Monday, June 20, 2016

Pura Vida

A little known fact about me is that I'm half Costa Rican.  As I child, when I'd see the American Flag or sing patriotic songs in elementary school I'd get emotional and choke back tears... okay, I still get emotional during the pledge or national anthem because I'm ridiculously patriotic, but as a kid I would ponder on how grateful I am to be an American and live in the United States.  I've always had a deep love for this country I live in.  I've also always been curious about Costa Rica, which is where my mom comes from.  As long as I can remember, visiting Costa Rica has been one of my biggest goals.

Becoming US Citizens in 1964

My mom was adopted into the United States when she was two years old and her brother was just a baby.  There was some adoption paperwork, naming my mom's biological mother and saying the two kids were given to a stranger in a bar and that man's wife made him take the kids to an orphanage.  We always wondered what possessed someone to abandon their children.  My mom's adopted parents were told that attempts were made to locate the family but no one had come forward.  My mom and her brother, Ronnie, were adopted out of an orphanage in San Jose with along with another Costa Rican boy from a different orphanage.  Her adoptive parents had gone to Costa Rica to adopt a baby and ended up taking three children instead!  I have always thought that was really admirable.

Here they are with kids belonging to the family they stayed with while all the adoption paperwork was completed.
My mom's hair was red from malnutrition and they all had worms.  My mom was afraid of small animals and it was believed to be due to the rats she had been around. Years were spent speculating on where my mom came from and the circumstances surrounding the kids ending up in an orphanage.  A private investigator was too expensive and we didn't know where to get more information.

Written by my mom's father

Eventually, along came the internet and with it, the ability to connect to people worldwide.  My mom posted an ad on the Costa Rican craigslist website with the small amount of information she had about her beginnings in Costa Rica.   A man responded to her and said he worked with public records.  He did some digging and came up with her birth father's name.  A second ad was placed, and someone responded!  The email came from the secretary of my grandfather's brother!  A simple ad in craigslist led to a family reunited.

I remember the first time we made a phone call to Costa Rica.  My mom's Spanish was rusty, so one of my friends offered to translate for us.  We placed the phone on speaker and all sat around the phone anxiously as we dialed my mom's older brother.  

We learned that my mom's biological mother was separated from the kids' father and she had gone into the city with her two babies to try and find work.  Her older son stayed home with his grandparents because he was sick.  While she was in the city, the kids were taken from her by the government and placed in an orphanage.  The family tried to get them back, but with no luck.  The government felt like they weren't being taken care of properly.  We're not exactly sure the circumstances surrounding them being given to a man in a bar, but that testimony in the court documents so somewhere along the lines my grandmother must have felt like she just couldn't take care of her children.

My mom and her biological father.

My mom's biological mother never recovered.  She lived a life of depression, alcohol and men to try and drown out the shame of losing her children.  She died very young and there are no pictures of her.  Her other son, my mom's older brother, was raised by his grandparents and went to work in banana plantations as a child to help support them.  He actually still works in the plantations today.  It's a heart-breaking story for my Costa Rican family to have lost two of their babies, but I know my mom is so grateful for her life in the United States.

Marcos, Alicia, Ronnie... together after over 50 years!
My mom has been to Costa Rica several times to visit since she found her family seven years ago.  On her first trip she was thrown a party to represent all the many birthdays that had been missed over the years.  She met her biological father and brother, several half siblings and lots of aunts, uncles and cousins! Her father's sisters especially were so happy to see her because they remember when the children were taken away.

My uncle, Ronnie, was able to visit Costa Rica a couple of years ago and meet the family too.  We've been working on getting their brother Marcos and his wife here to the United States for a visit so we can show them what life is like for us!  They are very traditional Costa Ricans and think we're a bunch of rich snobby Americans!  They would definitely be in for a shock if they ever came to visit.  My mom keeps telling me what a culture shock I'm in for when I go there!

My mom and her sister-in-law at their home in Costa Rica.
 I have cousins, aunts, uncles and a grandpa I've never met!  My only living grandparent is in Costa Rica.

In a couple of days I will be leaving my "snobby" American life behind to go with my mom, my husband and my three children for a two week trip to Costa Rica for the first time. My Costa Rican family doesn't speak a word of English and I don't speak a word of Spanish, but I have so much love in my heart for these people I've never even met.

Of course as we've been talking about this trip for months we've all been getting excited about going to the Caribbean beaches, seeing sloths and eating delicious food, but really this trip is about family.  These are the people I come from and although communication will be difficult, hugs are universal!

We are not staying at resorts, or even hotels.  We've decided to rent houses and shop at the markets and cook our own food and really get a taste for the beautiful country of Costa Rica.  I'm nervous, but I'm also more excited than I can express!  I spent my whole life imagining where my mom came from and now I'm going to see it firsthand!  


Bobbi said...

This is so wonderful! You are going to have an amazing time!

tiff said...

I'm so excited for you! Sounds incredible!

Connie Anzelone said...

You will have an wonderful time and it will be filled with forever memories because you have a beautiful open heart! Enjoy and be safe! Bring us a ton of stories back!!!