A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father.” While I had been wanting to read this book for a while to learn more about our president’s life story, it wasn’t until the social worker we met at our intake meeting suggested we read it that I finally picked it up. She mentioned the book while we were discussing the implications of becoming a transracial family, and our concerns about wanting to make sure our child is able to maintain and connect with his or her racial identity.
In the book, which was written before he was elected to any office (and therefore is a bit more frank and honest than you might expect from a politician), Obama talks a great deal about his childhood as the product of a white mother and a black father. He discusses his confusion over his racial identity and the decisions he made as a young adult to try to connect with the African-American community and ultimately his family in Kenya. Short of a brief visit in his childhood, Obama never knew his father, and dealt with some issues similar to those an adopted child might feel, wondering why his birth father was not a part of his life.
It is an amazing story. I read with great interest the first section, which was about his childhood, since I may well have a child who has similar thoughts and questions. I connected on many levels with the middle section, about his community organizing work, since you can’t really do community lawyering (which is what I do) without involving some organizing. And the final section about his journey to Kenya to meet his family and discover his roots was breathtaking. I had tears streaming down my face throughout much of that last section.
(Full disclosure: Yes, I am an Obama fan. But I really don’t think you have to be one to appreciate the themes of the book if you are interested in issues surrounding race and identity.)
I’m now just a few pages into Melissa Fay Greene’s “There Is No Me Without You,” which is probably far and away the #1 most-recommended book for families adopting from Ethiopia. This book is about an Ethiopian woman’s work to save the orphans of the AIDS crisis. It is written by a journalist who has adopted from Ethiopia, and, while I’m only about 25 pages into it, I can already tell I’m going to learn a tremendous amount about the Ethiopian culture, the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and the wonderful people who work to take care of children in need in Ethiopia. I know my brief description here is by no means adequate, so I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on the book when I finish it.
These clearly aren’t the light beach reads that one might typically choose for summer reading, but I’m feeling compelled to learn as much as I can, and now is the time to get started. I might just have to throw in a re-read of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price before the movie comes out in July, though, to lighten things up a bit.