Friday, March 5, 2010

Biological Identity

A recent story about a father and son being reunited after 32 years has me thinking, as always, about nature and culture. His parents were political dissidents in Argentina and they were targeted the by authorities. The mother, then pregnant, was abducted and, thus, the son was kidnapped in utero. The mother's story after her abduction is, as of yet, untold. The story of the father's life since then is incredibly heart-wrenching. After the abduction he fled Argentina and lived in exile.
"At times I wondered what the hell I was living for. I had to find a way to continue, thinking about everyday things, hoping for this moment of happiness," the elder Madariaga said. "Hugging him that first time, it was as if I filled a hole in my soul."
The son's story is equally tragic, and it is the nature of this kind of tragedy and the cause of that tragedy that interest me in particular. In this case, the sons adopted parents were fully aware of and participated in stealing the son from his birth parents. And the son's childhood appears to have been anything but positive. His adoptive father was abusive, for one thing.
Francisco Madariaga's [the son] doubts increased, until finally he confronted his adoptive mother. "She broke down and was able to tell me the truth," he recalled, adding that he can't say he blames her. "There was so much violence — physical and mental — and she suffered. She also was a victim."
So the particularities of this case are hard to extrapolate to other cases of adoption. However, the story ends this way:
"Never again" will I use this name, he said. "To have your identity is the most beautiful thing there is."
His trauma and search for his "real" parents evidences a particular attachment to the "natural" as the "real": that his real identity is his biological identity. This is certainly not demean this man's pain: his life is a testament to man's inhumanity to man. It is also not to devalue the physical or biological (many of my other posts clearly demonstrate my commitment to an embodied understanding of just about everything). However, the narrative of children being reunited with their "real" parents and discovery their "true" identity belies what I believe is particularly problematic equation of the "natural" (read genetic and biological) with the "real." This equation is problematic, in the case of adoption, because of the emotional burden it places on children who "don't know who their real parents are" even if they have been raised, often happily and healthily, by adoptive parents or guardians. I want to ask, in other words, if we shifted the emphasis away from the biological and genetic would the experience of adopted children be different, less emotionally and psychologically fraught?

There are consequences to how we frame identity, and I would argue in this case that the emotional pain that confronts adopted children can (perhaps) be traced to a deep-seated cultural belief that biology is "reality."


  1. Very interesting post. I've often wondered similar things about identity with regard to victims of violence (rape, in particular). It seems that we really believe that we must always be what we have been--that "identity" is essentially a single/unified thing; or else people would just say things like, "Oh, yeah, I've been raped. But whatever. I'm not being raped right now, so... thank goodness!" And just smile and go get a Starbucks.

    Anyway, anything anyone writes about identity is interesting to me. So, good.

  2. You're going to have to run that one by me again.

  3. Well, trauma seems to "stick to" identity, right? We have PTSD because of that fact. But the fact that past trauma persists in present identity tells us something about how we understand identity (namely, that it is "the sum" of our past experiences). What I'm interested in is whether we can ever assume an identity that is not--or not entirely--burdened or shaped by the past.

    Hint: think "born again."

    And it doesn't have to just be trauma, of course. How much of my identity is determined by the fact that I used to play sports? Almost all of it, if I'm Al Bundy. Some of it, if I'm Jim Bunning. And maybe none of it, if I'm Buddha (who was a standout track star in high school).

    So I'm looking to "frame" identity in a way that doesn't incorporate the past... and for the record: that's because I don't believe the past exists.

  4. That makes sense. The idea of identity unhinged from the past strikes me as Emersonian. I can't remember where, maybe in "Circles" he has a line about "without history"? Am I in the ballpark on this one.

    BTW: I wish I could do without my middle school history (i.e., that is chip my shoulder could live without).

  5. Circles, yeah. And "The Secret," as peddled by Oprah circa 2007.