Anika Fajardo: Family Ties

Anika Fajardo has earned awards for her writing from the Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Loft Literary Center. (photo Leslie Plesser)

In “Magical Realism for Non-Believers,” Anika Fajardo writes of discovering the family she did not know she had, and the heritage she had yet to discover. 

Fajardo’s parents separated when she was young. The story from her Minnesota mother was that her father loved Colombia — where Fajardo was born — too much to leave it. At 21, her curiosity led her to fly to Colombia to meet a father she did not know and a country she knew nothing about. The memoir that resulted from that experience is about her search for a definition of family and roots that are beyond genetics. 

In the book, Fajardo writes about Colombia’s civil war, which has been ongoing since 1964. “Like my parents’ marriage, Colombia’s embrace of communism and socialism had been a good idea in theory. […] It had been born out of poverty and frustration, inequality, and inattention. Revolution so often gets tainted by the idealism of ideologies.” 

Q: When you think about ideologies and tribalism and other sources of pride and identity, and the backgrounds of your own parents, have you been shaped by their experiences and heritage? 

A: I think that perhaps my overdeveloped sense of empathy is a result. 

My background, my upbringing, and my family story has given me the ability to feel multiple sides. I say “feel” instead of “see” because for me it is beyond just the recognition of different perspectives. I can feel what others are feeling. I think I had to develop that skill in order to make peace with my parents’ individual stories and the story of their separation and divorce, as well as the differences between the countries and cultures of the U.S. and Colombia.  

Q: After you met the half-brother you did not know you had, you write that you felt connected to him. If not by environment, what do you think that connection is? 

A: I would love to believe that by simply sharing DNA, my half brother and I have a connection. I had never met anyone else in my life growing up in Minnesota who was half- Colombian. In fact, I had known very few people who were multi-ethnic. 

Growing up here in the 1980s, Colombia was this foreign place almost no one had heard of. Here was this person who had had a similar experience as me. We both had white single mothers who were hippies and did not feed us sugar cereal. We both had spent our lives wondering about our dad. We are very different in many ways, but those shared experiences connect us. 

Anika Fajardo will be doing a reading on Facebook Live via the Brainerd Public Library on June 8, 12-1pm. 

Excerpt: “Magical Realism for Non-Believers” 

I didn’t embrace my Latino heritage until I left for college, when I left behind my white mother and my white friends and my white relatives. I joined the Hispanic Student Association and listened to Spanish-language rock and roll and ate Mexican buñuelos and arroz con pollo. We went to movies and met in the library for study sessions. We held bake sales and salsa dances. It was 1994, and Cesar Chavez had just died, his death still inspiring marginalized Latinos and farmworkers. We lobbied the administration to allow us to change our name — radically — to the Latino Student Association. 

Hispanic implies a language, a common Spanish origin, and Hispanic is an English word, given — not taken. And not all Latinos are Hispanic. We don’t all grow up speaking Spanish, we’re not all descended from Spaniards. The U.S. Census uses Hispanic and Latino interchangeably, as if words hold no meaning. Origin, country of birth, heritage. It’s all lumped together. “Too political,” the college administration said. 

How differently we hear the sounds of words. 

Even after I learned how to dance the merengue, my Mexican American friends would good-naturedly call me “half-breed.” Me with my white mother and Latino father. Me with a half brother. 

Looking at him manning the grill, I saw that we both have something of the same half-and-half look to us. Not quite foreign, not quite domestic. We could be Italian, Middle Eastern, French, American Indian. 

Children get half their DNA from their mothers and half from their fathers (although there is a little fuzzy math there in that you get just a bit more from your mother on account of her X chromosome), and siblings share half their DNA. Half siblings, although they also get half their DNA from the same parent, share only an average of 25 percent of their DNA, similar to a first cousin. Yet I already felt more connected to my new half brother than to my father, with whom I share as much DNA as I do with my mother. Silas and I were nothing alike and at the same time similar beyond measure. 

Excerpted by permission of the University of Minnesota Press from “Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family” by Anika Fajardo. Copyright 2019 by Anika Fajardo.