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Story highlights

David Amaya Barrick, 37, will finally see his mother for the first time in about 35 years

Their reunion will take place Saturday in San Diego's airport

The estranged husband took the boy to Mexico when he was about 2 years old

The mom was unable to find her son until the U.S. Border Patrol recently arrested him

San Diego, California CNN  — 

Since his recent U.S. homecoming, the long-lost son has been baptized, a good Samaritan gave him an airline ticket and now he’s counting down the hours until Saturday morning – when he will see his mother for the first time in 35 years.

David Amaya Barrick, 37, made national headlines when he tried to cross the U.S. border illegally from Mexico three weeks ago – only to remember upon arrest by the U.S. Border Patrol that he was actually a U.S. citizen born in Chicago and maybe, just maybe, his birth certificate and his mother could be found to prove it.

The Border Patrol did find both, and now mother Kathy Amaya will travel Saturday from Wisconsin to San Diego, California, to see and embrace her son for the first time since he was 2 years old.

The reunion will be made more dramatic by how the son speaks only Spanish and the mother knows only English.

David Amaya has been staying in the care of a San Diego church since the Border Patrol released him this month.

“They didn’t believe me,” David Amaya said of the Border Patrol when they arrested him October 30.

In fact, they thought he and a Mexican man were both coyotes – or smugglers – guiding six Romanian nationals across a putrid flood-control channel along the Mexican border at Imperial Beach, California, said Border Patrol agents.

“They would tell me, no, that I was Mexican,” David Amaya said. “I had to tell them the truth or they were going to send me to jail.”

It’s a family saga that spans 1,800 miles of separation, lasting more than three decades.

But in some ways, it’s only now that the mother-son relationship is really beginning.

At one point, the mother nearly lost all hope of ever seeing her son again, unable to establish contact with him in central Mexico.

Conflicting stories from mother and father

It begins about 35 years ago when David Amaya Barrick’s father, estranged from his wife, took the boy from Chicago to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to live with grandparents. His mother wrote letters to the grandparents’ home but they were never acknowledged. So the mother, now 60, never knew of her son’s whereabouts for certain, she said.

His parents later divorced, and his father told him a version of events that conflicts with the mother’s account.

“My dad told me that my mom had abandoned me at an orphanage center because she didn’t love me,” David Amaya told CNN. “He dropped me off with my grandparents and went back to Chicago. He almost never spent time with me.”

But his mother said her estranged husband took the boy from the care of her sister on what seemed like a routine outing.

The family was living in a neighborhood near Chicago’s Midway Airport, and when the boy wasn’t returned home promptly, the estranged husband told his wife that he had taken the boy to Mexico for a monthlong visit.

But the month became a year, and a year became decades.

Kathy Amaya begged her estranged husband to return the son back to the United States, but it didn’t happen, she said. Kathy Amaya said her son was taken away when he was about 2 years old, but David Amaya remembers being 3 years old at the time. Perhaps they will better determine the exact time during their long-awaited reunion.

The couple divorced in 1986, but didn’t settle on child custody in the divorce, Kathy Amaya said. So police were unable to help her, she said. She couldn’t find him on social media because she didn’t know he was using her maiden name as part of his full name – a common practice in Latin American countries.

Amaya went on to have four other children and moved to Wisconsin, where she now lives in Chippewa Falls working as an assistant housekeeper at a hotel.

The ex-husband couldn’t reached for comment by CNN.

David Amaya was the only child his parents had together, and for now, he is withholding judgment on which parent’s account to believe. While Kathy Amaya doesn’t maintain contact with her ex-husband, David Amaya has been in touch with his father.

The son will make up his mind on his parents’ conflicting stories when he’s able to talk with them side-by-side, he said.

In the meantime, he’s enjoying his stay in San Diego so much that he’s planning on making his home there – after reuniting with his mother in San Diego and then returning with her and her fiancé to Wisconsin for a visit there, he said.

A drummer who played with a band in Mexico, David Amaya said he likes San Diego’s proximity to Mexico and its cultural atmosphere. Moreover, he’s taken a liking to a local church pastor, Freddy Rivas, who has helped Amaya with food and shelter since the Border Patrol released him. Amaya was recently baptized at the church.

“We fed him. We give him a warm bath. He hadn’t taken a shower in 10 days. He was dirty, and we clothed him,” Rivas said.

‘I know what it feels to miss a mother’

Polite and attentive to visiting journalists, David Amaya appreciates how his odyssey from Mexico to the United States had a fortunate conclusion.

Bandits earlier robbed him of his money and cell phone, leaving him with just his clothes on his back, he said. He didn’t even have any identification when the U.S. Border Patrol arrested him, he said.

During his years in San Luis Potosi, David Amaya married and had two children. But he’s now divorced, and his two children live with their mother in Mexico City. Two years ago, he moved to Monterrey, Mexico, he said.

Once he settles in San Diego, he’s thinking of inviting his two children to visit him – and possibly his ex-wife, “but I can’t force her,” he said.

He will be spending his first Thanksgiving as a repatriated American with his mother in her Wisconsin home, where she lives with two of her children, both in their 20s.

His airline ticket to Wisconsin was given as a gift by a stranger, Frank Tsimboukaikis, who heard of David Amaya’s story in the media.

“I immigrated here in ’77, so I saw my mother 12 times, and anyway she passed away this year, when I was over there” in Greece, Tsimboukaikis said, choking up.

“So I know what it feels to miss a mother – and he never enjoyed – so you know I said with my son, ‘let’s do it!’” he said, his sentences broken up by overwhelming emotion.

Tsimboukaikis just happened to visit and give Amaya the ticket while CNN was interviewing him.