For James Beni Wilson, courage was all that he needed to overcome his deep-rooted fear of knowing his past.
Adopted as a baby, Beni, as he is fondly called by his friends, was raised in the United States of America (USA) but decided to embark on a journey back to the Philippines to complete his identity.
“As I grew up in a foreign country, I started to see the difference between myself and the community. I felt that I did not belong,” said Beni.
He added that kids on their neighborhood would say a lot of nasty words about his physical appearance, especially about the color of his skin.
In spite of the hardships, Beni still tried hard to live and grow up normally, but deep in his heart he knew that a part of his identity still needed to be discovered.
When Beni turned 18 years old, he contacted the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Central Visayas to help him locate and meet his biological parents and relatives.
After receiving confirmation from DSWD, Beni returned on August 2013 to his birthplace and started gathering important details about his missing past. This was his first time to set foot in his birthplace since he was adopted.
During his stay in his hometown, he found out that his second name, “Beni,” is a Visayan word for “Binitay,” which means “hanged” in English.
Beni was given that name because he was allegedly found hanging on a banana tree when he was still a baby, by a woman named Elizabeth Ochia. Elizabeth surrendered him to the Local Social Welfare and Development Office in Tabogon, northeast of Cebu.
To Beni’s surprise, however, a twist in his story was later revealed.
He learned that Elizabeth, the woman who allegedly found him, was his biological mother. Beni further learned that he was christened Isagani Gulina Ochia by his biological family.
“Reading my case study report prepared by the DSWD made me wonder how a mother could abandon her child,” said James.
Acceptance and understanding
It took him a month to process the information emotionally before eventually realizing that there must have been a reason why he was surrendered by his mother. He eventually forgave his mother and accepted his fate.
Beni never had a chance to talk to Elizabeth as she died of liver cirrhosis four months before he arrived in the Philippines. But his relatives told him about their family’s situation back then and how hard it had been for Elizabeth to give him up.
In fact, Beni’s biological family tried to get him back but it was too late for he had already been adopted by an American couple from Michigan through inter-country adoption.
Inter-country adoption refers to the process where a Filipino child is legally adopted by a foreigner or a Filipino citizen permanently residing abroad where the petition for adoption is filed.
Inter-country adoption is a step taken when domestic adoption is not immediately possible, and this is undertaken through the Inter-Country Adoption Board (ICAB), an attached agency of DSWD.
Quality time with biological relatives
On April 29, 2015, Beni made his second visit to the Philippines. Unlike his first visit, Beni had more time to bond with his biological family.
By constantly communicating with his immediate family and relatives, he learned more things about himself. Slowly, his longtime questions about his true identity have been answered.
Helping fellow Filipino adoptees
Currently, Beni is back in the USA, carrying with him his goal to help fellow Filipino adoptees.
He now serves as a camp counselor for the Filipino Heritage Camp for Filipino adoptees in Colorado. Through this program, he is able to interact with the Filipino adoptees and help them by sharing his experiences.
“I hope that I am able to connect with other Filipino adoptees because I want to see if they have similar feelings and experiences that I had while growing up as an adoptee, specifically those who were adopted by foreigners,” he disclosed.
To his fellow adoptees, Beni would advise them to learn more about themselves. He added, “Get information about your background and have an open mind to accept your past.”
Beni has a full-time job. But he plans to take up Bachelors in Social Work at Arizona State University through their online courses to gain more knowledge on how to deal with various kinds of people who need help.
Today, Beni has accepted his past and has moved on. With that, he can now focus on the present with the goal of achieving a better future with his loving parents, his newfound relatives, and his vocation of helping fellow adoptees. ###