‘Kids would look at my mother, then at me and say, ‘So, is your dad black?’: International adoptee shares journey, ‘We were meant to be a family’

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“The question that annoyed me the most growing up in school was, ‘So, do you know who your real parents are?’ I would confidently quip back, ‘Those are my real parents,’ but I knew what they meant. I didn’t resemble my family of origin or my extended family at all. They were all Caucasian, French Canadian—many of them tall or big in stature. I was short, skinny, and Mexican. I don’t remember questioning who my ‘real’ family was for a moment because I never felt anything but love and acceptance—a full-fledged member of the Paquette family from the very beginning.

It was late November of 1975 when my parents, Ken and Madeleine Paquette, moved to Central Valley, NY, about 60 miles outside of New York City. A few months later they went to the Orange County offices to get on the list to be considered for adoption. My mother’s heart sank as they told her the waiting list was seven years long and by that time, she’d be considered too old. So, they wouldn’t put them on the list. On the way home, they stopped at a local store and outside there was a snuggly bundle of Alaskan Malamute puppies being given away for free. My mother told my father if she couldn’t have a baby, she wanted a dog. My first sibling would be a 90-pound, fiercely protective, canine brother named King.

A week later, the work wives of my father’s employer invited my mother to a Meet n’ Greet. At the event, a woman named Harriet Rosenberg heard of their adoption dilemma and told my mother she had connections. She wanted to set my mom up with her attorney, who was also her Rabbi. At the time, there were many illegal adoptions happening in NYC and my mother politely declined. But Harriet wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. She called my mother again and again, insisting they meet with her attorney, who had also secured the adoption of her own two children.

‘She’s relentless,’ my mother told my father. And so, they found themselves on a train to the city to meet with an attorney named Seymour. Attorney Seymour told them straight out there were no U.S. adoptions to be had because at the time, abortion had become legal and couples were looking to Canada for babies. But now, even Canada was a long shot. So, he asked them if they’d be willing to adopt from Mexico. Of course, the answer was ‘Yes!’

On August 3, 1976, I was born in the Casa del Sur Orphanage in Mexico City, Mexico to a 19-year-old girl named Reynalda. At this time in Mexico, there were only two classes: rich or poor. She was poor and lived on the streets. My birthfather was unknown and she didn’t have the means to care for me. In the 1970s, you didn’t get to pick the baby or birthmother you wanted, especially in an international adoption. There were no family scrapbooks required to ‘sell’ yourself to the birthmother, and as an adoptive parent, you got whatever baby was born next. My parents were told she was very happy to hear her baby would be going to America.

Adoptive parents hold their newborn daughter they just adopted from Mexico
Courtesy of Gina Masters

In life, we always have choices, and Reynalda had hers. She could have chosen to struggle and raise me on the streets. She could have chosen an illegal abortion. She could have chosen to leave me on a random doorstep, but what came next has always been a message to me and my family from God that we were meant to be a family. When it came time to do the paperwork in Mexico, my parents were required to have a name ready, and they had chosen the name Regina, which in Latin means Queen. ‘It’s so nice that you’re keeping her name,’ the translators said to my parents. It was only in this moment they learned my birthmother had chosen the name Reyna for me, which in Spanish also means Queen.

And Queen I would be. I was brought back to the United States to a home complete with my maternal grandparents living with us full time and my dog brother, King. As the now youngest grandchild with four doting adults, I had all the attention I could ever want. My mom’s sister was the very first one to help care for me when my mother returned home terribly sick from the water in Mexico. The love between my Aunt Adele and I would continue for 43 years and was always one of my most special family bonds until her passing in 2019. When my grandmother died many years before, Aunt Adele was like a second grandmother to me; just as she was a second mother to my mom because of their 17.5-year age difference.

Adoptive mom rocks her adopted Mexican toddler while she drinks from a bottle
Courtesy of Gina Masters

Whatever attention I lacked in the first 6 weeks of my life in the orphanage was now being made up for tenfold. There was rocking in the chairs with my grandparents, reading books during the day with them, snuggling at night on my dad’s lap, and even being rescued from an active fireplace by King. As I toddled to try to reach into the flames, King placed himself between the fireplace and my body while my frantic mother ran to try and stop me. I had 18 first cousins, many of whom were much older than I, and there was never any chatter about me being different in race or even the fact I was adopted.  Every year, as a family, we celebrated October 5th as the official day I was adopted into the Paquette family by the Mexican courts. As a child it was like having a second birthday. This always meant my mom’s special lasagna (my favorite meal) and her double layer yellow cake with raspberry filling and homemade buttercream frosting, along with a gift of some kind.

Adoptive mom smiles while holding her adopted daughter on the floor next to their Alaskan Malamute
Courtesy of Gina Masters
Young girl snuggles with her adoptive dad in the living room during some family quiet time
Courtesy of Gina Masters

So, how did I know I was adopted? First, from a very young age we said nightly prayers, which included asking God to take good care of Reynalda for us. So, I knew who she was, but there’s no defining moment I remember being told I was adopted. Second, I knew I had come from a different country because until the age of two I was still in the process of naturalization. On March 2, 1978, I became a citizen of the United States. One of my family’s favorite photos and stories of me is when my mother taught me to say the Pledge of Allegiance because immigration law said every new citizen had to know and recite it. After working with a two-year-old to say the entire thing, you can imagine her disappointment when they didn’t ask me to say it. My family got a really big kick out of it, though, and it was one of my Aunt Adele’s favorite stories to recall about me.

Little girl internationally adopted from Mexico takes a photo with her citizenship certificated and an American flag
Courtesy of Gina Masters

I was an only child until I was 5 years old. At 4.5 years old, I told my mom the only thing I really wanted was a baby sister. She reminded me, ‘Mommy is unable to have a baby, but if we pray and ask God for a sister and you are meant to have one, it will happen.’ So, we prayed. My sister Katie came into our lives through domestic adoption in 1981 and has some wonderful God moments in her own story. At 8 years old, I asked my mother why people thought only the dark children were adopted? My mother asked why I would say such a thing and I said, ‘Because nobody thinks Katie is adopted.’ My sister happened to look like our father, being fair-skinned with round eyes and tall like him, too.

Young girl adopted from Mexico by parents in the U.S. smiles next to her newborn adopted sister
Courtesy of Gina Masters

As the grade school field trips rolled around, my mom chaperoned nearly all of them because she was one of the few stay-at-home moms. I remember kids looking at my mother and then looking at me and saying, ‘So, is your dad black?’ Honestly, this is the second comment that always annoyed me. Not because the possibility of my dad being black was offensive to me, but because of the ignorance I felt existed—it must be the only possibility of how I came about into my family. In the 1980’s though, adoption was not nearly as talked about, accepted, encouraged, or celebrated. In fact, back then and even more so before then, teasing or threatening your sibling that they might be adopted (when they really weren’t) was a common joke made on television sitcoms.

Young adoptee smiles for a photo with her adopted mom while on a family hike with mountains behind them
Courtesy of Gina Masters

While the world insisted on pointing out I didn’t have the same DNA as my family, I never felt less-than in my own family because I was adopted. We all have family struggles, and we were no different. Hurt feelings, rebellious teen years, and things my parents wish in hindsight they had handled differently all existed. But the message to me about my place in my family was I was not only desperately wanted, but I was chosen when they chose adoption in the face of the hurdles they experienced to get me. They had actually tried a few years earlier before moving to New York without any success. They continued to persevere while God was orchestrating the perfect match.

The Bible says in Psalms 139:13-16, ‘You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book before a single day had passed.’ God knew what He would do when a young Mexican girl found herself pregnant, and a Catholic couple already deterred by the state met a relentless Jewish woman on a mission.

Two young adopted girls take a photo with their grandparents during their grandfather's birthday party
Courtesy of Gina Masters

I have always had a sense of pride about being adopted. I may have been conceived as a ‘mistake’ in the world’s eyes, but both Scripture and my family make it clear there are no mistakes in God’s creation. As an international adoptee from a different era, I have accepted I received no medical history, no name of my birthfather, and have no idea what happened to my birthmother—and all of this is okay. I’ve never felt a need to seek out the past in order to bring value to my present or my future.

I’ve been asked several times over the years if I want to find my birthmother. The answer is no. I have a mother and a father who love me and have been completely supportive of both my sister and I if we ever wanted to find our birthmothers, so it’s not because it might hurt their feelings. It’s because no person (parent, spouse, child, friend) will ever complete us; only God can do so. My birthmother may not want to have a connection with me, and I would support her decision to maintain her privacy as I’d want her to support mine. On my birthday in more recent years, I’ve thought about my birthmother and wondered if she still thinks of that day in 1976. I pray she went on to live a beautiful life and hope she has the peace of God that I ended up with a beautiful life because of her decision.

Family of four take a photo together, all looking happy and comfortable with one another
Courtesy of Gina Masters

I once had a mentor tell me we never truly know the impact our daily lives have on another person, and I believe this is true. When Reynalda chose to give me up for adoption, she started a chain reaction of people, places, events, interactions, and relationships I believe have changed (and have the potential to change) the course of eternity. With complete humility and all glory to God, I can say I know of one couple for certain who will see Jesus face-to-face in eternity someday because of our friendship. Would this have happened without Reynalda’s decision?

To the future parent or couple considering adoption, I cheer for you and thank you for maybe putting aside the dream you had of seeing yourself or your ancestors in another’s eyes. I promise you though, if your ultimate goal is to love a child and create a family, it won’t matter when you finally have the child you were meant to have all along. I would tell you to be honest with your child as early as possible in an age-appropriate way about what you know or don’t know. I would tell you to celebrate their adoption day into their adulthood, reminding them you made a choice and you wouldn’t change a thing. Lastly, I will share one final pet peeve I encourage you not to allow anyone else to do and this is to call them your ‘adopted son/daughter.’ It’s just simply son or daughter. Every time I see this printed in a magazine article, ‘Celebrity star so-and-so’s adopted daughter…’ it makes me cringe. Why does it need to be explained? Are you less of a parent or are they less your child if they don’t share your race or features?

Harriet Rosenberg didn’t think so when she adopted her two children. She told my mother she knew it was her life’s work to find homes for babies, which explained her passion-driven pursuit of my parents to introduce them to her attorney. Harriet met me once shortly after my parents brought me home. As she held me, she told my mother she felt her life’s work was coming to an end. One month later, she was in a horrific automobile accident that left her permanently brain dead. Harriet made a choice. My parents made a choice. Reynalda made a choice. They all said yes to something—a calling, a longing, a decision for something that was hard but would have far reaching impact.

I’ve been married for 15 years now to my husband who was called to the ministry when he was 12 years old. Our individual faith journeys lead us to the same church within one year of each other. We met and married quickly at ages 30 and 33, started a Celebrate Recovery ministry in 2003 that still exists today and continue to dedicate our lives to helping anyone and everyone who is willing through this same program at our new church in South Carolina.

Happy newlywed couple smile big during their wedding reception
Courtesy of Gina Masters
Happy married couple take a blurry selfie with their pet dog
Courtesy of Gina Masters

During my past life in real estate and in various businesses, I’ve helped hundreds of people and families through some of the toughest seasons of their lives. In ministry, I have a group of 26 Worship Team members I’ve been blessed to lead and learn from. There are so many people from different walks of life I’m grateful to have met, as they’ve changed my life too. Oftentimes we think we need to do something that will change hundreds or thousands of people’s lives at once to have it count for something, but I think significantly impacting just one person at a time is the better way to spend our energy. Being adopted did this for me and I have immense gratitude, love, and respect for my family because they took that long, difficult journey. I cannot begin to imagine a different life than the one I have had the joy of living. Please consider supporting your family, friends, and neighbors in their adoption journeys in whatever way you are best able. You could be the Harriet in someone else’s life.”

Proud Mexican woman takes a selfie, wearing sunglasses and a sunhat while enjoying some warm weather outside
Courtesy of Gina Masters

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Gina Masters of Greenville, SC. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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