Where are you from?  This is a relatively simple question. The majority of people would respond to this question with their place of origin and move on to the next question without giving it much thought at all. For me this question was always complicated. When I replied with either “I am American” or said “I was from New York”, most people would look into my almond shaped eyes, gaze at my jet black hair, olive skin and some cases, look at my pale white skinned family and not be satisfied with this answer.  Their urge to stuff me in a box would get the best of them and the next question was always sure to follow. “Where is your family from, your heritage?” My response was usually long complex and confusing for them and myself.  In some cases it came off as too much information for the first encounter. I would first explain that I was born in Colombia and adopted into Jewish family, so I am a Colombian Jew, but my Grandmother is  from Czechoslovakia,  and I was born on St. Patricks day, so all in all I am a Colombian Czechoslovakian Irish Jewish American.

To some this might sound a little confusing.  For me when I looked at family pictures I felt like I was looking at one of the “Which one does not belong” activities. Compared to my pale White skinned, tall, overweight family my very dark features, olive skin and short stature was surely obvious that I was “different”.  I was also made to believe that I was a “white Jewish girl”.  I grew up hearing very insulting comments towards Latin people as well as black people.  This was very confusing to me because I wanted to be proud of being Colombian, but I was always told not to go out with Latino men and that I should bring home a “nice white Jewish boy”.  I always felt this strong pull to belong and be fully accepted for the Colombian girl that I was even if I was not able to put this in words, innately this loss of my true identity tugged at the strings of my inner soul.

I would find myself looking to the Latino cliques for acceptance, to only be met with rejection and jokes.  When Spanish was spoken, it was reviled that I was a “fraud” by my blank stare of confusion.  This rejection was something that I held onto unknowingly for years. I was so unsure of exactly who I was I would try everything and anything to fit in to be accepted and make friends.  Many times these behaviors were extremely self destructive mentally, physically, and spiritually.

After that long winded answer out of the way, I was usually bombarded with the typical follow up responses and questions. “Oh my god, I am so sorry!” To this I would respond what are you to be sorry for, I have a wonderful family who loves me.  If that was not one of the choice responses then 1 out of 3 times I would get the question, “Do you ever want to find your birth family?”  To this question most of my life the response to this question was “no”, I really never had any desire to.  To my surprise one day earlier this past year when asked this question by my shrink, I replied with confidence, “yes”.  For the first time I was truly contemplating the possibilities of carrying out the search.

At this time I was working as a Social Worker at a youth center in New York, I was enrolled in a Masters Program for Social Work, I had a decent apartment, wonderful friends, but I still felt an emptiness that would not go away. I had always a deep urge to understand and help people, which had led me to the field of Social Work, but I knew that in order to be the best Social Worker, best friend, girlfriend and best me that I could be I needed to help myself first. I finally realized that for me all of my insecurities, lack of self confidence, lies, trying so hard to be liked by everyone, and promiscuity all had a root that stemmed around not truly knowing who I was or where I came from.  My whole life I fantasized about who my birth family was, what they looked like, and the reasons why I was given up.  The time was finally right to put my mind, heart and soul to rest.

Now that the seed had been planted in my mind, this was something I was committed to,  no matter who told me that it was impossible, or that I was crazy, I was a runaway train that couldn’t be stopped until I found what I was searching for.  The only big problem was that I was searching for a needle in a haystack.  I only knew that I was adopted from Bogota, Colombia, my birth date March 17th, and my name Erica Brooke Asher. I went to the office of immigration and the women sitting across from me and my boyfriend uttered the words, “I have the name of your parent’s in my system, but I have a different name for you.” I glanced at my boyfriend with tear filled eyes as the lady passed a paper where she had scribbled the name “Graciela Tibaquira”, and said “this is your birth name”.  My heart was pounding from joy, we finally found the “needle”.

Now that we had the key to unlock my past we were able to move on to the next step, Colombia.  As I was sitting on the plane to Colombia, my stomach was in knots and I had a never vanishing smile across my face, I knew this was going to be successful.  I was scared, excited, amazed and determined.  I am so ever lucky to have shared this amazing experience with my boyfriend. When you are on the right path many times the circumstances and situations that would normally have been very complex ends up running extremely smooth.  This was the case for the next chain of events.

I realized a month into our stay in Colombia that my passport was about to expire.  The city that we were in, Medellin, did not have an American embassy so as life would have it, we were forced to go to Bogota. We had a friend of ours named Lenin that lived there and worked for the government. He was more than willing to help us as much as he could, and help he did. Lenin was able to lead me to the paper trail of my birth certificate, where I found my mother’s name, Emilce Tibaquira. This information in turn led me to find out that my mother was living on the streets, the last two addresses of where she was arrested, and a small black and white picture of her.  Needless to say I was so amazed that we had gotten this close this fast.  We decided to take our search to the streets. For the next 3 days we walked in the freezing rain and cold through some of the worst drug infested places I have ever been before handing out homemade flyers, but we were really not getting anywhere. Just as we thought we were hitting a brick wall we found the opening we needed to complete the puzzle.  A young girl about the age of 18 told us that she knew who my mother was and was willing to take us to her.  She led us down town to another drug spot. Her mother turned out to be the drug dealer of this area. She explained to her who I was and then disappeared into a run-down crack house and reappeared with a small fragile looking women who had a slight confident swagger to her step. As she approached me, my boyfriend whispered into my ear, “here comes your mother”.  I had chills run up and down my arms. My mother asked me in Spanish, “Usted es Jenny?” I replied, “No, yo soy Graciela”. Instantly she burst out in tears and grabbed me close to embrace me.

This moment was amazing.  After 29 years, I was reunited with the women who brought me into this world. I gazed into her eyes and saw apart of myself for the first time in my life.

Now the answer I have been wondering about my whole life could finally be answered.  How did I end up in America?  I found out that my mother had runaway with a boyfriend of hers from her house in Cali when she was 14 years old.  Her boyfriend unfortunately led her into the life of drugs.   My father was named Edgar, he had been shot and killed by gangsters many years before. When my mother became pregnant with me she had me living in a very horrible bad drug spot in the 80’s known as “Cartucho”, where I was raised for the first three months of my life.  I was taken away from my mother by the police since this was not any environment to raise a child in.  My mother frantically called my grandmother in Cali to come and rescue her daughter. My grandmother got on the first bus that she could heading to Bogota with all intentions of raising me since my mother was not in shape to do so herself at this time.  To her tragic disappointment, she was faced with the fact that her granddaughter, had been taken away two days prior to the United States by a family who wanted a child to raise and call their own.  She was two days too late.

The truth is not always pretty, but now I know.  There is no more asking maybe this happened or that happened I know where I came from how I got where I am and now I can finally move on and go to where I need to be.  Everyone who has been adopted has many different feelings about this, but for me this is what I needed to do.  THE TRUTH HAS SET ME FREE!!