A journal of homecoming
Parents often tell their children bedtime stories. Mine contained stories about the day my birth mother handed me over to my mom and my dad, telling them to take care of me in the United States. I used to make my mom tell me this story every night after my bath until I was four.
For me, meeting my birth family thousands of miles away was something I never thought I would do. My father thought I would never come back. My mother said she always knew I would.
The first thing I noticed in Peru was the girls' hair. The back of my head matched the back of every other girl around me, not to mention that we all had the same Peruvian look - brown skin, black hair, dark brown eyes.
The first night at a local bar in Miraflores, we all drank Pisco Sours, the national Peruvian alcoholic drink. It settled my nerves and I reflected on how this was the last day of not knowing my birth family, the last day of having to listen to people say, "You don't know your real mom."
At first, I imagined this being a movie ending to my story; something with lots of hugging and crying, which was somewhat of an odd fantasy for someone who hates showing emotions in public. For the two days leading up to our first meeting, I was in a perpetual state of anxiety.
The actual moment was surreal. My birth mother and sister Karla entered, and all my emotions drained out of me as if I had an invisible faucet attached to my head. Everything went silent as they walked towards me. My entire body thawed.
The pictures I had seen of them came to life when I hugged them for the first time. The only word I can think of to describe the moment is "comfortable."
Within moments Karla and I began sharing secrets. My birth mother opened a beer, lit up a cigarette, and started chatting.
I met my birth father later that night. I had only seen one picture of him, an old one of him in uniform standing in front of a truck. Like my birth mother, he opened a beer, smoked a cigarette, and suggested we go to a salsa club after dinner.
My birth parents lost their jobs and the government took away their house in those years when the communist guerrilla group Shining Path moved from the regions of Ayacucho and, from the outskirts of Lima, terrorized the city.
Photos courtesy of Aleta Dellenback
Already having six children, and pregnant with me, my birth mother decided that giving me up for adoption was the only solution. Thus began my life in America.
Now I felt I belonged in Peru. I took walks in Lima, whether with my sister or by myself. Even when I told people I spoke English instead of Spanish, they refused to believe me, and spoke to me in Spanish anyway.
The days that followed remain a blur - like a car going by too fast to identify the driver. I met my sister, Bertha, her Evangelical husband, Jhon, and her daughter, Dalma. I met my hyper nephew Manuel. Every time we turned a corner we saw somebody related to us.
My birth father told me about my African roots, as well as my Spanish and native Quechua heritage. We went to the Inca Market a few blocks away from the hotel. My birth father and sister took me out to dinner in downtown Lima. Karla and I bought strawberries and ate them with condensed milk in the hotel room. We got three hamburgers for the equivalent of two dollars. My birth mother took me to the hospital where I was born. I saw the house where I would have grown up.
On the last day, I said goodbye to my birth family at the airport.
They stood on one side of the gate while I stood on the other. As I hugged my birth father, he started crying and telling me he loved me. I think he felt guilty because he always told my birth mother that I would never come back to Peru. But my birth mom said goodbye as if she would see me the next day. These were the most soothing few moments of the day.
As the plane took off, I tightly held the stuffed animal that my father gave me the night before. It smelled like Peru, and reminded me of him.
My mom turned to me and said, "Well, Aleta, we did it. We went to Peru." The new home that I had made in desert-like Lima disappeared beneath me as we flew over the coast.
Aleta Dellenback graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School on Sunday. She lives in West Tisbury.