Jacqueline Arias was 28 years old when she met her mother.
She arrived on her sisters’ doorstep in Alajuela and held the older woman in a tearful embrace for a long moment.
The last time they had seen each other was more than two decades earlier when Arias was only four. It was at that time that social workers arrived at their home and found Arias and her siblings being cared for by their 13-year-old sister.
“They saw we weren’t being properly taken care of,” Arias said, piecing together the parts of the story she’s managed to collect. “So they took us into foster care and told my mother it was a temporary situation until she could get a house … One day she showed up to see us and we were gone.”
Arias and her older brother had been adopted by a family in the United States, and eventually arrived in a small town in Ohio by way of Panama. An older sister was also adopted internationally and moved from Panama to Florida.
Arias had a typical U.S. upbringing – attending local schools, listening to popular radio, and dressing in the latest styles.
But she always felt different, almost as an outsider in her new home. She knew that one day she’d go looking for her birth mother.
When that moment came, it felt almost surreal. Maybe she expected all the years they spent apart to melt away, but, working through a language barrier, she felt distant from her biological family.
“I knew my mother felt a sense of guilt,” Arias said. “I knew she loved us and that she never meant to give us up.”
As a means of healing, Arias, now 39 and living in New York, turned to her skills in photography and videography as an artistic outlet. She began recording scenes from her meetings with her family, planning for an eventual film written from the perspective of her mother.
For more on this story, see the June 4 print or digital edition of The Tico Times