My own parents suffered through a string of miscarriages and failed attempts to adopt in the U.S. before fetching my older sister, twin brother, and I from a dilapidated orphanage in Medellín, Colombia. It was the late 1970s, and we were
infants—two of us premature and very sick. They nursed us back to health, brought us to a working-class suburb of New Jersey and promptly went about the business of raising us. Among the many things they took pains to instill (like work ethic, faith in God, and a healthy appreciation for good lasagna), a sense of Colombian-ness was not included. Nor was it to be acquired elsewhere: together my siblings and I made up about half the town's Colombian population.
But if we lacked a clear blueprint for our ethnic identities, we still had plenty of other parameters from which to forge our sense of selves: we were blue-collar kids from Jersey. We grew up amongst the mostly Irish- and Italian-American children of nurses, plumbers, and store clerks. Like them, we indulged in all the rituals of our particular American upbringing. And like most internationally adopted children, we turned out just fine.
To be sure, there are some significant and seemingly unclosable gaps in our cultural
identities. I remember eagerly befriending two Colombian kids that moved to our
town in junior high, only to find out that we had nothing special in common. "I'm Colombian too," I exclaimed to one of them, a girl the same age as me. She smiled and started speaking in Spanish. I furrowed my brow to show that I didn't understand. "Where are you from?" she asked in English. "Medellín," I said. "No," she said, laughing. "You definitely aren't."
In later years my twin brother (who is darker than my sister and I) would occasionally be subject to racial profiling. And, as we belatedly discovered, all three of us would have to go through the complicated and lengthy process of naturalization before we could obtain driver's licenses (or register to vote or apply for financial aid
for college). We were immigrants and minorities—but only sometimes. The same was true of our Italian experience. I know more about Palermo and my father's upbringing in 1950s Bensonhurst than I ever will about Medellín, but I feel as dishonest calling myself Italian or Italian-American as I do calling myself Colombian. That's OK by me. My loss of ethnic heritage has been more than compensated for in the multitude of opportunities afforded by my adoption. Besides, I kind of like being a cultural chameleon (Colombian by birth, Sicilian by adoption, and American by upbringing). It makes me unique.
There's much more, so go read the whole thing. And the author writes more for a Newsweek blog.