By: Pasha Yates, Employee Experience Specialist with QMG
Since 2014, every year on November 9, World Adoption Day encourages all voices in the adoption community to share their stories, reflect on their adoption journeys, and connect with those touched by adoption. Every adoption story is different. The adoption community is invited to celebrate this day by drawing a smiley face on your hand and sharing your journey on social media using #WorldAdoptionDay.
“Wait…you’re adopted?” I get this question more times than you would think.
I’ve been posting articles, stories, and resources on the internal QMG DEI page for almost two years now, and I have yet to share my own story. There’s no better time than World Adoption Day for me to share my journey. My story is long, so bear with me. This is the first time I’ve ever written it out. Picture this…
It’s 1993. The year that brought you the fall of Escobar, President Clinton was sworn into office, the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII, the movie Groundhog Day was released, the U.S. Air Force now allowed women to fly warplanes, the levee in West Quincy broke causing the big flood of ’93, and brought two-year-old Pasha to the United States of America.
Rita (aka, me) was born in March of 1991 and placed in an orphanage in Ahmedabad, India. I’m not sure of the exact timeline, only that I was in the orphanage for a couple of years. Many ask if I remember my time there, and honestly, I do not. However, when I was younger, I would recall through my actions or verbally certain things to my parents that they would then repeat back to me or share with me what they learned through the adoption process. From what I recalled, in the orphanage, we ate brown bread, green bananas, and brown rice. We slept on rugs on the ground and did chores, such as folding cloths. The small girls followed the big girls around and chased mice. The orphanage was located near a very wealthy family, who would donate their children’s clothes. We do not know who my birth parents are or anything else about my family history. While I don’t remember much from my time in India, what I do remember was my journey and transition to the U.S.
December 22, 1993, at two-and-a half-years old, I traveled with a woman named Hallie from Ahmedabad, India, to Paris, France, to Washington, D.C. That is where I met the person I call, “Dad”. From there, my dad and I flew to St. Louis. On the plane, I sat on his lap, ate Cheerios, and fell asleep… some would say, a real daddy-daughter bonding moment. Now remember, I came from India where the temperature in December is in the 90s, and I arrived in the Midwest three days before Christmas. Talk about a culture shock…brrr! (Back then, December still got pretty cold.) When I arrived in St. Louis, I met my mom and my bestest friend in the world, my sister.
As I reflect back to that time, so many short and minuscule memories whirl around in my head. I remember seeing photos of my sister drying my tears when I got off the plane. I remember my hair was cut off because it was a ratty mess and I sat on the hotel bathroom counter as my mom picked lice out of the hair I had left. I remember not being able to understand a word my new family was saying to me, and in return, they could not understand me either. I remember being terrified of bathtubs for years because in the orphanage, as punishment, they would hold your head under water. I remember that I still found it comforting to sleep on the rug of my bedroom floor. I remember being absolutely obsessed with my dad because of the bond we created on that airplane ride home. I remember my favorite thing to do was go to the grocery store with my mom to look at all the colorful food and pick out green bananas. I remember refusing to fly on an airplane for literally decades because no matter what my parents told me, I believed planes only went to and from India, and I never wanted to go back. I remember experiencing snow for the first time and catching snowflakes in my mouth. I remember my mom would comment on how good my fine motor skills were when I came, as I could fold towels with edges so crisp. I remember being so incredibly grateful that my parents chose international adoption, and to this day, I never forget the second chance I was given, and the three people who welcomed me into their family.
For those wondering, I do not have a birth certificate; instead I have a certificate of foreign birth. When I was in second grade, I went to court and officially gained full U.S. citizenship. I remember bringing popcorn balls to celebrate with my classmates… exciting times for all!
When some people hear my adoption story, they feel sad for me. But I remind them, that adoption can be a life-changing beautiful journey. December 22, 1993 — My Family Day — we celebrate that day every year just as much as my birthday.
Before I wrap my story up, I want to take the opportunity to shed some light on the DEI perspective of growing up in the Midwest as a family with two adoptees. I faced questions like… “Where did you come from?”; “Why are your parents white and you’re not?”; “How are you and your sister two months apart — that’s not possible?”; “Are you black?”; “Do you ever want to go back and find your birth parents?” (btw…no); “Did your birth parents just not want you?”; “Pasha…that’s a strange/interesting/different name.” Or, in high school, when I was one of four students of color, and the teachers got out of a staff meeting that obviously discussed diversity enrollment numbers, and about five of them bee-lined towards me, loudly asked me in the hallway in front of everyone, between classes, where I came from and where my sister came from. Talk about being called out! Or after September 11, 2001, attacks and I was warned that people might look at me differently or make strange faces at me because I looked like I came from that part of the world… I was 10, and yes I did get a few stares.
Growing up in Quincy, in mostly private school, these aren’t questions or situations my peers faced. For those who know me, know that I do not wear my feelings and emotions on my sleeve. At a young age, I preferred to just answer the questions and move on. Sometimes these questions made for awkward moments and internal feelings of discomfort, feeling obligated to share my history with peers I didn’t know that well, unconscious biases, and having to replay my past at a moment’s notice. That can be hard for an adult to do, let alone a child. I don’t say this to make anyone feel bad for asking questions or feel sorry for me, because sometimes those who ask questions, are drawing on their own visuals, perspectives, and curiosities. A lot of times, these questions and situations started with adults. I would not have felt differently on the inside, if an adult had not pointed it out to me. I share this so that we can encourage both children and adults. Such as, “Tell me about your past,”or “Pasha…that’s a pretty name. How did your parents come up with it?”or “Oh, you’re adopted…I want to learn more about that, would you mind sharing?”
If you’ve made it this far… thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read my adoption story, the unconscious biases I navigate through, and I encourage you to continue to ask questions and learn more about different cultures and your peers. Just be cognizant of how a simple question or comment to you, might be interpreted differently by someone else, and share those tips with others in your life.
As for me, I am proud of my story. It’s what makes me unique and has given me an added lens on life. My parents chose to adopt me, they chose to give me a second chance. They chose to lean into the hard times I had transitioning to America at such a young age. While I’m sure at times they questioned their decision (let’s be real…I was not an easy kid), they did not give up on me. That is what carries me to who I am today. Let’s embrace the diversity around us and welcome it with open minds and open hearts.