Thursday, November 15, 2007

When I was Jewish

As you probably know, I'm 100% Mexican.

For ten years, I thought I was Jewish.

No kidding.

My adoptive dad told me my birth mother was Jewish. Then he changed the story and said she was Latina, but my father was a German Jew.

When I did well in school, he whispered it was because I had Jewish blood.

Whispered because adoption was a taboo subject. Plus, he's an anti-semite.

So for an entire decade, I began to explore what it meant to be Jewish while raised as a Mexican Catholic.

Then I began to ask, "how did this happen?" I was told that I should have been placed in a Jewish home. And then I got angry. If I had gone to a Jewish family, I could have had a lovely bat-mizvah and been raised around books and my plan to go to college would have been encouraged, not sabotaged. During that time I had kids. So I sent them to Jewish pre-schools. Gosh, I even learned how to make those little triangle pastries and a killer brisket. Okay, a somewhat superficial exploration of my Jewish side, but stilll. You get the idea. A whole lot of time and effort was spent thinking of myself as a Jew. Or part Jewish. A big deal if you're raised with saints on alters and St. Jude on the dashboard. A personal paradigm shift. I LOVED it.

And then in a day, I was no longer Jewish.

My non-identifying information had arrived.

Mother? Mexican. Father? Mexican national of German ancestry.

Confused and furious, I called my adoptive father. "Why did you tell me I was Jewish, for Christ's sake?"

"That's what the social worker told us," he replied. "That your mother was a German Jew."

The lights went off. My narcissistic adoptive father doesn't listen. He can't attend to a conversation like most folks. When somebody is talking about something that doesn't interest him, his mind wanders.

"You mean my father was a German Jew?" I asked, thinking of the German ancestry reference.

"I guess," he said.

More prodding revealed that my adoptive father had added one and one and came up with five. He ASSUMED that my adoptive father was a German Jew who'd escaped to Mexico during WWII. Wrongo.

When I finished scolding him for his error, he said he didn't know what the fuss was about. It didn't matter to him whether I was a Jew or not.

"Gee thanks," I snarked. "That's big of you."

This is the problem with adoption. We adoptees are at the mercy of adoptive parents and others who hold the key to our identity. Obviously, some of them (like my adoptive parents) are not capable of acting in a responsible manner. Either heritage is important. Or it isn't. Society can't have it both ways. You can't have the whole genealogy craze AND simultaneously argue genealogy is no big deal and quit obsessing about it. You can't say, as odious Thomas Atwood did on NPR the other day, that the adoptive family is adequate to the formation of an adoptee's identity, when the adoptive family is sometimes INADEQUATE.

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say be the Jew that you want to be anyway! I think I have the same kind of heritage, if only for the fact that the area of Europe where some of my b-kin are from, that Jews played a dramatic and integral part of the culture there (Czechoslovakia, Poland) - and I admire the Jews anyway, so mazeltov!

I have been reading your earlier posts Nina - I can relate to so much of what you write!!

Sharon
2B True

7:17 PM  
Blogger Andie D. said...

Dear sweet jesus Nina!

"When I finished scolding him for his error, he said he didn't know what the fuss was about. It didn't matter to him whether I was a Jew or not."

In other words, he wouldn't have held it against you? What about how YOU would feel about your heritage? How it would matter to YOU? It's fucking YOURS for crying out loud!

Sorry. I just find this shit frustrating as hell and I want better for you.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Hi Sharon,

When I told my therapist that story - he's Jewish and specializes in narcissistic parents - he couldn't stop laughing. He made me promise I'd write about it someday. So I finally got around to it. Honestly, because of this bizarre experience, I feel like I developed an "inner Jew". Which is nice. If that even makes sense! Thanks for visiting!

ANDIE! That's a narcissist for you! That's how they relate to the world. If it's about somebody else, it's really about them. I've been feeling really down lately so when I read "I want better for you"...it was so lovely and validating. And you know I want that for you, too!!!

10:51 AM  
Blogger Ungrateful Little Bastard said...

Oh Nina this is just nuts!

10:38 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

ULB...Tis nutty! Then again, HE's nuts. And he's just got worse with age, blech.

10:50 AM  
Blogger joy said...

I can see why your therapist was laughing, your afather is so unbelievable, but you are an entertaining writer.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

8:19 PM  
Blogger Searching for answers said...

Nina- This is unbelievable. I am just sitting here with my mouth hanging open. I can't quite comprehend the mentality of your adoptive dad. I have absolutely no words. It just makes me want to scream so I can only imagine how it made you feel.

Also I don't know how you did it but you took a very painful subject and gave it a touch of humor. I guess you had to develop an amazing sense of humor to live with a narcississt dad all of these years.

I'm a Christian but my grandmother was Jewish and I'm very familiar with brisket and all other things Jewish. I just can't imagine how you feel growing up embracing one heritage and finding out it's not your heritage. And your adad's answers are so....so..LAME.

You are a amazing person to be there for this man...that's all I can say. He is BLESSED to have you. Christine (cap)

9:39 PM  
Blogger valerie said...

i am an adoptee of scots/irish ancestry, but for years kids at my school told me i looked jewish. so, like you, i believed it and made some early connections to jewish culture. it's pretty funny (or pathetic?) that i still feel a connection to the idea of being jewish, even though i'm 40 now and know my biological family and everything. some small part of me still feels a little jewish. crazy, what unknown identity can do to the mind.

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