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My Peeps are Whiteys
By Meika Rouda

I've always hated my nose. It is short with a wide bridge that plateaus off the tip landing with a thud. There is nothing elegant or sculpted about it, unlike my mom's nose, which could have been the prototype plastic surgeons used for rhinoplasty in the '80s. My nose has no structure or shape that gives it any dignity. It is just shapeless, with perfectly round nostrils like a baby's. When I was a kid, I marveled at how my index finger fit into my nostrils, while my friends had to forcefully cram their fingers inside.

I was never angry that I didn't inherit my mom's nose because it was impossible. We don't share the same DNA. I was adopted and never knew my heritage. I know DNA doesn't really mean much. Not everyone relates to their family, but at least you know where the manic depression, extra-long second toe or hairy arms are from. You have someone to thank and to blame for your assets and deficiencies. A cord of disheveled genetic code that makes you… you.

I always looked different than my family, my skin a shade darker, my eyes and hair a milk chocolate brown. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-eyed, and my adopted sister also has blonde hair and blue eyes. When we were all together, I sometimes felt like the Sesame Street skit where they show three circles and one square singing, "One of these things is not like the other." It didn't matter to me because my parents loved and adored my sister and me. We were constantly told how special we were because they chose us to be theirs. They rejoiced in how lucky they were to be our parents. Adoption was something to be proud of. My sister and I always knew we were adopted and were mercifully spared the sit-down at age thirteen to be told, "We aren't your real parents." My mom gloated in skipping the nine months of bloating, weight gain and moodiness most moms endure. I grew up in a free-spirited house with a jokester Polish/Jew lawyer dad and an Irish/French beauty queen mom. They were loving, fun and, best of all, mine. I never cared that the kids in my first grade teased me that I was an "Indian". Approaching me with one arm up, palm facing out, they greeted me with "How" and then hopped around on one foot patting their mouths "Awwwaaaawwwaa." I taunted them back with the fact that I was more loved than them because I had two sets of parents, even if I only knew one pair.

When I left the cozy, liberal blanket of the Bay Area to attend college in upstate New York, people were interested in my foreign looks and asked what my nationality was. I lied most of the time and said whatever came to mind, "Italian!" "Greek!" "Moroccan!" Sometimes, when feeling spirited, I would just answer, "I don't know, I was adopted." My unusual name helped spur their interest. "What kind of name is Meika?" they would ask, fruitlessly searching for clues to my identity. While at college, I dated a guy who was half black and half Italian. He convinced me that I too might be mulatto. It was true, we did look somewhat alike and I was intrigued with this notion that I might be something -- a real something with a long line of history. I started to attend the African American Coalition meetings at school. These were my peeps! That summer I went home and told my parents my discovery. They assured me I was of middle European descent. Disappointed, I quit the coalition and tucked away my ethnic curiosity like an exotic souvenir from a distant aunt's travels.

I have had many people tell me what they think my origins are. Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Puerto Rican. I had a guy come up to me once, randomly, and ask if I was from Genoa. When I replied that I didn't know, he assured me I was Genovese and that everyone there looks just like me. Maybe the Genovese are my peeps! I have also had friends call me in a frenzy convinced they had seen my biological mother somewhere: a stewardess on a Greek airline, a retail worker in a mall along highway 80, an actress from a TV movie. Many times it felt like my friends were more curious about my background than I. I had a friend whose mom was adopted and she found her biological mother. It turns out they both smoked Winston cigarettes, drove Cadillacs and bred Chow Chow dogs. DNA might matter. But I loved my parents, my family, my home. I had no complaints about a terrible childhood with alcoholic parents who made me eat string beans for dinner while they ate meat loaf. The truth is my biological parents did the right thing giving me up and I was dealt a royal flush by ending up with my family.

Everyone feels at some point that they wish their parents weren't their parents -- moments of utter embarrassment caused by a parent's clueless lack of composure. My husband's father picked him up from his preppy high school in a beat up VW square back with the Batman insignia stenciled on both doors. My moments of complete red-faced disaster were rampant. Everyone in my family is a show-off while I am more reserved. They will gladly sing in restaurants, call out to you from across the room or approach a celebrity and introduce themselves. There is nothing low-pro about my parents. When they came to visit me at college one year, they arrived in their very California red nylon sweatsuits, which I could have forgiven if they didn't insist on following me around with a video camera while introducing themselves to my friends. But, I comforted myself with the notion that these aren't really my peeps. I mean they are, but we are genetically different and that variance kept me sane through my early adulthood. Being adopted gave me the great luxury of engaging in my family's quirky traditions but also removing myself when they were just too eccentric. I had the power to edit what I wanted to accept and make mine, and filter what I wanted to disregard, such as going to the bathroom with the door open or talking out loud in the movie theater.

My sister and I bypassed foster care and orphanages by being adopted privately. My mom found my sister through an electrician. It was 1965 and she had a guy come over to fix a malfunctioning outlet. He was gushing about this baby that he and his wife had just adopted. My mom inquired further and he mentioned that they had adopted the baby through his wife's OB-GYN who had a handful of pregnant woman who didn't want to keep their babies. It turns out that my mom used the same OB-GYN. This wasn't some small town with one doctor; this was San Francisco and the chances of sharing the same gyno as your electrician's wife were slim to none. My mom phoned her doctor and in June 1966 my sister was born.

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