“My name is Gerardo, and I am adopted…well, sort of.
My story begins as a baby born in the heart of Mexico to two traditionally-raised Mexican parents. We immigrated as a family when I was just two years of age to pursue this whole ‘better life’ thing we kept hearing was just north of us. It was my sister, age 4, my mom, my dad, and little precious Gerardo with not a clue of the amazing, and at times turbulent, journey ahead.
As a baby in the late 80’s, born into a very poor part of Mexico, we didn’t have iPhones or digital cameras, so there are a total of about 2 or 3 pictures of me as a baby.
Nowadays you get 2 to 3 daily on social media from all those sweet parents who just want you to see how cute little Jane or Grady are! What I DO have are memories. Memories of growing up in a land where to begin I didn’t speak the language, and had to also translate for my parents, where I was just a little different than a lot of my classmates in the East Texas town of Sulphur Springs, and where I found a lot of my family. But not the ‘we share some DNA’ sort of family, but in what I believe to be a MUCH more important family connection. More memories approach!
Growing up, we had it pretty good by most standards; a roof over our heads, clothes to wear, food to eat, and two parents who even though they weren’t married, were still together and that counted for a lot.
I leaned on that quite a bit. ‘Life may not be perfect, but at least my family is together and pretty normal, all things considered,’ I’d think. But life was pretty not great in a lot of ways, too. I grew up away from all my family except my immediate family, so I had them and I had my friends from school. Every now and then we’d have the rare visit from an aunt or uncle, who I had little to no recollection of knowing. I met my grandparents just once or twice in my life, so I didn’t have that family connection that a lot of my classmates would talk about from time to time. ‘We went over to Grandma’s house and had a cookout with all my Aunts and Uncles,’ is what I would hear from other kids. Or ‘we’re going to (insert fun place where families go to be families during the summer) next month. It’s always super fun!’ We didn’t have any of that. But that was A-okay! We had each other. But something really weird began to happen at school and it made me feel warm and fuzzy. I began to be validated and encouraged by teachers. Wait, what? This is a thing that grownups do for you? This feels amazing!
Early on I excelled in school for a couple of reasons. The positive affirmation my teachers gifted me gave me such life and energy. I yearned for that. And if the time came when I ‘decided’ to slack off on my grades (anything less than an A) or if I got a negative comment on my behavior on my report card, I knew the consequences. I would go home and there would be yelling. And hitting. I’m not sure which was worse, but I dreaded the bus ride home any time I saw that terrible sight on my report card. ‘YOU ARE AT SCHOOL TO LEARN, NOT TO TALK OR SLACK OFF!,’ is what would be roared my way (but in angry Spanish) with a fury-filled tone of ‘this will not cut it.’ Got it. I will do better. Talk about motivation!
My dad was mostly the disciplinarian at home. Mom would discipline us as needed, but DO NOT MAKE DAD ANGRY. We had many ups and MANY downs growing up. I just wish I had more memories of the ups. One of the saddest things I look back on is I don’t remember hearing ‘I love you.’ From my dad. Ever. I’m sure it happened. It has to have happened! But he was brought up in the traditional ‘macho’ way that a boy in Mexico in the 50’s and 60’s would be brought up. And he would constantly tell me, ‘I had it MUCH worse than you growing up!’ as if that was supposed to make things better. What I do remember hearing way more than a child should ever hear is, ‘You are GOOD FOR NOTHING!’ I heard that over and over, as I tended to be a slow learner and would forget things I was told, which would lead to frustration from my dad. I remember one morning, after a particularly rough previous day, sitting in the bathroom, staring out the window and crying so hard and asking God, ‘Please, send me a new dad. Please!’ Alas, no giant pterodactyl stork came to drop off a shiny new dad. I had a lot of resentment and anger toward him my whole life, but have also given him the grace he deserves in that I truly don’t think he really knew much better. Still, not the childhood memories I would’ve liked to have.
Heading into the high school years, things were still a bit rocky between me and my dad. But my older sister and I had become very close. Best friends close. We talked about everything, went everywhere together, and just really loved each other. But something happened that one summer that literally broke my heart, and I became very bitter and angry with her. A different story for a different time, but I did not speak to her for FIVE years. Most of that time we still lived in the same house. She was even seriously injured in a wreck and I chose not to go see her at the hospital. ‘Oh, she was drinking and driving, like an idiot, but she’s going to be ok? Then good, I’m glad she got hurt. Maybe she won’t be so stupid next time.’ Ouch. Not my most shining moment, but I was very immature and forgiveness was not the first F word in my vocabulary. So that’s an angry dad, a sister I wanted nothing to do with, and mom? She also did her best, but was not the encourager I could’ve used most of the time. You wouldn’t hear, ‘You’re trying out for football? I’m so excited! I can’t wait to go cheer you on!’ It was more, ‘Sounds like a waste of time. You should be doing this instead.’ Mix all that with the hurricane of hormones that were wreaking havoc on me and I was standard angry teen who wanted something to fill the hole in my heart and spirit.
Luckily I had and continued to have amazingly encouraging teachers and coaches who provided an example of what guidance and love could look like. Some of them provided me with love in very crucial times in my life. I wish I could go back and thank all the great teachers and coaches I ever had. Without your leadership, love, and encouragement I may have taken a much different road in life. I was still trying to figure out this whole ‘nearing adulthood’ thing and I was lucky enough to have a fantastic coach/friend the last half of high school. He made school enjoyable, held me accountable to doing the right things, and was such a great encourager. And he let us play HALO during the offseason, so that was pretty great! ound of applause for Coach Holt!
I was also blessed, not in the overused sort of way, but in the I literally think it was an act of God sort of way, to be taken in by a group of my high school classmates that were affectionately known as ‘The Kids.’ These were the sort of kids that parents dream of! Smart, responsible, funny, and all the good things I’m sure parents pray their kids will be someday. For some reason, they thought to invite me into their group, share in the laughs and were just really good to a still-very-awkward me. This group would become some of my best friends in life and still are.
After I graduated, my parents made the decision to move back to Mexico. Both of their kids were ‘grown up’ and there was nothing left to accomplish here. My sister and I were rarely home during this time and most of their friends and family were back in Mexico, so we agreed totally with the decision. But that led to some sad Holidays for a bit! Luckily those friends I just talked about, along with some other friends’ families were abundant with their love and invited me into their homes for Holidays, birthdays, and anytime I needed a place to stay. I felt weird about being there amongst their family. ‘Who is this kid?!,’ I thought they would say. But nope, just warmth, love, and food. And if you know me, you know that love IS food. Ha.
While in college, my friend Jessica tragically passed away in a car accident her first semester in college. Think of the most beautiful person inside and out that you know, and she was that. Not growing up around my family made deaths in the family strange to me. My own grandfather passed away, and all I thought was, ‘Let’s check on mom to make sure she’s ok.’ No sadness about him at all. It didn’t help that he was a terrible person, from what I knew. This made dealing with the loss of a friend very difficult. It was hard to realize I would never see Jessica again, and so many of us mourned with her family that entire Fall. The silver lining is I became very close to her family and consider them to truly be family. I have shared laughs, tears, conversations, and baked goods with them, and they mean the world to me.
Til this day, I continue to have my friends’ amazing and sweet families be a huge support structure and continue to invite me into their homes and their lives. I don’t know that I have enough words to express the appreciation I have for my many families. We may not have the same bloodline, but the things every person needs was given to me in spades by all of them.
[[insert the Armstrongs pic]]
This past year, I achieved one of the most important feats of my life when I finally became a US citizen. It was YEARS of struggle to get there, and one I can wholeheartedly thank my biological family for starting and fighting for this amazing milestone. Though I was not able to have ALL of my tribe with me on that day, I thought about all of the people that showed me love and helped me along the way on that day.
I am eternally grateful to my various families that have done so much for me.
Encouragement, love, laughter, guidance, shelter, safety, acceptance. ALL of those things have been given to me by so many amazing people. One of my biggest strengths is my loyalty. I will defend the people I love to the death, because those same people gave me life. If you can show a child/person the kind of love that makes them feel at home when they are with you, do it. You are making all the difference in the world.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Gerardo Yañez. A version of Gerardo’s story originally appeared on this adoption podcast. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more powerful adoption stories:
‘No one has ever wanted you here. If you find a family that will actually love you, go be with them.’: 26-year-old adopted after years of childhood trauma, abuse, says you’re ‘never too old to need parents’
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