And, while critics say a child’s most important need is a stable home, many experts insist that adoptive families understand that race – how you look on the outside – shapes identity and how people are judged. “We often think love will conquer all, but we know that it doesn’t,” said Maria Quintanilla, executive director of the Latino Family Institute – the only agency in Southern California specializing in placing Latino children. “First of all, we need to remember that adoption is created through loss,” Quintanilla said. “(Children) are already coming in with multiple losses – their siblings, their neighborhoods. And, on top of that, they are losing their culture, their history. “It’s one loss after the other.” Colorblind placements For much of the 1970s and ’80s, social workers in major metropolitan areas favored same-race adoption. But then came the 1989 case of Maurice West, a 2-year-old African-American who was taken from a white foster home in Ohio and adopted by an African-American couple in New York. Eight weeks later, the toddler died of repeated beatings by his adoptive parents. That case prompted then-U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio to sponsor the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, which prevents race from becoming the primary factor in determining placement. The 1994 rule was amended two years later to prohibit agencies from considering race at all, essentially ensuring agencies are colorblind. Social workers could no longer delay or deny an adoption because of race and, in some cases, couldn’t talk about ethnicity with families. But the bill also required greater recruitment in communities with adopted children. “The feeling was that agencies were not placing kids from foster care in families because they couldn’t locate enough families (of the same race),” said Kate Cleary, executive director of Consortium for Children, a San Rafael, Calif.-based group that mediates open adoptions. “They thought we would see loads of kids adopted … because they removed this artificial barrier. “The effect has been negligible. We still have huge numbers of kids waiting for families.” Recently, the Department of Children and Family Services has expanded recruitment in African-American and Latino churches. The department also is partnering with faith-based groups to feature an adoptable child in the church bulletin and is training adoptive parents how to recruit other would-be parents. But some like Quintanilla say the department still has this ideal of what a family should look like and don’t have enough outreach in the Latino community. Maintaining family ties “Who is gorgeous?” Israel Segal coos as he hugs Ziggy. The toddler giggles, dropping his head to his chest, then quickly peeking at his dad. “Who is gorgeous?” Segal repeats, tickling the little boy as he wiggles around. More giggles. “Not me,” Ziggy replies, with a wide smile. “Nooollllllaaa,” he says pointing to his sister. The twins are very close, and Segal hopes they’ll remain that way so they can help each other deal with cultural questions as they grow older. The couple has also found support in the black community and has promised to attend holiday functions hosted by the African-American family that adopted the twins’ half-sisters and half-brothers. While Segal and Holweger make an extra effort to bridge the racial gap, others hardly give it a thought. Bertha Monroy, a 57-year-old Salvadorean immigrant, says she really never considered the heritage of her two African-American children until somebody brought it up. “Briona was something very special,” she said of the 5-year old African-American girl who arrived at her house last year. “She came with marks (of abuse) on her body. Somebody did something very terrible. I started to love her.” And vice versa. Briona picked up Spanish within two weeks and clung to Monroy, staying up late to clean up the North Hollywood house. “She says, ‘Mommy, I want to help you with dishes.’ I had to pretend to go to sleep so she would fall asleep. She stole my heart.” On the day of adoption, another foster mother caring for Briona’s older sister met the olive-skinned Monroy at the court. “She told me, ‘What are you going to do with a black girl?’ and I said, ‘Listen to me. I am black, too. Don’t you see my color skin?’ … I was so angry.” She eventually adopted Briona, as well as her elder sister Tatina. She learned from a friend how to take care of the girls’ hair and skin. But, she said, she is not going out of her way to go to certain churches or expose them to different people because the girls are black. Instead, she said, she will wait for them to lead the way. “They are human and similar to me,” she said. “One day they are going to decide to go to their neighborhood and if they want me to go then I will follow.” It’s perhaps the best move a parent could make, stepping back. “This is not a walk in the park,” said Mei Lin Kroll, a 30-year-old West Los Angeles loan officer, who is the adopted daughter of Joe Kroll, executive director of North American Council on Adoptable Children. She was just 3 when her parents adopted her through an international Korean adoption agency. As a youth, they enrolled her in Korean culture camp, signed her up for a preteen Korean group and made lifelong friends with a Korean-American baby sitter who taught her the Korean language. But they couldn’t stop children from teasing her about her flat face or small eyes. And, in the end, that was fine with Kroll, because they let her learn for herself. “Sometimes my parents didn’t have answers for things … but they realized there was nothing they could do.” Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 [email protected] ADOPTIVE FAMILIES Nearly a decade after Congress forced adoption agencies to throw out race as a deciding factor, interracial adoptions have surged. In Los Angeles County alone they have doubled over the last five years. Fiscal Year Statewide Adoptions/ Los Angeles Adoptions/ Interracial Adoptions in L.A. 1999 6,806/ 1,865/ 559 2000 7,607/ 2,841/ 641 2001 8,161/ 2,604/ 1,006 2002 6,097/ 1,629/ 703 2003 7,071/ 1,793/ 1,042 SOURCE: California Department of Social Services160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! It took just a few life-changing seconds for Dane Holweger and Israel Segal to fall in love with Ziggy and Nola. But even with that boundless love, the two know they can’t protect their adopted African-American children from racism. As Caucasian men, they just don’t have the experience. “I can’t raise them as a black parent because I am not black,” Holweger said of the 3-year-old twins. “But we are hugely supportive of our children as black children. We want to provide for them culturally.” Nearly a decade after Congress forced adoption agencies to throw out race as a deciding factor, the numbers of interracial adoptions have surged. In Los Angeles County, they have doubled over the last five years. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Still, the adoption rainbow is hardly idyllic. A debate over the propriety of cross-racial families rages behind closed doors. Some who advocate placing children in same-race families fear that speaking out could cost them federal funds tied to ensuring adoptions are colorblind. Segal admits that, when he and his partner initially talked about adopting a child of a different race, he was hesitant, even frightened. But more heartbreaking was the long list of African-American boys and Latino siblings who were waiting for adoption. “(Our social worker) said people didn’t want children of color, especially boys,” said Segal, the son of a Holocaust survivor. “They were kind of afraid of black boys. It shocked me. But once you meet that child, that’s the child you want and all that goes out the window.” Los Angeles County officials estimate about 1,200 children are available for adoption at any time. About half are Latino, one-third are African-American, 13 percent are Caucasian and 2 percent are American Indians or Pacific Islanders.