Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Family Matters

Wazzup Hip Hapa Homeez?!?!?!?

With the holidays almost here, now is a good time to think about gifts that would appeal to the multi-culti folks in your life (including yourself, ha ha). By purchasing a Hapa*Teez t-shirt, not only are you supporting our agenda by wearing words proclaiming so, but you’ll also get a rear crawl credit on Watermelon Sushi, the film. Go to and check it out.

Now, if you’re less the fashion-y type and more the reading type, this week’s featured Hip Hapa Homee has a book you might enjoy.

Thomas Brooks is the author of A Wealth of Family: An Adopted Son's International Quest for Heritage, Reunion and Enrichment

[ISBN: 978-0977462933]

Besides winning the National Indie Excellence Book Award for Multicultural Non-Fiction and the USA Book News “Best Books” Award Winner for African-American Studies, his book is also the #1 Amazon Bestseller for Adoption.

To learn more about Thomas, visit the links below and read the Q&A following. And, yeah, that’s Thomas in the pix posted here (I know you didn’t think it was me).

Q: What’s a nice adopted biracial guy like you doing exposing his personal life by writing a book about it?

A: A Wealth of Family is a book that I knew could help people dealing with being multi-ethnic (I don't say biracial since we are all One Human Race) and/or being adopted. The book details how I grew up as the only child of a struggling single mother in inner city Pittsburgh. I was battling ethnic stereotypes at school and searching for a place among my peers. Then, I was told at age eleven that I had been adopted as an infant. I did not know it at the time, but I had actually been born to a white biological mother who had descended from Lithuanian Jews and--like President Barack Obama--a black Kenyan father. Years after that stunning revelation, I escaped the ghetto and traveled to search for my heritage. I found my biological mother in London with my previously unknown British siblings. I then located my biological father and extended family in Nairobi. My international search and the resulting reunions have profoundly affected three families in the United States, England and Kenya.

Q: Now, that you’ve found your entire family, how much of a difference does it make in your daily life?

A: I grew up as an only child in my adopted family, and now I have seven siblings (four that grew up in Europe, and three that grew up in Kenya). I am in touch with my siblings all of the time. I connect with my European siblings in person about once per year. I have enabled one of my Kenyan siblings to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees here in America. I am now working on enabling another Kenyan sibling to do the same. I am so happy to be the "big brother" for seven people, now grown up and scattered all over the world.

Q: What was it like meeting your birth mother?

A: The first night we met in person, Dorothy and I stayed up until 4 a.m. in an all-night diner, drinking tea and talking, even though she suffered from jet lag and I had to go to work the next day. As I expected, the reunion meant a great deal to me in terms of my journey to discover more about my identity and heritage. But I am convinced the reunion meant even more to Dorothy. For her, the process was exciting, healing and, at times, painful and disturbing. She had to relive all of the memories of family and societal pressures associated with giving birth to a black baby in the 1960’s. She had to deal with the memories of letting me go. That first week together stirred in her a lot of memories, doubts and feelings, many of which were not altogether comfortable for her. The reunion greatly accelerated her healing process.

Q: What was it like meeting your birth father?

A: It was wonderful to meet my birth father in Nairobi Kenya and to finally have a tangible connection to my African heritage. Eventually, I was able to travel with him to my family's home village in rural western Kenya. Upon my arrival, the entire village seemed to be waiting for me, about five hundred people. There was singing and dancing. Everyone was touching my face, skin, beard, and hair since they viewed me as being an mzungu, the Kiswahili word for a European or white person. Light-skinned, wavy-haired Westerners did not come through this remote village every day. In spite of my difference in skin color, I was accepted fully by everyone in the village. Kenyan Africans seem to have almost no notion of ethnic discrimination, despite a history that includes British colonialism. It felt wonderful, and it was truly a grand scene. It was similar to Alex Haley's experience at his African family’s village in Roots.

Q: Transracial adoptees haven’t always been encouraged to own their racial heritages, e.g., Koreans adopted by Americans. Are you resentful about not having access to your Lithuanian Jewish and Kenyan cultures for so long?

A: No, life is too short for resentment and regrets. I believe in making things happen, which is why I searched for my ethnic heritage starting when I was 25 years old. My quest was rewarded when I found the rich history of my families. Just to give one example, my great-grandfather, a Lithuanian Jew named David Rittenburg, barely survived religious persecution in 1886. While he and two other brothers were gone on a supply run, their parents and the trio’s ten other siblings who stayed behind were murdered by Orthodox Russians. It was a religiously motivated pogrom, an organized and officially encouraged massacre and violent persecution, against Jews. For much of the century, young Orthodox Russians were taught to hate the Jews because they viewed Jews to be Jesus Christ’s killers. The Orthodox Russians were inflamed against the Jews living in the area, feeling that these Jews had no true loving ties with Mother Russia. When the three brothers returned home to the scene of the carnage that engulfed their home, they knew they were alone. The three brothers managed to survive thanks only to some Gentile families who acted as kind of an “Underground Railroad”. For many years, my great-grandfather bounced from family to family all over Europe. By the time he reached America as an immigrant, he knew 13 different languages. He eventually graduated with an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and later used his language skills on Ellis Island as an employee of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Q: Having gone through such a tumultuous time to bring together all your family members, how do you raise your own children?

A: My children value the heritage from all three of my families. As a result of my adoption and the reunion, they actually have five grandparents, so it is really cool for my kids. My children visit with and regularly interact with members of all three of my extended families.

Q: Do you have any other books in the works?

A: Since launching A Wealth of Family, I have started doing a number of paid speaking engagements with large companies and also with high schools and universities. The Q&A sessions that follow these engagements give me a great opportunity to interact with people on issues related to families and to cultural diversity. The topic of diversity is extremely timely. So, I am already gathering data and working on my next two books. I have plans for a book tentatively titled The Joy of Search. It will be about the happy adoption and reunion stories of others. I also am working on a book on successful parenting that I should have out in a little over a year. My books will continue to be non-fiction, and deal with strengthening families and multiculturalism.

Thank you, Thomas, for sharing with us how much your family matters. If any of you Hip Hapa Homeez out there have a tale to tell, hollah at

Remember to join our Hip Hapa Homeez group, Watermelon Sushi fan page and Watermelon Sushi World Networked Blogs on Facebook. And, watermelonsushi is on Twitter, too.

Until next time, like Maurice Bishop said: “Forward ever, backward never.”

Your Hip Hapa,



Anonymous said...

What a wonderful life story - wow. He seems so connected and balanced. And he's half English - like me!

Way to go Thomas Brooks; and thansk to both of you for sharing this great and uplifting story.


Thomas Brooks said...

Thanks for featuring my book on your blog. The title "A Wealth of Family" reflects how happy and proud I am about my heritage: A biological mother who had descended from Lithuanian Jews, a Kenyan father, half-siblings from England, and a large African-American extended family who adopted me. It's all good.