The third season of the TLC reality drama “Long Lost Family” opened with the uncanny story of two sisters who were separated for decades, but grew up just blocks apart in the Bronx.
“I always thought I was just another foster child and no one was looking for me,” Christina Hernandez says. “I was afraid I’d die and not know where I came from.”
Hernandez, who was born with the name Claribel, was separated from her family before the age of two. Her younger sister Engris Lopez remembers being 7 years old, holding her grandmother’s hand in a New York City courtroom and locking eyes with Claribel. It was the first and last time she’d see her biological sister for more than 30 years.
Lopez, now 39 years old, reunited with her long-lost sibling who slipped away from her family’s custody that day on the TLC series’ premiere Sunday.
The Bronx native, who was adopted by her grandmother at just 4 months old, lead the episodic search for the sister who she knew only as Claribel. She and her sibling were both removed from their mother’s custody due to her battle with a drug and alcohol addiction, the sisters said.
Claribel was entered into the foster care system instead of being placed in her grandmother’s care due to reasons that remained unclear to the siblings for years.
“Growing up, I always in the back of my head kept replaying that same scenario. I knew I had a sister . . . I remember her eyes,” Lopez said in the season opener, adding that she never stopped looking for her, but searches came up short.
Claribel, who now goes by her adoptive name Christina Hernandez, says a switch in the names on her birth certificate caused a confusion that kept the sisters apart.
“My sister was searching for Lopez, she was born Lopez, which was supposed to be my original last name, and that right there is what messed up everything,” Hernandez says.
About a year ago Lopez decided to turn to Chris Jacobs, the host of the TLC series, for help.
“Growing up in New York, I was told at an early age that I was adopted,” Hernandez recalls. “I was always curious to find out one day if I have a sister or if my mother or birth father were around. But I was super young, so it wasn’t a priority.”
The 33-year-old found the family she thought she’d never know on national television thanks to an ancestry DNA test she submitted months before Lopez’s search with Jacobs began.
Their story came with a few uncanny twists — like the two sisters realizing they’d walked the same sidewalks on Southern Boulevard for years and the fact that they both currently reside in Florida.
“I lived, I want to say, four or five New York blocks away from her,” Hernandez says. “I would pass there, but who knows we probably bumped into each other without even knowing.”
Hernandez said her adoptive parents didn’t look into reconnecting the sisters simply due to a lack of information and a misunderstanding. Her parents thought Lopez wasn’t a full relative and Lopez’s grandmother said a language barrier in court prevented her from properly explaining.
“Finding out I had a grandmother was actually a plus to all this. I didn’t even know Engris had contact with her,” Hernandez says, adding that she had searched for her family through social media for nearly a decade with no luck.
The sisters officially met about 10 months ago when the episode filmed, during an emotional, tear-filled reunion. Since then, they’ve been trying to fill in the gaps.
““You cannot separate us!” Hernandez cries. “We’ve celebrated Halloween and Christmas together so far. We’re inseparable.”
“Long Lost Family” features hosts Jacobs and Lisa Joyner, both adoptees, who reunite families from across the country who have been separated for years. New episodes air on Sundays at 10 p.m.