Updated: November 25, 2013 6:56PM
This week, Kathy Amaya will share a Thanksgiving feast with her first-born son — the first family meal together in 35 years.
They’ll have lots they want to talk about. David Amaya Barrick speaks almost no English, but he can say this: “I love you, Mom.”
And for now, that will be enough for Chicago native Amaya, who was reunited with her son on Saturday in San Diego, 35 years after her estranged husband took the then-toddler to Mexico and never brought him back, she said.
“Sometimes, I can’t believe it’s not a dream,” Amaya told the Chicago Sun-Times Monday.
Amaya, 60, didn’t even know her son was alive until she received a phone call earlier this month from a U.S. Border Patrol agent in San Diego, who said Barrick had been detained in a canyon after trying to sneak across the border with Mexico.
Barrick initially told agents he was a Mexican citizen, but then shared a strange tale about being born in a Chicago hospital and taken back to Mexico as a toddler, according to Border Patrol. Intrigued, investigators began to dig and eventually located Barrick’s valid Cook County birth certificate. The agents saw Amaya’s name on the birth certificate and caller her. She flew to San Diego Saturday to be reunited with her son.
“When I saw him at the airport, I knew he was my son because he’s got my eyes and my nose,” said Amaya, who now lives in Wisconsin.
Amaya grew up near Midway Airport, and met Barrick’s father — a native of Mexico — when she was 18. She enjoyed the Mexican dance music scene and found her future husband charming. He was a drummer in a local band.
They married and a had a son.
“In the beginning it was very happy,” Amaya said, but the relationship deteriorated by the time she was pregnant with David.
One day in 1978, after the couple had separated, Barrick’s father picked up the boy for what was supposed to be a day trip.
“That was it,” Amaya recalled. “I never saw him again.”
Amaya said she eventually learned that her estranged husband had taken their son to live with his parents in Mexico.
Amaya called the police, but they couldn’t help her, she said. Amaya never traveled south of the border — in part because she didn’t have the money, but mostly because she was terrified of what her son’s father might do to her.
Through the years, she had four more children. She kept photographs of her first born in a little jewelry box, taking them out from time to time. She said she hasn’t spoken to her ex-husband in 30 years.
This week, Amaya and her long-lost son will return to Wisconsin, where he’ll meet his four half-siblings and countless other relatives.
“We have a lot of catching up to do. So it will take a while,” Amaya said. “He has a lot of questions. He said he was lied to his whole life. I’ve been doing nothing but telling him the truth. He doesn’t need any more lies.”