Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I am working on it. An essay.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais

Many of you know my husband. If you haven’t met him, you should, he is a good decent, honest, hardworking and beautiful man. For 12 years we lived in the States, and now for almost seven now, we have been living in Brasil.

At least 3 times, when still living in Sacramento, when we came back to the States from Brasil he was taken aside and interrogated, for no reason whatsoever. He traveled with a huge file of papers that you and I never have to – documenting his legal H1-B status, and permanent visa applications. During these interrogations, the authorities would not allow me to sit with him, or talk to him, they took him aside to a separate room, and I was told to move along. It was always terrifying and a big worry for me when he returned to the USA, especially so if he was traveling back by himself.

At that time, we were not "family" in the eyes of the law.

Brasil is not and hasn’t been at war with the USA, indeed it is one of, if not THE largest foreign tourist group and spenders in the States. Yet my husband was frequently treated like a criminal upon returning to California. It got old. The entire time that we lived in Sacramento, he was, and like I am here in Brasil, legal, with the proper visas (permission, that I doubt few understand how difficult it is to obtain) to live, study and work as a foreigner.

At the time, LGBTQ people were not allowed the same privileges as heterosexual couples. I could not sponsor my husband, like he could do for me here for me in Brasil, for a permanent visa. For 12 years, we depended on the San Juan Unified School District to serve as his sponsor, and we paid the fees and lawyers to remain in the country, with a promise that he would eventually obtain the “green card” that is a permanent visa. It never came, thus the reason he had to travel with large file of papers documenting his legal status and promising that it was coming. Thanks to the good people at his school where he taught high school mathematics, and at California State University, Sacramento where he studied, he thrived, participating in the school and district culture while he earned both a masters and his doctorate.

It cost us a lot of money (around $30,000.00) to remain honest and legal so that he could do his masters and doctorate and work in Sacramento. We are not criminals, we always do the right things re: visas and immigration, and yet we lived in fear every time we came back from Brasil. In fear that is, until Obama was elected and his administration quickly worked to give LGBTQ people the same rights as heterosexual couples.

The events of the past ten or so days have changed things again and given me nightmares.

Try and imagine, that when you enter your own country, that your spouse could be taken aside and interrogated… and neither of you have any rights, you aren’t allowed to even ask what is going on, you can’t even wait for them outside the room your husband is taken into, you cannot ask questions, you are forced to “move along” and wait down the hall. At that time, we were told by lawyers not to mention that we were married (or domestic partners at the time). 

The current administration is working to remove marriage equality and LGBTQ rights in the United State once again. It wants to give anyone the right to freely discriminate in stores and at work against us, and to deny, even negate our marriage rights. Most, if not all of the President’s cabinet believe that LGBTQ rights should be removed, including marriage equality. The current sitting vice-president has stated, while he was governor of Indiana, that LGBTQ people should be fined and imprisoned if they marry, and has been on record stating that homosexuals should be given electroshock treatments to change our orientation.

After marriage equality happened in the United States, when we traveled back to the States, we could and did stand in line together as family as we waited for immigration back into the USA, just like we can do here as we reenter Brasil. Suddenly, like here, no one hassled us there.

A few years ago, when things were “fat” and on the rise here in Brasil, I was invited to give a TEDx talk in Sacramento.

Looking back, I believe it happened at the beginning of some very important beginnings for both my countries. The day before my TEDx talk, the United States Supreme Court passed marriage equality. I spent the afternoon/evening celebrating the historic event with thousands on the California State Capitol steps. That evening the White House was lit up in rainbow colors.

Before leaving for California to give my talk, Brasil had broken out in huge demonstrations against corruption and bus fare hikes. Millions in cities and towns all over Brasil were marching. Just in our town alone, more than 10,000 people marched from UFOP campus to the main square of the city, my husband joined in. I almost scrapped TEDx and returned early to Brasil.

Though TEDx edited my talk a bit, in so doing they clipped the dress rehearsal session and the original together and lost my intro. In my talk to the audience, I began something like this,

“If any gay man, currently living in Brasil, did not begin his talk acknowledging the events of yesterday related to marriage equality, along with the millions marching in Brasil today, you would probably think he was insensitive, or uninformed. Something astonishing occurred yesterday, and something astonishing is happening now in Brasil”.

I was hit with a giant wall of love and energy as the audience erupted in applause, and my anxiety disappeared. The rest of the talk went well. In that talk, I shared how and why I ended up living in Brasil. The clip of my talk is here:

We finally gave up, and we applied for 2 faculty positions at the Universidad Federal de Ouro Preto (UFOP) where we currently live and work. Brasil made it easy for and welcomed me, and so I have gotten my permanent visa in less than two years.

Soon after my TEDx talk, the Obama administration made it legal for all married spouses to sponsor their non-USAan spouse for permanent status, we were happy for those that didn’t have to go through what we had. But by that time we were ensconced, and happy here in Ouro Preto and both our careers took off.

Since then, events in both my countries have accelerated to surreal levels. When the law changed in the States, we briefly considered moving back, but something told us, this would not last. And sadly, the events after November 2016 have confirmed it.

I am having nightmares.

The events of late in the States, have brought me back to that moment when Milton & I returned the States and had to deal with immigration, and to when I lived in Guatemala during a military dictatorship. I am having weird dreams of immigration lines and coups and machine guns and marshal law and explosions.

That I have friends and family that voted for these monsters is much more hurtful and sad than anything I can express at the moment. I hope that, eventually I will be able to forgive them, right now it is difficult, if not impossible.

The other day I came across a quote by Gina Sharpe,

“If you’ve suffered a great injustice, coming to forgiveness may include a long process of grief and outrage and sadness and loss and pain. Forgiveness is a deep process, which is repeated over and over and over again in our hearts. It honors the grief and it honors the betrayal. And in its own time, it ripens into the freedom to truly forgive.

I am working on it.