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Adoption, Indigenous and Two-Spirit Part One
Episode 231st November 2022 • Family Twist • Corey and Kendall Stulce
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Family Twist Episode 23: Adoption, Indigenous and Two-Spirit Part One

Our guest this episode is Jack Malstrom (they/them). Jack is from Portland, Oregon, and is the current Director of the Portland Two Spirit Society and a Native Adoptee and Two Spirit advocate. Jack has a unique adoption/found family story that we’re excited to share. It's such an awesome story, we're splitting this episode into two parts!

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Welcome back to the Family Twist podcast. Our guest this episode is Jack Mollstrom. Jack is the director of the Portland Two-Spirit Society, a drag performer by the name of Gila Suspectum, a Two-Spirit and adoptee advocate, a prominent Portland DJ and a radio host at KBOO, an independent member-supported, non-commercial, volunteer-powered community radio station in Portland. Welcome, Jack.

01:21

Hi, thank you for having me. Absolutely. We're really excited to talk about your story. Jack has a very unique adoption story slash found family story, which just perfectly fits right in with what we do at Family Twist. Let's talk a little bit about your adoption situation. So adopted into a white family who were under the impression that you were Hispanic. Yes. Not actually, but sort of try to embrace that and kind of include some of that in your, in your upbringing.

01:51

Talk a little bit about what it was like finding out that you were adopted as a child and what your early life was like. Yeah, I was adopted at birth. The papers were signed before I was born. There was no real like finding out. It was always just an open thing because I mean, it was pretty obvious. I didn't look like my dad or my mom and so, you know, and they didn't see any... I think sometimes with adoption, there can be a hint of shame with it.

02:18

And my family didn't really believe in that. They wanted to be open and honest with me completely. And so I always knew I was adopted and they always, you know, were like, it wasn't because your mom didn't love you. It was just, she couldn't take care of you at the time. My adoption was what they call an open adoption. That means that my mom was open to the idea of having communication with me further down the road if I desired it. And so my parents kept in communication with my birth mom from day one. They sent her updates and baby pictures and

02:45

phone calls and all that. And I started talking to my birth mom when I was maybe second or third grade. Started talking to her on the phone. Went down to visit her for the first time when I was like 13. So I've always kept in touch with my birth family. And then growing up with my adoptive family, I have a adopted brother who was also white. So we're two adopted siblings, but we don't look anything like we're not related in that way. We just have the same last name. Yeah, it was interesting.

03:15

I always stood out personality wise and just skin color wise in the neighborhood as well. It was something that I think my parents already prepared me for by just normalizing the fact that I don't look like them and that's okay, but people are going to think it's weird. But here's just what you tell him. You say, I'm adopted and that's fine. And I just kind of, it was very normalized for me from the start. So I got very used to explaining that and continuing to explain it.

03:45

even now well into my thirties. Recently I was with my mom at dinner and they assumed that she was my boyfriend's mom because my boyfriend's white. And she's like, no, that's my daughter. It's how it goes. But yeah, I got very comfortable and a very early understanding of I'm gonna have to explain myself, which ended up being a good skill to have down the road with all the fun multiple identities I have now. Well, it sounds like your parents

04:14

took a similar approach to what Kendall's parents did. His was a close adoption, but it was never a secret. There was never that that whole shameful, oh we don't want to say, he knew from as early as he could remember that was the situation. And his mom I think sort of explained it the same way. For sure. And you know I knew that my adoptive mother really didn't know any history about my birth mother, but she kind of had that same approach like some people just can't take care of babies and we could and so we're lucky to have you.

04:43

It was always positive and my hometown's about as big as the room that we're sitting in. So, I mean, it couldn't have been a secret anyway, right? Like they have a kid, but to your point, even being a completely white family, my adoptive dad had black hair. My mother had red hair. I was this little blonde haired kid. People would see us out together and be like, really? I mean, it was cute, but we didn't have a big resemblance there. So.

05:12

In the time that you were communicating as a child with your birth mother, did you ask her about your birth father and what kind of information did she provide you? Yeah, so my birth father was like a weird topic in general. I had asked her and my birth parents, and at first it was a little shaky. They had a very rough understanding at the time. Their understanding, he was in prison and it was gang related, and he didn't know about the adoption, so they were always like...

05:40

a little nervous that he might just kind of pop out of the blue and try to take me back or something. They didn't have a full understanding of the situation. And then in talking to my mom about it, I got more details as I got older, of course, because I had asked at like 13 or so. I was like, mom and dad say that, you know, my dad was like a gang member. And she's like, well, yeah, kind of basically what had happened was like they lived in a really rough part of LA.

06:08

There was a lot of gang activity there and my birth father had gotten involved somehow and was in the car during a drive-by shooting and um you know was picked up for that and she was just like he was a good person but he just like you know made the wrong friends and was not hanging out with the right people and didn't know what was gonna happen but doesn't matter he was there anyway he was a kid he was like I don't know I think he was older than her so he must have been like 16 17.

06:36

I don't know how long he was in prison for. I actually don't remember, but she was just like, I was done by this point. I had asked him to stop hanging out with those people. I didn't like associating with them. My brothers don't associate with them. Like they live next door, but we try to keep our distance because we knew they weren't safe. Eventually, when she found out she was pregnant with me, she, you know, rightfully had this understanding of like, I can't, I can't do this. And also like, you know, she was saying they had to, um,

07:04

you know, hit the floor every now and again, because there was gunfire and things like that. So she was like, I didn't want to have to like, take you down to the floor with me when the side of our house gets shot up. You know what I mean? Like, it wasn't even safe for me to walk the street by myself. I had to walk with one of my brothers and trying to imagine me at 15 walking with a damn baby stroller in a city like that in a place like that. Like, absolutely not. You know, she she did not want that life for me. And she was

07:33

wise enough at that point and determined enough to be like, no, I want something better for this child. And went about trying to figure out how to how to make that happen. He did not know about it because he was in prison. So she sent him a note that was basically like, I'm pregnant. Also, I'm breaking up with you. Also, I'm giving the baby up for adoption by. Yeah, so his family didn't find out until later as well that she was pregnant and then that I had been adopted out.

08:00

She didn't really tell anybody. I mean, my own grandma didn't know until my mom had like passed out somehow. And they took her to the emergency room and they were like, Hey, you know, she's like eight months pregnant, right? And my grandma is like, what? But my mom had already put stuff in motion. And then my grandma was insistent of like, we'll raise her as your younger sister. We'll do this or that. My mom was like, absolutely not. Like, no, no, it's already done. Her sister-in-law at the time had.

08:29

helped her find a lawyer and that lawyer was the one that found my adoptive parents and connected them. At 15, like she went through all of that stuff without his help and also was able to recognize like, this isn't the life I want for myself. This isn't life I want for my child. I need to start making better choices with this. She never said he was like a bad guy or anything. She was just like, yeah, he just was a dumb kid. He was really sweet, but I couldn't keep.

08:56

trying to talk him out of something. He wasn't listening, you know, and if he wanted to be in that life, I couldn't stop him, but I wasn't gonna be involved in any of it. How old were you when he was able to track you down and get in touch and drop this big bombshell on you? I had just turned 18. He waited specifically till I had turned 18 to hire a private investigator to find me.

09:17

I think also partially just because like I was an adult at that point. And so if there was any concern about my adoptive parents blocking the communication or whatever, they couldn't really do anything because I was an adult. Yeah. I had just turned 18. I was about to graduate high school and my mom called me into the kitchen one day and was like, we have a voicemail on the answering machine. It's your birth father. He wants to talk to you. He hired a private investigator to find you. What do you want to do?

09:47

So I called my birth mom and talked to her about it. And my birth mom was like, before you talk to him, let me talk to him. Give me the number he left. I will call him because I want to make sure that he's serious about this. He hadn't talked in 18 years. So my mom called him and they talked and she was just like, I really want to make sure that you're serious about being in their life and you know, that, that this is what you want, like you're going to be a parent, you're going to be a dad. You're going to show up for this kid.

10:17

and not just ease some kind of guilt or abandonment or whatever you have going on. And he was insistent, I wanna be in their life, like all of this stuff. And so she was like, okay. And so she gave me the okay. So I talked to him and that was the beginning of it. Yeah, it was weird. It was really weird. I never really was that curious about him. My father growing up was amazing. He was a stay home dad. So he raised me for the first like 11 years of my life.

10:46

He's the only dad I really needed, honestly. Like I was good. It was something every now and again, I'd be curious about. And I felt bad. I was like, I don't have any questions for this man. short of like medical history, you know, I just really had no curiosity whatsoever. Um, until he was like, surprise, you look Indian by the way. Did you know that you're Indian? Do you know, um, whether he has other children? He does. He has.

11:15

I don't know how many at this point. Um, I know I think I have like maybe two half brothers and then like three or four step siblings. Oh, I was in touch with them for a short while after he got in touch with me. So once he got in touch with me, I got in touch with his mom, my aunt and uncle. And then some of the kids who were older also added me on my space. Cause this was that long ago.

11:41

So we talked on MySpace a little bit. I know he had like one or two other biological children. I'm his oldest, but yeah, so I have, I think two half brothers maybe, and then three or four, uh, step siblings as far as I'm aware, but I haven't talked to them in almost 20 years, I think at this point or something, like it's been a minute. And does your biological mother have other children? Yes. So I have two half brothers. She got married about a year or two after I was born.

12:09

And they've been married ever since and they had two sons together. So I have a younger brother, Jerry, younger brother, Alex. Jerry is about 20, 27. Yeah. Somewhere around there. He's married, got two kids. Um, Alex is a few years younger and just got engaged. Beto, my mom's husband is amazing. I mean, he knew my mom, even when she was going through the whole adoption thing with me, he doesn't really speak a lot of English and I don't speak Spanish.

12:39

But in what little English he could tell me the first time I went down to visit them and like stay with them proper. He was telling me you are my daughter to me, you're my daughter, which was very sweet and he's always treated me like his daughter and you know, calling him a stepdad feels weird because like, it doesn't feel like stepdad he's always been there for my mom even before I was born, you know, so he's just a dad, he's just another dad I have, which is great. Um, right. Yeah. And he's a good dad to my brothers. My brothers came out amazing and like.

13:07

My brothers always knew about me as well. And it was interesting because they were obsessed with me. They were like totally idolizing and they never grew up with me. I met them for the first time when they were like six and four.

13:21

And they used to like watch me. I'd wake up and there'd be two little faces just watching me sleep. They always looked up to me and were so excited about having a big sister and all this stuff, which I always thought was amazing that my mom could instill that in them because I was never there. I'm rarely ever there. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've really hung out with my birth family. Regardless of that, my brothers have so much love for me. And it's just really, it feels good. It's just surprising because like I sometimes have trouble connecting because I didn't grow up in that dynamic.

13:51

Even though we all have the exact same, oh my God, the exact same ticks and features, and none of my traits are my own. I'm just a carbon copy of my birth mom. It's really frustrating. Every time I visit, I find a new thing that isn't individually mine, and I'm like, oh great, cool, you do that too? Love it, wonderful. I'm not unique, awesome. I was just gonna say that. I thought I was unique. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

14:14

I've always been fascinated by that when I go over to friends houses or like partner's houses or something and just like, wow, y'all are painfully related. Like, this is very obvious. And at my brother's wedding, it was my first time being introduced to the larger amount of my birth family. And people approached me and they're like, you're Veronica's daughter, aren't you? So it's that obvious. And they're like, yeah, it's very obvious, which is cool. Like, you know, a lifetime of growing up and being used to explaining why I don't look like my parents.

14:40

and then going into an environment where everyone knows exactly whose daughter I am. It's just like a lot, you know? Yeah, that's a trip. Completely relate to that. So, you know, being 18, getting ready to graduate high school, that is already an insane time for anyone. But then here you have your entire life thinking that you were Hispanic but living in a white family, not Hispanic at all. Your birth father says, no, Native American. Your birth mother confirms that.

15:09

And you're all of a sudden, yeah, you're indigenous. Yep. Yeah, it was frustrating because, so my parents were hippies, my dad very much so, flower child of the seventies. So he's why I have all this hair. And he used to have his hair long too and really wanted his children to have long hair. So he was the one who used to brush it. He was a Boy Scout troop leader. So that's how he learned how to braid.

15:37

So he always took care of my hair anyway and wanted me to have long hair. My brother had the longest mullet for years. People were like, oh, I saw your little sister outside. And I was like, I don't have a little sister. Oh, my brother. But yeah, he always loved long hair. So I always had a braid and I went through my Princess Jasmine phase, all of that. And then, but once Pocahontas came out, that was it. One was calling me Pocahontas. I have this picture of me at Thanksgiving. I'm in the full Pocahontas, like Pocahontas brand.

16:06

a dress with the little necklace and everything. Yeah, my mom got me a lot of Pocahontas stuff and then like everyone was just calling me Pocahontas and I still get called Pocahontas on the street by random assholes, you know, like it's just never gonna end. But when that movie came out, boy, was it annoying. And so it was just like, a lot of people have approached me in my life and been like, oh my God, you know, they're people's dialect and they're just like, are you Native American? And I'd be like, no, I'm Mexican. And they're like, oh.

16:33

I'm like, wow, okay. So it was just kind of frustrating. I always say I'm kind of pissed that like everyone knew my racial identity except for me. You know, but I mean, at the same time, being Mexican and Hispanic as well as like a complicated identity in itself, it's a mixture of indigenous, you know, heritage and colonization as well. Race is so complicated and it's frustrating, but yeah, it was frustrating, but like weird. Like I.

17:03

It's like having the rug pulled out from under you. Like I've talked with a lot of non-adopted people about this of just, you grow up with a solid foundation of who you are and where you come from. Like you have evidence of who you are and where you come from. You trust the people that are raising you that you are who you are and where you come from. And then one day someone's like, that's not true. And you're just like, Oh, okay. So everything I thought I was is just like out the window at this point. And what do I do with this? You know, what does that mean? It was really surprising. And.

17:32

confusing for a little bit. It wasn't like too much of an adjustment at the time. I really wasn't thinking critically about race growing up where I grew up as way to survive, oftentimes being the only Brown kid in the neighborhood or in soccer team or whatever, you tend to kind of just like bottle up a lot of stuff and be okay with just learning to be the token and not really thinking about it a lot. I didn't have anyone else.

17:57

d also, because this was like:

18:27

And the way people in my neighborhood were talking about Mexicans, it didn't really feel good to be Mexican. And so I didn't really have a lot of pride in it and didn't really express it. I just was fine with being just ambiguously brown. But once I found out I was native, then it was just, I don't know anything about that actually. Uh, I was fascinated by them as a kid. I just didn't know what that meant. And all the stereotypes run through your head and then.

18:53

It feels so complicated and it is being indigenous is so overly complicated. There's definitely been times where I wish I was else. I went through some really rough times where I was like, can I just go back to pretending to be Mexican? This identity comes with a lot because it's such a politicized identity to the foundation of this country politicized, you know, so it was inheriting a lot of heavy shit that I don't think I was ready for. And again, didn't even begin to fathom or tackle or understand until I was about like 24.

19:23

So it was a lot. It was a lot. Did your adoptive parents sort of encourage you to, you know, to learn about what it means to be Indigenous or what was their reaction to finding out? They were also shocked. They were surprised, but at least so. It's not every day you get to adopt a racial unicorn.

19:38

They did encourage me to ask more questions and get to know it. My father has since passed about 10 years now, but my dad was very supportive when he was alive. But my mom to this day is very supportive of the work I did, me connecting with my heritage and everything like that. And they've always wanted that for me. And they knew that that was something they couldn't, you know, give me. They did the best they could with what they had access to and what they had an understanding of, but they've always encouraged me to learn about things on my own and being curious and going and putting myself out there to find out more. And.

20:09

Um, and yeah, they were, they were very supportive from the start, a little bit surprised, but not like totally shocked. They were just like, huh? Cause like they specifically wanted a Hispanic baby. So they were just like, oh, well. Cool. I don't know. Like it was definitely a surprise, but then again, it was just like, oh, it wasn't until later too, when I started working in Indian child welfare, I was like, oh, by the way, like my adoption was like mildly illegal.

20:33

But it's okay, because I'm like, you know, almost 30 now, so it's fine. Right. No one can come after you. Yeah, so they were very supportive with it as well and have continued to be. Good. Was there an incident that sort of sparked you really wanting to learn more and get involved when you were in your early 20s? Or was it just, you know, getting a little bit older, a little bit wiser? It wasn't until I kind of had this radio show dumped into my lap.

21:03

I had always just done the I'm Indigenous and it's fun to think about. Making all the jokes on Thanksgiving, you know, I have some reservations about Thanksgiving, stuff like that. But I never really took it seriously. My first tattoo was one of the ones from my tribe, from my father's tribe, and I had researched it a little bit and everything, but that was as far as I went. And so I knew the tribe names, but I didn't really know much about them and didn't really think about it much until I was going through a quarter life crisis.

21:32

And I was like, I need to find a career. I need to do something. I'm so tired of doing these jobs just for the pay. Like I want to actually do something I care about and like that can move up or something. So I was doing a bunch of Google searches and I've been complimented on my voice by people. I used to do like call center work. And so I've been complimented on my voice there and like also just like weirdos like restaurants and stuff. Like I've had weird interactions with people in regards to my voice. And so, um, I.

22:02

was like, well, maybe radio is a thing I could do. Cause I had done podcasting in the past. So I was like, yeah, sure. Why not? So I did some Google searching for like training and stuff like that and found CABU, which is a volunteer community radio station and they provide free training. So I was like, cool, I'll be there like three months, learn how to do the board, learn how to talk on mic, whatever, and then apply to like Z 100 or, you know, the basic stations I grew up listening to here. I went there for volunteer orientation.

22:30

And I introduced myself, mentioned I was native and that I wanted to learn everything I could, like all the trainings and stuff. And immediately afterwards, the volunteer coordinator approached me and was like, Hey, would you be interested in hosting a show? And then I was like, I, what, what? And they're like, we've been trying to find a host for our native hour for like almost a year. And we're kind of embarrassed because we can't find anybody. And I was like, ah, you know, and I was fun employed at this point. So I had all the time in the world.

22:59

to do something. So I was just like, if you're able to train me on what to do, then yeah, if you give me time to take the classes and know what I'm doing, because I've literally never done this before. And they're like, yeah, no, we will train you and we'll give you support and staff to support you and everything, but we just want a native person to be hosting the show and you can make it whatever you want. And I was like, okay, sure, sure. So then I kind of stumbled my way into.

23:28

having a weekly live radio show, I inherited this time slot that has been on Kebu for over 40 years now, 30 or 40 years. And so it was a big responsibility and it was a big thing. And, and so I was like, great, I have a native radio show. What does that mean? And like, I don't know any native people in the community. I I'm not a member of the native community here. Oh God. Oh Jesus. Like, are they even going to listen to me?

23:57

Ooh, I'm an outsider. Okay. Uh, what do I do? And so as I started to craft my show and create it, I met people through my show. And that's what motivated me more, not only like to, to connect more with the community here in Portland, but also just to get to know myself and be curious more about my community, because the big question when you're Indian is who's your family. Where are you from? And I didn't have answers to that. And there's still some answers I don't have. And.

24:26

I'm able to articulate it now in a way of just like, you know, well, I'm, I'm an adoptee, so I have this much information, but that's the best I got for you. But before that was like the first time I think I ever really felt like shame or guilt about being adopted was like, I didn't have answers to this. Imposter syndrome is real. Imposter syndrome, even like now, like when that article came out, like I still had imposter syndrome of like, Oh God, like, um, you know, I've done all this stuff, but I'm still just like, Oh Jesus, are people actually going to think I'm legit?

24:55

I know I am. I know I exist. I know what I am, who I am, where I come from. I have confidence in it, but every now and again, it shakes you. And so the imposter syndrome really started to set in and, um, it motivated me more to like actually look into it. And then I learned also the best way to do it is, Hey, I'm Pima and Yaqui. I don't know much about it. Do you know any other Pimas or Yaquis? And word travels fast in my community and they'll hook you up with whoever's from your tribe, which there isn't a lot of out here. There's maybe like three of them out here and like one Yaqui.

25:25

So it's a little tricky, but yeah, my show completely changed my life and encouraged me to explore my identity and also become more involved in the community to the point where like my entire career now up until this point, all of the work I've done within my community nationally with the federal government, with tribal governments and with state child welfare services, all of that, none of that would have happened if I didn't start my radio show that all came from that radio show.

25:51

So it absolutely changed my life for the better and helped me connect more with who I am as an indigenous person and connect more with my community and build my own family now of people who are willing to help me reconnect and other adoptees as well who are trying to reconnect. So it's been really great. Yeah, sometimes you take that leap of faith and it just changes your entire life. Hi, it's Cory. This is the end of part one with Jack, but don't worry, Jack will be back next week

26:21

and we hope you join us again. Family Twist has original music by Cosmic Afterthoughts and it's presented by Savoir Fair Marketing and Communications.

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