Seeing mom more than going home for one student

By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 30, 2005

They say that you don't miss something until it's gone, and for thousands of new UA students, that something is parents.

Maybe it's the inevitability of having to learn to cook and do laundry. Maybe it's the realization that you have to pay for everything. Or for students from north Scottsdale, it may be that their dorm room is about the size of the closet in their parents' house.

Indeed, college is usually the time where parents go from enemy to best friend. But for one UA student, it was the time he first became acquainted.

Most people learn Spanish because it's a university requirement. Jeff Hansen learned it to meet his mother.

Adopted at 6 months of age and raised in the U.S., he had wanted to find her ever since he learned he was born in Colombia. Hansen, an economics senior, took his first Spanish class as a freshman in high school. He has since taken three semesters at the UA. But this summer he got serious and signed up for language classes in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

He hadn't planned on this summer being the one. But with classes up and a month to go before his plane ticket, he decided it was time. While he was making plans, a vacationing Colombian man named Eduardo overheard him talking in a local cafe.

"He said he had some friends in the government and offered to help me," Hansen said.

And with Eduardo's info and a backpack, Hansen set out from Buenos Aires to Bogotá, and the mission began in earnest. Eduardo's friends turned out to be a guy named Camilo and his girlfriend. Instantly befriending Hansen, they made it their goal as well to find Hansen's mother.

They had nothing but the name of the orphanage and her name, Ana Mercedes Pinzon Ariza.

Challenges began at the outset. The orphanage had promised to do some research to find out current contact information about the mother. Hansen scheduled a meeting, but when he got there they had no new information. Camilo used his resources and Ana's name to comb through government records to no avail. Finally there were only a couple days left. Would he have come all this way and go home without that precious moment?

They were desperate. Hansen started going through the phone book, calling every Pinzon Ariza in it. But the city is as big as New York, and there were a lot of numbers to call.

Finally he thought he had the number of his uncle. He called it.

"He's dead, but I know your mother," a man said.

It turned out the man was married to his mother's sister. They arranged a meeting. Hansen was staying at a hotel and his mom would come to meet him. He had been waiting for years for the moment.

"I was completely nervous. What do you say when you meet your mother as an adult?" he said.

She cried. They spent the whole night talking, Hansen's Spanish flowing in full swing. He has an older brother five years his senior, and his mother simply couldn't afford to keep him. She told him about the rest of the family - he has 84 cousins.

He got together with her again the next day, but alas, he had to return to Tucson for his senior year. He's not sure how much he'll ultimately stay in touch with her. She's remarried and has a whole family of people he's never met. He has his adopting parents in the U.S. who spent the last 22 years raising him.

But something was deeply satisfying about the whole experience. He now understands more about who he is and how he came to be that way. He finished what he had always wanted to do.

For Hansen, it was one hell of a summer. Imagine the scene. Everyone at a party talking about what they did with their summer. Went to California, hung out with the "fams," drank a lot. Met my mother.

As we start the semester of classes, it's important to remember what we're here for and where we came from. For some this is the first time away from family, so it's especially crucial to remember our roots.

Make it a priority to call home and not just to beg for money.

Ryan Johnson is an economics and international studies senior. He can be reached at