November is National Adoption Month and RaiseAChild.US is celebrating with twice weekly “Let Love Define Family™” series installments in Huffington Post Gay Voices. Today’s interview features actor and comedian Alec Mapa and his husband, producer Jamison Hebert, who are enthusiastic champions of adoption through the foster care system. Recently, their film about Alec’s one-man show, “Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy,” won multiple awards as it toured the country. Alec can also be seen on ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth” and heard weekly on “Nooner with Alec and Calpernia” on UBNRadio.com. I spoke with them about them about their journey to build their family and much more. -- Rich Valenza, RaiseAChild.US
Rich Valenza: Alec and Jamie, you both have such strong and well-developed wit -- and that is such a great thing. Were you two funny kids, or did that come later in life?
Alec Mapa: I always made people laugh in order not to get my ass kicked. That was my survival technique at home too. I was the court jester in my house because I wanted to please to my parents.
Rich: Did you have a relative that you modeled after?
Alec: My father is hilarious. My father has a great sense of humor. Filipino people have a great sense of humor and, culturally, we’re always laughing about something because that’s a huge survival mechanism. But, certainly, being gay was my crucible growing up. I had to develop a skill that put me on the same social level as everybody else and that was always by entertaining other people.
Jamie Hebert: Growing up I was extremely and painfully shy. I was kind of the dorky class clown/music band nerd. There were a lot of things going on. I think I brought people over to my side by making them laugh. But I got my ass kicked. I couldn’t get out of that.
Rich: As an adoptive father I often think about nurture vs. nature. I see traits in my own kids that I think my partner and I may have influenced. Then I see things that I think they’ve brought to us. How about you with Zion? What traits or characteristics do you think you’ve picked up from each other?
Alec: Zion is hilarious. He’s really, really funny. And I don’t remember him being all that funny when he came to us. He was five years old when he was out of foster care and it was a tragic circumstance, so there was a lot of grief happening. But now that he’s settled and been with us for five years, he’s so funny and quick-witted. He can be very sarcastic in a very biting way, which is very similar to Jamie and I. On the other hand he has a physical prowess that I never possessed as a kid. He has a natural athletic ability that doesn’t come from either one of us. He’s a fearless athlete and he’s becoming a very confident person. His chest has really puffed up and his head is held high, and he thinks a lot of himself. Not in an arrogant way -- but in a really healthy way.
Jamie: He stands up for himself, which he certainly didn’t get from us. When I was a kid I did not stand up for myself.
Alec: Yeah, I never stood up for myself. I was a totally passive kid.
Jamie: And not only does he stand up for himself, he is a real advocate for others -- especially those that have less than him, and that’s made us extremely proud. He’s constantly bringing kids that get hurt on the school playground to the office. He always makes sure they’re okay. He’s a bit of a guardian, and it’s probably because of his foster care situation that he came to us with a lot of will and lots of resilience. It has served him so well. I think a lot of foster kids are extraordinarily strong individuals -- I think it's built into their character when they come to you. And whatever you have to add is just the icing on top. Because I feel like if you’re resilient in this life, and have a lot of strength and courage, you can go anywhere. That’s kind of the foundation that our son came with, and we’re so thankful that he did.
Rich: What was it that made you two decide to adopt from foster care?
Alec: I think it was a natural extension of who we were as people and where we were headed as a couple. I always knew that being a parent was going to be a part of my story. Or I wanted it to be a part of my story. Jamie knew that as well. But we had to reach a point in our relationship where we both wanted it at the same time. And as soon as that happened, it couldn’t have happened faster.
Jamie: I’m just a tiny bit younger than Alec. Ever so slightly. I was a little more reluctant. From my childhood to adulthood I knew I wanted a family, because family was just so important to me growing up and knew that I wanted to raise a child. But when we went on an R Family Vacation cruise for the first time in 2007, it really opened my eyes. There I saw what an alternative family could really look like. It was comforting to see how comfortable and confident all of these families were because I had never really seen that before. So that really kind of pushed me in the direction of taking the foster/adoption classes and being placed with our son, Zion.
Alec: Yeah. That cruise was the first time we ever saw parents that looked and sounded like us, and that made us think that we could do it, too.
Rich: So being a parent has obviously changed your life. How do you think it’s affected you as individuals and as a couple?
Jamie: It’s interesting because I think parenting has changed us both individually, and as a couple. For me, our son, Zion, has made me want to be a clearer person. He’s made me want to go after my goals in life. You know with all of the advice we give our children we really have to hold a mirror up and go, "oh, are we doing this with ourselves?" So it’s made me stronger and made me realize that I want to show him what it’s like to be a really strong, creative individual.
Alec: Well, it’s changed us as a couple because now we’re a triangle. You know, a triangle is different than a couple. There’s a tension there with all of us pushing against each other that wasn’t there before. When it was just Jamie and I, our sole responsibility was our relationship and the nurturing and building of that. And now, our relationship is in the service of raising a child. As a result the kind of things that were commonplace for us before are now luxury. Now we are more conscious of our shopping spree or facials, because that’s less money spent on our kid!
Jamie: We’re wearing the same clothes we did five years ago!
Alec: The biggest difference is everything is better. Things were good to begin with, and Jamie and I were a strong couple from the beginning. But now, everything is richer, deeper and more fulfilling. I know that sounds corny but, ultimately, it’s all worth it because everything is better.
Jamie: Zion’s adoption added a whole third level to everything. Alec and I have been really strong and independent individuals our whole lives. We continue to be so, because we’re enriched by three levels of things: our independence, our relationship and Zion. There are so many different layers going on and it’s made everything better because there’s always something to look forward to.
Alec: It’s fun! Our son is fun! Usually when people talk about parenting there’s an emphasis on the drudgery and they forget that it’s fun. It’s fun to see your child experience something for the first time or develop interests that are unique and their own. It’s fun to build a child up and see them succeed. There’s no other feeling like it. And you can’t really explain it accurately to people who aren’t parents.
Rich: Why are you drawn to encouraging people to adopt through the foster care system?
Alec: I think as a gay person being discriminated against, I had an enormous reserve of compassion for kids who were being discriminated against in a really unfair way. I think that kids in foster care really don’t get a fair hand and they are untapped gold. There is an undiscovered gold mine of humanity in America that people are just walking past each day.
Jamie: I always knew that I wanted a family, I just didn’t know how it would be possible. Alec and I did discuss surrogacy but there are children out there that need homes. I never needed a baby. I never needed a biological child that looked like me. I never needed a little clone of me because in that way, honestly, I feel like our adopted son is a little clone of me! Behind the scenes I’m a ridiculous clown and our son is kind of becoming that. I’m so proud of him. I just feel so pulled to RaiseAChild.US because there is such a crisis out there with so many kids in foster care. So if we can just get the word out -- because we still hear from LGBT people who say, “Oh, I didn’t know it was legal” or “I didn’t know it was possible or that there were so many children out there.” So the more we let them know the numbers and the possibilities and drive them to the right resources in their states and counties, that’s what I want to do and that’s what I want to keep doing.
Rich: You’re doing a lot of traveling around with the film of your one-man show, “Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy.” Your show is hysterical and your film about it is winning a lot of awards at film festivals across the country. While you are traveling and meeting people, are you noticing any positive changes in our community as marriage equality rolls out? Are people watching your film and then asking you more questions about building families? What are you finding or feeling when you travel the nation?
Alec: I found that when I was traveling with the film, I was approached by young couples who were saying, “We’re thinking about becoming parents, but we’re not ready.” Or, “I want to become a parent, I want more information.” I’m certainly still getting that, but I’m also getting a lot more people who come up to me and say, “My kids are grown. I adopted like you and they’re grown and successful.” I’m getting a lot of older gay men or older gay couples who come, who’ve already been through their parenting journey, which is really reassuring to me. Because at first I wondered, how did those children of gay parents turn out? But I’m hearing that they grew up and are doing great and are happy young adults. They grew up knowing that they were loved so, as a result, they’re successful people.
Jamie: What we’re getting, while traveling the country, is that there are so many more people coming out. More and more, that’s not as big of a deal. Now they think, “Oh, there’s opportunities for us to have a family.” So I think it’s just dominos falling. It was huge to come out and now you have this ability to build a family that you may have never thought you had before. So the people who are coming to us are getting younger and younger. We’ve met plenty of mid-twenties couples who are thinking of taking foster and adoption classes. To me, that’s just astonishing.
Alec: I think the issue is that gay lives have become larger. We’re leading bigger lives now, with more opportunities, because there are more possibilities now than ever before.
Jamie: I think society is opening up.
Alec: What I think the flourishing marriage equality movement has done is to embolden people to think of their lives in bigger terms. To think of their lives as “I’m not just going to have a boyfriend, I’m going to have a long lasting relationship. I’m going to build a family.” There’s more possibilities for us than ever before. The possibilities seem endless.
For National Adoption Month, RaiseAChild.US is hosting two free events for prospective foster and adoptive parents. We hope you will join us and learn about the advantages of building a family through fostering and adoption. Tuesday, December 2nd at The Garner House in Claremont, CA. Wednesday, December 3rd at The Montalbàn Theatre in Hollywood, CA. RSVP and information at www.RaiseAChild.US.
Rich Valenza is the founder and CEO of RaiseAChild.US, a national organization
headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to
build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,400 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US.