I was recently invited to be on a show called America’s NEXT Motivator—created and hosted by fellow advocate, Cedric Riley. My first recorded interview! Cedric was an absolutely wonderful host, and I truly appreciated and enjoyed our conversation!
Included below is a transcript and the audio from our interview. Please click on the image caption below to access the audio from the interview. FYI—My internet was not cooperating that day, so please excuse the connection issues and how nervous I was!
AMERICA’S NEXT MOTIVATOR: Welcome home! Where we provide information, inspiration, and motivator after motivator after motivator here on Americas Next. I have Christina Romo here with me today. How are you doing, Christina?
CHRISTINA ROMO (a.k.a. DIARY OF A NOT-SO-ANGRY ASIAN ADOPTEE): I’m good! How are you?
ANM: I’m doing quite well! I want to say hello to everybody who are—who are—who is tuning in right now and who’s going to tune in in the future. I just wanna say thank you for the community that we’re building, and I want to welcome you. How’s everything going with you, Christina?
CR: It’s going well! I mean, I’m just working from home so, you know, like everyone else—just surviving, and—you know. [giggles]
ANM: So you’ve—you’ve been on the computer quite a lot lately, right?
CR: Yes…Yes. [giggles]
ANM: How did—how did the virtual age impact the work that you do?
CR: Um, I mean, for the work that I’m doing now, I’m able to do everything just online and electronically and by phone, so it—it’s not impacted it too much. Um, I actually went from doing a job where I was, like, completely out in the field and just, you know, meeting with young people—during the pandemic—and then, um—and then switched to an at-home job kind of during that as well. So, I’ve not actually, like, met many of my coworkers in person yet, so it’s been interesting, but, um yeah, I’m just thankful to have a job and to be able to do what I’m doing, so…
ANM: Absolutely. Christina, where are you from?
CR: Um, so I was born in South Korea, and—and was adopted from there, um, they say I was 2, I—I may have been as old as three. And, um, I was adopted by—transracially—by a family in Minnesota. Grew up in a kind of—a predominantly white area and, um, city and—I have an older sister who was adopted as well and my younger brother who is my b—or who is my parents’ son my birth.
ANM: Mm-hmm. That already sounds like an incredible journey that you’ve been on. Um, you—you—you came from miles and miles and miles away and created a whole life here in America. And based on the conversation that we’ve already had so far, you grew up to have a positive impact on the lives of other young people who are in the system. And so I just—I look at that as very very positive, you know, coming from South Korea to America and growing up to impact the lives of children and families here in America is no small deal. It’s no small deal at all. Now, what was your life like growing up with your siblings?
CR: Um, you know, I—I was very—I was fortunate in that I, you know—I lived a pretty privileged life and, um, you know, didn’t want for anything or anything like that. And—and, you know, I—I was adopted at time where the message was very much, you know, “Just take, you know, take your child home, love your child, and that will be enough.” And—and so I—I think my—my parents did as well as they could with the information that was out there—there was not nearly as much information back then as there is now. And so, I think—I think I was probably more impacted by my just being an adoptee and being, like, a handful of children of color in the school that I went to growing up and in my community. And so, I was also just super awkward and just, like, really shy so it kind of—I think it made for a pretty easy target, I think, you know in terms of kids who kind of didn’t know better. Um, so it was—it was definitely a challenge, you know, growing up, and—and I adjusted well in some ways and then others I just struggled a lot, like, emotionally and just with kind of the losses and just being different and not fitting in and everything. So yeah, so it was—it was interesting, but, you know, I was very close with my family then and very close to my family now, and—and, so I—yeah.
ANM: Right. When you talk about how you—you felt like you were the other, you felt like you were different than your peers, different parts of your life—I think that’s a part of your story that so many people can relate to. People who might have been adopted or might not—people who just lived—lived a different life can still relate to the concept of feeling like they’re the other person. They’re somebody who didn’t necessarily grow up there from generation to generation and, you know, now that you gotta deal with the adversity of not being a part of the “in” crowd, at least at first. So when did you—when did you really start to realize that you were potentially the other in the environments that you were in?
CR: I mean, I think I always felt it. Um, my—again, it was—it was just kind the times. Like, my family—we didn’t really talk about things like race and adoption, although my sister and I always knew that we were adopted. Um, but I mean certainly going to a school, um—we went to a private Catholic school, so kind of everyone knew everyone’s business and we grew up with, like, the same people for, like, 9 whole years. And—and so I—I think it was—it was definitely, um—you definitely feel different and you’re maybe treated a little bit differently being somebody who doesn’t look like everyone else. And—and I also was just a really sensitive kid, so I think—I think that just kind of added to—just the challenges there. And then when I went to high school, I actually went from, um, going to, like, a private public school for nine years of my life to going to—to going to a public high school. Um, a very large public high school—I think my graduating class was 800 kids or something, so that was huge shock. But still, it was, there—there were only a handful of, you know, students of color there. And so I—I think, you know, when I was a teen, I really, um, kind of got to this place of—some of it out of, you know, just—out of necessity and just wanting to just survive it all—just kind of rejecting my Asian identity. And more so just—I guess feeling and acting white, you know, growing up. And I remember my school had, like, these multicultural clubs and things like that, and they would always slip things in my locker and I would just, like, tear them up right away. ‘Cuz, um, I didn’t want to be the different person, so—and I also grew up in a town that’s—it was, um, it definitely was…I-I-I’ll just say it. I mean people were pretty racist there and pretty, like, close-minded, and—and there was actually group that was at the high school and they were called, like, All American Boys, and they were kind of a modern day, like, neo-Nazi/KKK Group and burned crosses on people’s lawns and stuff like that. So, it was—so part of that, like, needing to just blend in and rejecting my—my Asian identity was also just out of needing to survive it and not stand out.
ANM: Right. Wow, ladies and gentlemen. Not—not to—not to be funny, but you guys ever been watching the news or a broadcast, and when you get into serious subject matter the news anchor always has to take a moment and straighten his papers up? So I just grabbed some papers and I’m gonna straighten them up—I’m gonna straight my papers up. So, you know, when we talk about racism quite often we think about the usual parties. We think about White people and we think about Black people, and—I appreciate your transparency today, and I appreciate your honesty, and the perspective of what you also went through. And so, we know that your whole story wasn’t full of adversity, but there was an adversity, and that is—that one of those big adversities was that you felt the need to reject your own identity. And, not only can I personally relate to that, I believe that thousands and thousands of young people across the country can identify with the period in their lives where they wanted to reject their identity. And—and so I want to make this into a victorious moment for people out there. We got 440,000 youth in the foster care system right now in America—most of them, I venture to say, are going to deal with rejecting their own identity at one point or another. What were your—what were your conversations like with your parents or friends or a higher council about identity rejection, if any?
CR: I mean, honestly, I—I didn’t really talk to anybody about it. It’s—you know, for me, like—it’s kind of hard to talk to somebody about a struggle that they were not experiencing themselves, and I think also just as an adoptee, like, part of me just wanted to protect my parents from, like, what I was experiencing. And so—so I didn’t really make it a thing. I just internalized all of it and just—and you know—and that itself kind of, like, backfired because I—you know—I started with a lot of, you know, mental health issues and so I—I think…Yeah, I didn’t really have a place to just process it and didn’t really feel like it was okay to do that. And it—that was kind of my own self-imposed belief. It wasn’t ever something that was told to me.
ANM: I think—I think it’s also natural, you know? And this is deep to me because I—I experienced that same series of emotions—that same process of you’re going through something usually at school or in the community. But you want it—you want to protect your relationships. You don’t—you don’t want to put a bad taste in your parents’ mouth. You don’t want to start the pot—which you deemed to be unnecessarily and so you hold on to things. And—and those things began to sort of build up on the inside and it leads—it leads to anxiety. It leads to, uh, angst and it boils down to coping skills, you know? Did you develop any positive coping skills to deal with this situation?
CR: Um, I think—I think my outlet really became just writing. Um, I’ve always been a lot better about just writing my feelings and my thoughts than actually, like, talking about them. And so that was always just, like, an outlet for me. When I was younger I would write poetry and—and you know, it—it just kind of—I never had a journal really, but I would just take out a piece of paper and just write something down. And—and so I think that just kind of brings me to where I am now and really doing a lot of writing to not only process my own journey but really help—help parents, you know, better understand what their—what their children might be going through, and how to better support them. And also really, kind of, naming things and putting things out there that, you know, other—other adopted people might be feeling and experiencing as well. And so I think—I think what really helped me get to a point of being able to embrace my identity and be proud of it was—was really when I went off to college and started a family. And, I—it was a really interesting situation in college ‘cuz I went to college where—in an area that was pretty diverse, and I did that purposefully. And, you know, that school had different—different groups for your race and culture. And—and I really didn’t—I was more rejected by Asian people because I didn’t—I didn’t know my language of origin, I didn’t have any connections to it, I didn’t know my culture. And—and so you kind of experience these situations where you’re treated like you’re not Asian enough, so yeah—
ANM: Wow. Hold on. Let’s—let’s expand this for a second. When you say—when you say that you—that you pretty much felt trapped between—between ethnicities, you know, that means that you were—you were in a gap where you could have, I mean—you could have failed in that gap. You could have—you could have had such an emotional problem that we could—we could possibly not be seeing you work the way that you work today and do the things that you do today. Because some people never come back from being in that gap. Like, if I’m not accepted over here, okay, I’ll try it over here. But if I’m not accepted anywhere, then I have to deal with the unnatural reality that nobody wants me. And for some people that’s too much, but what I’m hearing from you is that you were strong—you were strong. You internalized things and you—you transmuted that energy into something positive. Now, Cordell Davis, is here also, and he asks, “What was the coping mechanism that you used when you felt alone?” And you mentioned writing a couple minutes ago, so I wanted to expand on that a little bit. Can we use writing in a more creative way to assist in the child welfare space? Talk about it.
CR: I—I, you know, definitely think so. I mean it’s—it’s what I’ve been doing for the past, I think it’s been like eight or nine years, and really just—it’s been my way of being able to advocate for reform and advocate for adopted people. And, you know, people who have experienced that loss of their families—their first families—loss of their identity. And—and I think through writing I’ve been able to not only—you know, it’s been a very cathartic process in which I’ve been able to, you know, process kind of my own journey and what it has meant to me, you know, to be an adoptee. But I’ve also been able to kind of harness that and use it to help educate other—other parents and kind of help give their kids a voice until they are able to verbalize, you know, where they—where they are. And—and kind of make it—hopefully help parents create, like, a safe space for their kids to be able to kind of have those conversations. And—and for parents to be able to be better positioned to support their kids in ways that, you know, a lot of—a lot of adoptees that are my age and older, like, we didn’t necessarily have that because the information wasn’t out there, and the resources weren’t out there, and—
ANM: Right. That’s right. This is outstanding. Let’s zoom in on this part of the conversation right here, because I would like to co-champion this with you. I also believe that writing is a huge, huge, huge potential ally for foster care, adoption…Also, my mom is here in the building. When we talk about writing—I was also adopted—my mother and I began to exchange letters. And when we—when we couldn’t verbalize what we wanted to say, we would write letters to one another. So not only am I championing—championing this with you, because I believe it’s a good idea, but that also took place in my life. The element of writing can enhance child welfare for several reasons. You are acknowledging that maybe you can’t put it into words at first, maybe you can’t verbalize it, maybe you don’t—you don’t have the courage to just be outspoken about what you’re going through. But there’s something that is just quieter about writing, and my take on it is this—in order to write the hallway of your perspective the hallway of your personality, it has to be cleared a little bit in order for you to write clear thoughts and in order for all stocks to add up to something that makes sense. So in order for you to write, you have to do some of the mental and emotional work of clearing the space. Now, when you go—when you sit down with the counselor and they’re like, “I want to help you get to a new place in your life. Let’s work on, you know, clearing your mental space.” That sounds abstract. It sounds complicated. But if I hand you a piece of paper and ask you to express yourself—guess what the first day, you might not be able to do it. Because you’re intrinsically doing that work. You’re moving things around in your head. You’re moving things around in your heart without people asking you to. By the time you get to writing letters back and forth, you’ll be a whole new person. And I think that’s where writing can assist in the relationship-building process and child welfare so I totally agree with you.
CR: Well, and I—I think there’s a misnomer out there, too, that—that in order to share your story, you need to do it verbally. And one thing that was taught to me by—by people who had experience foster care was—was really, you know, you—there are so many different ways to share your story. And it’s really about focusing on what your strengths are and using that to share in the way that feels best and most comfortable for you. Like, I’ve—I’ve known young people who have shared their—their stories through dance, through music, through artwork—and it’s so powerful. I mean, everyone—everyone has their own way that works for them, and so—so acknowledging and really embracing that, I think, is really a huge thing and really important for our young people to be able to have a place to kind of process, and get their story out, and work towards healing as well.
ANM: Isn’t it beautiful when people begin to tell their stories? And I’m not just talking about the children. I’m talking about the parents, community members…When people begin to tell their stories, the world becomes a better place. The world becomes a more transparent place. It becomes a more understandable place when we start to tell our stories. And so that’s pretty much what we’re doing here on this show is—we’re telling our stories. Now, can you talk to us about some of the—some of the positive memories that you have of growing up? What—what’s one thing that—that really sticks out to you growing up that was really fun, or creative, or positive that you did with your family?
CR: Yeah, we—we did a fair amount of traveling and, you know, took some great trips, you know, to different states and different kind of sites. And so those were always really memorable and enjoyable experiences. And—and I think we were very traditional in many ways. And—and even just the act of just being able to just—sitting down and, you know, having a meal together, and then just checking in about each other’s days, and you—and things like that. I think all of that was just very meaningful and memorable for me, and—and definitely things that I’ve—I’ve tried to carry over into my family now you know with—as parents, and you know, with my kids and everything, so—
ANM: Sure. If you could talk about one trip today, what would it be? What happened, and what did it look like?
CR: You know, I think it—I was actually reminded of it, you know, not too long ago. Just—there was a situation and some relatives and—we all kind of got together and…you know, we had all gathered for a family reunion in Colorado. And it was just—and all of us were there, and we just—there were a lot of your videos and just fun moments. And, like, my—my dad’s family is Italian, and so just very expressive and just very—very, very fun and so—so that’s always a memorable trip that we had and something that I’ve carried with me for sure.
ANM: I’ve heard that Colorado has some of the most beautiful skylines, some of the most beautiful mountains, and just nature reserves in America. Did you see any of that?
CR: Yeah, yeah absolutely. Well, my—my sister, she used to actually live in Colorado, too. So—so we were kind of closer to the Colorado Springs area for that reunion, and then my sister—she lived kind of closer to Denver. So, being able to kind of experience the two different parts of Colorado was great, too, so…but, yeah, it’s absolutely beautiful there. The only thing is just—adjusting to the elevation. [giggles]
ANM: Right. Oh! What was that like? The elevation—now, they say the higher you go, the harder it is to breathe. Is that correct?
CR: Yeah, yeah it is. And I—I think it just affects other people differently, and yeah, it’s definitely a different experience. I think you acclimated—acclimate to it pretty quickly, but it does take a minute. [giggles]
ANM: Ok, alright ladies and gentlemen. We’ve got—we’ve got also to look forward to traveling around the United States of America. We have some very beautiful places here in America, and I know when we think about traveling, we often think about going out of the country. But, there are some very beautiful places here in America. Colorado is one of the places that I’ve heard is just absolutely breathtaking, depending on the time of year that you go and what you go to see. There are some great concerts that happened in Colorado, and just a lot of life culture happens in a place like Colorado. And the reason why I’m expanding on that is because, for me growing up in Cleveland, Ohio—we never really talked about Colorado much. But as I got older and I began to go to different places—I’ve come to hear that it’s a great place to go. Everybody, be encouraged to explore the United States, you know? Have you been to other places in the United States that you thought were worth mentioning today?
CR: I—I have. My…actually, my—my first job out of college, I did a fair amount of traveling, and so—so it kind of took me all over the place. And I would say, like, one of my favorite places to go was—was actually not in the U.S…It was Canada. Like, loved Canada. I went to Ottawa and Toronto there, and—and both were just beautiful. And—and I can’t really put my finger on a place in the U.S. that really stuck out to me, but I’ve been very fortunate to be able to experience different places.
ANM: Okay. And, um…You—you’ve got a guitar in your background. Who plays that guitar right there?
CR: Um, so my—my husband and my youngest son play guitar. Yeah, we’re a pretty—pretty musical family. So, yeah, they’re…I—I do not know how to do anything on the guitar, besides play, like, “Hot Cross Buns” or something. [giggles]
ANM: Right something very simple—very very simple. Ladies and gentlemen, we are having a conversation with Christina Romo about her journey, and I’m enjoying it. I love the parallels, I love the contrast—and it’s all a big discussion. So, we’ll be right back after this brief message. Sit tight.
ANM: And we’re back! Christina, how you feeling out there?
CR: I’m good! How are you?
ANM: I’m doing great—I’m doing great! So, now, what—what school did you go to?
CR: Um, for grade school or for high school?
ANM: For college
CR: Oh, sorry! [giggles] I went to Hamline University.
ANM: What would you say—what would you say was the biggest thing that you took away from college?
CR: You know, I—I did not have your typical college experience. I actually—I met my husband there, and—and we ended up…ended up getting pregnant, and we ended up getting married. And that was, like, the beginning of my—my second year of college. So I—I spent most of my time in college, you know, being a mom and adjusting to being a wife and—and all of that. So it was a very different experience. I do feel very—very fortunate in that I had a lot of supports and particularly—particularly from the school. I went to school full time and I also worked part time at the school, and so there were definitely days where my—my husband I, we—we tried to stagger schedules, so each of us could be at home with our—with our son. And there were definitely days where I needed to bring my son to school with me and bring my son to work with me, and I was—I was always very supported in doing so. And so, yeah, it was—it was a very, very different experience. And—and looking back, my husband I—we sometimes kind of wonder how we did it. [giggles]
ANM: I’m over here—over here thinking that, you know, as the story goes on, I’m—I’m seeing more and more clearly that you’re actually a warrior. That, you—you know, throughout the course of your life, you—you dug deep. And the challenges that you faced are not unlike everybody else in America, and so when you say—when you say that you had your child in college, I’m thinking, “How did you get through it?” Because for a lot of us, when we have children in college, it’s like—hey, sometimes people never make it back to school, you know? And it becomes—it becomes a circumstance where you’re like, “How do I—how do I get through this situation?” So let’s make this an opportunity for a case study on how you made it through college with a baby. What did you do, specifically?
CR: I think I—I was very—very, very fortunate to have, you know, a lot of support from my professors, and from my—my boss at work, and from my family…definitely my family. And—and I—I will say that, when I had my—my oldest son, like, that was the first time that I had met someone that I was biologically related to, and so it was a very—
ANM: Hold up—hold up! When you had your son, that was the first time that you met someone you were biologically related to?
CR: Correct. Yes.
ANM: See? This is why I said that you were a warrior. And what I mean by warrior is that you’re somebody who’s been through a lot, and while you might not look like what you’ve been through, you were probably at least 18 years old—I mean, how old were you when your son was born?
CR: Um, I was—I had just turned 20.
ANM: Yes, 20—20 years old before you could say, “I have a biological family member here with me.” You know, that’s an incredible—that’s an incredible journey right there. And, continue—continue with the story. Go ahead.
CR: So, yeah, I think it was just a very life-changing experience to be able to, like, look into the face of someone who looks like you, and that you share DNA with. And—and I think, you know, in that moment, I just wanted to be better, and I wanted to be the kind of mom that my—that my first mother wasn’t able to be for me. And so it was—it was…so part of it was just my own determination and part of it was, you know, just wanting—wanting something different for—for my family. And—and so I—I think it was just…yeah, I—I to this day, I don’t know how we did it. I don’t know how I ever got sleep or anything, but— [giggles]
ANM: [Laughs] Right. Yeah. So, for all—for all the people out there, you know—what I’m hearing is that you’re definitely going to lose sleep. Which is—that’s just a part of it. You’re going to lose sleep, but also and, before you—before you get into fight or flight mode and potentially choose flight mode, have a conversation with your professors. Have a conversation with your parents, and have a conversation with your job. Because as Christina pointed out, that relationship with her employer, her professors, and her parents were all supportive. So make sure, if you can, that you see what support you can get from those aspects of your life—if you happen to have a child while you’re in college. And, of course, you will never sleep again. How can I say this—you took your last nap, but you’ll get—you’ll get through it, you know? And, what was—what did you major in?
CR: Um, so I majored in—I double-majored in Sociology and Criminal Justice.
ANM: Okay. Now, when you—when you had a child, did that—did that make you reflect more on the bond between parents and children? And did you connect that to child welfare?
CR: Um, you—you definitely have a different—a different appreciation for, like, what your parents did for you. And also, I—I don’t remember my—my birth mother. And so the, you know, kind of—what I know of that situation, I—I think I’ve definitely had a lot of things to grapple with, but it definitely also helped me to look at the situation from a different place, and just—just kind of knowing how difficult of a situation it must have been for her. And—and so just kind of having a different perspective on that—that helped me as well. And, to be honest, with child welfare—I didn’t intend to go into child welfare when I went to college and when I chose my major. I just kind of landed in it, kind of serendipitously, I guess. But, yeah, I certainly think that, you know, being a parent has kind of changed the way that I’ve—or has impacted the way that I’ve approached my work, for sure.
ANM: Absolutely. You know, when you have children—by the way, I have children as well, ladies and gentlemen, and today is my daughter’s birthday, so—
CR: Aw, happy birthday—
ANM: Happy daughter, happy daughter day, and happy birthday to my daughter. You might hear her in the background. She’s overwhelmed with enthusiasm because she’s been getting gifts and phone calls all day. But I’m—I’m raising awareness about the substance of love between a parent and a child that you come to know when you have a child and be reminded that that substance is something that everybody deserves to know. Everybody deserves to know the substance of love. And when it comes to youth in the foster care system or adoption, that substance can come by way of an unconditional commitment and unconditional relationship where you invest your all into this child or this child invests their all into you. So that you guys can have a bond, you know? It’s the bond that produces the substance of love. And so, when I—when I had children, it was like—I gotta see if I can have a positive impact on youth who are in the foster care system even more, you know? Because look at—look at how I’m loving on my child. Look at—look at how I’m being careful about the way that they are treated, and the things that I give them to eat. Just look at how I’m examining my child’s day…and consider that youth in the foster system might not be getting that same examination. People might not be examining their day. People might not be examining their diet. People might not be scrutinizing the way that they are treated. And so we have an opportunity to go out and contribute to that—contribute to some of the substance of love that everybody deserves to feel. What are your thoughts on that?
CR: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think—I think all parents, like, they, you know—I think there are definitely parents who lack the resources and the support that they need to be able to provide for their kids in the way that they need. And I think, a majority of the time, I think that is why kids end up in foster care. And I—I think it’s really, like, I—I was fortunate to have the resources that I needed. And I—I think there was definitely some innate aspect to it for sure, but—but I mean, I—I knew how to be the mom that I am to my kids because I was surrounded by, you know, having good parents. And I was surrounded by, you know, things that taught me what—what I wanted to incorporate in my kids’ lives, and what I want to maybe do differently. And—and so I also was able to kind of learn that from my work in child welfare as well, you know? How to—how to be more patient and more mindful parent to my kids, and—and to be a lot more understanding of—kind of the challenges that they’re experiencing as well. And—and so yeah, I—I definitely agree with that. I think we—we kind of take our experiences and we—and they impact us in some way, for sure.
ANM: Absolutely. Sure. Um, would you like to—would you like to say something to your adoptive mom today? Just pass on some positive words to her?
CR: Um, yeah! I think—I don’t know if she’s watching it, but yeah. (giggles) I’m just…I—I am the mom that I am because my mom was a good mom to me. And, you know, even though there were definitely times when I kind of put them through the ringer and wasn’t the easiest kid and everything, like, they—they stuck it all—stuck it out with me and they’ve weather—weathered all the storms with me. And—and I would not be where I am today without the support that they’ve given me, so—
ANM: That is huge. It’s huge—it’s huge in the way that—everything that goes around, comes around. Because, you know, you can now reflect on the life that people came and helped you to build. And now you’re pouring all of that into your child, and that’s a miracle depending on how you look at it, you know? Now, how did you—how did you land upon the—the work of child welfare?
CR: Yeah, so I actually…I—I’ve been working in child welfare and adoption kind of off-and-on for about 15 years. And it started as an internship that I chose to extend in college and—as a Guardian ad Litem. And then—and then when I graduated college, I took a little bit of time off to be a mom when I had my second son, and then worked in retail for a little bit. And then just applied to some jobs, and—and then an adoption organization called back and I went through the process. And I was there for 11 years, and then—and they focused primarily on advocacy, education, and support…post-adoption support, and really also making sure that young people who have experienced foster care had their voices heard and were able to kind of increase their capacity for leadership and advocacy. And then after that, I think I just learned so much from—especially from the young people that I worked with there and I really wanted to use that to—to try to do more front end work as a social worker, and—and really wanted to try to approach things differently and to take what I learned from them and incorporate that into my work. And so I worked for a year-and-a-half as a Permanency Specialist. And so I had, like, a split caseload where I worked with older youth who were in care and trying to find permanency for them, and also working with families who were interested in adopting as well. And I think I—I really appreciated that experience, for sure, but it also is very, very hard to have lived experience and work in that field. I think—I think too, like I—I think part of that was me wanting to help reform adoption from the inside out. But I—I think just kind of—that experience also kind of just really showed me and highlighted just how broken the system is. And there can’t just be a handful of people, you know, trying to advocate for this reform—trying to make these changes. And then I just kind of got to the point where I just needed a break, I think, from adoption, as I was just living and breathing it. And—and so I went on to work for a year with young people who were experiencing homelessness and housing instability. And there I really focused on family preservation, so wanting to make sure—I created a program there that was really focused on trying to provide and connect families—young families who were at risk of child welfare involvement, with the resources that they needed to help them, you know, stay together and get on their feet, and—and avoid child welfare involvement. And then I just started kind of feeling the pull and just missing working in adoption and—you know, it was just my comfort zone—so I landed where I am now. And just working more on the post-adopt side of things and trying to connect families with services and supports as soon as possible after finalization.
ANM: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what a champion looks like. This is what a people’s advocate—a people’s person looks like right here—Christina Romo. If you listen closely, you hear that, day in and day out over the span of more than 10 years—that she was on the front lines and the back end helping out a system that impacted her life. You know, every—every so many years, there must be a resurgence of young people who grew up in the system who come back to—to do work in that system. I want to acknowledge all the people who have been in the foster care system, the adoptive system, the child welfare space as a child—and they came back to have a positive impact on agencies, young people, and families. I think that it should go commended every day. Let’s commend that every day. Let’s commend that, and we’re commending that today with you, Christina. It’s no small gesture and you definitely are a valuable member of that community. Now, what would you say—what would you say were the biggest or the best victories that you—that you saw in connecting with young people? Can you talk to us about how to connect with young people? What were some of the successes that you had that you could pass on to us today when it comes to connecting with young people in care?
CR: Um, you know, I think—I think just honoring and, you know, and respecting who they are and really…When—when I was in that role, in the front end line role, one thing that I tried to do for young people that—I was just starting out their case, like I—I created a little flyer that had my picture on it and just a little spiel about, you know, who I was and I…Because I did not feel okay with kind of being someone who, you know, meeting them for the first time, like, I knew what they looked like and I knew, like, all of this information about them, and they knew nothing about me. And so I—I did that and would pass it on to their—to their County worker to share with them, and so that was a way to kind of just level the playing field a little bit. I think just little things like that—I think add to that experience of bringing dignity back to their experience, and, I mean, I think also just meeting young people where they were at. I mean, I—I certainly would encounter workers who—I would have an initial meeting with them and one of the questions that I would ask them was, like, “What are some things that you like about this kid?” You know? And there were some workers who couldn’t say a single thing, and that would be so frustrating, because it’s like every—every young person has something that’s likeable about them, and it’s on the adults to be able to figure that out, and to connect with them in a way that that can come out, and that it feels safe for that to come out. And so I think just approaching things differently and just kind of focusing on, like, what works for them and kind of changing the way that you communicate with them or the way that you’re connecting with them and everything just based on what works for them. Because so much of adoption—and I think that’s why I refer to myself as more of an adoptee advocate than an adoption advocate, because so much of adoption is just a series of decisions that are made for a child by adults in their life that profoundly impacts the trajectory of their lives. So I—I think…so I—I very much focus heavily on what’s best for the young person and approach the work in that way as well.
ANM: So for those people who might not have heard you clearly—you did cut out just a little bit. I want to—I want to reiterate that she says that she’s an adoptee advocate because the adoption is more or less a series of documents. It’s—it’s paperwork, you know? It’s a series of formalities, but the adoptee is going to—is going to have to learn so much of what it’s going to take to grow up and be a successful, productive human being in the world. That’s why she considers herself to be an adoptee advocate, and I think that—that also is very thoughtful of you. Now, you mentioned a few minutes ago—several minutes ago that you could see from your years in child welfare that the system was broken. And, you know, I don’t—I don’t say that to come off, like, “Oh, he’s saying that the system is broken.” In fact, I love it when other people say that, “I see the system is broken”, because now I wanna know. What do you mean when you say that you could see that the system was broken?
CR: Yeah, I—I think, like, in Minnesota, I mean, the—the system is County-based, so there’s oversight by the State, but each County kind of has their own way of approaching the different—they have their own way of approaching adoption and permanency. And so just I—I think because the—because adoption historically has been so focused on kind of the needs of the parents, as opposed to the needs of the young people, and—and also just naming the fact that there is such a disparity in the young people who are in foster care. Um, they are predominantly, you know, children color and, you know, and also children who identify as LGBTQ. And just I—I mean, I remember there were days when I would go through case files for a young person and just think, you know, this…this kid should be with their family—with their family of origin. And a lot of times that happened with kids of color, because they—they are removed from their families at a disproportionate rate, so I think that’s a very big way in which the system is broken. And I think there are definitely workers who are just not adoption-competent—they’re not aware of, kind of, the complexities. You know, I—I…working with older youth who were in need of permanency, I think so much of…I—I really appreciated with my work that there—that it was focused on permanency, not just adoption. We saw adoption as an option, but it wasn’t the only option. So, like, with my caseload—I think there were only two—two young people who found permanency with—with a family that they—that they didn’t know previously, and the rest were connected—either reconnected with their family of origin, they were connected with relatives or with community members that were already known to them. But also—I remember a conversation with the worker…you know, there was a person who was about to age out of care, and—and I was still trying to find permanency for them. And they were like, “Well, they’re turning 18. Why do they need—why do they need to be adopted?” And, you know, it just having that conversation with them, like, “When you were 18, like, were you able to be on your own?” “Do you—could you afford, you know, the things that you needed to, you know, survive?” “Could you—when you were sick, like, did you call your parents?” And, you know, all of that matters. And so even just having those conversations with workers who just didn’t get it—and a lot of that is on the system that doesn’t kind of teach that to them.
ANM: You know, I heard—I heard a lot of leadership in your comments just now. And, I could have interjected a full minute ago, but you were still talking about things that—that were valuable. So many things that you just said were helpful just now. I want to go back to something that you said a few minutes ago, which is that people are dealing with the adults, but they’re not dealing as much with the children. And I think that—that sentence right there, that comment right there is possibly why the system is broken. Because I’m dealing with a ch—I’m dealing with the parent, but I’m not dealing with the child. And the fact is, neither me nor you really knows this child, and so you deal with so much of, uh, backfire. Or you deal with so much breakdown down the line, whether it be a failed placement, a failed adoption, or a loss of a life, because we don’t actually understand the children. And so let’s raise awareness about that today—hashtag “understand the children”. What we’ve got to do in order to rectify a system of dealing with families is understanding the children. It’s almost like we’re having conversations with one another and we’re telling the kids, “Don’t listen to me. Go over there.” And as time goes on, we can’t assume that children know anything, because guess what? We never took the time to examine them. We never took the time to hear from them, to learn from them, to learn THEM. And we’ve got to pay 100% more attention to that. Also when you said that there were people out there who didn’t understand why 18-year-olds needed a family—why they needed to be adopted, I think that—that’s also absolutely huge. We’ve got at least 50 to 100,000 young adults who are in the child welfare system who are waiting to be adopted. They’re still waiting to feel the substance of love. They’re still waiting to feel the examination of somebody who cares. They’re still waiting to feel KNOWN. We’ve got to create systems of knowing our young people. We’ve got to create events, rites of passage, organizations, resources, culture—we need to create a culture of learning our children. And not just in foster care—in the world. Do we know our children? If we know our children, then we’ll know our future, and see if we don’t know our children, then guess what? The future is uncertain. So I take out of what you’re saying, Christina, that we need to create a whole new market, a whole new industry, a whole new science—whole new space where we’re getting to know children. I’ve got a few questions for you as we round third base here. I’ve truly, thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. And, uh, what is greatness to you? What’s greatness to you?
CR: I think—I kind of jotted down some notes…I think, you know, we all have greatness within us and I think it’s—but I think it’s up to us to, like, harness that greatness and use it for something that gives our lives meaning and purpose. Um, I think there is greatness in all of our journeys—like, there’s greatness in the tears, there’s great—there’s greatness in, you know, picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and trying again the next day. And I think it’s really about, you know, knowing who you are, knowing your worth, and sharing your talents and your gifts with the world. And, so I think that’s greatness.
ANM: Absolutely. Christina, I want to let you know I’ve listened to your story today. I’ve heard your journey. Ladies and gentlemen, put your crown emojis into the chat, because we’re giving you your respect today, while you can still receive it. We’re also giving you your crown, while you can still receive it. And while you’re here with us—those are some crowns for you down there at the bottom of the screen. And we are letting the world know, letting you know—that you, Christina Romo, are America’s Next Motivator!
CR: Thank you! [giggles]
ANM: You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by today, alright?
CR: Thank you! [giggles]
ANM: You’re welcome.
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