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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A Chicago-born man, who went missing three decades ago as a toddler after his father took him to Mexico, has been reunited with his U.S. mother in California after a harrowing trek back to the United States.
David Amaya Barrick, now 37, was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents last month but freed after convincing authorities of his U.S. citizenship - only to vanish again for several days before turning up at a San Diego church.
The mother and son finally met each other this weekend for the first time since the son went missing in 1979, to find they have the same eyes and nose, share the same laugh, and both love plaid shirts - even if they no longer have a language in common.
"We have some catching up to do," Kathy Amaya, 60, told Reuters on Sunday through tears a day after the pair finally met face to face at the San Diego International Airport after she flew in from Wisconsin. "We're going to do that."
The Border Patrol said Barrick was taken from Chicago by his father in 1979 and brought to Mexico, where he was left with his paternal grandparents, speaking only Spanish. He later trained as a percussionist and moved to Monterrey, where he built a career playing in Norteno bands. He married and had two children, but the marriage didn't work out.
Last month, he illegally crossed into California from Mexico with undocumented immigrants and was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol about a mile east of the Pacific Ocean. At first, he said he was Mexican, then remembered that his grandparents told him he was born in a Chicago hospital.
He also told the border agents he had been beaten and robbed of his money, cell phone and Mexican identification before entering the United States.
The agents checked out his story and were able to locate his birth certificate and his mother - putting the two in touch over the phone in an emotional long-distance call. Because Barrick speaks only Spanish, agents acted as translators.
"It was very emotional," supervisory agent Troy Matthews said. "He told her he grew up being told she abandoned him and she started crying that she was afraid they told him that and how she never stopped wanting to find him."
On Tuesday, Amaya will fly to Wisconsin with her firstborn son, where he'll meet her four other grown children, three brothers and a sister.
"We'll spend Thanksgiving with so much to give thanks for," Amaya said. "It's really overwhelming, sometimes it feels like my heart will burst."
Both mother and son acknowledge they have much to do to rebuild their relationship, starting with finding a common language. But Amaya pointed at Barrick's plaid shirt, and then her own, and they both laughed the same laugh.
"We are the same blood," Amaya said. "We can figure out the rest."
(The story corrects 6th graph reference to "earlier this month".)
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler