Heart guides Bocanegra home

Forest Lake woman kidnapped into adoption at birth discovers her Colombian family never lost hope

Marisa Bocanegra’s lifelong desire to know her true identity has been granted. She connected with her birth family last week for the first time and plans to meet them in Colombia this summer.  (Photo by Clint Riese)
Marisa Bocanegra’s lifelong wish to know her true identity has been granted. She connected with her birth family last week for the first time and plans to meet them in Colombia this summer. To donate, visit her crowdfunding web page at http://www.gofundme.com/80gpmo. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Clint Riese
News Editor

The life of a Forest Lake woman has been turned upside down after finding the family with which her heart always belonged.

Last week, Colombian-born Marisa Bocanegra laid eyes on her birth mother for the first time since being adopted as an infant by a Minnesota family 37 years ago.

In the span of a week, she has learned her true name and birth date and connected with many of her six Colombian siblings, 11 uncles, four aunts, one grandmother and more than 30 nieces and nephews.

But there’s more: Bocanegra also found out she was not willingly put up for adoption, and that her family has been searching for her all these years.

“My heart is full,” the mother of five said this week. “My dreams of this have become a reality. Not losing hope and my family not losing hope and not giving up, fighting with everything that was in them to find me – that’s just incredible.”

Finding herself

Bocanegra was born June 13, 1977, in Bogota, Colombia. 

Her mother, Ana Elsy Bocanegra Teuta, never got to take her second child home. Teuta refused to sign an adoption form commonly offered to unwed mothers, but while she was under the influence of pain medication, a hospital worker returned with a blank sheet of paper and told her to sign. Teuta wrote a squiggly line, not knowing it would be used to sign her daughter away.

“She came to, and I was gone,” Bocanegra said. “They took me a few hours after I was born.” 

After being allowed to visit her daughter once a week for six weeks at a foster home, where Teuta was told the child could best be cared for, Teuta came one Sunday only to find her daughter was gone. Only then did she learn that her signature had been used on manipulated adoption documents.

Bocanegra as a six-week-old on the day she arrived in Minnesota. She grew up in Burnsville. (Photo submitted)
Bocanegra as a six-week-old on the day she arrived in Minnesota. She grew up in Burnsville. (Photo submitted)

Meanwhile, Bocanegra was off to Minnesota via an adoption agency that had no way of knowing what had occurred in the hospital.

Knowing next to nothing of her background, she grew up in Burnsville with an American surname and an adoptive family that included two siblings and parents who provided for her needs.

Bocanegra’s family here did little to bring the Colombian culture into her life, and she struggled to fit in as she held back questions about her heritage.

“Not having that as a part of my upbringing, I felt different,” she said. “I never felt like I belonged, really. … I pretended, I guess, that I felt like I belonged with my family. Personally, I didn’t feel I had a connection with my adoptive parents. We struggled.”

She left home at 16, had two sons and went through a divorce at a young age. 

Bocanegra’s curiosity about her background turned into a passion after she and her three daughters moved to Forest Lake in late 2010.

“We just needed a fresh start, and we were looking for a good school, and kind of threw a dart at a map and Forest Lake it was, for the most part,” she said.

Dealing with another personal setback in the form of a second divorce, Bocanegra finally yielded to a growing instinct to seek out her birth family. She was sick of not being able to tell doctors her medical history, sick of not having someone from her side of the family be with her children on grandparents days at school.

This photo from 1984 shows Bocanegra at age 6 or 7. (Photo submitted)
This photo from 1984 shows Bocanegra at age 6 or 7. (Photo submitted)

“My biological family has always been in my heart,” she said. “Something inside me just felt like I needed to look for them. I needed to find who I was and where I came from.”

Finding her family

Using the few Colombian documents she had, Bocanegra officially took her birth surname. Determined to connect with her birth mother, she turned to social media. She often found the joy displayed online by others hard to take, but her fortunes turned with the discovery of a Facebook group dedicated to adoption from Colombia. For the first time in her life, she related exactly to others.

Two years ago, Bocanegra posted to the site a short entry about her search. Gustavo Madrid, a well-known Colombian private investigator, messaged her, and after learning that Bocanegra knew her mother’s name and Colombian identification number, he promised he would find her.

Early returns were promising, but Madrid had to put work aside to address personal matters. 

Bocanegra had unsuccessfully tried to search on her own. A separate effort involving outside help proved to be a scam. She had researched Madrid and knew he was her best hope. Needing answers, Bocanegra reached out to him two weeks ago. 

He reopened the case and within days found the identity of a half-brother to Bocanegra.

Then, Madrid called her last Tuesday with another update. Pending final confirmation, he said he would have news that would change her life forever.

“At that point, I didn’t care why (I was put up for adoption),” Bocanegra said. “I didn’t care what happened in the past. I know that I am blessed with the life that I have, and it can only get better from here.”

Bocanegra shows the Colombian documents that helped a private investigator locate her birth mother. (Photo by Clint Riese)
Bocanegra shows the Colombian documents that helped a private investigator locate her birth mother. (Photo by Clint Riese)

That night, Bocanegra received a call while at her daughter’s softball game at Schilling Park. It was Madrid.

“I’m here with your birth mom and half-brother and they want to meet you,” he told Bocanegra. “Your birth mom never forgot about you.”

Bocanegra sobbed immediately, and even more so once the investigator told her she had been kidnapped and that her family had been looking for her ever since.

“Pretty much the softball game stopped,” she said.

Catching up

Over the last week, data lines between Colombia and Forest Lake have been flooded as the long-lost family member has begun making up for lost time. Bocanegra, her daughters and her Colombian relatives have stayed up into the early hours of the morning video chatting, emailing and texting.

“They are just so loving and they’re just an amazing, amazing family,” she said. “We bonded immediately. They weren’t strangers.”

A language barrier exists, but Bocanegra is doing all she can to work around it. Often she uses three devices simultaneously: one for video chatting, one for messaging text and one for translating.

Ana Elsy Bocanegra Teuta holds a doll she named Ana Maria after the birth name she gave to her daughter. She stands in the room she has prepared for Bocanegra. (Photo submitted)
Ana Elsy Bocanegra Teuta holds a doll she named Ana Maria after the birth name she gave to her daughter. She stands in the room she has prepared for Bocanegra. (Photo submitted)

Communication has been basic but beautiful. 

“We’re at an infancy level right now,” Bocanegra said. “Just trying so much to learn names, trying to get faces straight, trying to learn birthdays. For my birth mother, it’s ‘I love you so much’ and ‘I’ve always been here. I’ve never given up. You’ve always been on my mind and in my heart.’”

Last Wednesday, the audio failed during the video chat when mother and daughter were reconnected for the first time. Bocanegra, who is deaf in one ear and teaches sign language as part of her job as a deaf mentor, improvised by signing “I love you” to her mother.

“She picked up on it right away, and she knew what it meant, but the language of love between us is in our eyes,” Bocanegra said. “I can just see in her face how much she loves me and how much my whole family wants to be part of our life.”

The woman who has gone by Marisa her whole life now knows her given name is Ana Maria. Her birthday has been celebrated on June 23, but she now knows it is June 13.

New revelations come daily. This Monday, Bocanegra watched a video of her mother giving passionate testimony about her newfound daughter in church the day before.

“My mother never gave up,” Bocanegra said. “She had a strong faith in Christ and she went to church every Sunday. She drew a picture on a piece of paper with five children in black ink, except she had me in red ink, and she held that paper up to heaven. She needed God’s help. She needed him to lead her and help me find her.”

Teuta held high the picture as she spoke to her congregation.

“I want to see her right now,” Bocanegra said after watching the video.

There is money to save and passport applications needing approval, but if all goes well, mother and daughter will be reunited in Colombia this summer. Teuta’s birthday is Aug. 20, and Bocanegra has made it her goal to visit, along with her daughters, by then.

Speaking to her congregation at church on Sunday, Teuta shares the good news of finding her daughter. (Photo submitted)
Speaking to her congregation at church on Sunday, Teuta shares the good news of finding her daughter. (Photo submitted)

The countdown is on, and it can’t go fast enough.

“Knowing that they loved me this whole time, knowing that they wanted me in their life this whole time, it’s been such a blessing,” Bocanegra said.