Let’s start with the very beginning, where my blood begins, because it is this mystery that is the root of my identity.
I was born to a poor-woman who was ditched by my biological father before I was born. I know nothing of my biological father. Not even his name. Not a single word about him. For most of my life, until I was 22, I knew next to nothing about my biological mother.
Well, now I know just a little bit about her and her life. I also know a bit about the people I am connected to through her blood. Mary had two children before she had me, Mike and Leah.
Mike grew up in a Jewish family and I haven’t talked much to him. When he was really keen on meeting I wasn’t ready and was creeped out. I didn’t want to meet because I was not comfortable with adding to my family, I felt this pressure because I felt like this is what he wanted. For whatever reason I was disappointed in who my blood relatives were. This was the result of my first meeting with a relative, my sister. The biological relative I know the best is my older sister Leah, she is the only one I have talked to in person. I have talked to Mike, Mary, and my two younger relatives on the phone. I know very little about her, we have only met in person twice and talked on the internet and the phone.
My sister was raised by a Japanese-Canadian who was part of management of British Petroleum and later Petro Canada. Similarly, her adoptive mother was a Newfie who also worked for Petro and BP. She grew up in a fairly upscale portion of southern Ontario. She, herself, looks very brown of some sort, either part native or part Indo-Chinese. I very quickly had trouble relating to the appearance of wealth in their home, even though I did not grow up poor by any standard. There wealth and class based culture was still beyond me. Where we, my older sister and I, found parallels was our anger that stemmed from not knowing exactly what we were, despite having loving parents.
My sister was very keen on becoming real relatives on connecting immediately. Whereas after our first meeting and my discomfort at hoping for people I could instantly connect to, I pulled away and this gave me a negative attitude towards meeting with my older biological brother Mike. For whatever reason I was hoping that they would be different and more into radical politics and be more similar to me. I shied away from putting any effort into building common experiences and memories the very heart of being a family. Do I regret it? Of course I do. I could have been way more mature and way more open. I barely know anything about my relatives. We have 3 different fathers, and 3 different adoptive families, 3 very different lives. I think in a way I set the tone for the whole lack of reunion. I was the only one to have a sibling I grew up with and accordingly was not searching for my first brother or sister, and I destroyed hopes for that type of connection. I recognize this, but can’t really go back on that now.
Mary, my biological mother, has a hard time remembering who our fathers were, from my understanding that period of her life was not exactly one she was completely coherent while living it. In other words, she was dealing with addictions and sleeping around, and at points homeless. I never got to read the information Children’s Aid Society (CAS) gave me about her until I was older and searching for her. I do regret that I never asked my parents for it until I was older, it lead to unfair assumptions about her. For the first 19 years of my life the memory and knowledge of the women who gave me birth was absent from my memory. The only thing that was there was a deep, dislocation from that connection. A lack of connection that has affected every single relationship and friendship I have ever had. I didn’t know it at the time, while I was growing up to become a young man, but this dislocation and detachment from my biological mother made me wary and uncomfortable with others. It gave me an unconscious fear of abandonment and an irrational defense against any close relationships. This was borne out of fear of being torn apart once again from someone that I was supposed to be loved by.
Within the first weeks of my birth I was taken from my mother by Children’s Aid Society and put into foster care with an older couple who raised foster babies. I shared a crib with a boy a month older named Sean, according to the records I looked at. Apparently I learned by imitating him and was ahead of babies my age because I was able to mimic things as he learned them before me. One day when I came across pictures of me while still in foster care, I came across pictures of me and a little black baby with beautiful curly hair ringlets. I looked on the back and the names were “Alex and Sean”. The closest thing I had to a brother, or friend, in my first few months and the person who was with me for the first few formative months and helped me become human was not white.
For most of my childhood and teenage years I thought my mother had abandoned me. I thought she had wanted to get rid of me. I thought I had been easily discarded. I remember when I finally got her mailing address, and went to write her a letter. I would begin to write and begin with cordial greetings and what I had done with my life and how things were turning out to be alright. Eventually though I would always be confronted with the question of why:
“Why Mary did you give me away?”
“Why did you quit on me?”
“Why were you such a fuck up that you couldn’t keep your 3 kids, not even one of them?”
“What the fuck was wrong with you?”
All of my letters lacked sympathy or empathy, I would be boiling with rage, and hurt, but not a single tear would ever come. Cries of sadness have always been something few and far between with me. Just now I am beginning to melt that ice. The ice has begun to melt as I have begun to recognize the truth about the situation my biological mother was forced into by the realities of poverty and patriarchy.
I came to realize that my mother tried to keep me. I understood CAS had taken me away. I recognized my mother tried to visit me every day, she tried to move and find housing to be closer to me. My mother even had a shotgun marriage with a man she barely knew all in an attempt to keep me, and yet I hated her for all these years, a woman I barely knew anything about. I began to squarely put the blame where it belonged on the shoulders of my biological father. The man who left her with child and didn’t seem to look back, he deserved my ire and scorn. A man unwilling to take responsibility for a child he has had a part in creating is to me not a man at all.
I have sat on my bed, my fists clenched and imagined myself arriving at his door, asking the person who answered if they were the right person and then beating the fuck out of him with my metal baseball bat. I have imagined breaking his fucking legs for running out on my mother. This man’s inability to take responsibility for his actions and his sperm has been the source of pain for me and most definitely my biological mother.
My mother has had to fight with the guilt of giving me up and losing the fight to keep me. She has also had to deal with the anxiety of waiting for me to contact her for 18 years, and then wondering if I ever would after 20. I cannot imagine what that pain and waiting feels like. What does it feel like to have your child taken from you and knowing that you will never ever be allowed to see it grow up? What does it feel like know you will have no part in your childs rearing and when it is older it might just come to you, and you will have to deal with the results? What does it feel like to have to choose to accept that your child is gone, that you have had the power over what you have created taken from you by another person? I don’t know the answers to this, but my biological mother does. I dare not ask because I don’t think i am man enough to comfort her for our shared dislocation from each other. That ability to comfort her was stripped from me the first time we were separated.
But this is supposed to be state benevolence, right? We are both supposed to be happy the government stepped in and fixed up our problems for us, right? I guess I am supposed to agree the breaking up of families has done me better. Despite the fact my material conditions have improved by having state sponsored class mobility, I still have an empty feeling inside. I still can be walking alone and feel a sadness I only this year realized was all about dislocation from my roots. Yet this happens to poor and racialized families every single day in this country. Some people have the privilege of never having to face this, others like myself well we have to just deal with it. Who remembers the 60s scoop, the replacement for residential schools, state sponsored identities crisis for a whole people, not just one person like myself.
As an anarchist I look back and don’t know how to feel about this. I was a crown ward, an actual piece of property of the state, this is part of the consciousness that informs my anarchism. A direct resistance to the paternalistic claim the state made that caused my biological mother so much pain ….
My biological mother does not even know I used to hate her, I suspect this is probably a good thing. When I finally talked to her on the phone it was actually great. We did have commonalities, even though I did really feel the class differences between us. I was encouraged to learn I had 2 other siblings, both of them younger, Felicia and Donovan. To my surprise, these one’s she had kept. I was glad for them even if they were poor. I hope they will not experience the dislocation I do, even though they are growing up without a father and will be forced to confront a whole different system of oppression based on class. I keep telling myself I need to step up and become part of their life, but I am scared, and haven’t made that leap.
When I talked to my mother on the phone we had a lot of catching up to do. So many questions and so many feelings were rushing through my mind. One of the things our blood seems to have in common is a wicked temper and sense of self that stands up for what we think is right. Mary explained to me that she thought it was from our Irish and Mohawk blood that comes from her mother’s side. This floored me. When I was waiting for the adoption registry to give me my relatives contact information a few years before my non-identifying information had only said she was Irish and English. I was very sceptical about all of this.
Mary told me in Vancouver she had for a few years been going to Aboriginal events and was starting to go to ceremonies. My sister Leah began to wear Mohawk as a label right beside her “Newfanese”, not as an authentic identity that was enacted, but as an actual label, nothing more.
I was really excited, since anyone who knows me, recognizes I was enthralled and totally oscillating between fascination and romantic images of Indigenous cultures in Canada. I just at this point had emerged, I was in the process of becoming a major supporter of Indigenous struggle in an active way. But for the better this excitement was short lived and my ability to be reflective was operating fully. I was very uncomfortable with ever claiming this as an identity, what did I know about being native?
More importantly, my mother was operating on a personal genealogy that she did herself through pictures and connecting dots. In my estimation, her claims to being native were more about searching for belonging outside of oppressive white culture than it was about any ability to prove a link to nativeness. For that reason I still view this with major scepticism. At the same time, for a woman who has been to the gutter and back, it seems very reasonable to search for connection outside the society which allowed you to live in that gutter.
As I began to learn more throughout my school and relationship building with Indigenous people in Winnipeg, my thoughts on nativeness developed even more strongly against ever claiming to be native. Being indigenous was about a shared history, a relationship to the land, a language and a ceremonial cycle that connected these. It was about growing up in a colonized community and the struggles inherent in that. It was not a label I could ever respectfully attach to myself as some kid who grew up white in the upper working-class suburbs. But despite these rationalizations, an emotional attachment and hope still lingers.
But as I told my sister, there is one way and one simple method for finding out if you are actually native. You ask the spirits of the people you claim to descend from, ceremony and tradition can tell you. If I learned anything this year, it is about how to do things in a good way. If I was Anishinaabe, I would ask the shaking tent…. whatever the equivalent is in Mohawk ways, I told her. Do it, then if you are accepted, then you are native.
For myself, not matter what I will never claim to be native. Even if I was traditionally adopted and part of a clan, I will never be native. I will never have the experience of growing up in a colonized family like Indigenous people do. Out of respect and awareness I know I am separate from that reality and experience.
At the same time, hanging out with Indigenous people has been central to me actually becoming strong in who I am inside. I think because so many Indigenous people are also searching for who they are and reclaiming lost parts of their culture and lives, I find kindred spirits and people I can relate to. In this I feel a strong connection with those people earnestly searching. In this way I know what it means to be building an Identity that struggles against white supremacist hegemonic structures.