By Shari Levine. Nathan is a believer. He believes in himself, his birth and adoptive parents and in open adoption. Nathan, a 16-year-old OA&FS open adoptee, came to me with a question: can I give back to the agency by volunteering? As a student at the Oregon Episcopal School (OES), he was asked to complete a community service project. For Nathan, coming back to the origins of his story, Open Adoption & Family Services, was the perfect place to start. Giving back to the community isn’t a new concept to Nathan. As a diversity team leader at his school, he’s spoken at two national diversity conferences on his experience as a biracial teen who was raised in a transracial open adoption. At the Student Diversity Leadership Conference he formed his own affinity group of teens who were not only racially diverse, but were also adopted. Out of the 19 that joined the group, all of the teens were adopted internationally, except Nathan. He’s learned that he has a unique experience and a desire to have his voice heard. Here is my interview with him.
Shari: Tell me about your open adoption.
Nathan: Adoption has always been just a natural part of my life. Nothing has been kept from me. My parents have a close relationship with my birthparents. My birthmom is an attorney now in Eugene and we have a good relationship. When I was eight years old I wanted to learn more about my African American heritage and I was able to meet my birthfather, Alphonso. He lives in Australia now and we Skype a lot.
Shari: Were you aware of the relationship building between your birth and adoptive parents that went on behind the scenes to make things seamless for you?
Nathan: Not at all. I’m aware of it now though. They each must have had their own fears and insecurities. But they’ve all been so up front with me about how important I am to them. It’s turned out really well for all of us.
Shari: How has your identity as a biracial person developed?
Nathan: I knew I looked different from my parents when I was about six. By the time I was 11 I identified as African American. When I read about African American history, I can empathize with it. When I hear about the Trayvon Martin case, I know racial injustices are still happening in the world today.
Shari: Have you experienced discrimination?
Nathan: I’ve heard offhanded comments like, “it’s good that you’re the other kind of black (safe as opposed to dangerous)”. Or sometimes when I’m with my parents I’m mistaken for a friend of the family or an immigrant, instead of their son.
Shari: How has that impacted you?
Nathan: Well it’s strange because I’m not white, but I’m not black either. I suppose I could feel like an outcast, but instead I see myself as included by both. I hope someday I can be the bridge between them.
Shari: What have you learned from your open adoption experience?
Nathan: It’s shown me that there’s many ways of going about things. It’s made me more open and given me a bigger world view. If I can have two families, there can be magic in the world.
As a part of his internship at the agency, Nathan will be speaking at our seminar to prospective adoptive parents; presenting on transracial adoption at our Waiting Family group; creating a support group for OA&FS teen open adoptees; and becoming an open adoptee teen mentor. Nathan has a dynamic and fascinating future ahead of him. We are so pleased that his open adoption experience has been ripe with opportunities to integrate the two halves of his identity. This has clearly enabled him to approach that future with the confidence that comes from knowing you are fully supported and deeply loved, by all of the important people in your life.