Archive for January, 2012

A kids’ book with a (subtle) adoption theme

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

I’m forever on the look-out for books that my children will enjoy reading and/or listening to me read, a task more daunting than it may appear. Olivia and Mateo know what they like, and it’s not everything. My unscientific research reveals a few surefire elements: likeable characters around 7 and 9, the same ages as my kids; a fun and engaging plot that’s not “too scary”; and a cast that includes cute, furry animals, preferably small.

So when a friend recommended Susan Clymer’s There’s a Hamster in My Lunchbox, published in 1994, and gave it this review: “Sweet school-kids. Not scary at all. A cute, furry Teddy Bear hamster named Squeaks.  Oh, and by the way, the main character is a girl named Elizabeth, who was born in Honduras and adopted by a single mom from Kansas,” I took note. A chapter book about a cute, furry hamster that also featured an adoption theme? I ordered a copy that afternoon. (Used, on Amazon; the title is currently out of print.)

As I introduced the book to my kids I made no mention of the underlying theme, but when I got to page six and read this paragraph about the hamster known as Squeaks–

“Can we adopt her?” Elizabeth asked softly. She knew all about adoption. She had been born in Central America in a country called Honduras. Mom had adopted her when she was a baby. Her little sister had been adopted, too. –

Mateo turned to me with wide eyes, and in a voice filled with wonder said, “Elizabeth’s adopted too!”

Olivia, less impressed, said nothing, but the fact registered. I know this because a few chapters later my daughter said, in the world-weary tone of an older, wiser sister, ”I’m tired of thinking about adoption. Can we move on?” 

In our home, adoption is a subject that’s discussed, debated, and dissected, and has been for many years. Maybe too much, too often? Reading the book together gave Olivia a way to communicate the complexity of her feelings about adoption, without having to tell me directly. Sometimes, she’d just rather not think about it, thank you very much. That’s important information I need to hear, too.

Two thumbs up from us for There’s a Hamster in My Lunchbox. Even without the adoption theme, the book is a good, fun read.


Article on the idea of adoption, from a Latina point of view

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

 I rarely read articles about adoption that are written from the point of view of Latina women–not that they’re not out there, perhaps, but I rarely see them–which is why this essay in Being Latino Online Magazine by Nancy Sepulveda, Adoption or abandonment, caught my eye. Below is an excerpt, with interesting and informative links.

The Latino community often still frowns upon adoption, and fewer domestic Latinos are adopted annually. This disapproval seems less rooted in concern for the mother’s experience and more in the perception that it is evidence of a sinvergüenza: “what kind of woman could give up her own flesh and blood? No tiene corazon!” 

Moreover, the focus on familia and the belief that nobody could care for a baby (or a grown man) more than his madrecita is a cornerstone of Latino culture. Latinas are seen as nurturers, providers, makers of the home (even if she is not a homemaker). The reverence for the ultimate mother figure (the Virgen de Guadalupe) alone is testament to the value of maternity in Latinidad. So it’s not surprising that many Latinos might equate adoption with abandonment, and write off a birth mother as a woman who does not cherish the paramount values of family and sacrifice. 

But I would counter, that to give a child up for adoption is the ultimate unselfish sacrifice. It is more inconvenient, more indiscreet, and more painful than simply aborting an unwanted pregnancy (calm down, fellow Pro-Choicers; just making a comparison). 

A birth mother has recognized that she is not ready or able to provide the resources a baby requires, yet is not denying that baby its own future choices. She has committed to dealing with morning sickness, mood swings, back aches, exhaustion, frequent urination, swelling, stretch marks, and all the other joys pregnancy brings (not to mention the pain of childbirth). She’s done so, perhaps in the face of disapproval from relatives and friends, while navigating the awkwardness of well-meaning people peppering her with questions on name choices and nurseries, all without the eventual promise of a new miracle in her life to “make it all worth it.” 

She’s also not the woman with seven kids who neglects or abuses them all – or allows her novio to do so… 

No, adoption is not for everyone. Obviously it’s a big decision that requires careful consideration of many factors, and ultimately not everybody should choose it. But it’s time to stop the judgment and denigration, and re-examine the assumptions we make about those who do.

I appreciate Sepulveda’s point of view, and her call to stop judgment and denigration of women who choose adoption as a personal decision right for them.


An interview with “Maya Roads” author Mary Jo McConahay

Monday, January 9th, 2012

After reading Mary Jo McConahay’s book, Maya Roads: One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest (Chicago Review Press), I wanted nothing more than to get on an airplane bound for Guatemala, hop on a bus headed to the country’s interior, and begin exploring.  In Maya Roads, Mary Jo creates a vivid account of her experiences by drawing on her three decades of traveling, working, and living in Central America. Of the book, Peabody Award-winner Richard Rodriguez (author, Brown: the Last Discovery of America) wrote, “From enchanted jungles at the center of the Americas all the way to military roadblocks and nightmare massacres, [McConahay is] the best sort of guide… I cannot imagine a better chronicler of this time and place.” Laura Fraser (author, An Italian Affair and All Over the Map) said “From the moment Mary Jo McConahay steps into the deep Mexican jungle, you will follow her anywhere.”

Mary Jo began her career as a freelance journalist in Mexico; became a staff reporter for the Arab News, in Saudi Arabia; and reported for the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, and London-based economic magazines. She covered the Central American insurgencies for a decade for Pacific News Service, and U.S. newspapers such as the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle. Mary Jo’s work has been published in Time, Newsweek, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Ms., Salon, Sierra, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Parenting, The Progressive, National Catholic Reporter, and more than two dozen other magazines and periodicals. She may be best known to adoptive parents as the co-producer of Discovering Dominga, a documentary about a 27-year-old woman born in Guatemala who was adopted at age 11 by American parents, after surviving a massacre on her Maya village.

Recently, I caught up with Mary Jo to ask her a few questions about Maya Roads: One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest. She responded via email from Antigua, Guatemala.

I agree with Don George of National Geographic Traveler, who said of Maya Roads: “In its hungry passion and wide-eyed wonder, it’s an extraordinary literary journey and a moving testament to a region and a life.” Can you talk a little about where your passion for the Maya people, archaeology, and rainforest originates?

When I was in my twenties, studying Spanish in Mexico, I saw a museum exhibit about the Lacandon Maya Indians who still wore their hair long, hunted with bow and arrow, and were said to live much as their ancestors had lived in the remote southern jungles of Chiapas.  The idea fascinated my romantic mind, and I set out on a whim to visit them.  The beauty of the Maya rainforest, its dense and varied forms of life, the remains of the magnificent pre-Columbian cities — all of it captured my imagination and never let go. Over many years as a journalist and resident of Guatemala, and through friendships, I came to know better the reality of the lives of modern Maya.  I continue to admire their traditions and ancient history, but even more now I respect how the Maya survived recent incidents of genocide at the hands of a brutal army, their push for education, and the movement toward a pan-Mayanism that demands recognition of indigenous rights and customs.

You have a long history with Guatemala and Central America, covering the region as a war correspondent, and living with your husband and daughter in Antigua for 11 years. In the years since you’ve known Guatemala, what changes have you witnessed?

When we first moved to Antigua as a family in the late 1980s, we knew everybody by first name in the “foreign” community, often Europeans or North Americans who had made their lives here.  A post-war business and investment boom has changed all that, with many newcomers.  Increased security also means increased tourism country-wide, which is great for the economy; Guatemalans invest more in their own country now than before with businesses springing up big and small.  The atmosphere of militarization, thankfully, with soldiers in camouflage ubiquitous, seems gone. A huge change is an improvement in communication. There were so few phones in the first years we communicated with our friends in some towns by telegram, which had to be translated into Spanish before sending for security reasons (“How about dinner Friday?”). Now it seems every Guatemalan has a cel, and the country is wired.  It’s wonderful.

 What advice do you have for someone who would like to follow in your footsteps today and explore areas in Guatemala not on the usual “tourist path.”

Be smart, as you would traveling anywhere, but don’t let excessive caution cauterize your curiosity.  We just watched the sun rise at a little-visited Maya site near Tapachula, Mexico, then took a  7-hour bus ride along the coast to reach Guatemala City.  From here in Antigua where we are on a family visit, our daughter, now 25, and her boyfriend made a recent shuttle trip to Lake Atitlan and visited its small villages with local boatmen.  They took a day to climb Pacaya volcano.  Start easy and make sure you speak a little Spanish — it’s not hard to memorize a short list of words at least, which can make a big difference in your journey.

You interviewed Rigoberta Menchu in 1992, on the day the Nobel Peace Prize committee announced her name as the 1992 recipient. How did that come about? Any impressions you can share? 

Rumors had been floating that Rigoberta could receive the prize, although she was considered a long shot, but I calculated the time difference from Oslo and set my alarm in a San Salvador hotel room for 4:00 a.m., just in case. When it rang I opened my eyes, pressed the remote and bang, there was her round, smiling face.  I didn’t even listen to the announcement, raced madly to catch the first flight to Guatemala City, where on board I was lucky enough to get quotes from some government figures who hadn’t heard the news.  I went to the headquarters of the indigenous widows organization where I knew Rigoberta had to come sooner or later, and she did. There were so many well-wishers, in every sort of Maya traditional dress, and many non-Maya too, that it was impossible to talk, so we climbed up to the roof overlooking the city and volcano.  Someone brought the new Nobel Laureate a cold beer and we had a wonderful interview.  Soon enough a party of the widows found us, somebody put on a marimba casette, and I left her on the roof dancing the elegant son with the other women.

While writing the book, did you learn anything about Guatemala or the Maya that surprised you?

No outright surprises, but many unexpected delights, and entries into corners of recent history that had been fairly hidden. I saw that social and political resistance by indigenous such as we have seen in our lifetime is not unique, but part of a cycle that will not end until the chance for a dignified life is available to all, Maya and non-Maya.

Do you have any projects currently?

I continue to do readings and speak on the world of Maya Roads, including for book clubs, churches and interest groups.  At the same time, I am working on a book about Allied and Nazi espionage and counterintelligence in Latin America during World War II, a time when much of this hemisphere admired fascism.  Having seen it up close, I live appalled by the human cost of any war, and I’m moved to know more about the motivation and history of those who participated in the big one, from Brownsville to Brazil.  I’m making some interesting discoveries.

Learn more about Mary Jo at her website,; and about her new book at


Certificate of Citizenship, now more than ever

Friday, January 6th, 2012

The recent news story about a 15-year-old Dallas, Texas teen who was deported to Colombia after giving immigration officials a false identity reinforces the importance of obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship for any child who is adopted internationally. If your child was admitted to the United States under an IR-3/IH-3 visa, you should receive a Certificate of Citizenship automatically within 50 days. If you didn’t receive a Certificate of Citizenship within 50 days, or if your child’s name has changed, you will need to fill out a Form N-600. I won’t try to walk you through the process, but I will post a few helpful links from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

Overall explanation of Certificate of Citizenship for your Internationally Adopted Child

Adoption Based Forms

Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600)

Application for Replacement of Naturalization/Citizenship Documents (Form N-565)

While you’re at it, you can also apply for a Return of Original Documents by filling out the G-884. The process can take months or years–I won’t bore you with my number of go-rounds before the CD containing the information arrived–but believe me, the reward of a complete adoption file is worth it. And, unlike almost every other form you’ve filled out, this one is free. ~


100-year-old California woman and 57-year-old Nebraska man reunite with birth families

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Today I read two amazing articles that remind me again of how powerful the bonds of biological roots are to people involved in adoption–both as a person who is adopted, and as a parent who relinquished a child. The first recounts the story of a 100-year-old California woman who gave up a daughter 77 years ago. The second is about a 57-year-old man in Nebraska who searched for and found his birth siblings and other relatives.  Happy 2012!

Mom reunites with biological child 77 years later

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (AP) — For most of her 100 years, Minka Disbrow tried to find out what became of the precious baby girl she gave up for adoption after being raped as a teen.

She hoped, but never imagined, she’d see her Betty Jane again.

The cruel act of violence bore in Disbrow an enduring love for the child. She kept a black and white photograph of the baby bundled in blankets and tucked inside a basket.

It was the last she saw of the girl — until the phone rang in her California apartment in 2006 with the voice of an Alabama man and a story she could have only dreamed.

 57 years after adoption, Nebraska man finds family that had only existed in his imagination

A few days before Christmas, Orion Knee got a telephone call from his uncle, Don Frazer, in Omaha. “I think you’ve got a brother,” his uncle said. “I was blown away,” Orion said. He had no idea that his mother had given up a child for adoption 57 years ago, before he was born. Recently, in north Lincoln, the two brothers met for the first time.

Rick Nolze, 57, of Clearwater in northeast Nebraska, was welcomed into a family that a few weeks ago only existed in his imagination. “I’ve got aunts and uncles I didn’t know existed. I’ve gotten hugs… And that guy over there looks like me,” Rick said, pointing to his uncle, Frazer, a few feet.

Rick is grateful for the love and care of his adoptive parents, Fred and Shirley Nolze. He doesn’t want his search to take away from the wonderful life they gave him.”I felt like the prodigal son. They put a robe on my back and a ring on my finger and said, ‘This is my son.’”

But he’s always been curious about his birth family. He has his original birth certificate (Larry Dean Knee) and was aware from adoption records that he had an older sibling.