Colombian Adoptees Connect in NYC to Share Their Life Stories
(Brooklyn, NY) – Being adopted and choosing to share your life story is a very personal and sometimes painful decision for many adoptees. For some, learning about one’s birth culture can be a lifelong process. For others the desire to connect with people with similar experiences is profound yet not always easy. However with the help of Facebook a group of adoptees from Colombia met recently in New York City to share their personal stories and begin what most hope will be lifelong friendships.
Alicia Schlehuber was ten days old when she was adopted from a Colombian orphanage in Bogota and brought to the United States to be raised by an American family right outside of New Orleans. Alicia knew she was adopted as far back as she could remember. It’s tough to keep something like that a secret growing up in the South and when most of your immediate family members look different.
Alicia, who at first glance looks clearly Latina, jokes about what it felt like growing up in an American household knowing her ethnic culture was Colombian.
“I felt like a coconut. Brown on the outside and white in the inside,” said the 37 year-old who presently lives with her husband in Southern California.
Alicia’s adoptive parents went back to the same orphanage in Colombia to adopt her brother, Jason Thier, who joined Alicia and about 15 other adoptees from Colombia in New York City to meet others just like themselves. Alicia had met other adoptees before, but was more excited for her brother Jason who had not made it a priority in his life to meet other adoptees or explore his Colombian side in great detail.
“When you meet another adoptee there’s an immediate connection,” Alicia said. “It’s hard to explain, but I wanted that for my brother.”
When an adoptee learns of his/her birth culture, according to Alicia and Jason, some totally immerse themselves in the culture, while others take their time digesting information. Some just like to keep things the way they are, not learning much about their ethnicity at all. It’s a very personal choice and some adoptees go through different phases of feelings throughout their lives.
“I appreciate my birth culture,” said Alicia. “But there was a time when I did not.”
Some adoptees may feel they are slighting their adoptive parents if they show interest in learning about their birth culture, but others eventually need to know more to fully understand who they are, a process most people go through, whether adopted or not, to truly know themselves.
“I hope to one day meet my birth mother and thank her for giving me up for adoption,” Alicia said. Her adoptive family provided her with a wonderful life away from the poverty of Colombia and gave Alicia and her brother opportunities to mold their lives into anything they wanted.
Jason was excited to make the trip from Louisiana where he is a cook at a restaurant. He recalls meeting the first Colombian aside from his sister a few years back when he was working at a restaurant. The young woman was a waitress and he remembers asking her questions about Colombia and Colombian food in particular.
“I like meeting Colombians who know more about the culture than I do,“ said the 37 year old. “I’m extremely excited about this weekend, especially meeting new people and other adoptees that look like me.”
Jason added that he likes the interaction with other adoptees and getting more information on what’s happening in Colombia and updates on the orphanage he and his sister came from, La Casa de la Madre y el Nino in Bogota.
Colombia has a long history of adoption. According to theadoptionguide.com, there were 216 children adopted from Colombia in 2011. The group of individuals that made their way to New York City for the recent meet and greet range in age from 25 to about 40.
The Adopted from Colombia Facebook Group has over 250 members with about 15 making the trip to NYC along with their spouses and friends. The total number of participants for the weekend was over 30. Another trip to Colombia is planned later this summer. Some participants are making both trips.
The idea for the New York trip began last fall when the notion for a trip to Colombia was mentioned. Some thought why not meet in a major US city to exchange stories and get to know one another. A poll was conducted and New York City was the easy winner because many adoptees were from the Northeast and many were familiar with the existence of a large Colombian community in Jackson Heights, Queens.
The NY trip scheduled for the second week of June started out at the United Methodist Church in Jackson Heights Saturday afternoon and was followed by a walk around one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the country. An Internet search for Colombian restaurants in NYC led the group to make a dinner reservation for 33 at Bogota Latin Bistro in Park Slope, Brooklyn. After dinner the group headed out to the South Street Seaport for a night of Salsa at the Piers. The weekend was capped off with a Sunday brunch at the Juan Valdez Café in the East Side of Manhattan.
For some weekend goers, the magnitude of the memorable experience was just too much for words.
“The entire experience has been surreal,” said Pamela, a Colombian adoptee who traveled from Orlando Florida for the weekend event. “I still find it a little difficult to talk about,” noting however that she felt an instant connection to the group.
Greg, a 39 year-old Colombian adoptee from Brooklyn Heights who was raised by an Italian family in Jackson Heights, said this was the first time he’s actually met other adoptees from Colombia. He had met other adoptees throughout his life but none from Colombia.
“I feel like a personal void in my life is being filled,” said Greg of his weekend experience.
Alicia could totally relate to Greg’s comment adding, “Sometimes you don’t even know the void is there until it’s filled.”
Jared Leib, a 31 year-old Colombian adoptee from the Washington, DC area who described the weekend thus far as “awesome,” didn’t begin to explore his Colombian heritage until he met his wife, a native of Bolivia. They now have two young daughters and Jared felt it was important to connect to his Colombian side to be closer to his wife and children.
“Being here this weekend is very comfortable,” Jared said. “We all know were each other is coming from. I don’t feel like these people are strangers.”
For two friends who met each other years ago, Dana Tobey and Randi O’Donnell, both in their mid 30s, the weekend’s focus was to hear other people’s stories. Dana grew up in Rockland County, NY and lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey and Randi lives in Brooklyn but was raised in Massachusetts.
“I know just enough about being Colombian,” Randi said. She wanted to meet the group to learn more about being Colombian. She had not delved into that part of herself until she was in her late teens.
“There’s just a general curiosity,” Dana said about learning more about her birth culture. She was a bit nervous about the weekend but said “We’re all here for the same thing, to hear each other’s stories,” and added that meeting each other was very “cool.”
Kristen Radian, a 34 year-old Colombian adoptee, said she came across the Facebook group about a year ago and since then has been developing relationships with other Colombian adoptees online. Kristen said she always accepted the fact that she was Latina but was really excited about the weekend because of the number of Colombians she was meeting face to face.
“I hope this is just one of many future meet ups for the group,” said Kristen. “I really enjoy seeing other faces like mine and hearing other people’s experiences and sharing my own.”
Farid Ali, co-owner of Bogota Latin Bistro and who was born in Bogota, Colombia, felt honored when he learned the group had chosen his establishment for their momentous occasion.
“Of all the restaurants in New York, I’m very proud that they chose our place,” Farid said. “I created a little bit of Colombia here in New York City where people can gather and feel at home.”