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Finding Home in Two Worlds

Part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Santiago Atitlán, Diego's birthplace
photo by Ellen Guettler

Isabel never wants us to go to her home. Her neighbors don't know about Diego, so our translator and friend, Dolores Ratzán, brings Isabel and her children to us. On the morning she is going to come to our hotel, we wait pretty anxiously. Finally, I hear Tzutujil voices coming down the path.

"Come on. Let's go see them. Let's go see if it's really them," I say to Diego.

We run over to say hello. It is Isabel and two of Diego's siblings, Josefa and Juan.

"Hola," says Isabel.

"Y Diego, hola!" I say.

Isabel, Diego's birth mother
photo by Ellen Guettler

I am surprised when Diego goes right up to Isabel and gives her a big hug. Then she takes a step back, looks at him, and starts to cry.

Later, we ask Dolores about it. She says Isabel was wishing Diego's sister Julia could have been with us, because she had loved seeing Diego so much. But we found out just before we came that Julia had died several months earlier. When Isabel saw Diego, it made her feel sadder about losing Julia.

I've asked Isabel many times why she placed Diego for adoption. She always says it's because she can't afford to take care of him. She lives in a cinderblock room with a dirt floor. All she has is a clay pot, a grinding stone and a thin mattress she sleeps on with her children.

A photograph of Diego's birth father

She says the children have the same father; I don't even know his name. He was in the military and now he works as a truck driver in a town on the other side of the volcano. The way Isabel puts it, he comes and goes.

At the hotel, she shows Diego, Dan and me a photo of a man dressed in an army uniform, carrying an assault rifle.

Diego asks, "Who's that?"

"That is your birth father," answers Dan, my husband. "What do you think?"

"He's cool," says Diego.

"He's cool?" asks Dan. "You like the uniform and the gun?"

"I love guns," Diego replies.

"I know you do," says Dan.



Next: part 3