White Family Parties
As the tree lights glistened, they illuminated the delicate ornaments, creating a magical effect. The fire pit cracked as the scent of warm firewood and fresh pine flooded my senses. The background noises from "Home Alone" playing in the other living room reminded me of my American childhood. As I took the first sip of the perfectly hot oolong tea and reflected on all the unimaginable opportunities presented to me, I couldn’t get rid of a feeling of longing and isolation.
I thought back to my childhood when times were simpler. I thought back to when I excitedly hand picked each ornament to place on the tree, when I would spend hours creating paper “gingerbread” houses as a present for my mother, and when the holiday street lights would transport me to a world of inspiration. I wondered when my childlike spirit dimmed, silenced from the world.
For many, the holidays are a time of celebration, joy, and reunion. I listened to my coworkers and friends share their favorite family traditions like spending their day making pasteles, a traditional Latin American food, or celebrating quality time through hot pot and karaoke. The more I listened, the more I ached for a genuine connection with my family.
When I was younger, I never noticed I was the only person of color in my family. I used to think I was awkward which was reinforced when family members asked why I was so shy, as if this would suddenly change my personality. It wasn’t until I got older and began to understand the complexities of being a person of color that I realized I’m actually outspoken and lively. However, during family parties I was expected to code-switch to fit in with white culture. Because of their ignorance, I was forced to be the token individual, gaslighted when I tried to share my experiences. With age, I realized I would rather be alone than surrounded by people dedicated to misunderstanding me.
One Christmas Eve, one of my extended cousins asked if I was going over for Christmas lunch. She was one of the whopping two family members that understood white privilege, and my spirit beamed at the hope of a close family connection. My father and I had originally planned to eat lunch together, but I didn’t see the harm in postponing until dinner. On the drive home, I asked what he thought of the idea of changing our plans, and asked what time we should head over to my cousin’s.
“We’re not going, we’re eating lunch at ours,” he stated in a firm tone.
I was confused at his unwillingness to listen, especially because it was only us two and we had planned to eat together the next day, so it didn’t really matter which meal it was. I expressed how much this meant to me, but he stayed firm in his answer, each time his tone getting sharper and firmer. As his voice began to raise, it became harder to control my frustration. For me, this was something deeper; it was a chance for a relationship I always craved. Within minutes, speaking morphed into shouting and hope dissipated into tears. Without the communication skills and knowledge I needed to have this conversation, I couldn’t control my reaction.
“You don’t understand what it’s like being the only person of color in an all white family! I’m finally connecting with a family member who understands, and you’re keeping me away from them. I’m asking one small thing, and you can’t even explain why you’re so adamant about not going tomorrow.” I cried with tears streaming down my face.
“Why do you always need to bring up race? No one sees you as different because of it, and we’re eating lunch tomorrow here. That’s it!” he shouted as we arrived at our house. I grabbed my bag, wiped my tears, and hopped out the car heading straight for my room. That night, I cried myself to sleep, longing for any type of connection.
A loud crack from the fire brought me to the present moment. As I recalled that memory, I reminded myself that we are allowed to feel a range of emotions simultaneously. Being grateful for a supportive family can coexist with feelings of emptiness, and we don’t need to feel guilty about those emotions. Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions can often be particularly emotional times for some adoptees. These times may represent the mysteries of our lives, whether that’s the unknown piece of our story, the missing traditions of our heritage, or the thought of what our biological families are like. However, as we continue to heal, there is hope. With increased advocacy and awareness, we’re able to connect with our community and fight the feelings of longing and isolation. There is hope to build those strong connections, hope to begin new traditions and customs, and hope to create a healthy family of our own.