An epic journey to find a family and a tribe Ralph Juarez ’88 never knew.
Two summers ago, Ralph Juarez ’88, a CPA in Modesto, Calif., took two of his sons to visit family on a small, secluded peninsula stretching into Washington’s Bellingham Bay. To get there, Juarez journeyed more than 1,000 miles by bicycle—and half a century into his past, to meet the family that, until six months earlier, he never knew existed.
Juarez had long known he was adopted, but he never knew anything about his biological mother. He was born in 1963 in a San Francisco home for unwed mothers and was adopted by Alfred and Clarissa Juarez. Theirs was a typical, well-adjusted Mexican American family in San Jose, he says; Ralph saw no need to pursue his birth mother. After the death of Clarissa Juarez, however, he sought to uncover the missing part of his story.
Through an adoptee search firm based in Florida, he obtained—after five months of waiting—his adoption documents and a thin dossier on his biological mother: Kristine Brudevold, who died in 1995 from cancer. She had three more children—all members of the Lummi tribe, based in northern Washington. This meant that Juarez, too, was Native American.
Kristine Brudevold was raised on the Lummi reservation and left home in 1962 to attend secretarial school. The 1952-enacted Urban Indian Relocation Program offered educational opportunities for Native Americans in bigger cities—though finding a place to live and navigating one’s way in urban environs were another matter. Kristine journeyed to San Jose, began her schooling, and became pregnant; at the age of 19, she concluded adoption was best for her and her son. She wanted the adoption agency to place the child in a Catholic home; beyond that, she withdrew to avoid the pain of watching her son go to another family. She finished her schooling and moved back to the reservation, where she later settled down with her high school sweetheart.
MEETING THE FAMILY
Within weeks of receiving the dossier, Juarez flew to the Lummi reservation and met his youngest brother, Troy. But the visit was only for a few days. He wanted to do something special, for himself and his children, to mark the discovery of his new-found family: bike 1,000 miles to Lummi with two of his six sons— Zach, a senior in high school who had never ridden more than 30 miles, and John, a junior at Notre Dame University. They set out on May 31, 2010, with more than 100 supporters pledging $17,000 for the Northwest Indian College, located on the Lummi reservation.
The trip from Modesto to Washington took 10 grueling days—punctuated with flat tires, broken derailleurs, fearsome mountains, rain that flew in sideways, and roaring semis sucking the riders into their slipstream. Along the way, Zach managed to take the SATs in Eugene, Ore.
They were greeted with an epic celebration at the Lummi reservation. The Juarez men were wrapped in honorary blankets. In front of chanting drummers and dozens of grateful community members, Juarez presented the school’s faculty with the $17,000 endowment for the newly created Kristine Carol Brudevold Scholarship Fund. Then came the official welcoming of Ralph to his Lummi family— with more than 50 aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins on hand. Juarez’s wife and three more of his children flew up to join the celebration. Fires were lit and salmon roasted.
Later, Juarez also found his biological father—who was staggered to learn he had a 47-year-old son. Juarez has broken bread and talked for hours and hours with four siblings on his father’s side. As for his new sense of identity, Juarez explains, “I’ve always grown up Mexican. I know the culture.” His relationship with his new family is something that adds to, not replaces, the man he thought he was.