October 10, 2020

They Told Us We Were White

 

Velma, my adoptive grandmother, and me

"You are not Indian or Mexican, you're white. Never say that again," Velma insisted as she painfully pinched my backside.

My father was adopted by Arvil and Velma when he was 3 days old. He was born in an unwed mother's home in Oklahoma City, OK in 1940. Last December I decided to search for my father's birth parents. I finally took the plunge and took DNA tests from the 3 big companies. My goal was to find DNA matches on my father's side to help me in my search for his parents. It didn't take long to find Sofia, with whom I share 1,450 cM across 44 segments. This high level of shared DNA would most likely make her my grandparent, half-sibling, or aunt. 

My cousin Emma and her mother Sofia

This brought me to Emma, her daughter. Emma and I texted spoke on the phone and met briefly. By comparing notes with Emma, we've established the only possible family connection would be that Sofia's aunt Anna was my father's mother. Sofia and my father were first cousins. Sadly, before I could meet her, Sofia died just a few months after this discovery. But Emma has been able to give me a great deal of information about Anna and her family history.
Socorro, Sofia's Mother and Anna, my Dad's Mother

My Grandmother Anna and her sister Socorro were born in Districto Federal, Mexico City, Mexico to quite elegant, Victorian-era parents. Anna had married, crossed into the United States, and divorced before my father was born. Thus far, I have found no other records about Anna until her second marriage, which occurred exactly one year after my father's birth. I've determined I'm not a DNA match with either husband's family. 

What I do know is that Anna's family was born of Spanish and Native American descent. Her father Anastasio and mother Sofia were an upper-middle-class couple who owned a bottling plant in Mexico City and parents of two well-heeled daughters. My cousin Emma has shared stories and photos of our family, helping me feel a real sense of connection to this long, lost part of my life.

Sofia and Anastasio Toral, my great-grandparents
How Anna came to give birth to my father in an unwed mother's home in Oklahoma City is a mystery I'm trying to unravel. But what I do know is that I am not "white," as Arvil and Velma insisted. I resented them for being ashamed of me and wanting me to be ashamed of myself. I couldn't connect with them on an emotional level, and frankly, they didn't seem very interested in doing the same. Deep inside I wanted to know the truth about myself and my real family. 

Steve and me

A few years ago I was talking with my husband Steve about them. I told him how they wanted to squash my real identity as a person of color and try to convince me that the person I saw in the mirror every day was something other myself. 

"Maybe they thought they were helping you. At the time they adopted your Dad, and the fact they were coming from Oklahoma, being dark-skinned was a disadvantage. Perhaps they thought if you identified as white, you would have more advantages," reasoned Steve. 


I was taken aback. I hadn't ever considered that. But they passed away so many years ago, so now we'll never know. Personally, I think their motives weren't all that virtuous. 


Now I can embrace the family I have found, and the heritage of color I knew in my heart was mine. As my search continues, I remain intrigued. Each new discovery brings to me a greater sense of self. 

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