I am adopted from Paraguay and have two dads from very different backgrounds–one is white and only has one family member; the other is Asian-American and has a huge family scattered all across the West Coast.
With that side of my family, there is always something going on. We follow a tradition where we honor our ancestors a few times a year by taking chicken, incense, and paper money to the cemetery. We lay everything out in front of the gravestones, light the incense and burn the paper money. Then we bow three times before each of our ancestors to show our respect. My grandparents teach us Chinese calligraphy, showing us new ways to communicate and connect with our family roots.
I remember little about my birthplace or my family. But two years ago, I went to visit my mother for the first time in Paraguay. We went to my aunt’s house where I met my mother and although I had never seen her before, I knew that we were related somehow. It amazed me that something so different can suddenly feel so close and similar.
Throughout my life, the thing that has kept me feeling safe and care-free is my community and friends. I spent most of my life in a cohousing community on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and went to school with a core group of friends from kindergarten through eighth grade—an experience I’ve only recently come to fully appreciate. My friends and I have learned about the world together.
In fifth grade, we went on a field trip to the San Juan Islands just north of Seattle, where we camped and learned about the wildlife in the local ecosystem. Discovering the wilderness with friends—and learning how humans are a part of the whole natural system—was wonderful. We had a great time learning and formulating ideas together. I remember camping on the beach and realizing how much nature can entertain you if you just allow it.
When I was in the 7th grade, my family moved to Costa Rica for a year of language and cultural immersion. It was a time of excitement, fear, and uncertainty. I had to adjust to a new life, a new house, a new school, and new friends. At first, my brother and I did not meet many people. But as soon as school started I made friends quickly. I realized that there were so many aspects of the world that I did not understand and was not exposed to in the United States. I became interested in learning more about the world and especially about how people communicated with each other.
Being a seventh-grader with two dads was not as unique as I thought. I learned that everyone has a different family, and mine was just one among many kinds.
Now that I live in Seattle, I see how helpful living in a small community was when I was young. It gave me the time to think about the world, develop opinions, and create strong relationships. Having the same friends from kindergarten through eighth grade was probably the biggest influence on my feeling of community. I have told many people about being adopted and having two dads. It isn’t hard or embarrassing because everyone is “different” in some way.
My family not only supports, but encourages me to make a difference in the world, and my real passion is working to make this society a better place. Being able to understand a lot about the world that I live in helps me to feel not only supported but confident that my family will have my back no matter where I am or what I do.
16-year-old Rafael Regan wrote this article for What Happy Families Know, the Winter 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Rafael lives in Seattle and hopes to pursue his interest in urban planning, the environment, and social justice in the future.
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Love Without Ownership
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- More stories from , the Winter 2011 issue of YES! Magazine
9 progressive policies to support our families.
A celebration of friendship, family, love, and laughter.