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Mayan and Jewish Roots

I need advice and a LOT of perspectives on this.

I’m a very… unique case. Prepare for a helluva read

I am a Maya of the Mam People from Guatemala and was adopted by a Jewish man and a Christian woman as a baby. While I was raised in an interfaith house Judaism has always been a large part of my identity.

When youre full on Native American/Indigenous and adopted by a white couple there comes a lot of confusion. After joining a Guatemalan adoptee community, I’ve found that there are a LOT of people experiencing a massive identity crisis with the cultural backdrop we see today. We dress, sound and act stereotypically “White”, as we were overwhelmingly raised by white families, and yet we have very indigenous/Central American features.

In the Maya culture, quetzals are considered a sacred bird that represent our freedom and spirituality. Those of us adopted out and raised away from our home land are often called “Lost Quetzals”

A lot of us “Lost Quetzals” struggle to fit in as we are often shunned by other Native groups/people from Latin America for not speaking Spanish and “acting gringo”. This just makes it more complicated.

I was fortunate enough to circumvent a lot of this struggle because my father took great care to ensure that I knew about and was connected to the Jewish part of my adopted familys roots. Where many of my fellow adoptees struggle with their identity and questions of culture, I simply latched onto Jewish culture. I call it my fathers greatest gift to me. Many fathers give their children heirlooms, photos or family secrets. My dad gave me a culture. An identity.

I celebrate Chanukah, Pesach, observe the High Holidays with my dad and I’m fairly familiar with halakha, even though it doesn’t apply to me (as many “true Jews” have often reminded me). I also advocate very regularly for Jewish representation in the industry I work in (Zoos and Aquariums). I’m literally the reason a major Zoo in my state now has a large menorah in the center of the Zoo during their “Zoo Lights” Christmas event. I even said to upper management “How can you call the event ‘Zoo LIGHTS’ and not have anything about the CELEBRATION of light?”

To add to this, my adopted grandmother is a Hungarian Auschwitz survivor. Twenty three members of our family were forced into the camps. Only two came out, and my grandmother is one of them.

(Side note: My grandmother made Aliyah in 2022 and on Oct 7th, dropped the HARDEST f*cking line I’ve ever heard in my life. After my uncle told her he couldn’t let her go back to sleep since they needed to be ready to run at a moments notice and he didn’t want her to die alome and afraid in bed, this 95 year old woman says “I’m not afraid. I’ve been here before. I’ve been hunted before. I’m ready for them this time.”.)

As you can read, I take GREAT pride in the Jewish part of myself, even if I’m not “really” Jewish, according to halakha.

Now here’s where it gets complicated.

I’ve spent the last several years becoming very connected with my own Maya roots back in Guatemala. I’ve even made contact with my blood family in my homeland and have been learning more and more about my own “blood culture”.

The Maya are an equally proud people as the Jews and, just like the Jews, celebrate that we have survived numerous attempts to eradicate us throughout the centuries. (The overlap is actually really interesting but this isn’t an anthropology post lol)

Ive finally reconnected with the culture I was “supposed” to be raised in, but I can’t let go of the culture I was gifted. Let alone when the Jewish people have ALWAYS accepted me after seeing how proud I am of the culture my father gifted me. I looked too brown for the white kids but acted too white for the brown kids. (Don’t even get me started on how being neurodivergent makes it even more complicated lmao)

But the Jews were there for me when nobody else was. Even if Jewish Law very clearly dictates I’m not Jewish, I’ve always felt at home in Jewish spaces. And for a “Lost Quetzal” who doesn’t fit in anywhere, having a cultural “home” means the world.

Do you think its possible for me to celebrate both? Or are they incompatible? The Talmud is pretty clear on “those who worship the stars”, which fits the Maya fairly well. Will ‘going back’ to my Maya people end up causing turn my back on the Jewish culture Ive taken such pride in? I like to think it wouldnt but, you know…. when I eventually have children, I wouldn’t know where to even begin…

Maybe I’m over thinking everything. Maybe it IS possible to blend both cultures in a respectful manner. Maybe my own children will be able to understand how special they are – descendants by blood of survivors of the Maya genocides and adopted relatives of an Auschwitz survivor who showed no fear in the camps or against Hamas.

Maya durability gassed up by Jewish strength.

Man, its funny. I started this post wanting to lead up to asking for advice on whether it would be weird to get tattoos of things I feel represent the Jewish part of my identity (tattooing anything is a high honor in Maya culture even though we all know what Judaism says about tattoos) and now I’m here all misty eyed.

I should really talk to a rabbi about this haha.

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