Jordyn Iger, a sophomore in Weinberg, has a pretty typical relationship with her mom. Her mom is always supportive of new projects or opportunities Iger pusrues, and will also get on her case about things like apartment hunting or internship searching. But there's one difference – Iger is Chinese, and her mother is German.
"I look like this. My mother is blond," she said. "It never occurred to me that it would be strange that someone with the last name "Iger" would look like me."
And that's just one example of how students can differ from their moms. From being adopted to losing a mother, students have varied experiences – which makes universal holidays like Mother's Day unique for everybody. Sometimes it's not as easy as writing a card or making a collage for Instagram. Mother's Day means something different to everybody.
Iger, who was adopted from China shortly before her first birthday, said holidays like Mother’s or Father’s Day don’t make her think of her biological parents. Iger was raised by a single mother and associates Mother's Day with the mom who helps her with everything from finding new projects to searching for internships.
“In class assignments in elementary school and things like that, it’s very easy for me to think of my mother,” Iger said. “There were always pictures of me and my mom on the front table, or on the refrigerator, or at school Mother’s Day project-type things.”
As far back as she remembers, she’s always known about being adopted. Iger said her mom “really valued being open” about her adoption. Some of Iger's mom's friends who also adopted did not have to tell their children because they ethnically looked the same, but Iger said she would have known her whole story regardless of ethnic differences.
Similarly, Matt DeGregorio, a Weinberg sophomore, was adopted from South Korea into a half Irish, half Italian family. Like Iger, he’s always known about his adoption, partially because of the difference in ethnicity.
DeGregorio has two older sisters – one of whom was also adopted – but is the only family member of Asian descent. He said his family makes “cracks about it, like I‘m the UPS baby" because he is the only one who came into the family from far away.
“I’m like the long distance kid,” he said. “We all knew, it’s like whatever. No dramatic revelation of, ‘Oh my God, I’m adopted.’”
During DeGregorio’s senior year of high school, his mom died of a prolonged terminal illness that got progressively worse. She died a week before Halloween – a holiday that she liked to celebrate by carving pumpkins with the family.
"It was very important that year that we carved our pumpkins," he said.
At big holidays, like Easter and Christmas, DeGregorio said he feels her absence because the whole family is together. However, holidays like Mother's Day have not been made especially hard.
“Father’s Day and Mother’s Day haven’t really been impacted – they’re more of a Hallmark holiday than anything else,” DeGregorio said.
They may just be a Hallmark holiday for some, but in many countries, the holiday is not even celebrated. Medill junior Lauren Cervantes, the daughter of Taiwanese and Mexican immigrants, said that Mother's Day is not a big cultural holiday for her parent's home countries. Still, her family has always celebrated them.
“Because my mom came here when she was around nine, there isn’t really that disconnect of, ‘Oh, what’s Mother’s Day?” Cervantes said.
Though SESP sophomore Genevieve Enowmbitang's parents also immigrated here, the cultural difference is a little more pronounced. Her Cameroonian father did not celebrate Mother's Day – even birthdays are culturally not as important as they are in America.
Because of this, she said her father can be more forgetful about holidays like Mother's Day, but that her family still celebrates them together.
Being mixed-race, Cervantes said her mother sometimes get comments on what race her children are because they do not look fully Asian. But because Cervantes and her mom are of the same general skin tone, she said people usually don’t ask too many questions.
But for Enowmbitang, who is half Cameroonian and half Irish, the mismatch in skin color is an issue that comes up a lot. Her skin is much darker than her mother's, and because of this difference, she often has to explain that her mom is her mom.
For example, whenever Enowmbitang went to dinner or lunch with her mom and a friend, people would assume that she was the friend – not the daughter.
“At first, I was really confused why they were asking, and it made me upset,” she said. “It was a struggle when people would point out my ethnicity, saying, ‘You’re black, you’re black.’”
The problem was especially pronounced as she grew up in a predominantly white community in northern Ill. After coming to Northwestern, though, Enowmbitang found not only other students who were also biracial but also the opportunity to educate others on issues of race. In high school, she said she was always seen as the "token black friend" despite not identifying personally with the culture.
“It was always made very prevalent that I was the black friend, especially through high school,” Enowmbitang said. “Coming to college and having the freedom to meet other people of different colors and explore my own individuality has given me the chance to identify as biracial.”
Cervantes agrees, saying that she likes being able to celebrate both her mother’s and father’s cultures. On the other hand, DeGregorio said that he is not particularly connected to his biological or adoptive parent’s cultures. When doing a heritage project for a class assignment in high school, he ultimately chose to use Ireland “because it was convenient more than anything else.”
Neither DeGregorio nor Iger have ties to their biological families, but Iger has been curious about her birth parents in the past. In high school, she watched a documentary in which four students in similar situations searched for their biological parents. One was actually successful.
“I had no idea that was actually possible,” she said. “That kind of made me realize that it would be better for both me and my biological family that we never know each other.”
Because she believes she was a “product of the one child policy,” Iger said she would not want to potentially incriminate her biological parents by trying to find them.
While DeGregorio doesn't have the same problem, he too doesn't have an interest in learning more about his biological family. The family he's grown up with his whole life are the people who matter to him, he said.
"I always knew I was adopted," DeGregorio said. "I also always knew that my family was my family."
And regardless of how students' families are made up, Mother's Day is a chance to appreciate them.