His life and mine | Translation
► Take our annual survey. Tell us about you and help us build Radio Ambulante’s future.
►Lupa is our new app for Spanish learners who want to study with Radio Ambulante’s stories. More info at Lupa.app.
Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
María del Carmen Martínez clearly remembers a story that she heard often during her childhood. It is one of those family stories that are always retold and that you don’t know when you heard them for the first time. It was the day her brother, Geraldo, was born.
María del Carmen’s mother, Luz Celina Velázquez, used to tell it, but she is 87 years old now and has dementia, so she no longer remembers a lot of the details.
This is María del Carmen:
[María del Carmen Martínez]: When she went into labor on August 7, 1963, they already knew they couldn’t go to Guánica.
[Daniel]: To the Guánica hospital, in southwest Puerto Rico, where the rest of Luz Celina’s children had been born. It was being remodeled, so her husband took her to Yauco, a nearby town.
[María del Carmen]: So they took her there. I understand it was on that same day, August 7. I know she claims that, once the baby was born, she got to see him.
[Daniel]: According to what her mother said, it was a natural birth without complications. And she not only got to see the baby, but she breastfed him as soon as he was born. She held him to her chest and looked at him carefully. A while later, a nurse took him away for routine newborn checkups.
[María del Carmen]: She mentioned that an emergency arose with a woman who was about to give birth. They were kind of moving really fast up there, and then this woman gave birth. Very quick. She spat it out. And they put that baby in the same crib where they had mom’s baby.
[Daniel]: Or so Luz Celina managed to see amid so much hustle and bustle. They probably had nowhere else to put him… who knows. After a while, they brought the baby to her and she noticed something… strange. Something that she couldn’t explain very well, but at that moment she didn’t dare share with anyone.
[María del Carmen]: I imagine her looking at him, seeing something kind of weird, but when she’s in the car with dad on the way home, that’s when she says to dad, “Look, this baby was changed. This is not the one”.
[Daniel]: He did not look like the first baby that was put to her breast and that she breastfed. But her husband wouldn’t return to the hospital. We don’t really know why. He died in 2006 and no ever discussed it with him.
But María del Carmen has a hypothesis as to why her father did nothing to clarify the situation.
[María del Carmen]: I think he didn’t believe her, he just didn’t believe her, he thought it was stupid of her. Postpartum woman.
[Daniel]: He only warned Luz Celina that, if they went back, they would probably have to leave the baby, and that was her biggest fear—not being able to get back the one she thought was her real son and, on top of that, having to give up the one who was already in her arms, that is, Geraldo.
She never confronted her husband…
[María del Carmen]: Very submissive. Maybe she was afraid of him because yes, he was strong, with a strong character, and… and, he didn’t like to listen. He would simply do what he wanted to do, and yes, be sexist.
[Daniel]: Geraldo grew up hearing this story, but almost as a backdrop, because, although Luz Celina never hid it, she never sat down directly with him to explain what had happened. Neither did his father—no one, really. It was not talked about; it was just an anecdote that people did not seem to take very seriously. At the same time, no one talked to Luz Celina about it when she was lucid.
But there was something that definitely couldn’t be hidden: Geraldo didn’t look like the rest of his family. Of his eight siblings, he was the only white, blond one. The others all had olive skin and black hair—the same characteristics as his parents.
In fact, he has a clear memory of the first time a stranger pointed this out to him. It happened over fifty years ago, when he was just a child, but he still remembers. He was walking through his neighborhood, in Guánica, with his mother. This is Geraldo:
[Geraldo Martínez]: A neighbor said to my mother, “Where are you going with that boy? That boy is not yours.” [He said that I was the son of the milkman, that I was too white.] So my mom just insulted the man.
[Daniel]: Geraldo tried not to give it too much importance. It wasn’t until his teens that he began to wonder if he really was part of his family.
[Geraldo]: And it wasn’t because they treated me differently. It was something inside that is unexplainable. There was something inside me that told me that of course, my mom was right, that I had been exchanged.
[Daniel]: But when he asked his older sisters, they tried to explain it to him saying that he looked like other relatives.
[Geraldo]: “You look just like your cousins, the children of uncle Santos, who passed away.” “You look like your grandfather who has big ears, who is tall, skinny, white,” which was true. So then, I, I… let’s put it like this: it calmed my pain.
[Daniel]: Geraldo continued to grow with a lot of doubts, but he was repressing them little by little and just tried to go on with his life. When he was about to turn 19, he moved to New Jersey, in the United States. There he got married, had children, and worked a yacht factory for over three decades.
But every so often, the doubts about his origin reappeared, and that made him feel a deep sadness that he tried to hide.
[Geraldo]: I suffered alone. No, no, no, I didn’t talk about it, no. What my family saw of me, because for them, it was what it was, but inside it was not what it was. It wasn’t all right.
[Daniel]: It wasn’t until early 2021, when he was 57 years old, that the perfect opportunity came for answers. One day he received a call from María del Carmen with a proposal that could help him discover his true origin.
After the break, Valeria Collazo Cañizares, a Puerto Rican journalist, will pick up the story.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. This is Valeria:
[Valeria Collazo]: Although Geraldo tried to hide what he felt, some people did notice his anxiety. Among them was María del Carmen, his younger sister. A few years earlier, in 2006, during one of Geraldo’s crises, they had discussed the option of having a DNA test. But back then it was a complex, expensive and time-consuming procedure. So he didn’t do anything about it.
[Valeria]: But in that call, María del Carmen told him that the procedure was much easier now. According to what she told him, her children, that is, Geraldo’s nephews, had recently had a DNA test. They were curious about their ancestry and family tree, and just for fun they ordered a test online.
[María del Carmen]: “My son told me about the tests that were so accessible, that they sent them to your house. Geraldo, do you have doubts? There are DNA tests. Take one and get rid of the doubts.” And that’s it.
[Geraldo]: Well, without thinking too much about it, I told her, “OK, that’s fine, get me one, send me one, one for mom and I’ll do it. No problem.”
[Valeria]: The thing is that in the last few years, having a DNA test has become much more common. It is no longer as expensive, nor as complicated as before. There are many people who want to know their genealogies, who their ancestors were… and the Internet, as always, provides answers.
There are several services that work in a similar way. They send a test to your home, then they review the genetic material, they tell you what parts of the world your ancestors were from, and they even connect you with living relatives you didn’t even know, but who also had the same procedure. So far, it is estimated that more than 20 million people have taken this type of test.
It is fascinating, yes… but at the same time a little disturbing… Who might show up in that search?
Geraldo and his mother bought a package from the same company as Maria del Carmen’s children, 23andMe. Four days later they received a kit with a tube to put their saliva in and a plastic bag for biological waste.
And they sent back the samples. Now they just had to wait. Two weeks later, Geraldo was alone at home when he received a call from a niece who had helped him get the tests. She wanted to tell him that the results had arrived. And she had news:
[Geraldo]: And she says that… my two nephews show up as my mom’s grandchildren, but I don’t.
[Valeria]: What became evident was that Geraldo was not related to any of them…
[Geraldo]: Nobody showed up on my test, my nephews didn’t show up, my mother didn’t show up, so… what is going on here?
[Valeria]: Although Geraldo had always contemplated that possibility, he really wasn’t prepared. Decades of doubts, of anxiety, of suspicion that he did not belong, and with a simple test, everything was confirmed. And now what?
[Geraldo]: Well, it hit me hard. Tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t believe it, I was so desperate. I went into despair. Just to put it one way, I would have wanted the result to be different; I will not deny that.
[Valeria]: The only thing that occurred to him was to call the other nephew. He thought that maybe he could give him an explanation that was less tough, whatever it was…
[Geraldo]: “Walucho, what is going on here? Is this correct? I got the results, you don’t show up and my mom doesn’t show up.” And I will never forget it, he tells me, “Uncle, the test must be correct. But don’t worry, you’re still my uncle.”
[Valeria]: That was not the answer Geraldo wanted at that moment; he wanted to disprove the result some other way. In the weeks that followed, he did not give up hope that it was all a mistake.
[Geraldo]: So, we got to the point where I talked to one of my sisters, Edna, about getting tested. And she had the test, and I did not match either.
[Valeria]: But since he still wasn’t satisfied, he asked another of his sisters to have it. Result: the same. Geraldo was not her biological brother.
[Geraldo]: That’s when I said, “Well, I am going to have to buy tests for everyone, and the result is going to be the same.” So, well then, I was convinced.
[Valeria]: He wasn’t related to anyone in his family. He wasn’t the only one shocked, of course. The rest of his siblings were just as bewildered. And not only because this confirmed what had always been right under their noses, but because of the feeling of guilt at having ignored their mother.
[María del Carmen]: When I found out that Geraldo wasn’t related to us, I said, “Wow, Mom lived with all this.” It’s a tough thing for a mother, you know. It is very strong. And it gave me a lot of pain, a lot of pain.
[Valeria]: And perhaps what hurt the most was that, because of Luz Celina’s condition, no matter how much or how they explained it to her, they couldn’t be sure that she would understood it completely.n There was no longer any point in feeding that guilt. Geraldo had gotten the answer he had been needing for years. And although it was difficult to process, he now had another goal: he wanted to find his biological family.
But that challenge was much greater. Fifty-seven years had passed since that exchange of the newborns occurred on August 7, 1963. Geraldo didn’t know how or where to start looking. He had no names or physical descriptions of the other mother or where she lived. He only knew the place of birth: the Yauco hospital in Puerto Rico.
María del Carmen decided once more to help him in the process. What if they made the case public on social media? Maybe someone born on that date in that hospital also had doubts about their origin. But when she proposed the idea to her brother…
[María del Carmen]: Geraldo said, “No, no, no, no”. He didn’t want it to be made public. So, we consulted a private investigator.
[Valeria]: They had seen one on television and contacted him. He initially showed interest in the case and asked for a $1,000 retainer. They agreed. But months passed and they received no reports from the detective. They called him and he never had any news. Not even a clue. Impatience began to eat them up, until Geraldo realized that it was time to make the story public.
And here I have to clarify something important: At this point, I end up getting involved in this story. At that time, in July 2021, I had just rejoined Rayos X, a television program in Puerto Rico where we do investigative reporting on different topics, such as public corruption, environmental problems, or what we know in the media as strong news, or “hard news.” To announce my return, I uploaded a post to my Facebook page and invited people to contact me and tell me their stories.
María del Carmen took the opportunity and sent me a message. She told me the whole story in detail, and it captured my attention immediately, especially this last paragraph:
[María del Carmen]: So the one she gave birth to went to another home. Who could it be? Are they going through the same presentiment, or have they not even noticed? At this point we have to investigate. It is clear that Geraldo will always be our brother, but he is the one most interested in digging into this story to find the truth. God guide us in this investigation.
[Valeria]: Who could it be? That question resonated with me.
Although I usually report other, less personal stories, I found this one fascinating. I was wondering if this was an isolated case or if we would suddenly discover a systemic problem of exchanging newborn babies back then. All sorts of possibilities crossed my mind. I presented the case to the show’s producer, and he gave me the go-ahead to investigate.
The first thing we did was coordinate a new DNA sampling and validate the results through an independent laboratory. And in fact, Geraldo was not Luz Celina’s biological son. With that information, and with the intention of helping him find his family and that other switched baby, we published the story on the show in August 2021.
For one thing, we told what we already knew: the story of Luz Celina, the DNA tests, and that Geraldo wanted to find his biological family. This is part of the interview we did:
[Geraldo]: I would like to find my blood family, to know where I come from, who they are, and also for the other affected person to be able to meet this wonderful family, and even my mother is still alive, thank God. And yes, I would like to see them face to face and simply tell them: I am the son that you brought into the world.
[Valeria]: But we knew the story could not stop there; we wanted to dig a little deeper and publish what we found. So we started the field investigation in Yauco. The municipal hospital where Luz Celina had given birth no longer existed. The medical files did not show up, and almost all the personnel that worked at that time had died or their whereabouts were unknown. After asking around the town, we managed to locate Timotea Vélez, a nurse who began delivering babies there precisely in 1963, the year Geraldo was born. She didn’t remember anything about that particular birth, but she did reveal that something strange had happened in that hospital back in those years. This is a fragment of the interview we did with Timotea:
[Timotea Vélez]: You know that in the past, things were not known the way they are now, but there were some rumors. But I would not be able to tell you what happened or who it was, or anything like that.
[Valeria]: But what was the rumor?
[Timotea]: Well, there had been a switching of babies in those years.
[Valeria]: Timotea couldn’t confirm that rumor. Neither did we, because we did not have the slightest details to do it, but she did not rule out that in the midst of so much going on, Luz Celina’s story was just as she had told it.
(SOUNDBITE ARCHIVE )
[Timotea]: There were so many babies that maybe when the baby was born, when they were bathed, when they were taken out of the crib, or simply… because there were many babies, sometimes there were 20 babies or… There were many.
[Valeria]: After broadcasting the episode, we made a public call on the show and through social media to all the men born in the Yauco hospital between August 1 and 15, 1963. We asked them to contact us, to tell us if they had any doubts about their origins and whether their families suspected they had been switched at birth. Dozens of people wrote to us, but there was nothing that could give us a clear answer.
Later, I managed to find the official list of the Population Registry of babies born in Yauco in that same period, with their names and surnames, date of birth, and the names of their mothers and fathers. With that information, I got an idea. Geraldo’s test came back not only with his genetic information, but also with a list of other users who could be his relatives. So I asked Geraldo to send me those that had come up. Of those people, I was able to contact only one.
I told this man about the situation and showed him several names from the Yauco Population Registry list. I asked him whether he knew any of those people. And it turned out he did. He recognized the name of his great-aunt, Anatilde Rivera, who had a baby on August 7, 1963 at the same hospital where Geraldo was born. According to the list, his name was Elvin Ortiz.
I started digging through the Ortizes’ social media, and found photos of other possible biological relatives of Geraldo’s. I set myself to identifying who could be cousins, uncles and siblings of his. I also looked up Elvin. In the process, I discovered that they did not live in Puerto Rico, but in New Jersey, a short distance from Geraldo’s house.
I collected all the information I could. I called María del Carmen, with whom I communicated directly from the beginning, and told her, very excitedly, about everything I had discovered, but aware that the next step was not up to me. The only thing I could do at that point was give them all the data and let them decide whether or not they wanted to knock on that door.
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Before the break, Valeria had found names, addresses, telephone numbers, and even photos of the Ortizes, Geraldo’s possible relatives. But she felt that she was not the right person to contact them.
So she called María del Carmen to tell her everything.
[María del Carmen]: I kept quiet. I was not one of those people who receive information and pass it on quickly to my siblings, because I have to treat it very carefully.
[Daniel]: María del Carmen would be traveling to Florida in a few days to celebrate a birthday with her siblings and she thought that would be the perfect time to bring up the topic.
Valeria continues the story:
[Valeria]: The day of the reunion, María del Carmen thought that the best thing would be to not bring up the subject right out of the blue…
[María del Carmen]: If they ask me, then I tell them. If anyone asks me…
[Valeria]: She wanted Geraldo to take the initiative. It had been a month since the episodes came out on the show, and he knew they were inviting people to give information. When María del Carmen arrived at the reunion, she noticed that he was anxious, restless, as if he wanted to bring up the topic. Finally, he came up to her and asked whether anyone had called.
[María del Carmen]: And I said, “Yes, and I have some information.” “Really?” “So come here, I’m going to show you,” and then I took him aside and, well, I showed him everything. Photos…
[Geraldo]: And she said… “I have them here on the phone. So-and-so, your possible father. This other person, your possible mother, your siblings.” Actually, I did hope to find them. What I didn’t expect was that I would find them so soon.
[Valeria]: They decided to include their other sisters in the conversation. María del Carmen also showed them the photos. They stared at one in particular, a picture of Elvin, Anatilde’s youngest son, who was probably a biological Martínez.
[Geraldo]: And when I heard comments about whether he looked like my older brother, whether he looked like the other, or the other—that kind of stung me a little.
[Valeria]: It seemed unfair to Geraldo that they were accepting an assumption so quickly, when they had never attached so much importance to their mother’s story. But what bothered him the most was the justification they had always given him.
[Geraldo]: Why tell me that I looked like my other cousins, or like my grandfather. Well… I felt a little annoyed and left. Not jealous. No jealousy at all—I just didn’t feel supported.
[Valeria]: But the anger quickly passed. For Geraldo, the desire to find the truth weighed much more than blaming and complaining about the past. So he asked María del Carmen to contact the Ortizes.
She had already prepared her strategy. She visited one of the social media profiles that I had given her, of a possible cousin of Geraldo, Lesly Feliciano, or Luchy, as people call her. She called her and explained the whole story. Luchy was shocked, and that very day she told the whole story to Iliana Ortiz, who they believed was Geraldo’s biological sister.
First, the three agreed to make a call: Luchy, Iliana and María del Carmen.
[María del Carmen]: And I was explaining everything to her, everything, absolutely everything. And she said, well, “Wow, wow, wow, wow.”
[Valeria]: It turns out that Anatilde had three children: Edwin, Iliana and Elvin. And unlike Geraldo’s case, until then no one in the family had suspected that the younger brother had been exchanged for someone else. They never imagined what they were hearing.
Given that Iliana already had a planned trip to Puerto Rico, they agreed to meet. They met, talked, and decided to have a video call with Geraldo.
[Geraldo]: So I met her on a video call… We didn’t talk much because the signal was a little weak, but at least that was the first time I saw her.
[María del Carmen]: And when Iliana saw him, she said, “Wow, he looks so much like my brother.” I mean, she caught on right away, she caught on that there’s something between them that tied them together.
[Valeria]: Before Iliana returned to New Jersey, María del Carmen and Geraldo suggested that they have DNA tests. It seemed like a good idea to Iliana, but she needed time to talk to her brothers back home. Meanwhile, Luchy was telling them how the situation was progressing in the Ortiz family. This is a voice message that she sent to María del Carmen in late October, 2021:
[Luchy]: Good afternoon, María. Nothing, you know. We are all tangled up with those thoughts, as they say. Well, we still can’t come out of shock…
[Valeria]: Then Luchy told her about a complicated situation that had her family very worried.
[Luchy]: What happens is that Iliana is very much afraid, as they all are, because of their mother. In other words, they don’t want her to find out at all, because even though she is alert and has her mind in place, her heart is not right and, well, there is a lot of concern for them, for her. We want to protect her as much as possible.
[Valeria]: And the situation was very different for the Ortiz family. As we know, they had never heard her mother talk about switched babies, nor had anything happened to make them suspect that. He was the only olive-skinned of the siblings, but it wasn’t as marked a difference as in Geraldo’s case. This is Elvin:
[Elvin]: I am 58 years old. I am a normal person. I have no problems with anything. I live a peaceful life.
[Valeria]: Although the Ortiz family lived in New Jersey even before he was born, Anatilde had decided to go to Puerto Rico while pregnant in August 1963. She wanted her family to help her after the birth of her third child. Soon after, she returned with him to the United States.
Her husband was killed a few months after Elvin was born, and that is why he has no memory of his father. But he says that he had a good childhood with his other two siblings.
[Elvin]: I am the youngest. My brother was the oldest and my sister is in the middle. We grew up well, together, playing outside.
[Valeria]: Elvin had a very good relationship with his mother. He was perhaps the most attached of the three. While she wasn’t particularly affectionate, she called him “Baby.” Mind you, she was pretty strict. It was better to avoid making her angry because she had a strong character, and her children say that her scoldings were famous.
Elvin’s Spanish is not very fluent because he grew up in the United States, and at some points during our conversation he spoke in English to express himself better. He told me that he spent summers in Puerto Rico as a child, but like so many Puerto Ricans who live in the U.S., his ties to the Island weakened over time. Still, he has fond memories of those visits.
[Elvin]: I remember swimming in the river with my cousins, looking for shrimp in the river when it was low. Street food… Good times.
[Valeria]: When Iliana learned of the possibility that Elvin might not be her biological brother, she was at a loss about how to bring up the topic to with him. She agreed with her other brother that they would send him the report on Geraldo’s story and wait for his reaction. They didn’t tell him anything; they didn’t prepare him—they just asked him to see it.
[Elvin]: So I went to see it: There is a story that in Puerto Rico some babies with a birth date August 7, ’63 were exchanged. So I was thinking, “Could it be? Nah, it couldn’t be.”
[Valeria]: He didn’t give much thought to the matter. He didn’t talk about it with his siblings, either, because he thought it was just another of many curious stories that happen in Puerto Rico and they just wanted him to see it. But María del Carmen did bring up the topic again, sending him a social media message.
[Elvin]: She wrote me on Messenger asking whether I knew of the story. “Yes, I know, but I don’t think it’s me.”
[Valeria]: But María del Carmen insisted and continued exchanging messages with Elvin. Little by little, she was gaining his trust.
[Elvin]: One day, she asked me whether I had had a, what do you call it? DNA? So I said yes. That I had one in Ancestry.
[Valeria]: Ancestry is a site similar to 23andMe. In fact, Ancestry has the largest database of all the genetic analysis platforms. Elvin had been tested two years earlier. Not because he had Geraldo’s suspicions, but out of curiosity, because he wanted to find distant relatives.
María del Carmen asked him whether he had checked the information on the page again.
[Elvin]: I said no. So, she says, “When you have time, go to Ancestry and see what you find.” As she was writing to me, I logged in and I saw a name that popped out.
[Valeria]: The names of some users with whom he matched showed up.
[Elvin]: My daughter showed up first. Then, under my daughter, a person named Ismael, and I asked her who Ismael Martínez is.
[María del Carmen]: He asks me, do you know Ismael Martínez? And I… “Wow, well, that’s my brother on my father’s side,” and it shows up for him as sharing 26% of his DNA.
[Valeria]: In other words, Elvin was biologically related to the Martínezes. Elvin and María del Carmen were family.
[Elvin]: Then she told me, “With 26%, you are our brother.” “How can it be?” You know, the shock… that is. And to tell you the truth, I got, how do you say, very sad. I didn’t want… I don’t know how to say it. Accept it. I did not want to.
[Valeria]: After that first revelation, Elvin had another DNA test with his siblings that confirmed that he was not a biological Ortiz.
Elvin’s world was turned upside down. He began to question every aspect of his life and his identity—something that had never crossed his mind. The feelings were so great that at this point in the interview, he began to speak in English.
[Elvin]: Unbelievable. That all my life… All my life, until now… It’s unreal. It wasn’t supposed to be. Not that I regret anything ’cause I had a great life. It’s just… How could this happen? How could it happen? That I wasn’t raised with my natural mom.
[Valeria]: Elvin found all of this hard to believe, as if his life had somehow not been real. Not that he regretted what he had been through, just that it was unbelievable for him to imagine that he hadn’t grown up with his biological mother.
After he recovered from the shock, the Martínezes suggested to Elvin that he meet Luz Celina, his biological mother. He was sure that none of this was going to change how he felt about his mother and the siblings he grew up with, so he agreed.
Geraldo and Iliana coordinated the first meeting between the two families, who, let us remember, lived just over an hour from each other.
[Geraldo]: And Elvin agreed. I told Iliana, “Well, look, I’m going to have only my sister Edna, my mom and my wife. Come to my house.” I gave her the address. She was very nervous when she came. Every so often she would call. “Oh, come outside, come outside. Oh, I’m nervous.”
[Valeria]: At that first meeting, Geraldo and Iliana looked into each other’s eyes and confirmed their great resemblance. They did not stop talking about their tastes and life experiences. Elvin, on the other hand, was shy and even scared to meet Luz Celina, who was also in the room.
[Elvin]: She mostly… Spanish, nothing else. And I don’t speak much Spanish. Yeah, that was hard.
[Valeria]: And Elvin didn’t know how to act or how to greet the woman who had brought him into the world.
[Elvin]: I mean, I already had a mom. I already have a mother. So, it was strange. Strange.
[Valeria]: He already had a mother, who was not Luz Celina. Elvin walked up to her, gave her a kiss and a hug, but it all felt strange. He wondered whether she understood who he was.
[Elvin]: She didn’t talk much, but she looked at me. She was looking at me. I don’t know whether she looked at me like, “Who is this? I know him.” I don’t know, I don’t know what she was thinking.
[Valeria]: By then, when Elvin and Luz Celina first saw each other, she was already suffering from dementia, even before the confirmation that Geraldo was not her biological son. Because of that, it was difficult to know what she understood of the situation and how much she would be able to remember in the future. But every time she seemed to be more lucid, María del Carmen took the opportunity to talk and even ask her about Geraldo and Elvin. In those moments, she would record videos like this one, which she recorded a few days after the meeting:
[María del Carmen]: What happened when you gave birth to Geraldo?
[Luz Celina]: Well… they came, that they took another one who was in labor and exchanged the babies between cribs. And that’s when they switched. And that’s when they were switched?
[Valeria]: Luz Celina actually recounted the same story of switching babies that she has been telling for almost 60 years. And noticing how alert she was, María del Carmen dared to ask her about Elvin. She wanted to know whether she remembered him and whether she was clear about who he was.
[María del Carmen]: And the one you met at Geraldo’s house… that one… Elvin, wasn’t that him? Was that him?
[Luz Celina]: Yes.
[María del Carmen]: That was him?!
[Valeria]: That was the son that Luz Celina held in her arms and breastfed on that August 7, 1963, but never saw again.
[María del Carmen]: And what did you feel?
[Luz Celina]: Well, since… I raised Geraldo and… what could I have done?
[Valeria]: “Well, sinceI raised Geraldo, what could I have done?, says Luz Celina. María del Carmen also asked her about the day they met.
[María del Carmen]: And did he hug you?
[Luz Celina]: Yes, he sat next to me for a while and we talked.
[María del Carmen]: Really?
[Luz Celina]: We talked for a long time. I watched him. I looked at him a lot. But after so many years that have passed, I can no longer claim him.
[Valeria]: A month after the encounter between Elvin and Luz Celina, the Martínezes and the Ortizes went together to 23andMe for the last time to get their DNA samples. They wanted to definitely confirm that one’s biological family was the other’s foster family. The result did not surprise them; there was no longer any doubt: Geraldo shared half of his DNA with Anatilde, his biological mother. The same thing happened in the case of Elvin and Luz Celina.
Although Geraldo had found his biological family, he still had a pending meeting. He was afraid of not getting to know the woman who brought him into the world because of her health condition.
We had already talked a little bit about her: Her name is Anatilde Rivera, but she uses her married name, Ortiz. She is 87 years old and this story has impacted her so much that even today she finds it hard to talk about what happened. That’s why we decided not to include her interview in this episode.
At that time, when the truth was first discovered, Geraldo had seen her only in photos. In fact, Iliana gave him a portrait where Anatilde was pregnant. There he was, in her womb. Geraldo believed that this would be the only photo of him with his biological mother, because everything seemed to indicate that she would never find out what had happened.
But one day, surprisingly, Iliana and Elvin changed their minds. They had consulted with her cardiologist and he gave them the go-ahead to tell her what they had discovered. They decided to meet at Anatilde’s house on February 19, 2022. Elvin was in charge of telling her about it.
[Elvin]: She was here, and I was sitting with my arm, hugging. And I said, mom, what you’re going to hear doesn’t matter. I’m your son. She looked at me like, “what’s going on?“
[Valeria]: Elvin couldn’t speak anymore because he started to cry. So Iliana continued recounting the story to her mother. She got to the point: she told her there had been an exchange of babies and that the one she had received, Elvin, the only one of the three who had been born in a hospital, was not her biological son. The other baby, the one she had given birth to, had grown up in Puerto Rico with another family. She also told her that they had done DNA testing, and everything was confirmed.
[Elvin]: And she says, “That’s why I don’t like hospitals.”
[Valeria]: That was the only thing she said at the time. Anatilde did not cry or have a dramatic reaction. She did seem to be shocked, but just as anyone would be with a revelation like that.
[Elvin]: So I don’t know if she accepted it quickly, but since she doesn’t, she doesn’t show emotions, I don’t know how she took it, if she hid it. But it worked out better than I thought. Better than I expected.
[Valeria]: They waited a few hours to see how Anatilde would react. When they realized that she was fine and that her heart did not seem to be affected, they asked her whether she wanted to talk on the phone with Geraldo, her biological son. They preferred the first conversation to be that way so that the impact of seeing him would not be so strong. Anatilde agreed. What you’re about to hear are snippets of that phone conversation that Elvin and Iliana recorded:
[Geraldo]: How did you take the news?
[Anatilde]: Oh, son… Oh, how do these things happen. I never thought of such a thing.
[Valeria]: First they talked about the doubts Geraldo always had about his features…
[Geraldo]: I’ve been looking for my family for a long time. I always had an itch because I was very blond, very blond, and my siblings have dark hair and are short. Most of them are Elvin’s height. I don’t know whether Iliana showed you any photos.
[Anatilde]: Yes, yes, Iliana gave me… I have one on my phone. But yes, Félix’s father.
[Valeria]: Her husband’s father, that is, Geraldo’s biological grandfather.
[Anatilde]: He was a tall, very white man, with blond hair and, um, and blue eyes.
[Valeria]: It seemed that Geraldo had inherited those traits from his grandfather.
They kept talking about other things: about Geraldo’s children, about the close relationship he was beginning to have with Elvin, about Luz Celina’s health… Then, Geraldo told her the story that his mother used to tell. He knew the Ortizes had never suspected that anything like this had ever happened, but he was curious to know how Anatilde had experienced those moments at the hospital.
[Anatilde]: That hospital had poor patient care, and when I got there they left me in a hallway, on a stretcher, yes. So when my time came, they had to rush me in, because I was about to have the baby, and they rushed me to the room and I gave birth right away.
[Valeria]: She told him that the baby was taken away immediately for examination. They showed him to her briefly but didn’t give him to her. She was not able to see him well or to hold him to her breast or breastfeed him as Luz Celina had. It was probably then that they made the switch.
[Anatilde]: Well, I… they put me in the room and they took the baby there. I saw him more than when he was born, and they put him in the crib, and I was discharged the next day.
[Valeria]: She didn’t notice anything unusual. A few days later she returned to New Jersey to reunite with her family. Then, a few months later, her husband was murdered and she had to raise her children alone. They went on with their lives, and it was not until 57 years later, with the truth, that the questions came up, the doubts of how everything might have been if the babies had not been exchanged.
[Anatilde]: It’s sad, it’s sad, you know?
[Geraldo]: Yes, but it doesn’t matter…
[Anatilde]: Because your mother could not get to know Elvin well, because she wanted to look for him, too, right? Well. And your father, either.
[Geraldo]: Yes, yes… Well, my dad left this world without… without knowing.
[Anatilde]: Exactly. Well, these are things that you know. That’s sad. Sad for people, things… cases like this.
[Valeria]: The conversation lasted for over an hour. At one point, Geraldo dared ask her for something:
[Geraldo]: Well, if I can call you mom…
[Anatilde]: Well, son, you can. Yes, I am your mother, although we don’t know each other. It’s hard.
[Geraldo]: Yes, no, I know, I know. I am going to earn your love. You will see. I am going to… This is your phone, right? To save it… ¿Do you stay up late…?
[Anatilde]: Yes, that is my number, yes.
[Geraldo]: Good, to call you from time to time…
[Valeria]: Geraldo asked to see her in person, and they agreed to meet the next day, a Sunday.
[Geraldo]: I arrived and handed her a bouquet of flowers and hugged her. It was a hug that she had been waiting for a long time; since the moment something was wrong, she was waiting for that hug.
She was kind of stunned. If that is the right way to say it, like a little stunned and a little choked. And I saw that her eyes got watery. So I told her, “You are not going to cry, are you? Oh, you are going to cry! Give me a hug and a kiss, since you owe me many, you owe me a bunch.”
[Valeria]: Geraldo tried to make her feel that everything was fine, that the family was simply larger now. They talked about their relatives, the murder of his biological father, the things they had in common and their memories of Puerto Rico.
And although his encounter with Luz Celina had been different, Elvin was very happy that Geraldo was able to talk with his own biological mother and start to build a bond.
[Elvin]: Because he always thought, or he was told. And good for him. Good for him. I’m happy for him. I feel like I got another brother.
[Valeria]: “I’m happy for him. I feel like I got another brother,” he says, although this situation still seems strange to him. He keeps thinking, for example, that his life would be very different if he hadn’t been exchanged.
[Elvin]: Everything has changed, everything, everything. My children, the wife I had, all different, different. It’s crazy, but I think about it a lot. If it weren’t for this, where… where would I be?
[Valeria]: “Where would I be?” Impossible to know. Just thinking about it made him dizzy. But, despite the questions that remain unanswered, both have generally coped well. Although Geraldo and Elvin have no genetic link, they have discovered a particular closeness between them. They even call themselves “twins.” The shared experience has brought them together in a way they cannot explain.
[Elvin]: Yes, we have a lot in common.
[Geraldo]: We have a very nice relationship, very nice, I am very fond of him.
[Elvin]: At work, we are both foreman, we have four children each.
[Geraldo]: I feel that I lived his life and he feels the same, that he lived my life.
[Elvin]: We have the same… the same ring.
[Geraldo]: He likes me a lot too. By the way, a few days ago he gave me… he gave me a gift that really touched me: a chain that says “Brothers forever.”
[Elvin]: And, what else? We have the same date of birth.
[Valeria]: In June 2022, they traveled together to Puerto Rico for a party for a relative of Elvin’s… well, actually a relative to both of them. At that meeting, Geraldo took the opportunity to show Elvin a little of what his life was like on the island—what, perhaps, his own life might have been. I had the opportunity to accompany them on part of this tour.
[Geraldo]: Well, here’s where we start, Elvin. This was the house where I grew up. This is our house…
[Valeria]: It was the first time Elvin was in Guánica, the town where the Martínezes are from. And he didn’t have to find a hotel to stay in, of course. He stayed in that same house where he would have grown up.
[Valeria]: So what do you think? How does it feel to be in the house…?
[Elvin]: Well, it’s an emotional thing that I was going to stay here and they still have it, and I can… I can stay…
[Valeria]: Among the things they discussed, Geraldo insisted that it seems unfair to him that he was able to have a father for much of his life, until 2006, when he died of natural causes at the age of 80. Elvin’s, as we already know, was killed when he was barely three months old.
So after passing by the elementary school, the park where he played baseball, and the house of an old friend, Geraldo felt it was important for Elvin to see the grave of his biological father.
[Geraldo]: This is where our father, Marcelino Martínez Rosado, is buried. So, Dad, if you’re listening to me, with the faith that I have that you will listen to me, here is your biological son, Elvin Ortiz, and here I am, your foster son. And there you have your father, buried. There is the body of your father. He was the greatest for us.
[Valeria]: Elvin took a picture of his father’s grave and thought about it. No words came out at the time.
As for the mothers, Geraldo does remember Luz Celina as a strict but very affectionate and tender mother to her children. Elvin, on the other hand, says that Anatilde had very specific displays of affection, such as calling him “Baby,” but she did not usually express much of her love. When I accompanied them on this tour, they told me that they are very happy with the change they have seen in her lately.
[Elvin]: Yes, she has changed a lot because she didn’t hug and she doesn’t even say, “I love you very much. I love you.” Nothing like that. But for now…
[Valeria]: Does she tell you now? Does she tell you now?
[Elvin]: Now she doesn’t say it, but she sends texts with a heart. Heart, hearts, “God bless you” and all that, “Take care of yourself” and all that.
[Valeria]: Geraldo is convinced he has been the engine of that change and that, little by little, he is earning his place. So much so, that he awaits the day soon when Anatilde will give him one of those scoldings her other children have warned him about so much…
[Geraldo]: And since they say that my mom is going to send me to… like she does to them… Since it is going to be the first time, when that happens, I am going to say, “Yes, mom,” with pride. “How do I get there? I will have to ask Elvin.”
[Elvin]: When she says that, you will know that you are part of it.
[Valeria]: Part of the family.
[Daniel]: Geraldo and Elvin remain in contact to this day. They talk on the phone almost every day and usually meet to chat, hang out, or celebrate birthdays. Now their next goal is for Luz Celina and Anatilde, their two mothers, to meet.
Valeria Collazo Cañizares is a journalist and lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She co-produced this story with our producer David Trujillo. He lives in Bogotá.
Valeria has a bi-monthly podcast with journalist Adriana de Jesús Salamán called En qué quedó, where they follow up on stories that made the news. They will release a new episode soon.
This episode was edited by Camila Segura, Natalia Sánchez Loayza and me. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with original music by Rémy Lozano, Ana Tuirán and Andrés.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, José Díaz, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas.
Selene Mazón is our production intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is edited on Hindenburg PRO. If you are a podcast creator interested in Hindenburg PRO, go to hindenburg.com/radioambulante and get a free 90-day trial.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.