Date: 2001-02-16

Akron Beacon Journal (OH)


Author: Jim Quinn, Beacon Journal staff writer

Jane Viasana has never thought much about the distinctive way she holds her hands when she's nervous. She never imagined there was anything special about the sound of her laughter, or the sound of her cries.

But those things took on a special significance last week when the 23-year-old Viasana was reunited with her biological mother after two decades.

"She holds her hands just like me," Viasana said, demonstrating how she crosses her hands just under her chin. "Her laugh sounds just like me. She sounds just like me when she cries."

The long-delayed meeting brings closure to the traumatic turn that Viasana's life took when she was a baby in El Salvador. She was taken to an orphanage, put up for adoption, flown to the United States and raised by an adoptive mother, Judy Weideman of Cuyahoga Falls. Only as an adult did Viasana realize she was not an orphan.

Viasana is one of about 500 children adopted by Ohio families during the civil war in El Salvador. The families were told that the children were orphans, but after the war ended, Salvadoran officials discovered that many of the children were actually taken from their parents by government soldiers who used kidnapping to intimidate revolutionaries.

Since then, investigators in El Salvador have been re-establishing contact between the children and their relatives. So far, 52 families have found their children, with four traced to Northeast Ohio.

Viasana and her husband Eric flew to El Salvador on Feb. 8, and the next day they were taken to the home of her biological mother, Rosa Alicia Campos Mancia. While Eric videotaped the reunion, they were greeted by an enthusiastic little girl, Blanca Mancia, 5. "My big sister is here!" Blanca said in Spanish.

Taking Viasana by the hand, she pointed down the walkway and said, "Our mother is waiting."

It was the first time Viasana had seen her mother since leaving El Salvador as a child in 1983.

She remembers no Spanish, but was able to communicate with the help of her husband, who speaks fluent Spanish.

Over the next two days, Viasana met most of an unexpectedly extended family: three stepbrothers, two stepsisters, a grandmother, two uncles, one aunt and two cousins. She learned that the family is still searching for a sister adopted in Spain, although a brother adopted by a Salvadoran family had been found.

"To top it all off, my biological mother is pregnant with twins," Viasana said.

Her biological father, who apparently played a role in sending the children to an orphanage and keeping Campos from finding them, died after Viasana left El Salvador. Campos said she had almost given up hope of ever finding her children.

"It was very hard to leave after only two days," said Viasana, who returned to Ohio on Monday so she could resume her studies at Southern Ohio College, where she expects to graduate in November as a medical assistant. The Viasanas hope to return to El Salvador soon and to arrange for Campos to visit the United States.

Left in the emotional backwash of the trip is Viasana's adoptive mother, Weideman, who remained in Ohio with the couple's two children. Weideman said she supported Viasana's effort to find her relatives, but some elements of the reunion were awkward.

"The hardest thing has been the wording," Weideman said. She said she feels twinges when Viasana refers to her Salvadoran relatives as "family" because "her family is here, in Ohio." Both women said they feel strange using the word "mother" to describe Campos, because Weideman raised Viasana.

"I considered canceling the trip," Viasana said. Weideman "will always be my mom, and I wouldn't have gone if I'd thought it would hurt her."

Weideman nodded. "Jane and I have a bond that no one will break," she said. "I have no feeling that I'm being replaced."

Jane and Eric Viasana talk about El Salvador, flanked by children Daniel Stuart (left) and Taylor Ann.
color photo of the family of Jane and Eric Viasana;
2 headshots: Rosa Alicia Campos Mancia, and Judy Weideman


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