gallery Dear Adoption, I’m Embarrassed by You

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Dear Adoption, I’m Embarrassed by You

If I just say “How are you?” In Italian, to the Italian barber on Constitution Boulevard, he’ll give me a lollipop after my brother get’s a haircut. I don’t want anyone to know I speak Italian. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m four now and I don’t speak Italian anymore.

I was plopped into a tiny town full of Italians shortly before I was two, I came from Southern Italy. I’m the real deal, but why do I feel like a phony Italian? I don’t think I would fit in with my birth family, now that I don’t speak Italian anymore, but I don’t fit in with these Italians here the United Sates either. I’m confused. It’s not supposed to be this way is it, the embarrassment? Would my other family be upset with me, that I lost my language so soon? I didn’t want to keep that part of me then.

I can pretend to be anything I want, I think to myself, because when Italian folks ask what part of Italy I’m from, and I say Naples, they look at me cockeyed. Southern Italians are supposed to be dark but I’m light. “Are you sure you’re Italian?” My cousin asks me one day when he questions whether I ever go in the sun. I don’t tan as much as turn a sort of golden color.

I seem to keep changing my identity to fit whomever I’m with. If I happen to be within earshot of people disparaging Italians, I can hide behind my married name, and no one will be the wiser.

“Dad” I asked shortly after being told I was adopted from Italy, “Am I Italian or American?” He answered “You’re an American of Italian decent.” OK, whew! That cleared things up for me for awhile.

When I was first married, my Mother-in-law would talk about Italian food and then look at me. I’d think, “Why’s she looking at me? I don’t know how to cook Italian food like a real Italian.” Not like my adoptive Mom, who hardly ever used a recipe, but could whip up something delicious, seemingly out of nothing. I stayed far away from the kitchen when I was living with her. I didn’t want to fit that stereotype either. Just what do I want? What type of Italian would fit me?  How on earth can I be lost among all these Italians in my little adopted town?

When my children were born they had light hair and skin so I hardly even thought of them as Italian either. Are they Italian? They are half me. Why didn’t I have all those Italian saying all over my house or on little plaques in my kitchen like a good Italian American would? I did what I was supposed to do, I was supposed to forget that other family existed, those Italians I tried to forget, and then I forgot about me. I missed that part of me. I’m lost, and I’m embarrassed that I am lost.

Lenore Paletta lived with her birth mother for 6 months before illness, lack of money, and family support necessitated her relinquishment. She remained in a hospital and then orphanage until she was 20 months old. She lives with her husband and two sons.

4 comments

  1. Dear Lenore,

    Thank you for sharing your story highlighting an international blurring of identity and the too American need to control and to own. Some of us know this set of circumstances because some or all are our own.

    It should not be you to be embarrassed, but for all those who are complicit in stealing your identity – and worse pretentiously believing they can mold you into their desired image rather than to accept you for who you are and/or to assist you in discovering that identity which is self. (You might want to have your DNA tested so as to discover how your ancestors migrated, and if a Neanderthal was the giver of your children’s lightness of hair and eyes.) Skin tones are neither ethnicity nor of race. They are controlled by a gene called SLC45A2, one which regulates UV protection in relationship to the distance one is to the sun-closer = darker; further away=lighter.

    After I was able to retrieve my own birth certificate -well past the age of majority, I put it next to other names that had been mine (by court order or marriage) and came to this resolve: To choose a name that was uniquely my own, and not belonging to another or forced upon me by some court or agent. My new name identified me perfectly -especially if one knows classical Arabic and Algerian Djardja. Later I had the first of six DNA analysis done which pinpointed the many places through which my ancestors traveled, and the origine of the first mother who passed on her genes to her daughters directly and therefore ended up to create my unique genome.

    Do not allow others to encourage you to forget about your earlier conditions and those who gave you life. Remember Aristotle’s advice: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Hold fast to those memories and the knowledge you have from your life’s journey. It is the life you have lead and the journeys you have taken which are YOU.

    Vaya con dios and remember that you are not alone, nor isolated. You have much company and support in your quest for identity, even if you know us not. Best wishes for a successful discovery of self and for a better life than what others handed to you.

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  2. You are one of the lucky ones ​Life is Good ​ do not be a shame ​ ​ take a moment i reading what’s in the world for you without adoption to be embarrassed,(not a problem) you had survived lived and enjoyed life. I’m a unwanted father you are lucky teach others to love one another as God intended. I support orphans read my story at branchproduction.com the wolf and the sheep No One loves a Bitter person. ​

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  3. Right on the money. One way I remember dealing with being a *nobody* was getting intensely imaginatively involved with wanting to be an American Indian! I don’t have a jot of American Indian blood, but somehow, the exotic and powerfully definitive quality of being an American Indian appealed to me. Even as a little kid, I knew something was odd about this, that I was working something out with this fantasy. I’m a bookish, not athletic, not outdoorsy type – this was a very odd choice that I moved on from quickly. But it was intense. In reality, I am 1/2 Russian Jew, and the other 1/2 is German/Irish/Scottish/English. But in so many ways I still feel like *nobody*, nothing. Adoption takes a lot *out of* & *from* a person. And is embarrassing, too. Thank you for this wonderful essay, Lenore. We are not alone. ❤

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