My mother was born and raised in Lima, Peru; my father, in a small town in Oregon. They met in the late 1960’s when my mother was working in the Peace Corps Office in Lima and my father was serving in the Peace Corps. After several years, they moved to the States, got married and settled in Roseburg, Oregon where I was raised.
Lima and Roseburg could not be more different, and in the 70’s and 80’s they were even more distant than they are now. No social media, no Skype, no e-mail; long distance calls were very costly. My mom was the only one in her immediate family that migrated to the US. I visited our family in Lima several times as a child, but it wasn’t until after college, when I really explored and connected with my Peruvian ancestry and identity. At that time, I spent a year in Peru to get to know my family and the country.
That year was transformative for me. I spent time with relatives, learned about my family history, took classes at the university, made friends, read about Peruvian history and politics, traveled around the country and became fluent in Spanish. By the end of the year, I felt more connected to myself and what, for me, the *Peruvian* in Peruvian-American meant.
It was also the year that the seed for this Peace Corps Kids was planted. I was on a very long train ride in the Andes mountains, when I ran into a young woman whose mother was also Peruvian and her father, also a Peace Corps volunteer. Like me, she was in Perú to better connect with her Peruvian roots. We had so much in common; we talked for hours. We both had studied anthropology and had visions of starting an intercultural exchange program for US college students to spend time in rural Perú.
This experience made a really big impression on me. I grew up in a small town in rural Oregon, where 99% of the community was white. Up until that train ride, I had not met anyone with whom I had so much in common. And at some point shortly after that train ride it occurred to me that there were so many more people like more who shared this intercultural, interracial, international personal story. It was like I had finally found “my tribe.” I dreamt about finding more Peace Corps Kids, sharing stories with each other and with the world.
But it was 1995, and there was no way to easily find other Peace Corps Kids. So, I let the idea go. About 20 years later, I found myself grappling with my identity again. Donald Trump had started his campaign and tensions around race and racism were increasing. In articles on social media and discussions at work and among friends, I kept hearing people talk about “white people” and “people of color.” I wanted to engage in equity and justice work, but I found myself feeling unsure of where I belonged. I definitely did not feel that I belonged with “white people,” but I wasn’t sure I would be fully accepted among “people of color.” It was during this time that the idea of Peace Corps Kids started to re-emerge, and finally in 2018, I launched the Peace Corps Kids website and online community.
Peace Corps Kids has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what it means to navigate the space between our country’s racial categories. It has also been an opportunity to build community for myself and for others. I am collecting stories of Peace Corps Kids who are simultaneously from Thailand, Ghana, Kenya, Colombia, Philippines, Gabon, Honduras, Palau, Jamaica, and Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Illinois, and Texas. I am compiling these stories and pictures to create a book for mixed race, multicultural kids and young people who might not have role models in their lives that share this identity.
With this project, I hope to create a sense of belonging for people who have felt like they never have quite fit in, to normalize multiracial families and identities, to celebrate and leverage multicultural and multiracial identities and families and to foster the well-being and leadership potential of our Peace Corps Kids whose ages range from 1 week to 51 years old.
I have to admit as an anthropologist I find this project fascinating, but more importantly, I believe our stories, our lived experiences and our leadership can help to make the world a more just, inclusive and peaceful place.
To find out more, go to the Peace Corps Kids website