the worst parts about me?
What if I was truly unlovable?
I would often overhear my adoptive parents talking about my issues with other adoptive parents and I felt overwhelmingly betrayed, hurt and angry.  
Didn’t they know how much it hurt me? I would wonder. Didn’t they know?
As a child, I would often wonder if every black woman I saw could possibly be my mother. If every black boy could possibly be my brother.
I was desperate for representation but struggled with the cognitive, linguistic and emotional ability to articulate this.
I was desperate for something to make me loveable and wanted. Inherently trustworthy and honest. Innocent and pure.
Beautiful and white.  

All the Light Within Part III: Bonita

Reading Time: 9 minutes

In the past few years, it has become increasingly important for me to connect with other transracial adoptees. In the wake of reconnecting with my biological mother two years ago, I have found comfort and solace in the shared connection of the transracial adoption experience, and a renewed commitment to amplifying the adoptee voice utilizing my blog platform.

I have dedicated the month of July towards telling transracial adoptee stories through a series entitled: All the Light Within, by featuring 4 different transracial adoptees. If you missed the Part I and II, please click on the appropriate numeric link for access.

So, full disclosure? I had four adoptees lined up for this interview series, but due to unexpected circumstances, two needed to decline at the last minute. That being said, I try not ask others to do something that I am not willing to also do, so this last and final adoptee series will be on yours truly. The following piece will be written Q&A style. I will answer the same questions used for the first two interviews.

How do you racially identify?
I identify as a black woman with a biracial experience. 
When were you adopted and were you placed with any foster families?
I was born in October of 1992 in Philadelphia, two months premature, and placed into the first of three foster care homes. The third foster care home, which would become my forever family, received me in December of 1992, and, four years later, I was adopted in December of 1996. 
Do you have any biological siblings and, if so, were you adopted with any biological siblings?
I have three older biological siblings, though it seems silly to say older because one is my twin sister, and I was adopted with my twin sister. 
How do you think your adoption journey has been shaped by being adopted with a biological sibling?
I think that being adopted with a biological sibling has allowed me to have a sort of comrade in the journey. It helps to know that there is someone whom may be experiencing similar emotions and feelings. But, to be honest, we process everything so differently, that, maybe as strange as it is to say, it sometimes feels even more alienating. 

You know, because if I experience something racist and she doesn’t…I feel like we are sometimes “pitted” against one another…and then, you know, I am told that I’m just playing the “race card” or something BS… But, overall, I am really grateful to have been adopted with a biological sibling. 
What was the best thing about your adoption?
Well….being adopted was the best thing. 
But also, I think that one of the best things about my adoption has been the relationship I have cultivated with my adoptive mother. We went through a lot of pain and struggle together, and there is something so sweet and sacred about our journey. She has taught me a lot about unconditional love and forgiveness, and, I think because of that (and our personalities) we are able to speak frankly and hold each other accountable in ways I wouldn’t have expected otherwise. 

I am also really grateful for my relationship with my dad. I don’t have a biological father – he passed before I was born and didn’t know about me – and so, one of the things that I really appreciate about my dad is that he has really been intentional in being a part of my life and letting me challenge him on issues of race and politics. 

Oh, and my oldest sister. She likes to say that she always wanted two sisters, and I have always really admired her…I think that she is really strong in ways, perhaps, that she doesn’t even know. And, I really admire that she is willing to say hard truths and stay committed to relationships. 
What values did your parents instill in you?
I think that my parents both instilled similar and different values in me. They both instilled the value of hard work, and by that I mean, the importance of doing a job thoroughly and making sure it is correct the first time.

I think that my dad has instilled in me the value of service and doing things for others without seeking recognition and to always have a sense of humor. 

My mom has instilled in me the value of curiosity and wonder and the ability to not discount my own ability to do hard things, particularly if those things are mechanical or industrial. I’ve learned to surprise myself by gaining new skill sets just because I allow myself to try things that I don’t always think I can do. 
Did you, if at all, recognize early on that you were different from your adoptive family?
I’m not sure. I think the first time I realized that I was racially different was when I received my first black doll. I think that was the first time I had something racially representational, and that was really important. 

Another memory I have and will always hold onto is the moment I went on a 1st grade visit to the Waldorf School. A girl, who ended up being one of my early childhood best friends, was watching out the windows when I arrived. And, as soon as I entered the classroom, she ran up to me, picked me up and yelled, “YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.” 

Up until that point, while I hadn’t really heard negative things about my skin, I knew it was problematic. Mostly because my skin was so different than my white families and it required constant attention. You know, ashy knees, easy scars, stuff like that. I remember my mom always yelling at me if I didn’t lotion right after a bath, and here to have this young, white girl just not even caring…that was really special. 
Did you live in a racially dominant area?
I grew up in a predominately white, rural area in, what I would now consider would have been, a conservative, semi-Bible Belt area. But, kind of a weird, anomaly thing was that a close neighbor friend was married to a black woman. They each had had kids through their previous marriage, but I remember that her daughters offered to do my hair. 
Did your parents/family discuss your differences with you?
To be honest, I don’t remember a formal conversation with my parents about race. At some point, I think race became more important to them because I started to notice that the literature in the house suddenly started to become more racially representational. We had this one book, ‘Brown Angels,’ and then all of a sudden we started to have books like ‘Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters’ and ‘I Love My Hair,’ but I don’t remember my parents ever having explicit race talks…

I guess when I was still in foster care, my mom learned how to do black hair and she did a really good job because I remember how sometimes I would get these compliments and people would ask me who did my hair, and I would just point at my white mother and they’d look kind of dumbfounded. So, I guess we talked about race by the way we talked about hair…

But, I think for the most part my family and extended family kind of adhered to a colorblind ideology, which has the unfortunate effect, I think, of racial erasure. Or, at least, looking back…it seems maybe more like a convenient colorblind ideology. I think this ideology has been the most difficult one to, now as an adult, confront because then I’m seen as the problematic, unreasonable, dramatic, emotional black girl. 

So, it feels complicated and exhausting to recognize that family won’t always mean ally, and that has been a really hard truth to grapple with, particularly because it feels so alienating…but also, as strange as it sounds, it is so empowering and healthy for me to confront and recognize. But even vocalizing and admitting that feels hard because, as an adoptee, society conditions you to think so much about being grateful for being “rescued” that it is easy to just “ignore” the rest. 
Was race an issue for your family?
I think, and maybe this will sound weird, but the more I lean into my own double consciousness and my own truths, the more I realize how much race was and is an issue for my family. 

Let me explain. I think that in order to be anti racist and an ally one has to intentionally commit to 1) seeing race and injustices and 2) committing to a intentional anti-racist action. 

I think race was and is an issue just in the vernacular I hear used in my family (extended included)…you know the white hair grab and the casual toss of “illegals” and “ghetto walmart” and “those blacks” etc, kind of tossed into everyday conversation. But, that is how it happens, right? Race colors our understanding of whom has value and whom is worth protecting and believing and whom is viewed as a truth teller. I want my kids to be loved and to have allies in their family. And…some days…I just get really sad thinking about the comments that are said to me and how I refuse to have them said to my children.   
In your neighborhood, was race an issue?
I don’t recall specific racial events in my neighborhood…then again, it was a rural area. I remember being mistaken for a Fresh Air Kid, and racialized incidents at school and in other the larger community, but not specifically in my neighborhood. 
What was your first negative racialized moment?
I think my first negative racialized moment was the first time I was called a nigger by a classmate in third grade. I don’t remember hearing that word before then, and I remember that when I came home, I was just crying. I ran to my dad’s office and climbed up on his chair, grabbed this big old dictionary and just searched and searched for the word and my mom came and like, took the dictionary away and just held me for a while. 
What was your first positive racialized moment?
Well, I think that moment with the first grade classmate might have been the first one. But, I honestly think that other than that, I don’t really remember having a positive racialized moment until much more recently…probably in the last few years..and that sounds really sad.. 

Something changed within me and I realized that I deserve to be proud of my skin and my body and that I can be a powerful black woman. I had a teacher in college, I will never forget her, and she really pushed me and believed in me. She kept telling me that I could become anything, and that has really impacted me. 
Do you feel like race impacts you?
Absolutely. And, I believe that race impacts all of us…just not everyone realizes it or is ready to realize it. I think…perhaps because I came into believing my own double consciousness at a later time in my life, that things feel more acute to me. And, it’s my personality to speak up and out about things. and to feel things rather intensely. 

It feels lonely though, particularly, because I still struggle with the tension of allyship and family and a history of other things that complicate the familial relationships. 

But yeah, I think understanding how race impacts me and has shaped my childhood has made it even more important for me to speak out for others and other injustices. Personal experience, perhaps mixed with my own unique personality, has made intersectionality with other injustices really important. 

When, if at all, did you begin to identify with the black community?
I think that as I grow (and grew) older, I continue(d) to realize how much my struggles with racism aren’t a lone, solitary story but part of a much broader narrative in a much larger framework. That feels hopeful because there is a solidarity and a community that knows the pain and that have a historical record of resisting. 

When I think about that and lean into my friends whom have resisted, I feel heard and known in ways that I don’t in other spaces. 
Did you feel isolated or lonely growing up? And, if so, how?
I think that as a child, I wouldn’t have told you I felt lonely, per say, because I always was pretty popular and had friends. But, it strikes me as an adult that one way I did feel lonely was that I often experienced a lot of microaggressions and dog whistle comments by the same “friends.” 

You know, if I got upset or something, they would mock me with stereotypical “black” anger by snapping their fingers at me and saying something they thought was “ghetto.” I could never be “reasonably” angry….and that in and of itself had its own personal and mental consequences.

So, I remember, by the time I got to late HS, I just stopped trying to show too much emotion at school…because one if the unfortunate effects is that you start to doubt your own reasonability. And, I know the statistics about black women and mental health, but there usually isn’t space for black women’s anger or feelings…and it feels even more compounded in predominately white spaces….
I remember there was this one guy in Middle School who was a real piece of work, and he would constantly harass me by putting stuff down my pants like pencils and erasers… and just saying really awful sexual stuff to me and like, microaggressive stuff too. I remember reporting him and the Mennonite Administration put him at the front of the bus for a week, and that just made it all the more worse because then I had to walk past him every day…

I remember telling my girlfriends about it and we got him back by coloring these two huge maxi pads with red marker, soaking them in water and then putting them in his brand new basketball sneakers. At the time…that felt so empowering…the solidarity.

 But like, there were the other stuff too. The stuff that you just keep to yourself. You know, there was this one 8th Grade track meet, and I was walking in front of the bleachers and all of these skinny, Christian, white boys started yelling stupid racial stuff at me and spat on me. 

I remember just being humiliated. And, I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to be further embarrassed and I didn’t think anyone would help me….I guess this is the first time I’ve told that story….

Or like, the classmate that lifted up my field hockey skirt because he wanted to see if I had a big butt…because “black girls have big butts…”

There are a lot of stories that I’ve just kept to myself that I guess complicated and compounded the loneliness…because, it’s always like…if I speak up will people believe me? And, what if they accuse me of “playing the race card?” I feel like I often chose silence because I was so afraid of what might happen if I spoke up. Would I be believed? What if I wasn’t? Could I deal with that? What if I had to prove why it was racist? I think what really complicated the matters were some of the worst moments happened in Christian settings and so…like, everyone was already a Jesus follower and that felt trickier.
What, if anything, would you tell someone about your adoption journey?
I think I would tell them that my adoption journey continues to be a journey that shapes my ideology. I don’t think adoption journeys, like most journeys, are linear…I think they all just kind of follow an upward spiral where, at the beginning, things may feel really hard and intense, but that with each upward spiral things feel less painful and more manageable. 
As always, thanks for entering this journey with me. I tried to tell this story in ways that would not infringe on my family’s privacy, so if you are curious about things, please know that I may not be able to answer all of your questions. But also, these stories are also just glimpses of a much larger biography. 
Again, my most sincere thanks to Jasmine and Star whom dared to be vulnerable with me and with you. 
Shalom always,

All the Light Within Part II: Jasmine

Reading Time: 4 minutes

All the Light Within Part II: Jasmine

In the past few years, it has become increasingly important for me to connect with other transracial adoptees. In the wake of reconnecting with my biological mother two years ago, I have found comfort and solace in the shared connection of the transracial adoption experience, and a renewed commitment to amplifying the adoptee voice utilizing my blog platform.

I have dedicated the month of July towards telling transracial adoptee stories through a series entitled: All the Light Within, by featuring 4 different transracial adoptees. If you missed Part I, please click here to access.

If you are an interracial adoptee and would like to be considered for an interview, I would welcome your private message via FB or comments on my blog.

I think one of the best things about telling adoption stories is that ultimately adoption stories are relationship stories. Relationships often include struggle and disappointment, sometimes loneliness and abandonment, but relationships are also miraculous because of how they connect people with other people. I think that transracial adoptions can sometimes provide a particularly important lens when seeking to investigate systems of attachment, childhood development and transracial relationships, and I hope that you feel privileged and encouraged by Jasmine’s openness.  

I still remember the first time I met Jasmine during a college theater activity. Because both of us attended the same small Mennonite college in the middle of rural, tumbleweed Kansas, you can imagine that it wasn’t very racially diverse. I will never forget how her vivacious personality, beautiful smile and infectious belly laugh immediately caught my attention, and I remain grateful for her vulnerability and genuine spirit.

Jasmine is a 25-year-old black woman and currently resides in the Southwest. Because she was unable to Skype, this interview features Jasmine’s written responses to specific questions regarding her adoption.

Born in 1993, Jasmine begins her adoptive story with this memory:

The day I was born, I was placed in a home because my birth mother was incarcerated. I have been with that wonderful family ever since. Barb and Dick Jones then became my legal guardians when I was 5 years old.

According to Bureau of Justice Statisticians, Lauren Glaze and Laura Maruschak, in their study, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children, the number of children with a mother in prison increased 131 percent between 1991 and midyear 2007..and, children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system have an above average likelihood of entering foster care.

These statistics are particularly staggering when you begin to consider the demographics which were most affected in the wake of the Crack Epidemic. But it is even more important to remember that these are not just statistics, but people. And, that real people were effected and continue to be effected.

 I invite you to read Jasmine’s story with care and I remain grateful to Jasmine for her vulnerability and openness.

How do you identify racially?

I honestly identify myself as biracial. My birth mother’s mother was white, but my mom had more black on her.

Did you recognize early on that you were different from your adoptive family?

I truly never really felt different from my adoptive family. I consider myself very lucky to have been placed in such a loving and understanding home. The community that I grew up was mostly white and they never treated me any differently.

Did your parents/family discuss your differences with you?

 Yes, very much so, and it helps me love who I am even more.

What values did your parents instill in you?

How to be a hard worker.

What has been the best thing about your adoption?

For me, it would be growing up in a loving, safe home with people who actually cared for me. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted

What, if anything, would you want to tell someone about your adoption journey?

I would tell them if they are thinking about adoption to not hesitate…to just do it…. that they are saving the precious baby.

Did you feel isolated or lonely growing up?

No. I had a pretty good set of friends we are still pretty close today and I truly value their friendships.

Was race an issue for you/your family?

No.

Did you live in a racially dominant area?

Not at all. My younger sister (who was also adopted, but is not my biological sister) and I were pretty much the only black people in our town. There are maybe, maybe 7 total. But our town is also very small.

In your neighborhood, was race an issue?

 If it was, I never once experienced it. But also, we never had a neighborhood.

When did you, if at all, first begin to identify with the black community? (ie: some have said when Trayvon Martin was killed, some have said when they began to make more black friends, etc.,):

Hesston College actually was the first time. And, I am happy I got to experience Hesston. I made a lot of good friends.

Do you feel like race impacts you?

Yes, now that I am grown up and looking for work it is very hard….it seems like no one wants to hire the black woman.

What was your first negative racialized moment?

I honestly cannot remember and maybe that is for the best. I haven’t really had any bad experiences with being black.

When was your first positive racialized moment? (ie: For example, maybe you always loved being biracial, or maybe you did when you began to love your hair…etc.,):

 I think it was when I realized how awesome bright colors looked against my skin.

I love that positive racialized moment statement. And, I love Jasmine’s continued optimism. She faces the world with a sunny disposition, and she continues to inspire me. And, maybe, she also inspired you.

Keep on the lookout for part III of All the Light Within. 

Shalom always,
B