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Red Cross helps find a sister and best friend

Originally published on the Red Cross Minnesota Region blog

Felipe and Nila smiling
Felipe and Nila left Havana in 1966 and moved to the United States where they joined her mother. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

In one way, it took hardly any time at all to find Felipe’s sister in Cuba. Just months, in fact, once the Red Cross search formally started. In another way, it lasted years: Felipe lost contact with his sister Carmela in 1992 when he and his wife moved to Minnesota. Around that time, they exchanged their last letter with Carmela.

There was no phone number to call. More letters were sent. They received no replies. Maybe she was sick. Or worse. They assumed something bad had happened. This struck Nila the hardest. “I love her too much,” she says. For her, Carmela was more than her husband’s sister: Carmela was her sister, her family, her best friend.

JoAnn, a long-time family friend in Minnesota, alerted Felipe to the possibility of working through the Red Cross to find Carmela. JoAnn knew that every day for years Felipe wondered about his sister. Papi and Mami are “like my parents,” she says.

JoAnn reached out through email to the Red Cross to learn more about family tracing. Once Felipe agreed to search, local volunteers moved the process forward, informing JoAnn, who updated Felipe. When she knew it worked – meaning, when she knew Carmela was found and, most importantly, alive – JoAnn went to Felipe and Nila at once with the great news.

A black and white photo of Felipe and Nila
Married 60 years, Felipe and Nila have 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. For five years in Cuba, they went on dates always with a chaperone.

The first phone call was short. Felipe’s sister used a friend’s phone to reach him. Nila was on the call too. They shared short phrases. Hardly said anything in word count. And yet the meaning of Nila’s basic words — my sister, I miss you, I love you – say everything. “Are you well?” Felipe asked Carmela. They’ve had several more calls and exchanged more email messages with JoAnn receiving and translating them.

Felipe and Nila standing with a Red Cross volunteer
Red Cross volunteer Kalay helped reconnect Felipe and Nila with their sister in Cuba. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

“I appreciate the Red Cross,” says Felipe, who was excited and happy to learn that his sister was alive and well. His sister Carmela was excited, too. Her blood pressure went up, he says. They’ll have more calls, emails and letters. They’ll not lose contact again.

To learn more about our family reconnection services, click here.