TRIP TO ORPHANAGE HITS HOME

Relates to:
Date: 2000-05-07

Akron Beacon Journal (OH)
Author: Laura Haferd, Beacon Journal staff writer
Dateline: COPLEY TWP.:

Carrie Coon had just turned 3 in 1983 when adopted sister Morena, 4, joined her family. From the beginning, the two girls were very close -- and together they made a charming pair, with Morena the dark one and Carrie the fair one, both pretty girls with long, straight hair.

Morena was one of several hundred young children from El Salvador who were adopted by Northeast Ohio families in the early 1980s. That was when the Salvadoran civil war was at its height.

This summer, Morena's younger sister, now 19, is traveling to El Salvador, hoping to connect with the biological family that her older sister cannot remember.

The war in El Salvador ended in 1992. And within a few years, biological parents of some of the children who had been stolen for adoption during the conflict came looking in the United States. By that time, most of the adopted children were in their teens. Carrie was 16 then. Morena was 18.

Morena was not one of the children who learned they had been stolen. John and Paula Coon, who also were raising three sons in their Copley Township home, had orphanage paperwork that included the names of Morena's biological mother -- Rosa Sanchez -- and her father -- Flores. By that time they also had located Morena's older sister, who was adopted and living in Sacramento.

Morena says today she would love her family members to know she is OK and to know they are OK. But she doesn't want to get into contact with them.

"It would be kind of hard to put them in my heart now," she said. "I mean, they always have a place there -- the way I think they are. But to find them, it's like meeting a perfect stranger."

Morena, 21, now is in the Navy, serving her second year of a four-year hitch stationed on the aircraft carrier John Fitzgerald Kennedy at Mayfield, Fla. She understands, she said in a telephone interview, that her sister Carrie is very interested in finding her Salvadoran relatives.

That is one reason why Carrie is joining a group of 55 Ohio students -- including many Salvadoran adoptees -- who will travel to Santa Tecla, El Salvador, in August as part of a medical mission to an orphanage there.

The orphanage operation -- one for boys and one for girls -- is located in Ahuachapan, near where Morena's birth family may be located, Carrie said. She is raising $1,500 to pay her way for this trip, and will take with her donated medical supplies for the orphanage.

The medical team will be led by Dr. Harvey Tucker of Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron.

Morena supports Carrie's quest because, "She just wants to know for herself what kind of people they were. I just know that's the way she is. We are very close."

Carrie remembers how frightened Morena was when the two girls were preschoolers together.

"She was really possessive of her toys," recalled Carrie, a freshman at Mount Union Col lege. "I remember I wanted to hug her, and she would run away because she was afraid of me."

Over the years, Carrie became more and more interested in Morena's Salvadoran background. She recalls their parents taking them to see the 1989 movie Romero about the Salvadoran archbishop who was assassinated during the war in 1981. The film included some graphic scenes of the war and its violence.

"My parents never really held us back from those things," Carrie recalled. ". . . When I saw the movie, and just the violence there, I was fascinated by that society and how those people have so little, compared to what we have here."

Carrie and Morena's parents told their children that Morena had been rescued from a dangerous place, where she had been so poor she had had to sell candy on the streets.

"It was pretty frightening," Paula Coon recalled. "We went (to adopt Morena) on the weekend after the U.S. Embassy was bombed -- in July of 1983."

In elementary school, Morena didn't always blend in.

"People would say, 'Is she your real sister?' because we don't look alike," Carrie said, describing her sister's dark-skin, her dark hair -- the features she got from her Mayan ancestors. "A lot of people didn't know what adoption is, and where El Salvador is."

The teen-age years were hard for Morena.

She was a senior in high school when publicity surfaced about the Salvadoran children being stolen for adoption here. It caused a crisis with her adopted family.

"Morena has never said, 'You're not my real mom, you're not my real dad,' " Paula Coon said, "But she was becoming disruptive in the family.. . . Morena had more baggage than the average teen-ager."

Though it was hard for her to accept her older daughter's distancing behavior at the time, Paula Coon said, "Carrie always knew and understood what Mo was going through. Carrie said to me, 'I have talked to other kids like Morena -- and they're having the same problems.' "

Today, Morena is again on good terms with her family. Her mother says she calls home from the Navy base "almost every day."

And, although Morena does not retain any of the Spanish language that she spoke as a toddler, her sister has become a Spanish-language major in college.

Carrie is very excited about going to El Salvador. It is a place she has imagined ever since she and Morena became sisters.

"We take everything for granted here," she said. "I have always wanted people to understand about her (Morena), where she came from. I thought this would help me understand her a little bit better."

Memo:
Community Extra / City / Donations: Donations for the Concern for Children medical mission can sent to any Fifth Third Bank, designated for the Concern for Children/El Salvador Orphanage. Inquiries can be directed either to the Arlington Road branch of the bank at 330-644-2976 or by contacting the organization's El Salvador program coordinator Pat Burns of Kent at 330-678-0090. She can be e-mailed at pburnskent@excite.com. / Laura Haferd can be reached at 330-996-3715 or lhaferd@thebeaconjournal.com

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