Reestablishing family ties

Date: 2007-07-28
Source: Boston Globe
Cambridge group aids Salvadorans' quest to find kin

By Ryan Haggerty, Globe Correspondent

CAMBRIDGE -- Tears welled in Imelda Auron's eyes before she began speaking.

The 31-year-old West Roxbury resident was one of thousands of Salvadoran children separated from their families during the 1980s, while the country was engulfed in civil war.

She had never spoken publicly about her situation or her reunion with her birth family.

But yesterday, sitting next to two other Massachusetts residents who have had similar experiences, Auron finally felt comfortable enough to discuss the joy, heartache, and anxiety that marked her quest to find her family.

The three spoke during a press conference at the headquarters of Physicians for Human Rights, a Cambridge organization that helped them find their relatives. They said they plan to create a network of Salvadoran natives with similar experiences to help others reunite with their birth families.

With the aid of Pro-Busqueda, a Salvadoran organization, Auron traveled in July 2005 to El Salvador, where she saw a sister and two brothers for the first time in more than two decades. Her parents and two oldest sisters were shot dead at home in July 1980, as Auron, then 4, watched.

About three years later, Auron was adopted by a Boston family, and her younger sister was adopted by a Long Island family.

A group of people with similar experiences would have calmed her fears before her family reunion, Auron said. "I was really scared, and I didn't really have any support from anybody, so a group like this would have given me more courage to go through with it."

The network, organized in part by a Salem State College professor, will provide a forum to discuss the personal issues the Salvadorans experience after their separation and, in some cases, abduction, from their families.

The group will also help members manage the daunting logistics of tracking down their birth families, said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, which uses DNA testing to confirm relations between separated family members.

"This network will facilitate the ability of people to track down and reunite with their families," she said. "People feel very isolated, and they're baffled and perplexed about what they should do."

Pro-Busqueda is currently trying to find 454 people separated from their families during the war, said Leonor Arteaga, a lawyer with the organization.

About 60 of those people may live in the United States, and the others are scattered around the world, she said. The agency uses personal documents and DNA test results to make the connections.

About 200 people worldwide have been reunited with their birth families, while roughly another 100 have been located, but have not yet met their birth families, Arteaga said.

The three Salvadoran natives who spoke yesterday -- Auron; Suzanne Norton, 26, of Wilmington; and Nelson DeWitt, 26, of Newton -- met within the past six months, and have bonded over their shared experiences.

"When I first met these people, I felt for the first time that somebody understood me," Norton said. "I needed that encouragement, the knowledge that somebody out there cared about this as much as I did."

Ryan Haggerty can be reached at rhaggerty@globe.com.

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