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Adopted: the journey of identity

Huntington University is not the only word that would connect Cristina Johns, Marco Evens, and Tom Bergler. Adoption does too.

Cristina Johns, film production major, 5’2, long black curly hair and brown, describes herself as a Christmas present given to his adoptive parents, both Caucasian and Indiana raised.

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MEMORIES: Cristina Johns poses with pictures she has of her foster family in Guatemala, only six months old. (Photo by Laura Caicedo)

Her story begins in Guatemala City, 1998. His biological father flew the city so her mother decided to give her up for adoption. Her mother couldn’t read nor write, so her grandfather had to sign the adoption papers.

“I had this really deep like – it sounds terrible – this deep hatred for being given up,” Said Johns. “Because it gives this sense of abandonment and I felt like ‘if the first person that should’ve loved me unconditionally didn’t want me, who could love me?’”

Her adoption process started even before being born. June 28th, her mom gave birth to her and then she was sent to a foster home for 6 months and three days before Christmas, she got “home.”

Jana Hunsley, graduate research assistant at Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development, said through an email interview that though there is not a “proper” age to adopt a child, it is naturally best to adopt them as young as possible so that they can receive all the nurturing care during their critical first three years of development. When a child is adopted during the first year, their memory doesn’t recall most of their life lived in their birth country, illnesses, paperwork process, foster home life, etc., which will in some way benefit their adoptive parents and them as well.

Johns, though she had some pieces of the puzzle, had the full picture complete when she was 11 years old when her parents sat her down and told her she was adopted and showed her the attorney papers.

She always knew she was different, but now with confirmation, she tried to connect to her roots.

“My mom and my dad always got me books about my ethnicity, so that helped because they didn’t – don’t know – how to teach me that side.” Said Johns.

The Latina community, which she thinks of herself as part of, has helped her grow in her ethnicity and how she perceives herself.

“It’s hard to see people that look like me,” said Johns. “Maybe they are from the same country as me, and they speak Spanish or they speak a dialect or anything like that and it’s extremely hard for me to look at them and be okay with the culture I grew up in and be okay that I don’t have that sense of culture … but that’s okay because I get to learn it.”

She thinks that a language or where a person grew up should define what someone believes their culture is. 

“When I’m speaking Spanish or when I’m involved in something that is of my country or of my people, it feels right.” Said Johns.

When asked about how people react when she tells them she is adopted, she says that she gets mixed reactions.

“The funniest has been my friend,” said Johns. “She was sleeping at my house one day and she just rolled over and before we fell asleep she said, ‘Why are your parents white?’ And I was like ‘I’m brown and I’m adopted.’ And she was like ‘I’m sorry …’ and I was like ‘What? Why are you apologizing?’”

The biggest example, she says, is her boyfriend, Otto.

Adoption is sometimes a sensitive topic to her because is hard to not see a face that looks like her during family reunions, but she says that her boyfriend has been very loving and caring in those moments. 

“I actually love saying that I’m adopted,” said Johns. “I love saying that I’m from a different country. I love that, I absolutely love it because it makes me ‘me’ and it makes me unique … and it sets me apart.”

Marco Evens, animation major, 5’3, was also adopted from Guatemala when he was only three months old. He went through a foster care agency, his biological sister, three years younger than him, was also adopted by an American family in Kansas, they are still in contact thanks to her sister’s biological mom reaching up to him since she was a representative for the agency in which both were put into adoption.

“As far as I’m concerned,” said Evens. “I was raised a Hoosier and that’s where my roots lie.”

Evens feels no real desire to go back any time soon to Guatemala. He says there is nothing for him there to do. His biological sister does want to go.

“She wants to see family, see if she can find her birth mother and everything … our birth mother, I guess.” said Evens, while chuckling at the end of the sentence.

With having an adoptive sister from South Korean, two-and-a-half years younger than him, he sees his family as cultured but also Caucasian, as both his parents are from Indiana. 

The Bureau of Consular Affairs estimated that in 1999, US citizens adopted 15.719 Guatemalan children, 7.949 of which were under one year old. In 2017, only 1 child was adopted from Guatemala by American parents. United States wise, there were 271.833 adoptions in 1999, from which 95.420 were under one year old. In 2017, there were 4.714 adoptions, from which 15 were under one year old. 

Though the stereotype is that US citizens adopt more children internationally, statistics show otherwise.

That is the case of Tom Bergler, professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University.

Before marrying, he and his wife already had interest in adopting. After marrying and failing constantly at getting pregnant, going through infertility and miscarriages, they decided to look into adopting. They found an agency and filled all paperwork to adopt a baby from China, but there was a huge slowdown since there was a huge number of applications coming in.

“We were looking at a many-year wait.” Said Bergler. “When we entered into the plans to adopt from China they were saying it usually takes about 14 months for your application to receive when you’re matching with a child and it went suddenly from 14 months to 8 years.”

It brings a contrast between John’s and Evens adoption. For both, the process took one to two years, from applying to parents getting their child. But for Bergler, the process was different. 

For adopting children from China, Elizabeth Curry, from Adoption.com writes in an article about how the rates of childbirth in China are increasing, and if babies are being put into adoption, they are adopted domestically not internationally. Most babies that are adopted domestically are babies with special needs, which will inevitably change the rates of adoption.

Bergler and his wife decided then to look for a different option. Their agency, Bethany Christian Services told them that they needed more people willing to adopt babies from Indiana, so they signed up for it.

Their daughter, Anne, turned 10 this year. Born in Fort Wayne, a Friday, Bergler and his wife picked her up Sunday, just three days old. 

“Usually when people are planning to have children, they don’t have to go to the police station to get a background check.” Said Bergler. “It’s not the end of the world, but you do feel a little bit like, ‘Am I good enough to be a parent without doing all of this?’ it’s worth it in the end, but it’s unpleasant.”

But the immediate love that he felt for her indeed paid off all the paperwork, sadness and stress that adoptive agencies had put him through.

“I’ve faced health issues and not knowing my family’s history,” Said Johns. “But I think it’s great that I got to experience all those emotions because I feel that it makes me a better person … to be able to sympathize and empathize with people.”

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