Los Angeles – The disappearance of his mother at a Nevada casino led Salvadoran immigrant Amadeo Hernandez to write a book and create a foundation that has helped hundreds of elderly Hispanics.
"Somehow, part of the Latino community in the United States has lost the values of respect and appreciation for the elderly in the family and now they want to get rid of them," he commented to Efe.
The Hernandez brothers and their families were visited in the United States by their parents for the first time and what began as a happy get-together ended in tragedy.
"We took them to visit different places in Los Angeles and on Jan. 20 (2001) my brother Juan with his wife took them to get to know Las Vegas," Amadeo said.
"While they were visiting a casino in the middle of the desert, my mother became disoriented and went out to take a walk outside the building, perhaps looking for her house," said Amadeo, now a U.S. citizen and building manager.
The disappearance of Bernardina Hernandez resulted in an intense search that ended seven months later - on Sept. 1, 2001 - when her remains were found in the desert about a mile north of the casino.
According to the autopsy, Mrs. Hernandez became disoriented or got lost and suffered a heart attack on a cold night.
"I suffered from depression for a year and couldn't work. The doctor who treated me recommended as therapy that I write in detail to get everything out," Amadeo recounted.
"From that effort emerged 'En busca de Bernardina' (Searching for Bernardina), a book that has touched many hearts and has (caused) many people to notice that the elderly are very vulnerable," he added.
Amadeo also began to dedicate part of his time to visiting the elderly and discovering the needs of Hispanic adults of advanced years, many of them abandoned or neglected by their families.
In 2007, he created the Fundacion Bernardina, which seeks to identify those cases of Hispanics over age 60 who are unprotected, abandoned or are suffering from abuse or have lost contact with their relatives.
As a result of a radio program on which he offered the foundation's help to the public and gave his telephone number, "I received about 600 calls from people to tell me their cases."
"Many are living marginalized, in the back of a house or in the garage, without air conditioning or heating, and sometimes sleeping with the dog or with the cats," he said.
The foundation - with the help of the Salvadoran consulate in Los Angeles - also has helped at least two elderly ladies who had been abandoned in the United States to reunite with their families in El Salvador.