For most kids, receiving your Christmas wish in March would be a let-down.
But for 9-year-old Treasure Cardenas Herrera, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The Patterson third-grader had asked in a letter to Santa Claus to meet her biological big sister for the first time. While it didn’t happen for the holidays, Treasure got one of the biggest surprises of her life when her wish came true during her birthday party Sunday.
Treasure, who was adopted at age 5 along with her three younger brothers (ages 8 to 4), had always wanted a sister. Her parents, Richard Cardenas and Ted Herrera of Patterson, had adopted the brood together and also have four foster children in their care – all of them boys except for a 1-year-old baby girl.
Cardenas and Herrera planned the surprise for Treasure during their Sunday church service. The small Patterson Federated Church was filled almost to capacity with parishioners and family members gathered together. At the end of the service, Treasure and her fathers came up front to read one of her poems and her Christmas letter to Santa. Little did she know her long-awaited present was sitting in the back pew.
“If I could receive only one Christmas gift, I would like to see my sister,” Treasure read in front of the packed church.
When she finished, Cardenas said: “We could not get her for Christmas. But we got her for your birthday. Sequoia?”
Sequoia Battiest, a 22-year-old soon-to-be college graduate from Lemoore, south of Fresno, stood up and walked toward Treasure from the back of the church. Treasure stood at the front for a beat, then sprinted into Sequoia’s arms. Then there were no words, only tears.
“I was excited, but also anxious,” said Battiest, who was adopted when she was 2 years old by her family and raised with two brothers. She did not realize she had biological siblings until about three weeks ago, when Cardenas called her.
Battiest, Treasure and her brothers all share the same biological mother, who had nine children, all in foster care. Cardenas has been in contact with their biological grandmother through the years. It was a conversation with her that Treasure overheard in November. And since then, the idea of meeting her big sister took hold.
“It started with a letter Treasure wrote wanting to meet her big sister,” Herrera said. “We didn’t know if we could even locate her sister. But it worked. And this turned out so well.”
Federated Church Rev. Eun-Joo Myung was one of the few in attendance who was in on the big secret, and during her sermon made mention of Treasure’s blended family.
“Thinking about family, I have read some of Treasure’s writing about her two dads and her brothers and how they all came from everywhere,” Myung said. “But here we are together, in this place of worship, being one family.”
Before the surprise, Cardenas read one of Treasure’s poems to the congregation. Its refrain, “I have two dads, I am normal,” framed a story of past hardship and current bullying. Most in attendance thought they were there just to celebrate Treasure’s birthday, which was Thursday.
Almost two dozen family members came for the festivities, from as far away as Redding and Merced. While none knew the exact surprise awaiting Treasure, they knew something big was going to happen.
“I’m very happy for her; it was such a nice surprise,” said Janet Valderrama, Treasure’s godmother and Herrera’s sister-in-law. “This was a missing part of her life.”
Treasure’s brothers also got a chance to see their biological sister for the first time, thanks to the surprise, though they took the meeting more in stride.
“I was happy; I asked her where she came from,” said 8-year-old Kevin, before running off to play with his brothers and cousins.
Battiest said she went back and forth at first about meeting Treasure. During the two-hour drive up to Patterson the night before, she said she was nervous.
“Hearing other people who met their (biological family members) made me want to go through with it,” Battiest said. “And I know other people have similar situations but never have an opportunity like this, too.”
Battiest will graduate from California State University, Fresno, in May with a degree in social work and plans to go into a masters program this fall. She said she also plans to keep in touch with Treasure from here on out.
“This was fun,” she said. “It is exciting to have blood ties.”
After the reveal, the two long-lost sisters stood next to each other quietly. Valderrama studied them and said, “You two look alike. I can see it.”
And they both smiled the same smile back.