Hi, my name is Ana Bass. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. I make comics with colored pencils about my unique identities.
I started the series Rosalita and Eduardo during the pandemic. I’ve always wanted to create a comic book memoir about the experiences I’ve had as a transracial adoptee from Guatemala who was raised by two Jewish American parents with Ashkenazi backgrounds. Today, I am proud to hold these identities but I didn’t always feel that way.
I was adopted when I was just a few months old. I have a mom and dad who both identify as being culturally Jewish and agnostic/atheist. I have an adopted brother named Jon who is four years older than me. We aren’t biologically related but sometimes people say we look alike and occasionally I joke that we’re twins.
When my parents adopted Jon from Guatemala they were living in Mount Airy, a charmingly diverse and integrated neighborhood in Philadelphia. I grew up there too for the first ten years of my life. While spending my early childhood education at Germantown Jewish Center, I found comfort in learning about Jewish traditions and customs. Being around other Jewish kids and their families was fun! I didn’t think much about being adopted and I didn’t feel different. My mom was the director of the preschool so that was part of why I felt comfortable there. Being Jewish was cool.
But when I started elementary school, my perception of myself changed. I went to a welcoming school, a Quaker school where diversity was valued. From what I can remember there were some families with internationally adopted children. A few classmates of mine had some Jewish background in their families as well, but these classmates were boys and I found them hard to be friendly with sometimes.
Diversity was encouraged; but were there students who looked like me? As an adoptee, have I – will I ever see someone that looks physically like me? In the 90s, when I was growing up, I ended up watching a lot of TV. Weren’t we all, 90s babies? Were there many people of Latin-American heritage specific to mine? Or people with medium brown skin tones? I recall enjoying The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with Will Smith and finding comfort in the characters and their feelings and experiences of being in a totally different environment than the Philadelphia area. The introductory music and music throughout the series brought me joy and wonder.
Even if I haven’t physically seen someone that matches my DNA I am glad that I have been able to see myself in friends. I’m glad that after elementary school I keep up with few significant friends from that part of my life. Our parents also made friends with a few women who also had adopted children from Guatemala or other Central and South American countries. Jon and I grew up playing charades or other games with these kids. These families were like ours.
After 6th grade I graduated from that elementary school and began at a new public school in my township. There were more students and it was more diverse ethnically. Although there was only one Latino boy in my class that I was acquainted with. I made friends with girls with heritages from different parts of Asia and girls who were black. I felt a little more at ease being around a mix of people.
Later on, during my senior year of high school, I tried waitressing at a family owned diner. My experiences at that diner made me hyper aware of how “different” my face came across to white people. Once, when I was giving a man and woman their food, the man motioned me to stop with his hand as he asked, “what are you?” Woah, I thought. What does that mean? I paused. He said, “Ya know, like Mexican, Asian, Chinese…” In my high pitched, fake waitress voice I said, “Oh yeah, I’m Guatemalan.” The woman asked if I knew any Spanish and I told them the truth. “I just know Spanish from school.” I felt picked and prodded at with these invasive questions. There was nothing else left to say so I left their table. Comments and questions like that became common for me as a young woman. I feared being asked that by people who I was just meeting because those questions eventually led to me telling people I’m adopted, something I am private about to people I am meeting for the first time. For me, being adopted is complicated. It’s a blessing that I now have a family who I love but it’s also painful to know that my biological family couldn’t take care of me. People who don’t understand have told me that I’m lucky or blessed. Truly, I have trauma that I can’t even consciously comprehend.
Being the sensitive person that I have always been, I have turned to art to express myself. It is in the past six years that I have taken up comics. I discovered them after I graduated college when I took a class in Philly. I started the series, Rosalita and Eduardo during the fall of 2020. I was reading Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson and thought, can’t I do something like this? I usually do memoir styled comics that are blatantly about me. Like, here I am being annoyed at something someone said, here I am making a joke- I wanted to take parts of myself out and make it more relatable to the reader. I wanted the reader to see themselves in Rosalita because she wonders what it means to be Jewish, adopted, and Guatemalan-American. What does it mean to be a young woman today? Rosalita is 11. I named the characters after my grandparents because in Ashkenazi tradition you’re supposed to name people after those who are deceased. Maybe I’ll be able to have real children at some point in my life. For now, these characters are my babies.
Expressing my identities in a positive way has been a journey. While growing up, my parents tried to incorporate my brother’s and my Guatemalan heritage with being Jewish. For instance, at a Hanukkah party in our house, our mom made a dreidel pinata. At my Bat Mitzvah we gave out small pinatas and M&M’s as party favors and lit a candle on a colorful ceramic arbol de la vida (tree of life). We decorated our sukkah with papel picado flags that had a harvest theme. And for Rosh Hashanah of this year, my mom made a delicious Sephardic feast.
Being Jewish and having Latinx heritage are not exclusive to each other. To me the stories of my ancestors are intertwined. According to my DNA test I am 68% Maya. The Maya are constantly fighting to survive in Guatemala. Since the time of colonization, they have tried to keep their traditions alive and resist assimilation. The Jewish story is a similar one. We have fled persecution and attempts to extinguish our culture and are simply trying to live in a more just and free world. Through my comic series I hope to inspire pride in my readers. I also want to relate to other adoptees with my own personal feelings.
Maybe you’ll see more expressions of my artwork in the future.
Shalom y Paz