Taylor describes Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead as a tall, awkward public notary who doesn’t seem to know what to do with the small group who has descended on his office. He fiddles with his hearing aids as Estevan and Taylor spin persuasive lies about their pasts and explain how they want to make legal arrangements for Taylor to adopt Turtle from Estevan and Esperanza, who are the child’s parents.
Mr. Armistead is the public notary that the social worker Cynthia recommended. Taylor has asked Estevan and Esperanza to act as Turtle’s birth parents in order to draw up a document of legal custody for Turtle. While the history that Taylor and Estevan tell is a lie, the family bonds between them are real.
Mr. Armistead reminds Estevan and Esperanza that this adoption would be permanent, and Esperanza nods with tears in her eyes. They tell Mr. Armistead that Turtle had no birth certificate because she was born on tribal lands, and that they would like Taylor to be her mother on the new birth certificate. Estevan and Esperanza’s lack of documents and ID are easily explained by their life on “tribal land.”
Cherokee Nation seems to be a part of America that doesn’t follow American laws. In some sense, it is as foreign a country as Guatemala. This allows Estevan and Esperanza to state convincingly that they are from this land. The tribal lands have been more of a home to the couple than anywhere else in America.
Esperanza suddenly breaks in to say that she and Estevan love Turtle, but know that Taylor will be able to take better care of her. She starts to cry, saying that she and Estevan will have to try again to have children when they have a home. Turtle is confused at Esperanza’s crying, and Estevan tell her to be “good and strong, like your mother.” Taylor hopes that one of those mothers might be her.
Esperanza seemingly starts to believe that Turtle really is her daughter, using this opportunity to say goodbye to Ismene. Estevan ambiguously invokes Turtle’s mother, possibly referring to Turtle’s birth mother, Esperanza (her mother for the purposes of this legal document) or Taylor (Turtle’s mother going forward).
Turtle runs into Esperanza’s arms and the whole office watches her and Esperanza say goodbye as mother and child. Esperanza puts her St. Christopher medallion (St. Christopher is the patron saint of refugees) around Turtle’s neck and puts the child in Taylor’s lap. Taylor can only say thank you.
Esperanza and Turtle’s goodbye is no longer for show, and it gives real emotional closure to both mother and daughter. The St. Christopher medallion offers protection to refugees in the Catholic faith, and Esperanza gives this amulet of protection to Turtle as she sends the little girl to her new mother.
The public notary, with great effort, drafts a statement that grants legal custody of Turtle to Taylor from Estevan and Esperanza. Taylor thinks about the two secretaries who signed as witnesses, one of whom looks Cherokee, and wonders what they would do if they ever found out what it actually meant when they signed that document.
The statement of custody uses all the names that all four characters have gone by, honoring their pasts as they move forward into the future. The so-called “witnesses” are actually blind to the miracle they have signed onto, as the real changes in these characters cannot be seen.
Taylor shakes hands with everyone as they leave the office, a strange new combination of friends and family. Estevan looks relieved, while Esperanza looks as if she has been made new. They both wear slightly worn denim clothing so that they look the part of a hard-on-their-luck Cherokee couple. Taylor regrets asking them to dress like refugees again, but the couple care more about helping Taylor than their pride.
They are all still family metaphorically speaking, even though the legal definitions of family have changed. Estevan and Esperanza would still do anything for Taylor and Turtle, just as Taylor would do for them. Estevan and Esperanza are finally able to put the past behind them, as even their clothing represents their new belonging in Cherokee Nation.