Tag Archives: Tennessee

A Tale of Two Families

Our circle trip began late this July. We were on a mission, two families in ten days … my family in Tennessee, and my husband’s in Canada.

The trip began gleefully with a music mix from my friend, Amy. The first day of driving was shortened by a stay at an Indiana horse ranch. After a couple of nights and a trail ride, we were back on the road to Tennessee.

At first, I had extreme hesitation. While I love my family, I do not love the closed minds and prejudices in Tennessee. We began with the stark contrast of Adult World and the huge cross along the interstate.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

The anxiety began to creep in and cover me just as the kudzu drapes and kills the trees in Tennessee. Racist memories from my childhood flooded my mind. I took deep breaths so as not to alarm my kids. Since having children, I worry about their well being, and more specifically, their racial identities.

The conversation in the car began.

“Who are we seeing in Tennessee? Are we going to Papito’s house (my father)?” the kids asked.

“We are not going to Papito’s house. We’ll be staying in Knoxville, where your dad and I met. And you will be meeting your Puerto Rican cousins today,” I answered.

“When are we going to Canada? How long do we have to stay in Tennessee?” the kids continued.

“We will be in Tennessee for a few days, and then we will meet up with your cousins in Canada,” my husband answered.

The conversation then moved on to my husband’s family. Canada is home to his aunt. She and her husband own a lake cottage where we had planned to meet my in-laws for their 50th wedding celebration; however, due to my father-in-law’s recent health decline, my husband’s sister and her family would be the only Brits coming to the party. The kids asked about their relatives across the pond. They all talked happily about similarities. My husband spoke of how our daughter reminded him of his sister at her age. Other biological family traits were bestowed on the kids, and they beamed.

I felt myself receding. My kids weren’t interested in seeing my Puerto Rican family as much as they wanted to see my husband’s. Granted, we haven’t seen my Puerto Rican family in more than five years. Plus, there is the language barrier. But I must admit, I felt slighted. My son does not identify with his Puerto Rican family, but my daughter does. I want desperately for my children to feel the love that I have felt from my family.

The Puerto Ricans, also known as the “Gonzos,” are my family. When someone asks me where I would like to live, I say Puerto Rico. With this side of my family, I feel sudden comfort and security. The Gonzos talk about my son’s resemblance to our great-grandfather. The Gonzos kiss and hug and dance. Boy, do they dance.

We met my father and my cousins, Missiel and Kike, in Tennessee and went to Dollywood. Missiel and I reminisced about their childhood visits to Tennessee and teased Kike. I learned my Spanish pronunciation from my cousins in our backyard. My children stood on the periphery. Missiel and Kike have two children each. Kike’s daughter followed my daughter and wanted to bond with her.

The boys played a little at first.

And my father encouraged more play together as they all sifted for treasure.

While things were going well, most times, my kids still clung to one another.

Then, we found the perfect ride to unite all children … against the grown-ups.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

As the boys played and joked, Missiel leaned over to me and said, “Noah is a Gonzo! He and Andreas have the same motions!” All the tension and anxiety within me suddenly slid off, and I felt just as I always have when I am with my family … loved.

How We Must Love As Parents (part 2)

The night before our apartment-hunting trip to East Tennessee, my mother called.

There was silence after our hellos and then, my mother said, “Your father and I do not want you to live with Patrick.”

“Why are you telling me this now?! I’m bringing him tomorrow,” I said annoyed.

“Well, people might talk about you living with a man,” my mother replied.

“I live with a man now,” I responded.  I was living with a Puerto Rican man in a platonic living arrangement.

“Yes, but Alberto isn’t gay,” said my mother. “And you will be living an hour away from home when you move to Knoxville.”

“Is this really about me?” I asked. “Or are you just afraid of what your friends might think? I’m bringing him to Newport tomorrow because I know you will love him once you meet him.”

My thoughts forbade me to sleep. Why had I told them he was gay? 

The next morning, I drove with Patrick to East Tennessee and my hometown in Appalachia. On the way, I tried to maintain an air of normalcy. Exhausted from a sleepless, fitful night, I fell asleep at the wheel. The car careened across all four lanes of Interstate 40, and we slammed into a bank as I awoke. I made an excuse about not sleeping well because of my excitement. Patrick still knew nothing. I needed him to be himself. 

Drawn to his sincere smile, my mother took to him immediately. My father did not. Rather, he kept Patrick at a distance, until he asked him to “Help move this big table.” “Man’s work” spoke to my father, and while Patrick’s muscular frame easily moved the table, he did not move my father.

The ride back to Clarksville was quiet. Towards the end of our journey, I explained my father’s opinion to Patrick. “We can still move in together,” I said, “I’m a grown woman, and he cannot rule my life!”

Patrick listened intently and said, “Rosita, we can’t change people by fighting them. He will come around in time, and I won’t move in with you. I’ve lost my family already, and I won’t be the reason you lose yours.”

Saddened, I accepted Patrick’s decision. 

That following fall after my move to Knoxville, I returned to Clarksville to see Patrick. We relived our early days of merriment. He made plans to come visit.

A month later, he disappeared. When he failed to arrive at Red Lobster for a shift, co-workers went by his apartment to find his door wide open, and his wallet and money on the coffee table. Patrick was nowhere to be found, and the authorities were notified.

Up next … what happened to Patrick.

How We Must Love As Parents (part 1)

“To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control.” — Journalist and Father Tom French

This quote, from a Radio Lab segment, stuck. It is stuck in my head with the memory of an old friend. His memory is constant. I have no photographs of him so I must keep him in my memory. I lost contact with him in late 1990.

His story was always meant to be here, but it is long and painful. If you are considering adoption, please read the entire story.

In early 1990, I met a man while training at Red Lobster in Clarksville, Tennessee, the town where I finished my undergraduate degree. His name was Patrick. He was a handsome blonde with sculpted features, and I was instantly attracted to him. Our first days were the things of awkward teens.

One night, I admitted my fear of relationships. Patrick patiently listened to the story of my first love, a soldier at Fort Campbell. While dating me for a year, the GI from Wisconsin revealed that he was engaged to a woman in his hometown of Appleton, and that he planned to marry her.

Hearing this, Patrick revealed that he, too, was from Wisconsin and had recently finished his service in the military. He said he had been married and was now divorced. His candor and honesty dispelled my fears, and he won my trust.

With mutual trust, Patrick explained that he was gay and that he had been married to a lesbian during his time in the military to mask his true self. His fear was a deep-seated one. He wasn’t always able to be himself.

One evening, as I lamented my inevitable move to graduate school and my fear of being alone in Knoxville, Tennessee, Patrick suggested, “I could move with you. It doesn’t matter where I live, and we both could work at the Lob!” We felt our fears of being alone dispel.

We made plans, and I wrote the following letter to my mother.

Up next, the trip home …

Asian Attraction?

Recently, one of my new Asian adoptee friends qualified her Caucasian husband, as “not one of those men with Asian fetishes.”

I must admit, I was puzzled by this, and I questioned what she meant. She and another friend quickly explained that there were men who had Asian fetishes. This week in This American Life’s episode called “Tribes,” Act 3, tackles this subject by highlighting the filmmaker of the documentary “seeking asian female.” The outcome is surprising.

Watching the trailer for the documentary (see below),  and having heard Jennifer in the film, Adopted, talk about Asian fetishes, I began to wonder how I had been so naive.

My Asian friends and I have all married Caucasian men. While my two closest friends and I have joked about our “white hubbies,” none of us ever spoke of the Asian fetish. If anything, we all talked about our own attractions to Caucasian men. One friend’s parents often tried pairing her with “nice Taiwanese” men.

Growing up in rural Tennessee, young boys were more repulsed by my ethnicity than enamored. There would be no talk about the Asian fetish. That was unspeakable in Appalachia.

My first date occurred when I was 17. My date was a young college man from the big metropolis of Knoxville, who had been traveling back to Wake Forest, North Carolina. He had stopped at the Cracker Barrel where I worked, and I had mistaken him for a movie star. He took my contact details, and we wrote long letters. I enjoyed sharing with someone who didn’t solely see me from the outside. When he escorted me to my senior prom, a popular young woman asked me the following Monday, “So, where’d your mom and dad find such a cute escort to hire?” She couldn’t understand why an older, Caucasian man would want to take me to the prom.

Throughout my life, I shied away from Asian boys, as I had often been paired with the only

Asian boy in my grade; his family moved to our town in fourth grade. That year, we studied square dancing in gym.  This was the only time boys and girls mixed for gym. I was always paired with this Asian boy. Our peers saw us as a match made by race.

Some may hypothesize that my attraction to Caucasian men is a product of being raised by parents of a different race, or a product of living in a community where the racial “pickins were slim.” They may also blame racial confusion for my seemingly Caucasian fetish. I theorize that we all have initial attractions that are based in physical attractiveness. But as Act 3 proves, those attractions are only the spark that may or may not lead to a lasting relationship.

My daughter recently asked me what attracted me to her father. My reply was that I thought he was cute. He had long sideburns, wore a denim jacket and sported a Smiths button on his lapel. That was all I needed to be attracted.

As we became more acquainted, I quickly fell in love with his optimism, idealism, humanitarianism, and finally, his dedication to wildlife. We were, as my mother would have said, “two peas in a pod.”