Archive for August, 2010

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

POV, PBS-TV’s award-winning non-fiction showcase, will air Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy, a documentary by Stephanie Wang-Breal, tonight, August 31. Check your local listing for details.  The film tells the story of an eight-year-old orphan from China, Fang Sui Yong, and the Sadowskys, the family in Long Island who adopts her. The PBS Synopsis asks: “What is it like to be torn from your Chinese foster family, put on a plane with strangers and wake up in a new country, family and culture?” Good question, and one many of us ask regarding our children from Guatemala.

 The film has already generated controversy among some in the adoption community, who criticize the adoptive family as not being accommodating and understanding enough to their new daughter. I haven’t seen the film, so I’m not qualified to comment. I will say that I admire the Sadowskys for allowing director Stephanie Wang-Breal to film them during what is, for many adoptive families, the most stressful period of their lives–the first days and weeks after their children arrive. (Stressful for parents and children.)

I’m posting here a short interview with Terrell Brown, director Wang-Breal, and Donna Sadowsky, the adoptive mom. I especially like when Wang-Breal says her intent was to reveal the “complicated layers” of international adoption. That’s how adoption feels to me—layered and complicated—so I’m interested in seeing Wang-Breal’s interpretation.

Among other awards, Wo Ai Ni Mommy garnered “Best Documentary Feature” from the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival 2010. The film will be online at September 1, 2010 through November 30, 2010.  I’d love to hear reactions from anyone who watches.


Back from Guatemala

Monday, August 30th, 2010

What have I been doing since we returned home from Guatemala? Like a lot of parents around the country, filling out forms for back to school. And very little else! That’s not entirely true. I’ve also been trying to get myself back into the swing of preparing for the launch of my book, Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir. (OH YES, THAT!!) November 1 will be here before I know it, and there’s still a lot to do. I’ve been working with someone on a book trailer—similar to a preview for a movie, but for a book—and I’m happy to say we’re close to agreeing on a final script. Most of the time, writing is solitary, so it’s been a new experience to collaborate with someone else for a change. I like it.

Mateo is now riding a two-wheeler. Sad to say, this milestone occurred while I was in Guatemala with only Olivia. Tim said the progression was easy. Mateo asked Tim to take off the training wheels, and Tim did. The next thing Tim knew, Mateo was zipping across the playground, his two little legs a blur. This past weekend, Mateo and I spent the better part of Saturday and Sunday afternoons riding together. Anyone who knows how much I love to bike will understand how pleased I am to share this activity with my son. Already I’m envisioning the two of us doing RAGBRAI, a seven-day pedal across the flatlands of Iowa. We’ll have to settle for a few loops around the neighborhood first.

Both kids love their new teachers at their new schools and are beginning to make new friends. As of this writing, Olivia has abandoned violin. At her new school, we ran into the music teacher and he mentioned a percussion group that meets weekly. Percussion. Doesn’t that mean drums? Haven’t yet made up my mind about that one. In the meantime, I’ve enrolled Olivia in ballet. As some of you know, my mother, Olivia’s grandmother, is a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette. She owned a dance studio while I was growing up, where I and many girls in our neighborhood took lessons.

Naturally–or as my mother would say, “Natch”–Mom and I are beyond thrilled to see Olivia in a tutu. I’ve told Mom that she and I better curb our enthusiasm, lest we become the twin “Stage Mothers to End All Stage Mothers.” For me, I confess, that could happen. I’m doing my best to stay cool, at least until recital time.


Spanish school

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

This summer at Latin American Heritage Camp, a panel of teen and adult adoptees dedicated a large percentage of their discussion to the importance of learning, speaking, and/or retaining the language of one’s birth country. The consensus was that language is critical if one wishes to interface with birth family, foster family, orphanage family, or, indeed, the culture at large, in a meaningful way. That’s true in my own life, as well: Speaking even elementary Spanish has allowed me to communicate with many more people in Guatemala than I would be able to otherwise.

Not that teaching a child a second language is easy. For my husband and me, it has been anything but that. Neither of us is fluent in Spanish, which is our biggest obstacle. And not only do we not employ a nanny who speaks Spanish, we rarely, if ever, hire a babysitter. Our local public school is not bilingual, and though we have a few Spanish-speaking friends, their children prefer to speak English while playing with our kids. This year, in third grade, Olivia will study Spanish. We’re lucky that it’s the second language taught in California schools. What about the kids adopted from Nepal or Russia or Ethiopia? How do they learn to communicate with others from their homeland? (more…)


Small town

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Olivia and I arrived home Sunday night in California, the place I now think of as “the land of everything big.” Big airport, big highways, even North Americans feel like giants. We stayed in Guatemala for a month; the readjustment takes a few days.

Before I leave the subject of Antigua, I’ll post a few final pictures. The photo above is of two of the managers at Conexion, the Internet cafe where I spent so many hours in 2003 while waiting for Olivia’s adoption to get processed, and where I posted my blog this past trip–the only place I could download photos. Everyone at Conexion remembers Olivia. Many people in Antigua remember all the babies who were fostered by their American mothers. My friend Kallie was amazed at how many people knew her daughter, Maya, and this was their first trip back in six years.


One evening at dusk, Olivia and I took a horse-and-carriage ride with Kallie and Maya around Antigua. A few evenings later, as Olivia and I walked home to our apartment on the southwest side, we heard what sounded like galloping horse hooves heading toward us on the cobblestones. “Impossible,” I told Olivia. “Horse don’t gallop on the calle.” A few seconds later, I was proven wrong as our carriage driver galloped by us, two horses on leads behind him. Olivia called out “hola,” and he paused to smile for the camera.

The photo above is of a demonstration that took place one morning in Antigua. I asked a few people what the group was protesting, and received conflicting reports. A taxi driver, perhaps mindful of the tourist industry, told me, in effect, “No worries. They’re setting up for a concert.” A newspaper seller said it was a group from nearby Ciudad Vieja, wanting the tipica market to move to their town so they could benefit from tourist dollars. A tipica seller said it was because the police are forcing the vendors to stop selling on the street. I never was able to learn the real story, and to be honest, with Olivia in tow, didn’t linger to find out. As much as we love Guatemala, we are still outsiders–at least I am. When I see a crowd, especially one encircled by officers with guns, I move on.


San Antonio Aguas Calientes

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Yesterday, Olivia and I took a bus trip with a group to the nearby pueblo of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, a town renowned throughout Guatemala for the beauty of its weavings. I felt like a prospector who has struck gold: here we were at last, the motherlode. We visited a women’s cooperative, founded some twenty years ago to benefit the education of local children. (I think; everything was said in Spanish and, as usual, I struggled to keep up.)

The senora pictured above (wearing her distinctive huipil) gave a presentation about weddings as practiced by the indigenous in San Antonio, dressing four members of our group in traditional traje. The woman third from the left represented the groom’s mother. The beautiful weaving draped around her shoulders took hours of effort over a year to make—a gift from the bride. In return, the mother-in-law will give the bride a special frilly apron, lovely to be sure, but still, an apron. A lively discussion ensued—What about girls who can’t weave? Does the bride have any say in her choice of groom?—after which we enjoyed the Guatemalan national dish, pepian, with time left over for shopping.

I took the final photo at Antigua’s premier hotel, Casa Santo Domingo, which Olivia and I visited a few days earlier with Kallie and Maya. The ruins behind the hotel were set up for an evening wedding. As we left the site, the wedding party had arrived from the capital, everyone dressed in stunning and stylish finery. A different setting and ceremony from the one in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, but each a celebration.


Corn and tortillas

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Almost anywhere you drive in the countryside of Guatemala, you see corn. Corn is the staple of the Guatemalan diet. According to the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the ancient Maya, humankind was created from corn after the gods had tried and failed to make people with other materials. Corn was a gift from the gods,  symbolized by jade, the stone most highly prized by the Maya. 

In the front of this small tienda, young girls are making tortillas with their mother. Each day they make hundreds; a group of vendors, always women, will arrive later to pick up their ration to sell. Each vendor has her designated spot—in a doorway, on a corner, or outside Pollo Campero. Customers come to them, or the vendor sells door-to-door in a scheduled round. They carry the tortillas in a basket balanced on their heads.

In Antigua, Olivia and I eat our share of tortillas. Before lunch every day, I buy one or two quetzales’ worth: six to eight tortillas, depending on how generous the particular vendor is feeling. The tortillas are wrapped in a square of brown paper, still steaming when we get them home. Olivia eats them plain, or sometimes with butter and salt. I often melt mine with cheese. Delicious.


Good eats

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Our days here are winding down, so I’m going to post a few photos of us in a few of our favorite eateries, or, in one case, on the calle out front. Olivia took the photo of me, above, in Cafe Condesa, the restaurant on the Square that is always packed with Antiguenos, North Americanos, and visitors from around the world. Olivia loves their pancakes; I always order their eggs and black beans. If you’ve been to Antigua even once, you’ve probably enjoyed a cup of their coffee.

Olivia’s other favorite food, anywhere, is pizza. We’ve discovered a little place where they’ll cook hers the way she likes: no cheese, with pepperoni extra crispy. The restaurant boasts three television sets, and no matter when we go, afternoon or evening, on one of the channels we can watch Shakira leading thousands of fans in dancing the “Waka Waka.” Here’s Olivia breaking into her version on the street.

The last photo is of Olivia and me at what is perhaps Guatemala’s most famous eatery, Pollo Campero. When we first started visiting Guatemala in 2002, we smelled Pollo Campero on every plane ride home: the overhead compartments were filled with buckets of the crispy chicken, carried by Guatemalans to family members in the United States. I hear now that Pollo Campero is everywhere, from Florida to Texas. No wonder we no longer smell it on the airplane.

I bet I’m not the only one who misses the aroma.



Monday, August 16th, 2010

Other adoptive parents and I talk a lot about all the reasons why a trip back to Guatemala benefits our children. But as I visit places in-country with my friend and fellow adoptive mom, Kallie, I see how much other people benefit as well.

Us, as adoptive parents, for one. Nothing allows someone to process an experience like going back to where it happened. Our children’s caregivers, for another. To see that the babies they cared for and loved have grown up to become healthy, happy children is a powerful and moving experience for each of them.

One of the first things Kallie did with Maya when they arrived in Antigua was visit the hogar where Maya lived as an infant. Like the Guatemala City hotel lobby is for me, the hogar playroom is for Kallie: the first place she held her daughter in her arms. That specific location is a place no mother, or father, is ever likely to forget.

When Olivia and I lived in Antigua, we had a wonderful ninera, or babysitter, who took care of Olivia when I went into the capital to investigate our adoption. After we left, Yoli moved on to take care of Maya during the hours when Kallie worked. Yoli and her kids were like family. They have never forgotten us or our children.

A few days ago, we experienced a marvelous reunion with Yoli and her children, who, six years ago, were around the age Olivia is now. Kallie and I hardly recognized them: One of Yoli’s daughters is married with children, studying to become a chef. Another hopes to become a teacher.  Her son, our girls’ playmate, plans to become an architect. (He is the handsome boy in the photos above and below, now the handsome young man.)

Yoli’s eldest daughter, engaged to be married, brought along nail polish. As we drank coffee and ate cake, she gave manicures to the little girls and to Kallie and me (rainbow with flowers and gold sparkles, respectively).  

Before we said goodbye to our old friends and ended our memorable reunion, Yoli showed us the photos she still carries with her everywhere: pictures of our babies.


The Arch, Hermano Pedro, and La Bodegona

Friday, August 13th, 2010

I realize I haven’t yet posted photos of some of the most iconic scenes in Antigua. For anyone who hasn’t yet been here, these are the places noted in every guidebook, and for good reason: they’re beautiful. Here are two views of the Arch of Santa Catalina that stretches over Fifth Avenida, built in the seventeenth century to allow cloistered nuns to cross the street. The volcano looming in the background is Agua. Olivia took the first picture during our recent horse-and-buggy ride. I took the second from the other direction on one of our of many shopping excursions.

The most famous church in Antigua is La Merced, a yellow corner of which you can see through the Arch photo above. My personal favorite, however, is Hermano Pedro, so that’s the one I’m posting, below. Guatemala is rightfully proud of Hermano Pedro, a Franciscan brother born in the Canary Islands who dedicated his life to helping the sick and needy in Guatemala. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. When I lived in Antigua in 2003, yellow bunting hung over nearly every doorway to commemorate the Pope’s visit and Guatemala’s cherished saint. The Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro continues to minister to the elderly, the sick, and orphans; adjacent to the church is a hospital.

The last place I’ll write about is probably not listed in any guidebook, but is well-known and loved by anyone who has spent more than a few days here: La Bodegona. What is La Bodegona? So much more than a grocery store! Toys, books, socks, bug spray, hair care products, pharmaceuticals, firewood kindling, umbrellas. Meats, cheeses, coffee, milk, yogurt, fresh bread. If La Bodegona doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it! It’s conveniently located a block away from the handicrafts mercado. If we’re in Antigua when you are, chances are at some point, we’ll see you there.


American Girls

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Our good friends Kallie and Maya are also here from the States, and one thing both Kallie and I notice is how American our girls are. What’s interesting is that when in California, Olivia and Maya are often referred to as “Guatemalan,” but in their home country they are both from los Estados.

That’s not to say they don’t feel guatemalteca. They do. The second we set foot on Guatemalan soil, Olivia said “This is my country.” Both she and Maya love that everyone looks like them. But there is something about each of them that sets her apart, and it goes beyond the clothes they wear and the fact that they speak English. (And it isn’t their matching tourist purses, either!)

Olivia and I are staying in an apartment complex with neighbors born in Guatemala, now living in Las Vegas. The couple has rented their house in Vegas to live for a year in Guatemala. The husband and wife are volunteering at a local hospital. Their children are enrolled in school.

“Our kids can’t speak Spanish,” the husband says. “They don’t feel Guatemalan.” I was happy to learn, once again, that the challenge of learning to belong to two cultures is not unique to adoptive parents.


The photos above are of a few adventures with Kallie and Maya: a horse and buggy ride; tipica shopping; and watching one of the many skilled weavers who create the handicrafts. This particular woman was creating a design with a kind of crochet needle. A leather strap supports her as she leans back to work. A point of pride for the best weavers is that the stitches are perfect and even on both sides of the fabric.

If you notice, I’m carrying a repurposed flour sack which is bulging with — umbrellas. My approach to rainy season is to be prepared every minute for the clouds to open. Like the locals, we’ve learned to take it in stride.