An adoptee from Colombia, Kara is a child therapist who has found a vibrant community of other South American adoptees in MN.
Photo: Augsburg University, Minneapolis, MN
Photo credit: Asha Belk
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Bogotá, Colombia and adopted at three months old by my parents in Minnesota. I grew up in Eden Prairie, went to college in Minneapolis and have been in the region ever since. I’ve been a special education teacher for five years in Minneapolis Public Schools but I’m currently transitioning to another career as a kids’ therapist. I hope to work as a school therapist in Minneapolis Public Schools.
Why did you decide to transition into therapy?
There are so many aspects of education and teaching that I enjoy, such as getting to know the kids, their families and seeing the kids progress. Between teaching math and reading and other skills, what I enjoyed the most and where I feel my greatest strength lie, was in building relationships with my students. My love of counseling overtook my love of teaching, especially when I found out that there were therapists who actually worked in the schools. So, I decided to jump right in!
I am now pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling at St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis. I’ve been in school for the past three years doing night classes. I’m closer than ever now.
From being born in Colombia to being adopted and growing up in MSP, how did you explore your roots and stay connected to your heritage and cultural identity?
I’ve been reflecting a lot on my adoption and identity. Many people might not know this, but there is actually a huge population of adoptees in Minnesota, specifically from Colombia, Guatemala and other countries in Central and South America. I was lucky to be adopted with a group of kids around my age. Our families stayed in contact as we grew up, we went to each other’s birthday parties. Even though we were spread out around the region, when we got together, we really connected. Growing up, I was one of the few people of color in my class, so it was important to have a connection to other adoptees. Those adopted Colombians are still some of my best friends.
From age five to adulthood, I attended a camp called La Semana (“The Week” in Spanish). It is a culture camp for kids who are adopted from Latin America. At its height, the camp hosted 600 kids every summer, though it has been scaled down now that there are less international adoptions. At this day camp we learned about a different country every year – about the food and culture. We had a life class to discuss adoption which was developmentally appropriate for each age group. We celebrated the end of the week with a big fiesta, with each class performing a dance.
This camp gave me and others like me an opportunity to connect, understand our adoption experience and see that we were not alone. At this camp, I was surrounded by kids who looked like me and who had similar stories and struggles. I feel so fortunate to have had that experience.
I’ve always had a big interest in Colombia, in learning the language and in reconnecting with my heritage. I majored in Spanish and at 18, I went back to Colombia and met my birth family. I’ve been in contact with them for ten years and I try to go back as often as I can.
Every adoptee is different. There is a huge spectrum of how adoptees feel about their adoption: some adoptees don’t want to have anything to do with their birth country or birth family, some adoptees have moved back to their birth country, and everything in between. With social media, a lot of people have been able to connect worldwide. There are huge populations of Colombian adoptees in New York, Norway and Australia. Some people who join our groups have never met a Colombian adoptee before and they are in their 40s and 50s. It’s been a great experience to be able to share stories, discuss our experiences, and be there for each other as a community.
What was it like to reconnect with your birth family?
At the time, in 2011, in Colombia the law was that you could get all the information about your birth family at the age of 18. My family and a couple others were planning to go to Colombia for a trip anyway and for my 18th birthday, I talked to my parents about finding my birth family. This had been an ongoing conversation since I was a young. Although I knew they were open, it was still a relief they said yes, as this can be a huge barrier for some adoptees. I’ve been lucky my parents have always been very supportive.
So, we hired a private investigator and he found them in three weeks. We were floored! In conversation before, the investigator tried to prepare me for the worst case scenarios – that they may not want to meet me or that my birth mother could be dead. At 18, I knew I wanted to meet my birth family, but I didn’t necessarily emotionally or mentally prepare myself for it. Looking back on our first meeting, it was the most dramatic, awkward and beautiful experience I’ve ever had. The investigator brought the family members out one by one, ending with my birth mom. It was emotional, interesting and surreal. It was a lot to process.
The meeting gave me a sense of closure because I spent so many years thinking about her, wondering if I have any siblings, are they okay, what was my story, what was my medical history? After all the questions, to see and hear the answers from the source was surreal. I’m very lucky to have had a positive experience and outcome. I still speak with them often and see them when I go back.
Did you feel a special connection – a blood connection – right away or were these just strangers that look like you at first?
Strangers that looked like me at first (laughs) but since then, I’ve really bonded with them, especially my birth brothers and sisters. Again, transracial adoptees have a wide range of experiences. I know that in the 60s and 70s, a lot of Colombian adoptees were kidnapped from their birth parents and sold for adoption. Through reuniting with their birth families, some found out about the truth about their adoption which can be quite emotional. I know many adoptees who really want to connect with their birth family and restore a lost connection to their identity. Folks search (or don’t search) for so many different reasons.
Did they explain to you why they chose adoption?
I was placed for adoption because my birth mother was struggling to take care of my birth brother. She didn’t have a stable job or income and she didn’t want to “make me suffer like they were suffering” (her exact words). She decided the best option was to place me for adoption. This made me feel some closure. I can’t imagine how hard that decision was for her and how terrible her situation must have been to make that choice.
Where are you able to find a sense of community in Minnesota now?
I’ve been lucky to find pockets of it everywhere. I found community through the school where I work – through the teachers, the students and their families. I also feel connected through learning about different neighborhoods and trying different family-owned restaurants. Last year I did work to support the uprising and got to know many community members who were on the front lines, which also brought me a sense of community.
Also, I’ve lived in Minneapolis for the past 10 years and have made lots of connections throughout the city. I went to Augsburg college, which is really diverse and has introduced me to people from different walks of life. It would be really hard for me to leave Minneapolis because it has so much potential and it’s a really beautiful place.
What are your favorite things about this region?
I love that there are so many places to explore that are accessible to folks living in the cities – lakes, walking paths, community events, etc. Everyone here walks, bikes or swims, people are very nature-oriented. Even in the winter we have access to nature in the city, while some other big metropolitan cities don’t have that. I also love the diversity of restaurants, you can find everything here – Jamaican food, authentic Thai food, Ethiopian food, etc.
There are also so many people doing work to give back to their communities and although they’re not always on the front page of the news, they are working so hard to make this a better place, especially for our marginalized communities.
What do you think could improve about this region?
We could improve how we center our Black community leaders and Black voices. We could improve on the racist practices that continue to harm our Black and brown communities (housing, police brutality, inequitable education, etc). Lastly, we could increase resources for mental health treatment for, especially in marginalized communities.
What type of work did you do to support the Uprising in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd?
Convenience stores and grocery stores were targeted during the uprising, so many people had limited access to get food and other supplies. Holistic Heaux is run by two community members. One of the founding members, Zedé, created the Rebellion Relief mutual aid fund during the uprising. Using donation money, volunteers such as myself went to Cub Foods and bought food and supplies that Black mothers and birthers in the city needed most. We then delivered the food directly to people’s homes. It gave me so much joy and relief to be able to do something helpful. I also became aware of a mutual aid that focused on Trans People of Color in the Twin Cities, called Trans Disabled Care Fund MN. I give monthly donations, which I know isn’t feasible for all.
One thing that I learned from the uprising is that it doesn’t always need to be a money donation, a time donation or physically going to a protest. There are a lot of other things you can do such as having conversations with people who can learn from you and speaking up in your workplace. It is also worthwhile to spend time on self-growth, reading books and working on shifting the way you think and do things.
How did COVID affect you and your community?
Like everyone, it was really, really hard. I took it very seriously and isolated from the beginning of the pandemic until the murder of George Floyd. I didn’t leave my house for almost three months. I feel very lucky that I didn’t lose anyone close to me, although I obviously was very worried about my health and that of others.
The pandemic provided an opportunity to grow my online community. The Facebook group for adoptees from Colombia started weekly sessions for adoptees from all over would to meet, share and support each other through this difficult time. Since we all had time, sitting home alone with our thoughts, these sessions created some much-needed space for reflection.
In MSP, the pandemic affected livelihoods, businesses and our school communities so much. We’re all still trying to recover and heal from it, which feels impossible due to evictions happening, people out of work and COVID still running rampant. In the fall, I am looking forward to starting an internship for my therapy degree. I will teach halftime and do therapy with kids for the other half. So, I will understand how the pandemic has affected the kids’ mental health and will get to help them work through that along with other issues. I really hope that we don’t go virtual but instead get to stay in person with masks.
What advice would you give to someone considering to move to MSP?
Do it, and come here with an open mind! If you’re willing to put yourself out there, there are people who will welcome you. Keep trying new things in new places. There are so many things to do here, so many different kinds of people. You will find community.
What is your call to action?
Start following Black activist and community leaders in MSP on social media – to understand the issues and help amplify their voices. That is whom we need to center right now. It’s time to help amplify and to listen. Examples include: Holistic Heaux, Nadirah McGill, MN Teen Activists, Minnesota Youth for Justice, 38th and Chicago George Floyd Square, Twin Cities Mutual Aid Project and Reclaim The Block.