American Girls

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,┬áthat 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.


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6 Responses to “American Girls”

  1. cynthia rovero says:

    hi jessica,

    i think assimilation is a slow process, unless you are born and live continuously in a county it just takes time. your comment that in marin your kids are guatemalan could be beneficial to them with the right kind of attitudes about the respect needed to acknowledge that.

  2. Jessica says:

    excellent points, cynthia. thanks for acknowledging the complexity.

  3. Joannie says:

    Jessica, I love reading about your travels and adventures with Olivia. Can’t wait to hear more when you return — and you’ll have so many insights for when we go back to Guatemala with Timmy (Timothy Juan-Carlos)! Thank you for sharing your world view (and Olivia’s and Mateo’s).

  4. Jessica says:

    Joannie, I can’t speak for every adoptive family, but for us, returning has been beneficial to both our kids. For them, it answers questions on many levels. I’m grateful we’re able to do this. We all cherish the experience. Looking forward to more discussion soon!

  5. Mamie says:

    Hello Jessica,
    What a wonderful experience to travel often to Guatemala. We are hoping when Hailey is 10 to travel there and let her see the country she was born in and an opportunity to learn about the Culture. I am curious to know how she will feel seeing the people and the similiar features to her own self. At the age of almost 5, she comments about how “tanned” she is and how Mommy needs to wear sunblock. It is these moments I enjoy and it puts a smile on my face immediately. It is also one of those conversations you picture in the years to come when she truly understands more about adoption and being born in another country. As always, thank you for sharing your travels and experiences with others interested in Guatemala and all the beautiful children living here in the U.S. and Guatemala as well. Mamie Matte

  6. Jessica says:

    Hi Mamie:
    Skin color is a regular topic of conversation in our house, with both Olivia and Mateo leading the way. I’ve read where people say young children “don’t notice” skin color, but that has never been our experience. I think it’s normal and natural that your daughter notices the difference between her skin and yours.
    We live in California, where the population may be more diverse than where you are. Thus, trips to Guatemala were not our children’s first exposure to other people with brown skin. That said, my impression is that Olivia is extremely content to be among so many people who share her features. I often say that her first trip back to Guatemala at age 7 marked a turning point in her life–all positive. Ten years old seems like the ideal age for your daughter to visit. As always, thanks for reading my blog. :)
    Ps: We all wear sunblock every day, even our children! Skin cancer knows no racial boundaries!

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