Thursday, June 28, 2012


I have always been jealous of people who had deep family roots and history. I've always wondered what it was like to have a culture and past to anchor and ground you. I've always felt adrift, with our family history being murky at best.
Mom was adopted from St. Joseph's Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1952.
The story she always told was that her birth mother was Navajo.
She was 8 years short of 1960, when the Navajo Tribal Council voted "The Navajo Tribe condemns the removal or attempted removal of any Navajo minor from the Navajo Reservation by any non-member without the prior approval of the Advisory Committee, except for the purpose of attending school under a non-sectarian program approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, provided however, that the Navajo Tribe does not condemn the removal of Navajo children from the Navajo Reservation by their adopted parents pursuant to a final judgment of adoption rendered by the Trial Court of the Navajo Tribe under said resolution." The preference now is to allow someone within the tribe to adopt a child before they are lost to the reservation, and the tribe.

There are 22 tribes in New Mexico. The majority of the population of New Mexico has either Hispanic or Indian or Metzo-Indian ancestry. So it's not a bad bet that if you're a native of New Mexico that you have some culture or history to pull on.

When I was in Santa Fe in 2010 for my last summer of grad school, I spent hours on the phone with the adoption contact in Albuquerque trying to figure out how Mom could get access to her records to see if she was indeed Navajo. While she had always claimed this culture as her own, she had never been able to get confirmation. New Mexico has closed adoptions, which requires a lawyer to open, but there is a provision to get a representative of the court to view your records for the purpose of seeing if there is information in the record proving tribal membership.You can apply (and pay) to have them look, and they can report to you whether or not your parents were Indian, and can help you file the paperwork for tribal membership.
She needed to fill out some paperwork, and submit a copy of her birth certificate. I got everything she needed and made sure she got it.
She never filed it.
When Mom died, I came across the paperwork, so I contacted the adoption office in Albuquerque to see if I could get access to the records. Despite the fact that I am her daughter, the only person who could access the records was Mom, and now that she's dead, there is no way to access the records.

I have no information on my birth father, and have never met him. Mom used to say I looked like him, but that's all the information I have.

So here I am- 36, no Mom, no history, no heritage.

When I visited Lance's dad, Hank in Hilo, Hawaii, I was overwhelmed by the the family history. Hank is very involved with the Community Center and gathering pictures tracing the history. There's a whole group involved with keeping up with the history of Camp 5 on Piihonua Road in Hilo, Hawaii. They are the descendents of people who worked on the sugar and pineapple plantations.

That's Hank in the background near the wall at Pi'ihonua Kaikan.

 Here's Hank walking into Pi'ihonua Kaikan to introduce me and show me around.

Hank lives in the home his mother raised six children in. His family emigrated to Hawaii from Okinawa and his father eventually returned to Okinawa, leaving his mother to raise all of the children on her own.
The Shimabukuro family tree is huge, and confusing, with many of the aunts, uncles, and cousins having the same name.
They can trace their ancestry. They are surrounded by their own history- on Piihonua Road, there is a plethora of relatives' homes. Hank is 81 and has stories of the tsunami that struck when he lost classmates, life on the plantation, and lots and lots of stories about family. There are stories of parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Cousins, aunts, uncles and

It's a rich heritage and culture and I am very jealous.
I have no black and white pictures of ancestors. I cannot trace my ancestry. I have no stories to pass down. And even if I did, there is no one to pass them down to.
My family consists of my sister, Alexis and my step-father, Lance. Lance has a huge family, but I'm 36, and his step-daughter, so it's not like I have a lot of access to all of that history.

In the modern world, that seems to value family and history less and less, perhaps this is not such a spectacular thing. There are lots of people with history, who have no desire to be tied to it. Perhaps it's a case of you always want what you do not have. Those with a rich history and family heritage have no desire to be tied down by it. Those of us without history have a hunger for something to ground us.

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