half sister

Marco Cutino meets his step-sister Leonor Gracia for the first time at a Tucson, Arizona restaurant. 

Many people enjoy looking at old-time movies or family photos, either in a photo album or on some web-based photo site, because it is a way to keep a family’s history alive.

Marco Cutino doesn’t have that option. He never knew his birth father and his mother was out of his life at an early age.

But the 47-year-old Long Beach resident received a 23andMe kit as a Christmas gift in 2019.

“I never in my life thought about using the kit,” said Cutino, who is an emergency room technician at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “But when I finally decided to do the test and send it off, I never thought it would be a way to find my dad or anybody in my family. I never once thought it could be a family thing.”

After Cutino gave a saliva sample, put it in the tube provided and mailed it back to the company, he didn’t give it another thought.

About a month later, he received an email from the company. He learned the basics, like ancestry reports, DNA relatives features and traits reports. And then he closed the email.

Then, in February 2020, Cutino reopened the email and saw a part that he hadn’t looked at before.

“On the top it says ‘Family and Friends',” he said. “I clicked on it and thought, that’s weird. On top it had my sister’s name and it said half-sister. I was in shock. I didn’t know I had a half-sister. All I knew was it was hopefully going to be a link to my dad.”

Cutino said he was able to see his half-sister’s profile. He messaged her right away and she responded the same day.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” half-sister Leonor Gracia said. “This is so amazing. I was checking my email and saw I have a message from 23andMe.”

Gracia, 42, knew right away that Cutino was related: “The moment I saw my brother (Cutino) on Facebook; he has the same face as my two brothers.”

After Gracia told her husband, she sent Cutino another message asking for his phone number.

“He said to me, ‘this is like a dream’,” Gracia said. “We talked for hours and hours.”

“She was really excited," Cutino said. “I told her my story. She told me about her family. And we got together. She was only an hour away. I was in Phoenix at the time and she lives in Tucson. She is from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, where there is even more family.”

After the phone call, Gracia told her siblings everything. But she didn’t know how her mother would take the news. It took her two weeks to get up the courage.

“She said, ‘Okay, I know that your father had a past’,” Gracia said. Her mother told Gracia to meet her brother and in the future, she would like to know him, too.

Cutino and Gracia met at a restaurant one week later. He was nervous; so was she.

“I felt like I was going on a date,” he said. “I saw her right away. We hugged. We were at the restaurant five hours just talking. I lived all my life not knowing I had a sister.”

There have been a few get-togethers for Cutino and Gracia, including meeting Gracia’s mom, the two step-brothers and step-sister. And before the pandemic, Cutino met the rest of the family in Nogales.

Still, Cutino has not met his birth father.

“Leonor has a good relationship with her dad,” Cutino said. “I really want to meet him. My step-brothers gave him my number, but he was in shock. He didn’t expect this to happen after 46 years. I’ve been waiting for his phone call. It’s been a year and he hasn’t reached out to me.”

“My younger brother David and I went to my dad and told him what we know,” Gracia said. “And then my father was quiet for a moment and then he said, ‘You know what? Maybe he is my nephew.’ And we said, no, the DNA shows he is your son. We said science is not wrong. You don’t want to admit it."

It is Gracia’s hope for her dad to meet Cutino: “I will be patient and wait for that day. Marco is so wonderful and kind. He’s a great person.”

Cutino knows that his birth father is at least acknowledging him because Cutino sees that his father is following him and makes comments on Cutino’s Facebook page.

“All of them are very supportive,” Cutino said. “They all accept me. Now, if I can just talk to my dad.”

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