‘They Hid My Colombian Culture.’: Woman Who Didn’t Know She Was Adopted Until 19 Is Now Advocating For Adoption Reform

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For many people, adoption means the start of a family. It is commonly viewed as a joyous experience for parents who are able to begin or expand their family. However, the perspective of the children is so often lost in conversations of adoption.

Melissa Guida-Richards hopes to change this culture and help adoptive parents and children understand all parts of the process. After finding out she was adopted at 19, Melissa struggled for years to come to terms with her family and identity.

A school photo of a young girl smiling in a white dress
Courtesy of Melissa Guida-Richards

“My parents raised me, took care of me, etc., but it didn’t erase the harm that they had done. They raised me to believe in the importance of biological ties, knowing where they were raised, the language, the culture, and how important it was to honor that,” Melissa tells Love What Matters.

“When I found out I was adopted, I was very hurt because it seemed like they hid my Colombian culture because it was something to be ashamed of. And despite them doing the best they could as parents, that did not erase the fact that my parents and many people in my family had deep rooted prejudices against people of color,” she says.

A family with a young girl and baby girl pose in their living room
Courtesy of Melissa Guida-Richards

Her experiences as a transracial adoptee have been at the center of her drive to work and advocate for adoptees and ethical adoption. She recognizes the love and care that came from her parents and many other adoptive homes, but does not sugar coat the harm that can still transpire.

“Oftentimes people believe that it’s enough to just love your child, or to provide a home and other basic necessities, but when you are adopting a child of another culture, there are responsibilities that those parents have to incorporate culture, help nurture a strong BIPOC identity in their children, as well as prepare them to cope with racism,” Melissa says on adoptive parents.

A mom and daughter smile with their heads close together
Courtesy of Melissa Guida-Richards

However, it is not just parents who need to learn. Maybe more importantly, the adoption industry as a whole needs to be reformed in order to create more education for parents and resources for the children.

“Adoptive parents as a whole have a lot to learn about how adoption is an industry fueled by CEOs making millions of dollars off of placing children in homes as fast as possible. How there are still to this day so many ethical issues with domestic, international, and transracial adoption,” Melissa tells Love What Matters. “Adoptive parents need to hold adoption agencies accountable and push for more resources for birth parents, education for prospective adoptive families, and financial transparency of agencies to see where the money is going in the for-profit adoption agencies.”

With her platform, Melissa has worked to not only help facilitate these processes, but also lead to her own healing. She has written about her journey in a book titled What White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption and is working on a memoir as well.

A woman smiles in a pink shirt for a headshot
Courtesy of Melissa Guida-Richards

“I hope to help other adoptees see that they are not alone and to provide support for adoptive parents to be fully prepared to be there for their child through the ups and downs,” Melissa says.

In her own personal journey, Melissa has connected with her birth mother, who lives in Bogota, and her two biological sisters. The three are working to travel to Colombia and are raising money for their journey.

“One of my (adoptive) father’s last wishes before he passed away was for me to take the leap and connect with my birth family, and I can’t wait for that day to happen,” Melissa says. “He taught me the importance of family, and having my parents support me in this journey means the world.”

Melissa’s journey and work shows the complexities that can come with adoption and highlights the many struggles of a transracial adoptee. But she also shows there is power in healing and the importance of family, whether biological or adopted.

A family with two young boys pose with their dog outside
Courtesy of Adrienne Jasmine Photography

This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Anna Steingruber. You can follow Melissa Guida-Richards of Pennsylvania on Instagram and her website. To help Melissa and her siblings meet their birth mother, you can donate to their GoFundMe. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘Were you baked too long?’ Tears ran down my face. ‘You’re EXTRA black.’: Transracial adoptee urges ‘family comes in all different ways’

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‘My adoptive mother told me she no longer wanted me when she had her own children. They abandoned me on the streets.’: Gay adoptee becomes advocate after enduring abuse in foster care, transracial adoption

‘Whose children do you have?’ They are not props. We’re like any other family but with different skin colors.’: Mom shares transracial adoption of twins during civil unrest

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