SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2015       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Alfredo Castrejon

Searching for an Identity

            In the city of Anaheim California on April 6 of 1989, my biological mother decided it was best for me to be under the care of the juvenile court system. From that point on, I became a ward of the court. In the United States, Approximately 510,000 American children are currently in Foster care. According to statistics (AFCARS 2006), 300,000 of them will not have the opportunity to experience what is a family and will age out of foster care. This is a story of the many obstacles I had to overcome by myself such as identity issues, discrimination, and fear.

My only recollection of my early childhood begins at age five. School was very difficult for me as I did not know who I was, and was clueless as to my race and ethnic background. Every 3 to 6 months, I was taken from one home to another. White Dodge minivans were always used to transport me to my next family. I could identify from far away the Orange County logo on the side of the doors; that big logo represented my fear about being taken to yet another place. As I sat in the back on a hard, stained seat of the van, I wondered about the new home I was going to.  Children in the foster care system often called the county vehicles the “mystery box” because we did not know what was going to happen once we got on. This was very traumatizing for me as a child because for a while I could be living with a Salvadoran family, next thing I knew I would be removed from that home and placed with an African American family. Every time this happened, it was like living in a different country. I had to adapt to new food, ideas, and sometimes religious beliefs. The question that always circulated in my head was, “who am I?” This identity issue was always present when writing in elementary school. Kids had no problem on writing about their family history, or about what country they were going to visit that summer. I knew I was different, I knew that I lived without an identity and kids my age took advantage of that.

Not knowing who I was brought a lot of discrimination to my childhood. I can remember like it was yesterday. When I lived with a Mexican family many kids from my school would call me “beanner”, or they’d called me “Teriyaki” when placed in a Vietnamese home. During this time in the state of California, in 1994 proposition 187 passed, which prevented illegal immigrants from obtaining public services like education and health. Kids in my school would tell me that I had no right to be in school. Perhaps it was my brown skin color and the fact that at that time I was living with a Mexican family. I wanted to have an identity; I wanted to be criticized for something that I was, not for something that society thought I was. Two years later in 1997, proposition 187 was overturned by a judge who ruled it unconstitutional. Even after the termination of Prop 187, the racial remarks towards me never ended. Regardless of Sydney’s protection, discrimination brought insecurity to my childhood I was always trying to find my roots and questioned myself over and over trying to find an identity but always failed; fear is all I could find at that time.

Sydney Williams was the social worker who was assign to me from the day that I was born. Her big blue eyes gave me confidence and made me feel safe when I was around her. Mrs. Williams became a hero who saved me from abusive kids in school. The smell of fresh roses of her perfume transported me to a peaceful place, I imagined being in a garden where nothing bad could happen to me when she was around. Mrs. Williams understood the situation I was facing and always said, Alfredo was moved from one home to another, which meant adjusting to a different city, different school, and different culture. This act made Alfredo more insecure, and his question of who he really was grew stronger and stronger. Mrs. Williams was an important part of my childhood. She always provided what was best and became like a mother to me.

            Moving from home to home and culture to culture, filled my life with fear. I was frightened to go to another home when I was just getting adapted to a family, to their food, and religion. I did not know what family I was going to get next or what culture I’d have to adapt. Every move was a new start. New friends, new school, and new nick names. In 2002, the opportunity that many children in the foster care system always dream of, came to me. At age fourteen, a family originally from Spain accepted me and took me as their 4th adopted child. I was excited! My heart jumped inside me not knowing how to react to the great news. I knew this was going to be my chance to find a real identity.

            Being in the foster care system as a child, marked my life forever, this part of my life being the most meaningful of all. As a kid, many questions invaded my mind. I would spend most of the time wondering why did my mom gave me away? What happened when she knew she was pregnant? Who was my dad? After so many years of questioning myself I came to a conclusion that none of this matters. What matters is that this part of my life molded me to be who I am now. So, who really am I? I am a multicultural person, lucky to have experienced the different cultures that we have in this country and to visit many countries while living in one America.

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