Sometimes it feels as though all the news I read from and about Guatemala is … Sobering. Thought-provoking. Haunting. Anyway, this article by Alicia Menendez, Why Are 10-Year-Olds Having Babies in Guatemala?, addresses the issue of teen pregnancy–actually, younger than teen in many cases–which is higher in Guatemala than in nearly every other country in the world, due largely to cultural mores as well as discrimination against the indigenous in rural areas. Watch both videos to have your eyes opened to the daily reality lived by thousands of young mothers.
I’m a little late posting this excellent first-person account in the Washington Post by Ricki Mudd, adopted from China at nearly 5 years old and re-united with her birth family there. The article is interesting all around, but what spoke to me most was her relationship with her birth brother, Wu Chao. Ricki’s family sponsored Wu Chao so he could attend community college in the US, and he’s now living with Ricki’s (American) family. The siblings’ relationship continues to unfold, and Ricki ends the piece with “Chinese policy may have had room for only one of us. But our lives will be forever intertwined.”
Ricki’s article includes clips from a documentary made about her story. It’s very moving to see that little 5 year old girl, leaving to join her new family–afraid, unsure, and sobbing. As an adoptive mother, I was reminded of our family’s early days. Yes, we love our children. Yes, we support them emotionally in every way we know how. But still. Each of them experienced loss before we met them, and an upheaval that was life-altering and deep.
This Time Magazine article, “The Realities of Raising Kids of a Different Race,” resonated deeply for me.
Even if you have only 2 minutes, jump to Myth 1 to Myth 4 and read those. “Parents who believe they can raise their child color-blind are making a terrible mistake…Part of loving your child is seeing and loving the color of her skin—and accepting the reality that she will likely be painfully pigeonholed sometime in her life because of it.”
Amen and True.
Last night, I found this rough draft of a note by my son, left near our computer:
“September 11, 2015
Dear Men and Women in Blue,
Thank you for keeping our country safe.
Through all these years you have tried your hardest to protect us.
David Crary writes often about international adoption, including this AP article about young adults and teens from Guatemala who are searching for their roots: For Many Adoptees from Guatemala, a Complicated Legacy. The story feels very familiar to me, possibly because we are living it, and have lived it, for many years. Crary presents a balanced, nuanced picture–not always the case in adoption articles. I read through to the end without sighing. One of the women he profiles, 25-year-old Gemma Givens from the Bay Area, is setting up a FB community for persons adopted from Guatemala. I vote for that.
Every few years on various Guatemalan adoption listserves, someone will post questions about the Certificate of Citizenship:
“Do we need one? How do we get it? My child is now 15. Am I too late????”
A recent flurry of such posts prompted adoptive father Tom Rawson to put in one place everything he knows about the Certificate of Citizenship (aka the CoC), which is a lot. He posted his compendium on The Big List, and with his permission, I’m reprinting it verbatim here. Thank you again, Tom. ~
Please note: The errors in spacing are mine, occurring somehow in the process of copying and pasting Tom’s notes. Apologies!
FROM TOM RAWSON:
Here is a guide to US citizenship and citizenship documents. This applies
to international adoptees to the US from Guatemala who have at least one
parent who is a US citizen.
[Note that I am not an immigration lawyer nor do I play one on TV -- but I
have been explaining this for years, and I re-researched it before posting
this message. In other words, if you need legal advice ask a lawyer but
if you want the general lay of the land, I think this is it.
Please do NOT re-post this elsewhere without permission.]
(1) If the adoption was finalized in Guatemala AND both parents (or the
parent for a single-parent adoption) visited the child prior to the
finalization, then the child was issued an IR-3 visa (the type of visa is
shown in the entry stamp in the Guatemalan passport, and on the “green
card” if your child got one). These children MAY be readopted in the US,
but readoption is not generally required. For these children:
* If the child was born prior to February 28, 1983 s/he must apply
for citizenship (naturalization) using form N-400. Citizenship is
* If the child was born on or after February 28, 1983, AND entered
the US on or before February 26, 2001, AND resided in the US with
his/her parents on February 27, 2001, AND had not previously applied
for citizenship, then s/he automatically became a citizen on February
27, 2001. This provision was retroactive for all children who met
these conditions. To obtain a Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) the
parents (or the child if now over 18) must apply using form N-600.
* If the child entered the US between February 27, 2001 and December
31, 2003 then citizenship was automatic upon the child’s arrival in
the US. To obtain a CoC the parents (or the child if now over 18)
must apply using form N-600.
* If the child entered the US between January 1, 2004 and the present
then citizenship was automatic upon the child’s arrival in the US,
and the CoC was sent automatically to the parents. (Incidentally, for
these children there is a useful USCIS page at
http://tinyurl.com/o9x3ta6 explaining what to do about various
kinds of errors in the automatically-created CoC.)
(2) If the adoption was finalized in Guatemala BUT both parents (or the
parent for a single-parent adoption) did NOT visit the child prior to the
finalization, then the child was issued an IR-4 visa. These children MUST
be readopted in the US because, under the definitions used by US Customs
and Immigration Services, the adoption is not considered final in the US
because the parents did not “see and observe” the child prior to
finalization of the adoption in Guatemala. For these children:
* If the child was born prior to February 28, 1983 s/he must apply
for citizenship (naturalization) using form N-400. Citizenship is
* If the child was born on or after February 28, 1983, AND the US
readoption was completed on or before February 26, 2001, AND s/he
resided in the US with his/her parent(s) on February 27, 2001, AND
s/he had not previously applied for citizenship, then s/he
automatically became a citizen on February 27, 2001. This provision
was retroactive for all children who met these conditions. To obtain a
Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) the parents (or the child if now
over 18) must apply using form N-600.
* If the US readoption was completed between February 27, 2001 and the
present, then citizenship was automatic upon completion of the
readoption. To obtain a CoC the parents (or the child if now over
18) must apply using form N-600.
– *Whether your child is a citizen* and *whether you have a CoC to
prove it* are not the same thing.
– Passports: A child who is a citizen can get a passport without
getting a CoC. They just have to prove citizenship to the passport
office. The documents required are similar to, but not exactly the
same as, those required for obtaining a CoC with form N-600. Once a
passport is acquired, it can be used as proof of citizenship in almost
all cases. However, as others have noted, the passport expires
whereas a CoC does not.
– Social Security:
For a child who is issued a Social Security card AFTER
becoming a citizen, the Social Security Administration (SSA)
records should show that child as a citizen, and no further
action should be required related to SSA and citizenship.
For a child who is issued a Social Security card BEFORE
becoming a citizen, SSA records will show that child as a
non-citizen. This can affect their ability to get work once
they turn 18, if not before. This status can ONLY be changed
by providing proof of citizenship to the Social Security
office. It is NOT affected automatically by later events such
as a readoption that triggers automatic citizenship,
application for a CoC, etc. — it is a separate record from
all that. Usually a passport suffices to prove citizenship
to SSA, but they have been known to interpret the rules
differently from office to office so some might require a CoC
(or if you have the option you can just try going to a
On the way to Lake Atitlan, our group of 12 stopped to visit the ruins of Iximche, in a field on the outskirts of Tecpan. The ruins are not nearly as spectacular as the ones at Tikal–which I visited in 2003–yet the place is infused with a compelling grandeur. The air itself feels sacred, maybe because at the very end of the ruins is a ceremonial space still used by practicing Mayan shamans. The morning we were there, we saw three different groups gathered around fires in prayer, performing rituals that incorporated flowers, chocolate, honey, herbs, rice, corn, and alcohol.
While the 6 kids in our group explored the ruins by climbing and jumping, we adults hired an English-speaking guide. The guide informed us that Iximche was founded around 1470 by the Kakchikel Maya after they broke with the larger, dominant group, the K’iche. Soon after, Spanish conquistadors arrived and in a move known as “divide and conquer,” allied themselves with the Kakchikel, vanquishing the K’iche and other native, highland peoples. The introduction of smallpox from Europe contributed to the conquistadors’ success by decimating thousands. The Spanish declared Iximche the first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, but the town’s supremacy was short-lived. By 1524, the Kakchikel abandoned their one-time home after the Spanish demanded of their former allies excessive tariffs.
During the tour, our guide pointed out the ball court and the temples to the Sun and the Moon. He also told us the reason why pyramid steps seem, to our modern feet, unnaturally narrow: The ancient Maya never turned their backs to the sun. One way they kept proper orientation was by climbing steps sideways.
The admission fee to Iximche is 50Q for adults, about $6. The restrooms are clean; bring your own snacks and drinking water. At the ruins’ entrance, a quote from the Kakchikel Chronicles reads: “Do not forget the stories of our elders, of our forefathers.”
A trip to Iximche will help you remember.
Photo credit: Peg Beasley
In 2014, I participated in the San Francisco performance of Listen to Your Mother, reading “My Mother the Rockette.”
This past May, I sat in the audience of the Brava Theater, spellbound, and listened this year’s cast tell their stories. Every vignette was terrific, but one–”She Was All I Ever Wanted” by Regina Louise–left me sobbing. The piece is about growing up in foster care, transracial relationships, the meaning of “mother.” Three months later, I’m still thinking about it. xoxo
When we decided to adopt from Guatemala in 2002, I never imagined how profoundly adoption and the country of Guatemala would impact every facet of my family’s lives. Case in point: Two weeks ago, we flew home from Guatemala and drove to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri for the annual gathering of adoptive families with children born in Guatemala, known as MOGUATE. The name blends the abbreviation for Missouri, the home state of founder Cindy Swatek, and the shorthand version of the country we love.
This year was the ninth annual gathering, with more than 100 people attending. The format is casual, with lots of pool time and informal conversation about parenting, family, and travel to Guatemala. Special activities were planned for the teens, who traveled in a happy pack. This year, Dorothy Kilmer gave a fascinating final presentation on the traditions of Quinceanera (which included a crowning) and ALDEA board member Sonya Fultz spoke about the important work ALDEA does to deliver clean water to villages in Guatemala. All proceeds from the raffles and silent auction were donated to ALDEA–nearly $10,000.
My family attended MOGUATE the first time in 2011, when Susan Carter invited me to discuss our adoption story, Mamalita. We returned this year because our kids love being with other adoptive families. As I heard an older teen say, “It’s one place you don’t have to explain anything.” Maybe you can relate.
If you live anywhere near Missouri, check out MOGUATE’s FB page and website for next summer’s confab. And thank you to Cindy and Matt Swatek for creating a place of support for our adoption community. xo
Photo credit: Mark Acker
During my trip to Guatemala with Olivia this summer, I felt very nostalgic for our earliest days together, when I moved to Antigua and we lived in a small house to wait for her adoption paperwork to be finalized. We were first getting to know each other then, and many of those days weren’t easy.
I remembered the hours we passed playing at Antigua’s Mickey D’s, wandering through the markets, and admiring the artwork painted on the sides of local buses. I also remembered the care shown to Olivia by our dear Guatemalan friend Yoly, who babysat during the afternoon hours I studied Spanish.
As I watched Olivia navigate her life in Guatemala this June–confident, happy, independent–I thought, How far we have come. ~