When she was 4 years old, Jacqueline Arias was taken from her house in Costa Rica and placed into a foster home. Social workers took her, her brother and her sister while their mother was busy working one of her two jobs, she said. Eventually, Ms. Arias and her brother were handed over to a family from the United States.
For the past five years she has followed the trail of her own story to research forced adoptions across Costa Rica for her film ìImaginary Mothers.î While documenting a system where poor and unsupported mothers are pressured into giving up their children to foreign families, Ms. Arias said she learned she was not alone.
ìIt was going to be a small thing, but the more research I did about abductions, the more I found out that my experience was not uncommon,î she said Monday.
Her documentary draws upon these tragic stories and firsthand accounts from the mothers to detail a lost generation of Latin American children during the end of last century. She began a Kickstarter campaign to pay for her film, hoping to reach a goal of $20,000 by next month.
Ms. Arias is one of the fortunate orphans who has had the chance to be reunited with biological parents. She was able to get to know her mother, Angela, before the woman’s death three years ago and Ms. Arias said she regularly keeps in touch with her siblings.
When talking to her mother and oldest sister Mayela, who remained in Costa Rica, Ms. Arias discovered her adoption was not voluntary. Ms. Arias’ mother tried to visit her children as often as possible while they were in the foster home. But one day a judge declared the kids as legally orphaned, even though Angela made a clear effort to regain her children.
ìI was told all my life that she was poor and helpless and had to give us up,î Arias said. ìWhat I learned after meeting her was that she was hardworking and strong. She did not give us up willingly.î
Much like the 2013 movie ìPhilomena,î this story shows some of the corruption and shady practices at play with foreign adoptions.
Ms. Arias went with her new U.S. parents to Panam· where the adoptive father was a serviceman. Later the family settled in Ohio. Ms. Arias now lives on the East Coast near New York City.
Ms. Arias visited Costa Rica and talked to 12 different mothers who were forced into putting their children up for adoption. She focuses her film on four of these mothers and, in the process, discovered a startling pattern that showed not only were the social workers asking them to let go of their children but that a lot of pressure came within their own families.
ìThey were coerced into giving up their kids,î Ms. Arias said. ìA lot of the times the coercion came from the family. Legally it was OK, but these women weren’t given the opportunity and they were taken advantage of.î
Due to controlling issues of faith and tradition, these teenage mothers who gave birth out of wedlock felt heavy pressure from family members, Ms. Arias said. The four Costa Rican women interviewed for the film recounted this crushing pressure and the ensuing lifelong pain of always wondering where, or even what, their child might be, she said.
ìI chose them because they were all very young
and didn’t have anyone supporting them,î she said. ìIt was either their family or social services coming in without giving them the option to say ‘No.’î
Ms. Arias said forced adoptions are not as common in Latin America as they once were and that in her research she never found money was being given to families directly for encouraging adoptions.
ìImaginary Mothersî is expected to be released this fall.
By Michael Krumholtz
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff