My name is Michael Rocco...well, sorta. While that is in fact my name, and the name that I'm writing my book Vital Signs: Things We Know By Heart, most people know me by a different name - the one I grew up with. That's because I was adopted as an infant in the late 1960s and my white adoptive family changed my name. Like many adoptees, my past was erased when I joined my adoptive family. Now that I've better reckoned with most of how childhood abandonment and inter-ethnic adoption has affected me, I've begun to reclaim my identity. I hope you can appreciate the complexity, pain, and beauty involved in this.
I think about my adoption a lot today, though that wasn't always the case (I'll use "adoption" throughout this site as a shorthand for abandonment, adoption and adaptation). In fact, for most of my life I considered it an irrelevant part of me, like the color of my hair, or the way that I laugh. Adoption didn't have much to do with who I was, or so I thought. That position changed in middle age when it became clear that my adoption was not only relevant, it was perhaps the most defining feature of my life. Up until that point, I was only aware of the importance of it insofar as it caused problems with developing a strong and positive ethnic identity. This was a problem for me because, while I was the product of Latin American parents, I was raised as if I were white by white adoptive parents.
It was easy to dismiss the importance of adoption, as my life looked pretty good from the outside. I grew up with two parents and an also-adopted non-biological sister in a bucolic setting in the northeastern US. My parents held steady jobs and performed their social roles by financing a car, paying a home mortgage, paying taxes, attending church and sending their children to school. They remained together throughout their lives and while my family at best aspired to the middle class, we always had enough to eat and were never in serious threat of losing our home. All of this was why it was so perplexing to so many that I became a very recognizable deviant in my little hometown. I seemingly had everything a young boy could need and much of I wanted, except...I didn't.
Racism was always a major obstacle in my life. I spent decades figuring out on my own what almost any set of same-ethnicity parents would have likely taught a brown child about living in the US. My parents, though well-intending, were simply ignorant of the importance of these lessons and were ill-equipped to offer them anyway. So, I learned these things on my own. I'm still learning them. Since the time I began to read, I pursued an examined life and that helped me better understand racism and my place in the social world. After I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, I became increasingly concerned with injustices other than racism including classism, ageism, sexism, patriarchy, toxic masculinity and homophobia among others. Once I started thinking deeply about these issues, it wasn't long before I dedicated myself to studying the health effects of these and other societal failings in graduate school. These issues struck me as of obvious importance because they could be shown to inhere within the body. The evidence was irrefutable! Injustice wasn't only unethical and ugly, it was a matter of health and illness, even life and death.
Once I recognized the central importance of adoption in my life, I felt a tinge of embarrassment that this understanding didn't arrive until middle age. However, I quickly found an active online community of adult adoptees who were sharing their life stories and coming together for mutual support. I was both relieved and horrified to learn that many of them had also come to understand the importance of adoption relatively late in life. Many of them too had suffered greatly. I then found a treasure trove of adoptee blogs and a burgeoning sub-genre of memoir that I found extremely useful for better understanding the impact of adoption on me and how it will likely affect young adoptees today and in the days ahead. It struck me that, as a collection, adoptee memoir, as case studies, are an underutilized resource that could be better leveraged by advocates, social scientists, clinicians, policymakers and prospective adoptive families. I decided to write my own story in a way that would be conducive to guiding future research and planning that may benefit adoptees and adoptive families. I thought it might also be useful to create this page so that others may follow along with my research and writing progress. I hope you'll stop by from time to time and check in on the project as it progresses and perhaps gain a few insights into my subject matter. I hope you'll expand your understanding of the broader issues in childhood trauma and mental health in these pages.
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