35 years later, Internet finds man who abandoned family Tearful reunion fulfills a daughter's yearnings

December 21, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES -- Dora Luna always felt a gaping hole in her life.

A tall girl growing up, she looked at her mother's slight frame and felt ugly. She told the nuns at her East Los Angeles school that she was adopted.

She's not adopted, her mother told them. She just looks like her father. He left before she was born.

Luna would stare enviously at the girls whose fathers dropped them off at school.

"I really missed my dad," she said. "I would cry at night and wish so hard he would come. All the other girls had their dads, and I always wondered about mine."

More than three decades later, she found him with the click of a button.

While surfing the Internet for the first time one afternoon in September, Luna stumbled across a site that enables computer users to search for people. On a whim, she punched in the name "Uriel Medina" -- that of the father who left a month before she was born. She clicked on the search button.

Seconds later, she was staring at an address and phone number.

"Lo and behold, his name came up," said Luna, 35. "There was just one name on the entire page. It was really strange. I thought, 'Could this be the person?' "

Within a month, the East Los Angeles activist and the ranch hand from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, were reunited.

Luna marvels at the power of technology. Her father, who had never heard of the Internet, calls it miraculous. They both agree ,, that they have a new chance to be together.

"It's so amazing," she said. "My life has changed completely. There's all this negative press about the Internet, but nobody talks about the good things you can do with it."

The growing online availability of public records such as phone numbers and street and e-mail addresses has made the Internet giant worldwide telephone directory," said A. Michael Noll, a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

With unaccustomed ease, people looking for adopted children, lost lovers and other missing people can in many cases quickly track them down.

"It's definitely reducing the sense of finality we often have with relationships," said Phil Agre, a University of California, San Diego, communications professor. "Maybe we're moving more toward a norm where people don't disappear forever and it's easier than we often like to find someone we lose."

Luna, who was browsing World Wide Web sites at a friend's office, was shocked at how swiftly she found her father's name and number.

At dinner that night, her mother urged her to call. Mustering her courage, Luna dialed and reached her father's former wife, who gave her his new phone number. Moments later, Luna was talking to the father she had never met.

"He said, 'Ay, mi hija [my daughter], how are you?' " she recalled. "It was so good to hear him, to have him be so welcoming. I didn't know if I was going to be rejected."

Medina, a retired tractor operator living in New Mexico, never imagined that the Internet would help reunite him with a daughter he had never seen.

For years, he had thought about her. But recently, after a bout with prostate cancer, he decided he had to find her.

Medina was considering enlisting a local Spanish-language talk show in his search when he received her call one cool desert evening.

"She said, 'This is Dora, your daughter,' " he recalled, choking with emotion. "It was a wonderful, beautiful thing to hear her voice. It was a milagro, a miracle."

Luna's parents met in the border city of Juarez, Mexico, where her mother was working as a Red Cross nurse and renting a house from Medina's brother.

Medina worked as a ranch hand in New Mexico and came back to Juarez, directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, on the weekends. They dated for two years, but a month before Luna was born, he disappeared.

Luna's mother waited for four months, but he never returned. Anguished, she came to the United States with her infant daughter and settled in East Los Angeles, holding down three jobs as a medical assistant to pay the bills.

"I was sad," said Luna's mother, Josefina Saavedra. "I loved him a lot and suffered a lot. But we survived."

At first, Saavedra told Luna that her father had died in a war.

"I didn't want her asking me, because it hurt me to tell her that he left us," she said. "How do you explain that to a little girl?"

Medina said he doesn't remember the exact circumstances of his departure but recalls that a disagreement between the pair caused the split.

"There are things best left in the past," he said quietly. He married and had two daughters, later separating from his wife. "But I thought about my [other] daughter and wanted to find her."

Saavedra married when Luna was 10 years old, but Luna refused to call her stepfather "Dad."

When she grew older, Luna watched reunions on talk shows and cried. She fantasized about calling the shows and having them find her father.

"I felt very alone," she said. "I felt like I couldn't identify myself."

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