We had a wonderful spring break. We went to NYC and although we have two wonderful boyfriends who are happy to have us stay with them in their apartment in Manhattan almost any time, we spent two of the nights in a hotel, with our Lauren and her daughter, Harriet and then later her husband, Sasha and daughter Ida joined us– in NYC from San Francisco. New York is so exhilarating, and exhausting. We went to In the Heights, a Broadway musical, perhaps only the 3rd of my life and my daughter’s first. We all loved it. I bought the soundtrack a couple of days after we returned and my daughter has wanted to go to sleep to the music and wake up to the music every day. Fortunately I love it too, because we are all singing it and hearing it in our heads, all the time.
Broadway musicals are created to be compelling and fun and catchy– and though it is the only show she has ever seen on Broadway, I don’t think it is a coincidence that this musical, about the multi- ethnic, Dominican and other Latino immigrant neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York–captured my daughter’s imagination. The show is about the very complex and different longings– for home, for success, to keep family and culture intact, to assimilate. It made a big impression on her and on me. When I asked her if she liked seeing a show, she said yes! (This is not a sure thing with her– she has fears of dark theaters and sudden, loud noise, so live performance doesn’t always work so well for her.) And when I asked her did she think she would like to see another show like that sometime, she said– “I want to see that one again!”. I am the same way, reading a poem over and over and over, carrying certain essays and stories with me whenever I travel. Repetition does not bore me– it reveals and brings depth and richness.
Although it was Broadway and the things that happen in the show; things that represent very difficult things in real life, are neatly sewn up by the end– I cannot stop thinking about the themes in the musical. Migration and immigration, the complex questions about home, where is a person at home when you come from a people who have migrated from somewhere to somewhere else? Whether the somewhere else is another neighborhood, another city, another country, another language or culture.
Lately I have thought a lot about the life I have and about the fact of my own family’s migration as Jews, from Europe to the U.S. and then from the Jewish neighborhoods in several different places in the U.S. to a more assimilated lifestyle. Middle class values tend to teach us that this migration and assimilation are the stuff of happy endings– if the migration is in the direction of being more middle class, better and more able consumers, more assimilated. I have been thinking about what was lost. To me personally. What would my life be like if my family had stayed in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up, rather than migrating to the suburbs? What would my current life be like if I had stayed close to my family– and not migrated to the east of the U.S., far from what I still call home? All those things happened, so it’s what I have to work with but it is still useful to take in that there were important things lost. When the character Nina, from In the Heights, drops out of Stanford and returns home– I know the momentum of the show was to see if she could somehow return to school– but I found myself rooting for her to come back to the neighborhood– the barrio– and go to school right there in New York City– to go ahead and get that education she wanted, but not get any further from home.
I am thinking about all of this in relation to adoption, which is, after all, a major migration. For the young person at the very least, it is a migration from one real family to another. From one place that was or would have been home and one group of people– however poor or sick or oppressed or unable to parent– a group of people who were, after all, family– to a new group of people who are family. In our case, the choice made for our daughter required her to leave behind a Chicano family with three older siblings, for this Jewish family of two white mothers where she is the only child. A Spanish-speaking home for this English-speaking one; a neighborhood full of Chicanas and Chicanos. For many young people the migration is from one part of the world to another, leaving behind a whole way of life, national history, language, culture– all of it.
I never quite know how to say what I really think about all this in all its complexity. There are odd, but too-common ways of thinking about all this, like the many people who tell me she is so lucky to have us. I hope that as she grows older she will feel wonderful about this family that she happened to get, that is hers forever– as we already feel about her and have, every day since we met her. But those who are trying to do a calculation of whether our children who were adopted are better off with us than they would have been–mostly , I think it’s really the wrong question. It is. She is with us; and like any parent, if we do a good job, that is definitely a good thing; our relationships are real and rich and enormous and messy and interesting and deep and full of successes and mistakes and definitely lifelong.
In our family, I think, (though time will tell) we are incredibly close and I feel fortunate to have been able to figure that out. I don’t stop thinking about the fact that these circumstances and what was left behind do matter a great deal to my daughter and to all our children who were adopted– whatever they do or don’t have to say about the whole thing. These circumstances shape how she sees the world and her circumstances are part of the fabric of the deepest feelings she carries inside of her. About home, about comings and goings, about connection and permanence and what for each of them is beautiful or interesting or real. About race and class. About all kinds of things I am not even thinking of and perhaps cannot think of– things that I hope later she will continue to teach me about her experience. As I begin to unravel the threads of what migration meant to my Jewish family I cannot help but think about my daughter’s migration into our family. Her migration away from her neighborhood, language, long history, culture, older siblings and immediate and extended birth family.
She is wonderful, whole, intact, exuberant, funny and with it– but hers, like that of many peoples of the world, is a big, huge story to have. With big losses as well as enormous love and a real family– us. And her story is also my story– as a parent whose job it is to love her and to think about her and the whole of who she is, her history and her present time and the slant of her particular circumstances. Regardless of what she does or does not express about her own migrant history.
When I listen to the music (as I am doing right now, more than once a day) from In the Heights I am especially touched by a couple of lines sung by the main character, Usnavi, in the song It Won’t Be Long Now. He sings about his love interest, Vanessa– “I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from, I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from.” There is terrible loss as well as the creation of new and interesting relationships, communities and love in migration. The longing and sadness about the past is there to be felt, figured out, thought about, respected and honored, as is the sadness but also the sweetness of the present day.