Although I had heard of her, I met Amy for the first time last November at the AdopSource Minnesota Transracial Film Festival. A few months later, Adam Rebholz, Jennifer Arnt-Johns, and I taped her and another Latin American adoptee for Unedited: Voices of Adoption.
Mad props to Amy. She has been an adoptee leader in the Latin American adoption community, co-facilitates an adoptee support group, and currently works for Adoptees Have Answers (AHA). I’m still scratching my head over a certain local adoption agency’s decision to part ways with Amy. Clearly the agency wasn’t thinking ahead.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve been very involved with the Latin American community. Would you mind talking about all that you’ve done over the years?
Amy: When I was younger, I danced in a folkloric Guatemalan dance group for a few years. It was nice to be surrounded by other Guatemalans and it did a lot for my sense of belonging in the community and cultural identity. During college, I was introduced to a fellow Guatemalan named Azeta Garthune. We got to talking and realized we both danced in the children’s group, but at different times! So, in 2008 we decided to revive it. We came up with the name Las Niñas del Quetzal. This group isn’t exclusively for children who are adopted, but it has ended up being mostly adoptees.
We teach folkloric Guatemalan dance supplemented with activities focusing on Guatemalan culture. Last year we were invited to perform at Peace Jam and had the opportunity to meet Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum. We taught the girls in the dance group about who she is and why she’s important. The girls created a Peace Promise and gave it to Rigoberta; it was definitely one of the major highlights that I’ve had over the years.
I’ve enjoyed seeing the girls grow into young, proud Guatemalan ladies. Hopefully when they get older, they will pass this on to the next generation.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve connected with your biological family. What advice would you give to other Latin American adoptees who are thinking about seeking out their roots?
Amy: There are two things I would recommend: 1) Do your research and 2) Find support.
Searching for birth family is a MAJOR process. There are many emotions invested in this and it’s important to do as much research as you can so you have an accurate picture. And by research I mean talking to adoptees, reading stories, attending workshops, etc.
Everyone’s birth family search is different. The ideal situation is searching, reuniting and having your birth family welcome you with open arms. However, this doesn’t happen for everyone. You may spend years searching and run into several dead ends. You may find out that they have passed away. You may find out that they want nothing to do with you. It’s important to be prepared for these potential outcomes and also think about post-reunion issues that may arise.
If you are able to reunite, finding your place within the family system can be challenging, especially if you do not speak the language. I know plenty of adoptees who have discovered they were a secret. So, navigating through that can be tough. Another challenge is handling emotions of your loved ones. This process will affect your friends and family in different ways. Be aware that you may have to deal with more than just your own whirlwind of emotions!
During my own search and reunion process, I pretty much felt every emotion. I would not have been able to get through it without the support of fellow ADOPTEES, friends, family and a therapist. It’s important to find people who have adoption competency and can help you through the “tough stuff.” The program I work for, Adoptees Have Answers, provides resources for this. Here are some links for therapists and support groups.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’re engaged! How goes the planning?
Amy: Yes! I’m so excited to be marrying the love of my life. Not only is he ridiculously handsome and funny, he’s an adoptee, too, which makes him even cooler! The wedding is next summer. So, we’ve been planning things gradually. Our families have been very supportive and we feel very blessed.