Colombian Odyssey

By Nancy Trejos
Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Jose Trejos emigrated to New York and started a new family, he left a young son behind. Decades later, his daughter set out to find the half brother she never knew, and, perhaps, a missing piece of herself.

I SAT ON THE AVIANCA FLIGHT FROM BOGOTA TO PEREIRA, my forehead pressed against the window, staring out into the clouds. It was September 11, 2007, and I was flying over Colombia, my father's homeland. I had been there only once before, at 13, when I accompanied my father to visit my grandparents and other relatives in Pereira, his home town. They hadn't seen my dad since he left for the United States 25 years earlier. They welcomed him back as a hero then because, unlike them, he had made it to America and created a life for himself there.

Seventeen years later, I decided to go back alone. This time, I was in Colombia to meet a relative I had not known about the first time. This time, I was there to meet my half brother -- a brother I had never seen before, not even in photographs.

His name is Humberto Trejos. He is the product of my father's first marriage in Colombia, the marriage he never spoke of. He is the son my father left behind.

Humberto and I could not be more different. He grew up in Pereira, I in Queens, N.Y. He is 51. I am 31. He never went to college. I went to Georgetown University. He had been a manager for a supermarket chain before getting laid off two years ago. I am a reporter for The Washington Post. He speaks no English. My Spanish is rusty. What did we have in common? Just our father.

I grew up with our father, Jose Trejos. Humberto had seen him only once in 40 years.

So there I was on the plane, feeling dizzy, hot and anxious. I could not read the Us Weekly magazine I had brought with me or listen to my iPod. All I could do was think. Why had I traveled thousands of miles to meet someone whom I managed to go decades without knowing? And what was I going to do once I landed? Humberto said he would be at the airport, but I had no idea what he looked like.

And here was the biggest question: Would he actually show up to greet the sister who existed only because his father left him when he was a child?

Nothing about the two brief conversations Humberto and I had had before the trip gave me any clue as to how he would react. I had called him on his cellphone about a month before, to let him know I would be in Colombia. There was a lot of background noise on his end. I could tell he was having trouble hearing me.

"Hi, Humberto. This is Nancy Trejos, your sister," I said in Spanish.

Silence.

I repeated myself.


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