Date: 2000-10-30

Akron Beacon Journal (OH)


Author: Jim Quinn, Beacon Journal staff writer

The truth arrived in a thick white envelope.

Judy Weideman was the first person to see the letter. When she saw the return address, she realized at once that lives were about to change.

"You have a letter from El Salvador," Weideman told her adopted daughter, Jane Viasana.

Viasana, who lives in Cuyahoga Falls, opened the envelope. "I was just hysterical when I saw what was inside," she said.

They found a letter and a photograph of a woman that showed what Viasana might look like in about 20 years. The letter explained that the woman was Viasana's biological mother, whom she hadn't seen since they were separated during El Salvador's civil war two decades ago.

Her name is Rosa Alicia Campos Mancia. She thanked Weideman for raising the daughter taken away so long ago. And she said Viasana has younger siblings who want to meet her.

Could she come?

On one level, this is the story of two families separated by war, and their efforts to find each other. But on another level, this is the latest chapter in an international tragedy, featuring thousands of babies stolen from their parents in El Salvador and sent to live with new families around the world who were misled into believing they were adopting orphans.

For Viasana, 23, the story began March 10, 1977, when she was born in La Palma, El Salvador, and given the name Mercedes Abelina Flores. That's what her birth certificate says, although Salvadoran investigators say the document may have been faked by government officials who deliberately disguised children's pasts so they could be adopted.

"At this point, I have no faith in anything I've been told," Viasana said.

The official version is that her mother abandoned her, and that she was taken from her alcoholic, abusive father when she was 5.

At least part of that is true, Viasana said, explaining that she remembers her father and that she carries physical and mental scars from his abuse.

The records indicate that she spent six months in an orphanage before she was adopted on Nov. 16, 1982, by Weideman.

At the time, Weideman was a single art teacher who wanted to become a parent. She was fearful of adoption, however, because during the early '80s there were numerous news stories about adoptive parents fighting - and losing - custody battles with biological parents.

"I didn't want someone knocking on my door someday, saying they wanted their child back," Weideman said.

That's why she turned to a local group called Concern for Children. The group arranged U.S. adoptions of children who - it thought - had been orphaned during the Salvadoran civil war.

Soon after the war ended in 1987, Salvadoran citizens claimed that many of these "orphans" were actually victims of a secret government policy to demoralize revolutionaries by stealing their children and arranging for them to be adopted in Italy, France, the United States and remote sections of El Salvador.

Viasana said she was always skeptical of the official version of her background. She remembers her father visiting her in the orphanage and promising to do everything in his power to take her home.

"I can't believe that he would ever have agreed to put me up for adoption," she said.

She also remembers that the war was literally played out on the streets of her old neighborhood, where revolutionaries and U.S.-backed government soldiers fought regular gunbattles.

For years, Viasana had nightmares about the violence, and she was tormented by fears of abandonment. She said she fought with Weideman until she was 13, when she finally realized her new mother would never let her go.


The memories of El Salvador came rushing back in 1996, when Viasana read an Akron Beacon Journal report about Gina Craig. The 17-year-old Silver Lake resident had been tracked down by an investigator for the Association in Search of Disappeared Children, a group formed to reunite families separated by the war.

Tom and Stephanie Craig had adopted Gina in 1984, after being told her family had died in the war. It turned out that her father had been active in the revolution and that government troops kidnapped her and falsified her background.

In a reunion captured by a video crew from 60 Minutes on CBS, Gina Craig returned to El Salvador and met the parents, brothers and sisters lost when she was kidnapped.

These tragic events in El Salvador had a special meaning in Northeast Ohio. About 400 to 500 local families adopted Salvadoran children between 1979 and 1985. The region's main link to El Salvador was the Rev. Kenneth C. Myers, a parish priest from Cleveland who established a mission in El Salvador before the war and remains there today.

Cleveland-area Catholics began the adoptions as a way to help war orphans, but Myers said it eventually became obvious that some of the orphans had been kidnapped and that the governments of both countries knew it.

U.S. officials "didn't feel any moral responsibility to correct the situation," Myers said in 1996 after Craig was found.

Reading about the Craig family provoked strange feelings in Viasana. "It really made me think about what I should do," she said.

She wondered whether any of her relatives had survived in El Salvador. In August 1996, she and Weideman wrote to the Association in Search of Disappeared Children to ask for help locating family members.

Over the last four years, the Salvadoran group has begun investigations for 465 families looking for children lost during the war. So far, it has located 52 children. Viasana is the fourth found in Northeast Ohio.


One of the stranger cases involved the family of Tony and Sally Dalessandro of Tallmadge, who adopted two unrelated boys from El Salvador. Joe, who is now 23, and John, 20, also contacted the association after learning of Craig.

After a yearlong investigation, the association discovered that Joe had a biological sister who had been adopted by an American family in Euclid. On Oct. 31, 1997, Joe was reunited with Yanira Prokop, who is now 20.

"After all these years, it was strange to learn Joe's sister lived just a few miles away," said Sally Dalessandro.

She said the two have remained in close contact and Prokop traveled to El Salvador to look for their biological parents. She found out that her mother mysteriously disappeared during the war. Dalessandro said Prokop encountered fears of reprisal in the war-ravaged country, and the family still wonders whether those fears are preventing Salvadorans from revealing the truth.

Dalessandro said their investigation of John's background showed that government troops delivered him to an orphanage but left no evidence of where he came from. He remembers nothing useful from that time.

"We ran into a dead end there," she said.

Viasana plans to travel to El Salvador to meet her biological relatives. She hopes to go sometime in November, although the young family's budget will be strained by the expense of an international trip. Viasana will make the trip with her husband, Eric, leaving their two children with Weideman.

Viasana and Weideman have spent a long time looking at the picture of Rosa Mancia, wondering what she has to tell them.

"She looks so sad to me," Weideman said.

Viasana suspects that her biological mother endured a lot during the last 20 years and that she'll relate stories that are both good and bad.

She said she is trying to focus on the good. "As I was growing up, I was always jealous of my friends who had brothers and sisters. I wanted some of my own," Viasana said.

"Now I will finally have them."

1- Jane Viasana holds a picture of her biological mother. The two were separated during El Salvador's civil war and
2- From left, Judy Weideman stands with grandson Daniel Weideman, 1; her adopted daughter, Jane Viasana; son-in-law Erick Viasana; and grandson Taylor Weideman. Jane is planning a trip to El Salvador to meet her biological mother.


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