Its been a painful and powerful trip home. Every time I come home I’m more and more overwhelmed with the isolation of my family and their community from the realities of people of color not only in their own backyard, Indigenous people, Mexicans and Islander peoples but people of color across the world. I continue to try my hardest keep myself separate from my parents friends who are evangelical Christians and who live in their white privilege, and live inside it in ways that are SO similar to the liberal, educated white folks of the Bay area I cant begin to talk about it. Its so time for me to begin to start speaking some truths around that again that I cant believe how long I feel I’ve been silent. I’m just now able to talk about how the past work I did doing adoption education has had an major impact on my relationships with white people. I thought I had worked through a lot of my anger, its been renewed with a vengeance and vigor I had forgotten. All I can say here is, AFAAD is my response, a response that is solely about the children who grow up in transracial adoptive families.
At the same time I’m channeling positive responses to the pain I feel when I am reminded of how deeply racist our world is, I’m more and more impacted by how much I love my family, my parents, my cousins and aunts and uncles, and how much they love me. It was actually evident to me this year that they really missed me being here since the snowstorm prevented me from being here for Christmas, and they like it when I come around. It was so nice to just be my immediate family and miss all the Christmas hullabaloo that forces me to have to be around a bunch of people I don’t give a shit about and who don’t give a shit about me, and who in every other instance would never be interested in knowing who I am. and for the most part, still aren’t. This may be a change in the way I spend my holidays. I’m just sayin.
Its such a contradiction to live inside such love and such pain at the same time.
I spent a few days in Seattle, networking for AFAAD and Third Root a little, but mostly just catching up with the new friends who I’ve made who are meaningful to me and hiding in a coffee shop for hours on University Ave working on my chapters.
One significant thing that happened is that I spend some time in the amazing Seattle Public School archives looking at high school yearbooks from the 1960’s. I was looking for my birth fathers photo, based on a name my birth mother gave me.
I got lost on the way to the archives, but it was in this great building, the John Stanford Educational Center, where it looks like the Seattle school district offices are located. Ah teachers. How do I love thee? I made it there about a ½ hour before they closed and a lovely young woman, with a rockin vintage shirt and cool ass glasses with a green tint, (I love Seattle!) Althea, came up to take me upstairs to the archives. I love the smell and look of historical archives. Being an academic, I have a healthy respect for history and the preservation of it. and to see the history of the Seattle schools being care for so lovingly and .. I always worry about funding for these things. If you can – after you donate to AFAAD (ha!) – donate some money to them or to your local school district historical archive!
Althea brought me the years 1966-1969. I had estimated that since he was supposedly 20 to 22 when I was conceived, that those were reasonable years to think he had graduated. I put on the white gloves and started though, reading over pages, laughing at hairstyles and clothes, while trying not to listen to my internal voice. In my head I kept saying, what if she lied to me to keep me off track? What if she doesn’t want me to know who he is? What if she just picked some random person? (which is still a possibility).
I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t anywhere! I kept looking over and over the pages, thinking I had missed something. Parrish, Patton, Peterman, Perkins, Peth. Pittman, Powell, Purvis, . . . nothing. Finally, after looking through 2 high school 4 years each, I stopped and started packing up. Althea came up and asked how it was going. I sighed and told her that I hadn’t found anything. She asked me a few questions about who I was looking for. I hesitated, because as an adoptee who has done mad reading on the negative responses to when we are searching for our birth families, we have been warned to be cautious about what we share with people.
I looked deep into her face, took a breath and said, “well, it’s a name that someone, well, it’s a name that my birth mother gave me for my birth father. Perhaps its not the right name. Perhaps it was just one of those leads that I have to live with not working out.” But inside, I wasn’t connecting to how much I was putting on this. I was really hoping to find something. I was disappointed, and it was starting to hurt. Althea’s eyes looked at me and she said, “why don’t we try 1965, just for the heck of it? Just to say you did it?” I shrugged, thinking, sure, why not, whatever.
When she brought back the books, she paused and then told me her story. A story about her own family, and so closely aligned with the narrative of lifelong secrets and lies, shame, truth, longing and have that impacts our adoptive families. I am always overwhelmed and honored when strangers can open themselves to me and share their stories.
I put the white gloves back on and began to thumb through the pages, starting with the seniors. It was a flash. There it was. 1965. on the bottom corner of the page. I felt the tears start coming, I took a deep breath, don’t cry, don’t cry, it may not be him, it may be a wrong lead, don’t cry.
Its him. His face looks light in the photo, but all of the photos at that time look like they are lightened, so I think he is medium or brown skinned. In another photo I found of him posing for the Dance planning committee, he look much darker than his senior photo. It lists some of his interests and his honors. I found it.
I wanted to start dialing a phone right then, but I didn’t have a middle name. Something that would distinguish him from all the other people in Washington state who have the same name who I have come across. We got copies, and I think I made it part way back to the elevator before I started crying and just had to be me and give mad love and a hug to Althea to thank her for the help.
I got back to where I was staying and checked my email and whaaaatt? Got an email from Althea, with his middle name and his birth date. Are you kidding me? Dammit, started crying again but with a big cheese smile.
Look people, if you are in a position of power, if you are an archivist, I want to just reiterate how important your job is and not just on the organizational, administrative tip. You being open to people, being non-judgmental about the people who come to your world – people who need histories, need truths, need the stories of our lives – your not questioning our personal motivations is SO extraordinarily important in an archivist and as someone who has ‘control’ over the archives. So many adoptees experience people being ‘gatekeepers’ and trying to keep us away from the truths of our lives. The narrative of the outside world is that we don’t need to know and that we shouldn’t want to know. and thats just bullshit.
I have no idea what I’m going to do next, knowing me I’ll sit on this for another 6 months to a few years. I still haven’t processed this at all, but I just wanted to share and thank Althea deeply and publicly for her consideration, patience and openness. Gurl, you rock, and you just changed my life.
This is actually the place where all the papers are. Don’t be fooled by the first cell phone photo that doesn’t really fully capture the mess that is my work space. Wait until I get home and take a photo of that work space. You’ll be like, “oooooooh!, I see how it is!”
So even though I’m technically on lockdown, I was able to get some internet yesterday at the Olympia public library to catch up on the mess that is Oakland. I wanted to share some resources with you that can be an alternative to the mainstream news about the young man, Oscar Grant who was shot and killed by BART police on New Years Eve.
When I get home I’ll post the actual videos, right now I’m just doing links because I don’t have the bandwidth to upload.
The Actual Video (Be WARNED! This is very intense! You cant help but think about the man’s parents and daughter.)
Davey D’s Channel (Video about whats happening on the streets of Oakland)
Local Oakland Hip Hop Artists responses (this amazing video articulates so much of what we already know about the racialization of black youth across the country by the police, the artists featured are such a great example of how deep Oaklands activist roots go. This is the video that you don’t see!)