DNA IV – Susan Branco

In our final installment of interviews on DNA testing and international adoptees, IAMAdoptee had the wonderful opportunity to connect with Dr. Susan Branco, LPC.  In all of our interviews, the adoption identity is privileged. And yet, IAMAdoptee believes it is essential to hear from those of us who have worked professionally within our community for decades.  Dr. Branco was asked to help us consider the fuller broader context of DNA testing in the world of search and reunion, as well as consider how this resource impacts our sense of well-being and wholeness.


Name(s): Susan Branco

How do you identify yourself?
I identify as Latinx with indigenous heritage. As I have taken several DNA tests when people are curious to know more I can share that I am 60% Native American, 30% Spanish and 10% from other regions of the world. This makes sense as most persons from Colombia share a similar heritage given the Spanish conquest and subsequent colonization.

Where were you adopted from, when and if you would like to share any aspect of your life before adoption?
I was adopted from Bogota, Colombia. I was in an orphanage and then in foster care before I was able to join my adoptive family in the United States when I was approximately eight months old.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. It was not a diverse community. Now I live in south Arlington, Virginia in a predominately Latinx neighborhood.

What is your profession?
I am a licensed professional counselor and had an independent practice working with persons adopted and their families for approximately 15 years. In 2012 I went back to school to earn a doctorate in counselor education and supervision and recently transitioned to full time academic work. Currently I am a core faculty member and clinical training director at the Family Institute at Northwestern University in the clinical mental health counseling online masters program.

IAMAdoptee has been doing a mini series on the use of DNA testing kits for international adoptees. To round out our conversation, and as a fellow adoptee therapist, I have been wondering the impact of this resource on our community.  Like all other resources, it’s not a magic bullet to get us directly to our birth parents, but the wish is there. Wondering what are a few of your thoughts about this resource as a possible way to connect and find birth relatives?
I appreciate being asked to join in this conversation as it is one I have been following since I began DNA testing myself in 2006. While it has the potential to connect to birth family members, this is still not widely the case. I found that DNA results are most helpful with persons working to further solidify their ethnic and racial identity development. As we know, with many transracially adopted persons, this journey can be arduous and without a lot of contextual factors to fill in the gaps. In my practice, I often encouraged DNA testing for parents with teens and emergent adults as a way to gather information. And along that note I strongly recommended that the entire family seek DNA testing to avoid othering the person who is transracially adopted.

How do you see DNA testing as positive presence in the adoption community?
In the Colombian Adoptee (CAD) community, I have seen DNA testing facilitate further exploration of ethnic and racial identity and social justice related issues both here in the US and in Colombia. Also, many are discovering distant relationships such as cousins which has created a more cohesive group, in some cases.

What words of caution do you have about the use of DNA testing kits in the adoption community?
There is a risk of great disappointment if you enter the process with high expectations that you will locate birth family members with testing. In addition, as CADs, some of us have the privilege of “passing” as White and when test results confirm otherwise it can be a challenge to incorporate into an overall identity.

If there was one, just one, piece of advice you would lend an adoptee thinking about using DNA testing, what would you impart?
I like your phrase “magic bullet”. DNA testing is far from being a magic bullet but it is a door opener if you are willing to walk through.

One pervading thought I had was, ok, a match is made, but not any easier than some other methods of searching, like visiting your adoption agency.  The urge is to think beyond the search; to after a match is made. Do you have a similar urge to say anything about this part to help adoptees look at all of this with a slightly wider lens?  And if you do, anything you would share?
YES! We do not spend enough time preparing for post match processes. Because what we are really referring to here is reunion and then post reunion relationships. The first risk is that even if you are matched the matchee may not want to engage at all.

Secondly, individuals need to be prepared (as much as one can be) for the huge overhaul reunion creates in terms of your identity and relationships in general. Speaking to Colombian reunions, many persons encounter multiple challenges to engaging in relationships including and not limited to language, culture, socioeconomic status, education, and religion. All of these factors are difficult to wade through without much support.

Widening the lens a little more, after working in adoption counseling for as long as you have, what is missing in the national discourse on adoption?
I think the aspects of social justice and oppressive factors that have contributed to adoption practices both internationally and domestically are broadening as more of us are contributing to the field. However, one aspect that is not getting as much attention is the first/birth family voice. One organization, Plan Angel, a non profit created by a CAD from Amsterdam, tours all parts of Colombia, several times a year, and meets with first families to distribute and administer DNA testing to help families find their children. In addition, they are illuminating the voices of those who are the most oppressed in the adoption system. I am very grateful to this group as are many.

To connect with Plan Angel and learn more about this organization, connect here: https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/plan-angel/about

What conversations do you believe we should be having more of in the adoptee community?
There is much focus on how adoption impacts children and young adults. Much less is known about how adoption status influences middle and later adulthood. I would be interested in more research and discourse on those aspects.


What’s the best part of being an adoptee?
I feel I can identify with all sorts of people from various cultures as I have had to stretch and adjust most of my life to adapt to different groups. I know I am not alone in this as we have all had to do this to survive.

What’s the hardest part of being an adoptee?
Adoption microaggressions still take me a moment to move on from.

Are there ways that you have incorporated your Colombian heritage/culture into your daily life?
My daughter and I participate in a local Colombian folkloric dance group and this helps us feel connected.

Finish this sentence, next time I go to Colombia, I….
Will be traveling with my 10 year old daughter so she can experience the beauty and culture of our birth country.