Read about how Connecting Roots got started
Born in Temuco, Chile in the 1980s, Graf was adopted as a newborn by a loving American family from Minnesota. He had a wonderful childhood, and his family was always open with him about his adoption and Chilean roots. He occasionally wondered about his birth family, but never questioned his adoptive family's bond.
Today, Graf lives in the Houston area and is happily married with a son of his own. He has served as a firefighter for the Houston Fire Department since 2009. In 2012, destiny gave him an opportunity to connect to his Chilean roots. During a week-long specialized training session offered by the department to foreign firefighters, Graf met members of the Fire Engine 20 Department of Santiago, Chile. He was excited to meet the team and assist as they trained in techniques to combat high-rise fires. As Graf became acquainted with one Chilean fireman, Juan Luis, he shared what he knew about his adoption.
When Juan Luis returned to Santiago, he began searching for resources to help Graf learn more about his adoption. As time passed, however, it seemed as though the search had come up empty handed. Then, nearly 10 years later, Graf received a message from Juan Luis. The humanitarian non-profit organization, Hijos e Madres del Silencio, had located documents that linked Graf with his potential birth mother. After submitting additional adoption documents and DNA testing to confirm he and his mother's relation, the match was verified.
Graf learned that during the 1980s, while Chile was under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), numerous human rights violations occurred. Masses of Chileans mysteriously disappeared; among these, an estimated 20,000 infants were stolen from their mothers, mostly from poverty-stricken areas. The children were then set up for adoption abroad. Temuco, where Graf had been born, had been an epicenter of the trafficking operation. His birth mother's story matches that of others of the time's she was told she must deliver by C-section, and when she came out of the anesthesia, she was informed her baby had not survived. The medical team claimed it would be too disturbing to see the infant, and she was quickly discharged. In truth, Graf was on his way to adoption.
As Graf's story circulated, he was contacted by local and international media who wanted to cover his story. They arranged for Graf to meet his mother and members of his biological family in the U.S. Today, he has the missing pieces of his past, including three biological sisters.
Knowing there are other Chilean adoptees within his age group who may have encountered the same fate, Graf founded Connecting Roots. His mission is to raise awareness of the 1980s trafficking scheme, to partner with non-profits like Hijos Y Madres Del Silencio (HMS) and Nos Buscamos, and offer free kits to accelerate DNA matching. He believes time is of the essence for each new search, as the process is lengthy and many of the mothers are now entering their elder years.
Tyler Graf continues to proudly serve the Houston Fire Department as he spearheads the mission of Connecting Roots.
With family and friends, he hopes the mission of the organization flourishes to unite as many Chilean families as possible.