In Canoas, Brazil, a woman and her well-known Brazilian-Taiwanese adopted son are preparing to embark for Taiwan. In Taipei, Austin Ou (歐晉仁), who has just booked their flight, said he hopes their 15-day stay will be peaceful. Positive closure, even, to what had been an anxiety-ridden episode in the boy’s life.
“What he remembers about his time in Taiwan was that people grabbed him,” said Ou, coordinator of the upcoming visit and executive director of the Taiwan Catholic Mission Foundation (天主教博愛基金會).
“He was very little and his [Taiwanese] family said, ‘Oh people are here! The press is here! The Brazilian representative is here! Hide, hide, hide.’”
Iruan Ergui Wu (吳憶樺), son of a Taiwanese fisherman and a Brazilian woman who died shortly after his birth, was in Taiwan in 2001 with his father to visit paternal relatives.
When his father died from cardiac arrest during the visit, Taiwanese relatives assumed responsibility for raising Wu. Meanwhile, his legal guardian, maternal grandmother Rosa Leocadia da Silva Ergui, requested his return. The relatives refused, resulting in a lengthy and bitter transnational custody battle that ended in February 2004, when Taiwanese police forcibly removed the boy and returned him to Brazil.
“He thought it was scary. There was something going on, but he didn’t know what,” said Ou, who since 2004 has visited Wu in Brazil twice yearly.
“When he first got back to Brazil, he didn’t say he wanted to come back [to Taiwan] … Only after he was 14, 15 years old did he understand the situation better,” Ou said.
LIFE IN BRAZIL
For the upcoming trip, Wu will be accompanied by his adoptive mother, Etna Borkert, and one of his adoptive brothers. At 18, Wu is the youngest of three biological children and five adopted children in a family that lives in Canoas, a small city with a manufacturing-based economy.
Wu’s maternal grandmother is currently under intensive care after a long battle with renal failure, Ou said.
When his grandmother first fell ill, the preteen Wu began skipping class and experimenting with drugs. In 2008, child services stepped in and placed him — at his own request — in Borkert’s home, Ou said.
Borkert, a German native and former Brazilian congresswoman, had been involved in Wu’s transnational custody case 10 years ago. She also directs a school that Wu attended.
“He has had a dramatic life ... The German family spent a lot of time trying to ease him. Etna always told me, every night before he went to sleep I must spend half an hour, an hour just to talk, to ease him,” Ou said. “Slowly, he calmed down.”
Today, Wu is a tall, soft-spoken 18-year-old who plays soccer, enjoys mathematics and wants to become an interpreter. He also wants to see his Taiwanese relatives.
“He has been expectant [about visiting Taiwan] since he was 16. I told him, ‘Two more years and you are liberated.’ Before he was 18, he could not leave [Brazil] because he was protected by the law,” Ou said.
Wu arrives in Taiwan on Jan. 3. He will be in Taipei and Taoyuan for the first four days, then head to a Catholic mission at Sun Moon Lake in Taichung, Ou said.
After that, he will stay at a second mission camp in the Alishan National Scenic Area before departing for Greater Kaohsiung to live with his paternal family for five days. He will be speaking to them for the first time since losing contact with them in 2004.
The boy and his Kaohsiung relatives tried to speak over the phone twice that year, though they could not communicate due to a poor connection, Ou said.
“But from the beginning, we have told him that the aunt and the uncle love him.”