Heritage Camp

This is the third year I’ve been at the Opening Ceremony at Latin American Heritage Camp and I still cried. The children parade into the auditorium grouped according to their country of birth, carrying their country flag. The largest number of children were born in Guatemala—around 90—so they walked in first. Olivia and Mateo came in holding hands. Some other countries represented are Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Including presenters, about 450 people are attending. 

Being in a place where every family is a transracial adoptive family is extremely powerful.  Olivia and Mateo feel this, too. Both of them are old enough to be aware that in their class at school, on sports teams, and in church, they are “the adopted brown kid with white parents.” At Heritage Camp, every child is adopted. I try to imagine a similar parallel in my life, and I can’t. Adoption is a defining experience like no other. Because I’m not adopted, I can never truly understand what that experience feels like. Being at Heritage Camp raises my awareness and sensitivity to how profound the experience is. 

I’ve learned the most by listening to panel discussions by older transracial adoptees. Panelists include adults and teens. Sometimes the sessions end in tears, as thoughts, fears, resentments, and joys are revealed, often for the first time. The talks give me some insight into what is ahead for my children and our family. Also helpful is simply observing families with older kids. We are friends with adoptive families at home, but none have older children or teens. Seeing the families at Heritage Camp gives me a picture of what that family dynamic looks like. My great hope is that I do as good a job raising my children to their teen years as have the parents at Heritage Camp. The middle- and high-schoolers are teens I admire.

Other great programs are “Beyond Camp,” a workshop about how to incorporate lessons learned here into daily life; “HeART Talks,” where kids make art projects that lead to discussions about identity and race; and “More than Me,” where middle-schoolers fundraise for a worthy cause, this year for an orphanage in Peru.

Mateo and Olivia have spent the past few days enjoying soccer, astronomy, digging for Mayan “ruins,” breaking piñatas, going on hay rides, and taking dance and Spanish classes. This morning Olivia said she didn’t want to go home. Me, either.



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8 Responses to “Heritage Camp”

  1. cynthia rovero says:

    hi jessica,

    sounds like a well thought out cultural camp. glad you all had such a wonderful time. remember to count me as one of your adoptive family friends with grown kids okay?

  2. Tia says:

    liv and mateo holding hands walking in…. I’ve got tears// i’m glad they enjoyed themselves..

  3. Sam says:

    What a wonderful thing you and your family are doing with heritage camp. I love how you talk about it, and hope to find something similar for our family as Jarrah gets older.

  4. Jessica says:

    cynthia: thank you so much! i will.

    Tia: I know, I know. Wish you’d been there. They loved Heritage Camp!

    Sam: I think you and your family would love the experience. They also have a Heritage Camp for families with children from China; even bigger than the one from Latin America, I believe. Here’s the link for the future:


  5. Jerry T says:

    Loved meeting you at LAHC. Riley had a blast playing with Mateo. Hope to see you next year. maybe we can work lunch together again.

  6. Jessica says:

    Jerry, we loved meeting you, too. Mateo still talking about Riley. :-)
    Definitely lunch again, especially since we’ve got our watermelon-cutting technique down. Have a great summer!

  7. sally says:

    looking forward to reading your book…we also were at LAHC this summer. We were first time attendees…I also felt like crying at the opening ceremony…must be a mom-thing! My grandson, Kal was in Mateo’s group & remembered him.

  8. Jessica says:

    So glad your family enjoyed camp.

    Re: the opening ceremony–definitely a mom-thing, although I did notice my husband dabbing at his eyes. :-) I hope Kal and Mateo see each other next year for more fun-filled adventures. So wonderful as they recognize each other from years past. Thanks for writing–hope you enjoy the book.

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