I spread my dad’s ashes on the graves of his revolutionary war ancestors, I found
a star-shaped medal at each gravesite, placed there by the Sons of the American
Revolution. Each star point declared a value: to love justice, to be sincere
and open-hearted, to suffer persecution. Like his ancestors, my dad was sincere
and open-hearted, and he loved justice, to be sure. While as a lefty-liberal
Political Science professor, he had suffered little persecution, I suffered
persecution because of his heritage.
One day, when I was a junior in high school, I was summoned to my
guidance counselor's office.
Smiling brightly, Mrs. Simic said, "Andrea, you've been
nominated by the DAR to apply for a college scholarship!"
"What's the DAR?”
I asked. I had never heard of it.
Daughters of the American Revolution! You are
one! You have an ancestor who was a patriot. That's how you got nominated for
this scholarship—but you have to take a test to compete for it."
I took the test, which
asked about patriotic things: who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the like.
But I never learned my score because of what happened next.
Mrs. Simic called me at
home. "I'm so sorry," she said, "but you're ineligible for the
the test?" I asked.
She hesitated a
bit. "No, it wasn't that. You're adopted, correct?"
wondered how she knew.
“The DAR is a
lineage organization. Its membership is limited to direct lineal
descendants of revolutionary patriots. They looked up your birth certificate and
noticed that it’s amended—it’s an adoption birth certificate."
At that point in my life, I didn't know
what the DAR had tried to do to Marian Anderson in 1939. I only knew they had
claimed me as one of them and were offering college funds, which I needed. And
now I learned that because I was adopted, they had rejected me. Looking back, I
wonder if my dad never told me about his family’s connection to the DAR because
he knew they wouldn’t accept me— and he despised that kind of injustice.
Confused, I asked, "I'm DQed
from the scholarship because I'm adopted?"
"I'm afraid so. I'm
I was adopted in 1967, when the
attitude toward adoption was this: if adoptive parents treated the adopted
child as their own, the child would magically become theirs. That way, the fact
of adoption could be ignored, the birth-family would cease to exist, and it
would all be for the best. It was the stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears-and-sing,
“LA-LA-LA-LA-I can't-hear-you" approach to adoption. No information about
the birth-family was given to the adopted person, and vice versa. Adopted
people like me grew up feeling they should only identify with one family, so I
identified as a Ross—until the DAR told me that I wasn't. I didn’t belong to
the family who had raised me. But neither did I feel I was of the family I'd
been born to: I was not legally allowed to know who they were.
My son, too, grew up hearing our
Ross family lore of coming to this country and fighting for freedom. He loves
history, and he loves that he has revolutionary ancestors. George Ross, his
great-great-great-great-uncle signed the Declaration of Independence. He claims
the Rosses as his, as he should. And he, too, suffered the same kind of
rejection I did: recently, at a revolutionary war reenactment, he excitedly
talked to a man recruiting for Sons of the American Revolution. My husband
started helping our son with the application, but on its front page: “we accept
men with a lineal connection to an ancestor who provided service to the cause
of American Independence.” Our son wasn’t qualified. He was crushed. And I was
at a loss to explain to him that he's not "really" a Ross, even
though he bears their appellation and they are the only ancestors he knows.
Sometimes things change: most DAR
scholarships are now open to non-members. And many open adoptions take place
now—every family member has the right to know the others.
Sometimes things don’t change: those organizations still don’t consider us members
of our own family. And I still don’t have the legal right to see my own birth
This is a reminder that, while we may have
learned from past mistakes and taken steps to make amends, as the DAR attempted
with Marian Anderson, the fight for justice and equality must continue. Given
our country’s current political climate and the pursuant rise in nationalism and
bigotry, we must recall the patriotic principles of open-heartedness, tolerance,
justice, and equality that American revolutionaries and their forbears sought
when immigrating here. On this Independence Day, we must remember our country’s
battles by working for acceptance and egalitarianism.