RiahWillow Daniels


My name is RiahWillow Daniels.  I learned by accident that the man on my birth certificate is not my biological father via ancestry DNA and confirmed it via 23&Me and my ethnicity was different than I thought. Sure he was married to my mom till I was 18 months old and they had been married for 5 years, but that didn’t seem to matter. I grew up believing I had 2 sisters and 1 brother. The sisters from the man on my birth certificate and his second wife. The brother by my mother and her second husband. Loosing two sisters surprisingly wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be because I never quite felt like our puzzle pieces fit together into a family. I always felt like the odd one out. They were always perfectly wonderful to me, but we never could form a bond, past friends. I’m grateful for their friendship and kindness and can never repay that. His second wife I have always loved deeply and respected. She was very loving and kind to me as a child. But it turns out that I carried her husbands surname, but it wasn’t rightfully mine to carry. 

For the first 12 years of my life I was raised by my great grandmother. She raised me culturally and religiously Jewish, all the wile having a Haitian woman come and act like a nanny in my child memory. On weekends I went to my mom’s home to spend time with my half-brother who on weekdays lived with his grandmother. Now I realize she was teaching me culture, foods, faith, and language (Haitian Creole) that belonged to me but she was forbidden to divulge to me we’re mine.

I was abundantly loved and as I look back now I realize we were not wealthy but I never felt want in any way. She never let me know that we struggled financially.  As an adult I learned that my great gran was sworn to secrecy around my entire existence. My mother and her first husband lived in Montreal Canada, yet days before my birth my mother returned to Alston, MA and I was born. From what I understand from other family members, she wanted to give me up but my great grandmother wouldn’t allow it as I was the first born girl in a long line of first born girls. So I stayed in the family.

At age 12 my mother took me back. After she adopted a baby boy. My mother knew nothing about raising a child let alone a new baby. His crib was the first one ever in the home. The first diapers and diaper service, the first bottles, the first playpen and high chair. It was hard on my brother and I to be raising a baby for our mom at 10 and 12 years old. We had great responsibilities at such young ages, but we worked well together and made a great “mom” and “dad”. 

My cultural, religious, and cooking instruction all stopped at 12 year old. At that point I was explicitly raised as a little white girl.  I’ll never understand how I was passed off for a white child when I was dark complected with textured hair. My mother’s whole paternal family is blond and blue eyed and her mother is half English and welsh with light brown eyes with red hair (maternally) and middle eastern (paternally). My brother was born with light hair and green eyes. He and I look nothing alike. So much so that despite only being 2 years apart in age and 1 year apart in school and having many of the same friends, many of them never knew we were half siblings.

I never felt comfortable around white Anglo-Saxon people except for my great grandmother. I was always more comfortable around my black and Jewish friends. I was always passed off as a white child and all the while the kids at school bullied me and called me a “N*??€r.” One of the hardest things I dealt with was the day I came home from school after being brutally beaten by kids at school after they called me that. I got home and my mother asked me what happened. I told her that I was beat and called that name and she said “you tell them black is beautiful and since you are black you are beautiful.” Wait?! What?! Despite my being her little dirty secret, she admitted it in that moment and never again.

When I learned my parentage was not what I was told (Filipino / Asian mix), I approached my mother about it. She denied it so much. It hurt because she said “I never slept with a N*??€r so it is impossible that you are one. Maybe I have black in me from slavery and that is the answer.” My mom might as well be a Swedish for how white she is. I told her, “Mom, I’m in my 50s and it is silly to keep your secret from me. All those who would care are dead.” She still denied it and zipped her lip, to the point she gifted me Asian cookbooks to prove I am not Haitian. 

Sure I am light-skinned, now but I was so dark as a child that folks thought I was a darker Italian girl. Either way I felt so lost as a child in a sea full of people who knew their lineage and culture living steeped in it. So many kids I went to school with we’re Italian and lived with grandparents and parents and other extended family who taught them how to cook their cultural dishes, their language, their cultural history, and so many other things to take pride in. So many of the kids I went to school with held their heads up high and head so much pride that they even had representation in jewelry and clothing, while I was rocking osh gosh begosh.

Why must a child’s existence be such a secret that it is even a secret to that child? I asked mother many times over the years. No answers. I even gave her an out just in case my making was painful from an assault of some kind. Nothing. It is my existence at this time, not her secret. I have always felt guilty for existing, dirty, and shameful. I grew up with a weight on my shoulders that was so heavy, it was chained around my neck from birth. My mother’s shame and secret became my chattel and identity. Mental health issues have followed me for lack of identity.

As an adult in my fifties, I know the truth of where I came from and what I am but I still do not belong in the family I was born into. I have been pushed out without being given a shot to get to know any of the family outside two sisters the age of my children. Still an outsider, rejected, unwanted with abandonment issues.

I think if I were to advise myself what to do prior to undertaking the search for my birth father, I would say Don’t. Or make sure you have a good psychologist on standby for the mental health issues it can trigger. I fell into a deep depression, as well as gained a super short temper. I have been very hurt by all of this. My only saving grace is knowing that in her own way great gran worked hard to help me have a cultural background understanding without disclosing that it was mine so not to risk losing me for spilling my truth. She passed on before I was old enough to ask questions that she could then answer with what little information or she had. 

I think I would also tell my old ignorant self that this journey is gut-wrenchingly hard. It can take your breath away some days and paralyze you from any ability to function. Your head spins, the anger, sadness, and grief of loss for how long you didn’t know you had lost out on your identity. You play the what-if game. You want to grab it and immerse yourself in it but in many cases are told you don’t belong. It is like what was stolen from you will never be your own again. I have been told I’m not black enough to be black and not white enough to be white. So still I have no identity because I have been rejected by the community of my blood, and rejected by the community I was raised in because of the one-drop rule. So still I Don’t belong and am still lost. 

I wish I knew how to feel better. I Don’t. All I know is I just want to belong, but I know I never will.