Adoptees Surpassing The Six Stuck Spots: Identity

Adoptees Surpassing The Six Stuck Spots: Identity

Beneath the Mask - Identity, painted red mask with Chinese and American flags represented
Written by Rachel Shifaraw, Adult Adoptee, C.A.S.E. Emerging Leader & Creative Content Specialist
Published on: Apr 26, 2024
Category Adult Adoptees

Reflecting on my adoption story, I first lost my identity 40 years ago as I boarded a plane in my father’s arms & left my native land of Chile. Not only did I leave my country, culture, language & my first family behind…but I left my Chilean identity there too.

Identity is defined as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” But what happens when one never gets the opportunity to know their original identity? For myself & many other adoptees, that section of ourselves was erased before we ever had the opportunity to understand it in the first place.

When I left on that plane, a little Latina baby essentially disappeared. My name had been changed…my Chilean birth mother’s surname was stripped away from me & permanently switched to match my new mom & dad. I was converted to Judaism. Big decisions surrounding my identity were happening left and right while I was the only one affected by these changes, somehow I was also the only one who had no say in them.

I grew up confused. I couldn’t understand why my parents viewed me as “white” but the world saw me as someone else. People were forever speaking to me in Spanish & then curiously asking where I was from when they realized I couldn’t speak back…

“Chile”, I’d say in response…

Things instantly became awkward. It was that all too familiar moment where a native Spanish speaker could not understand how someone who was from Chile couldn’t speak Spanish. In that moment, I’d have to decide how far I was comfortable taking the conversation…“Should I share that I’m adopted”?!, I’d think to myself…or maybe just sit silent & pray the questions stop? Sometimes, I’ve even hidden parts of my identity altogether…not disclosing that I’m Chilean or Jewish at all. Adoption allows me to use my identity like a chameleon…picking & choosing when I want to be quiet & blend in amongst the masses or when I want to share the one thing that always seems to make me stand out…my adoption.

I remember exploring alternate religions as I grew up. My religious identity was a point of confusion for me as well. I started by reading the bible & inviting the Mormon missionaries inside my home to teach me about their church. I wondered if I’d reclaim my identity through a spiritual or religious avenue…only to be deeply disappointed when I discovered that wasn’t my ticket to finding what was lost & life continued feeling lonely.

While I’m STILL working at trying to piece this all together, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about my identity, it’s that all the parts of myself can coexist within me. I’ve feverishly absorbed every ounce of my American & Chilean self throughout my adoption journey, trying to collect all the bits of my being that make up who I am.

In working with the staff at C.A.S.E. & learning adoption competent models of healing, I am finally on the road to building back an identity that feels comfortable to me…step by step, with unwavering support by my side. My only wish is that my parents were aware of the tools necessary to guide me through this process as I grew…I would have entered adulthood feeling a lot more confident & comfortable with who I was, feeling like I had familial support as well.

If I could offer one bit of advice to parents dealing with their kids as they swirl down the drains of their adolescents’ “identity issues”, it would be to stay patient & to be forthcoming with age appropriate adoption information as questions are asked. Lastly, surround yourself with support. Nobody needs to do this alone & there are so many amazing groups that offer a wealth of resources, strength & support to guide you through.

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