Art by Madeline Duvall
At Pepperdine, it’s nearly impossible to walk around campus without encountering some sort of cultural or activity club advertising for members. There seems to be a place for everyone of every background. However, I sharply feel the absence of one community in particular. This select group of people is one I have been a part of almost since birth: adoptees. We are by no means a large group, nor a loud one, and yet we are present. Although there is no way to tell how many adoptees there are here at Pepperdine, the lack of a concrete community on campus ensures that our stories will remain silent and untold.
Personally, my adoption story is one of acceptance and love, but also one of self-discovery and the question of identity. I was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and spent two months in foster care before flying to my new home in New York. For my family, secrecy was never an option. I grew up with pictures of my birthmother in my room, celebrating “Mexico Day” on my adoption anniversary each year with Mexican food, music and crafts. There was a constant sense of pride and openness about where I came from.
However, even in this supportive environment, I had complicated emotions about my adoption. I often experienced guilt, confusion and the fear of rejection as a child. It wasn’t until high school that I felt comfortable enough to discuss my adoption with curious people, and not until my first year at Pepperdine that I reached out to my birth mother and reconnected with my Latina heritage through the wonderful students in the Latino Student Association.
My story, like all adoptee stories, is ongoing. Last January I met my birth mother for the first time, and as a member of the LSA Executive Board I’ve made it a point to talk about being a Latina adoptee whenever I can. However, my adoption experience itself is largely an isolating one, and without a space on campus for adoptees to come together, those with stories like mine are robbed of their voices.
Holt International, a Christian organization that helps struggling families and provides adoption services, often interviews adoptees for Holt International Magazine. Emily Thornton had an experience in college that sounds all too familiar to many adoptees: “My freshman year, I had an opportunity to participate in a multicultural group on campus. And there was just a certain level of discomfort because most people were raised in their home countries, or their families were still very deeply rooted in the culture … I think as a freshman, I would have felt a lot more comfortable if there had been people that looked like me, but that had the same type of experience as me.”
This is a sentiment that I personally resonate with, for as supportive and fantastic the students of LSA are, the innate understanding of the adoptee experience is something only other adoptees have. Through both our good and bad experiences, we can connect to each other in a way others simply cannot.
An anonymous attendee of Holt International Summer Camp for Adoptees shared her feelings on community: “For the girls at camp, when they shared their stories, it was not surprising because they each had a very similar story — a story of adoption. There was no need to explain, or fear being judged, because it was something we shared.”
Each adoptee story is individual, but it doesn’t have to be isolating. Pepperdine must recognize these unique connections adoptees have with each other and should contribute to the well-being of their students by creating a space for these conversations. Particularly during college, which is a time of self-discovery, identity formation and growth, it is more important than ever for adoptees to stand together and support each other.
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