Alexus Ortiz saved the best gift for last on Christmas Day.
Ortiz, 17, presented her stepfather, Matias Cardozo, with a rolled-up piece of paper tied with a blue bow. As soon as he unrolled the paper — a court petition for her to take Cardozo’s last name — Cardozo went silent, then began to weep.
A family video of the emotional exchange, taken by Ortiz’s mother, Jennifer Cardozo, has gone viral in the weeks since, putting the Mastic family in the spotlight. Jennifer Cardozo had initially posted the video on her personal Facebook page, then it spread to the page, “Love What Matters,” where it racked up 1.3 million views as of Jan. 7.
“I’m one of those people who likes to share everything on Facebook,” Jennifer Cardozo, 35, said. “I was hoping my family would see it and everybody knows the love he has for her. I didn’t think it was going to get the response that it did.”
Cardozo, 36, who is in Argentina visiting family and was unavailable for an interview, began dating his wife nine years ago, when Ortiz was 9. The two grew close.
The Cardozos also have a 6-year-old son and Ortiz said she felt a little left out not having the Cardozo name.
“Within the short period of time I’ve known him, he’s meant a lot for me,” she said. “He plays a big role in my life and I wanted to show him I’m also a part of his family.”
Ortiz said the planning process took several months. Initially, she wanted to present him with adoption papers, something Ortiz and her mother had previously discussed with Cardozo. However, that fizzled when Ortiz’s biological father did not want to give up his parental rights. Ortiz was also approaching 18, which put a damper on the plan since she would then legally become an adult, she said.
A few weeks before Christmas, Jennifer Cardozo said her daughter suggested a new idea: What about a court petition to hyphenate her last name to add Cardozo? Mother and daughter worked in secret to prepare the papers, ready to hand them over Christmas Day.
When the moment arrived, Ortiz and Jennifer Cardozo called their family’s attention in the living room and, with her mother’s phone recording, Ortiz presented her gift.
“Right before I gave it to him, I was very nervous,” Ortiz said. “I thought he’d cry, but I didn’t think he’d not be able to speak. It was a very emotional night.”
Matias Cardozo hugged his stepdaughter tight, tears in his eyes.
Ortiz said they have officially submitted the paperwork for the name change and are waiting to begin the process, which still requires approval from her biological father and a judge.
Jennifer Cardozo said the family has heard from other families that have gone through a similar situation and hope their story might inspire others.
“We appreciate all the love and the nice messages we’re getting from people,” she said.