The Birth of Juan Jose’

Juan Jose' and Crystel

Juan Jose’ and Crystel

The best part of Antonio’s name change was when Crystel stood up in the courtroom and said, “I want each of you to tell me something you like about me.” She stood confidently, her hand resting on the bar that divided the gallery from the well of the courtroom. She faced the nine people, including Antonio, who came to support his name change. Aunts, Uncles, Antonio and his girlfriend, were sitting with their back against the wall. She pointed to her Aunt Kathy. “Start there.”

This surprised and delighted me. She was asking for what she needed. And, in this moment what she needed was to know that she was as important as Antonio who within minutes would legally be named Juan Jose’.

She didn’t share his need to change her name. Her Guatemalan birth mother had told her that she named her Crystel.


Waiting for the judge.

Waiting for the judge.

The birth search and visit report that Jody and I had done in 2011 when her and Antonio were 9 years old said, Mayra (her birth mom) remembered exactly the date of Crystel’s birth. Most birth mothers do not, not for lack of interest but because dates are usually not important in Guatemala. She named her Crystel Rocio. Crystel because:  “I felt she was a little fragile thing as crystal, and Rocio (dew in English), because as I was walking the day I gave birth to her, it was cloudy and it had rained during the night, and I saw the leaves with drops of dew on them”.

When Jody and I adopted our children, we felt it was important that we keep the names that they were given at birth. We wanted to honor the birth mothers. At the time we didn’t know what their birth names would be and I fretted if I would be able to pronounce their Guatemalan given names. I refused to name my baby boy even though my social worker said that I could. I didn’t want to give him, one more thing that could be taken away from him. He was already losing his mother.

IMG_0425A few months later, we received the results of Antonio’s birth search. His birth mom, Rosa, was asked if she named Antonio. She said no, that she wanted to name him Juan Jose’ (Juan to honor her father and Jose’ to honor her grandfather), but the adoption people named him Antonio. Her father Juan died in 1982 during the Guatemalan Civil War. It is estimated that at least

5, 000 Mayans in the Rabinal area were massacred in 1981-1982. Rosa is indigenous and belongs to the Mayan Achi ethnia.

Ever since Antonio learned that Rosa wanted to name him Juan Jose’, he felt that was his real name.

Jody and I supported Antonio’s name change, nudged him even. We wanted to honor his heritage and his birth mother. We understood how central a name can be to a person’s identity. Both of us have changed our names.

A door opened. “All rise. This court is now in session. The honorable Judge Bernhardson, presiding.”

Just minutes before, Crystel had each person, including her brother and his girlfriend say something they liked about her.

What I witnessed that afternoon was two 13-year-olds asking for what they needed.

They’ll do well in the world, I thought. If a person can identify and then ask for what they need, they can navigate the road ahead of them. Jody and I have taught our children well.

Juan Jose and a Guatemalan Revolution

FullSizeRender (5)In Guatemala today, there is an uprising.

“We don’t have medicine in the hospitals. The children don’t have books in their schools. And throughout society there aren’t any jobs and the president hasn’t done anything to help. They’ve just stolen from the people,” said Maria Elena Aquino Gomez, 38, as she sold flags in the plaza. “Guatemala is alive. We’re not dead. And we’ll continue fighting for our liberty.”

The parents of many of the organizers warned them not to get involved. “They grew up in the ’80s in Guatemala, when going out to protest meant death,” said Gabriel Wer, a 33-year-old organizer.

They hoped a few people would show up. Thirty thousand came.

I watch safely from afar, read bits and pieces, and know enough to know that I don’t understand.

Juan Jose had a history before he met Jody and me.

Antonio (9), Rosa, and his sister, Ani.

Antonio (9), Rosa, and his sister, Ani.

His grandfather died in 1982 during the civil war and his grandmother was left to raise seven children on her own. She couldn’t provide for all, so when his mother was five years old, she was given to an aunt. The aunt treated his mother very badly so she ran back to her mother’s house. The economic situation hadn’t changed, so his mother had to get a job cleaning houses in Rabinal at age 9.

Antonio was 9 when he met his mother, Rosa, for the first time.

“Did you name Antonio,” was one of my first questions. I so much wanted to show her that we honored her by keeping his name.

“No. The adoption people named him Antonio. I wanted to name him Juan Jose. Juan to honor my father and Jose to honor my grandfather.”

Ever since then when Antonio and I meet someone whose name is Juan or Juan Jose we look at each other knowingly.

During our first meeting with Rosa, Jody and I asked her if we could help her with monthly groceries. She said, “No. I don’t want Antonio to think I sold him.”


Antonio (11) and Rosa

Antonio (11) and Rosa

It was then that I knew the strength and heart of Guatemalans.

Rosa is indigenous and belongs to the Mayan Achi ethnia. She is from Aldea Concul, approximately 10 miles southwest from Rabinal on the Sierra de Chuacus, 5,500 feet above sea level.

Today, she lives in the poorest section of Guatemala City. Taxis won’t drive there. Still, she didn’t want to receive help. More than anything, she wanted Juan Jose’s forgiveness for letting him go.

The Guatemalan uprising resulted in Pérez Molina no longer being President of Guatemala. Perez Molina was a former general who led the most feared branch of a military that routinely massacred citizens during nearly four decades of Civil War. About 200,000 civilians died, one of them being Juan Jose’s grandfather.

I can picture Juan Jose a.k.a. Antonio running the mountain trails in Guatemala. He has the heart of Rosa.

We will be visiting Rosa next year. She’ll be able to see for herself the man Juan Jose is becoming.