I never imagined myself living at the bottom of the world, but here I am well into the thick of year number two in Chile. I would not say I am stranded here, because I am fully happy. I do miss Chicago, family and friends, but I am one of the odd breed who don’t realize how large that pain is until face to face with a loved one, be it flesh and bone or glass and stone. What results is that while I am suffering most, there is concomitant healing, which is an altogether surreal feeling. Like donating platelets, as whole blood is sucked out of one arm, what remains is pushed back into the other. A diminishing and a building up.
Why am I in the país de los hue’ones? Love. How did I get here? Love. Well, under the pretext of study and travel. A couple of years ago, while I was a student at UIC, I received a scholarship from the U.S. State Department. I used it to study in Venezuela, where I fell in love. I tried not to, because as a woman who loves women, I’d have to stay in Venezuela if I were to continue the relationship. She could not enter the U.S., and I wouldn’t find a job in Venezuela with a high enough salary to pay back a mountain of student debt.
If you weren’t already aware, it’s difficult for a Latin American to acquire even a tourist visa to the U.S., and for countries at political odds with the federal government (e.g. Venezuela), it is next to impossible. One must prove wealth and property so the government can rest assured that a jobless person trying to feed their family doesn’t attempt the egregious error of seeking employment in the land of plenty without waiting in a decades-long queue for the proper paperwork. The other problem we had is the U.S. federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which states that marriage is between a man and a woman. For heterosexual couples, the fiancé/e visa avoids the run around that attends travel or work visas; you just pay a bunch of money and provide the federal officials with copies of your love letters. For same sex couples, this is simply not an option as those relationships are viewed as invalid. (Whether marriage should be the only route for achieving togetherness is the topic of a different article).
After two years of futile attempts at visiting me in Chicago, and me spending way too much money on airplane tickets, we decided to move to Chile together. I knew I could work teaching and translating, and the country has a solid education system. But in the end, all the time and distance were too much, and the relationship broke under the weight. I had already been accepted to graduate school here in Santiago before we divided our lives back into two. And of course the desire to experience a variety of foreign locales still lived in me, so I thought, go anyway. I packed up my Chicago world and gave away my stuff, hopped on a plane and landed in a country I had never seen where I knew not a soul. It has been wonderful. The only thing I kept telling myself was Do Not Fall For a Chilena, which is just ridiculous to even attempt. Who can control their emotions, especially the insane yet real happening of Love at First Sight? Despite my best efforts at avoiding love with a person of a different nationality–so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the where do I/we live question while DOMA is still in place – I am back in the same situation.
I have no idea how long I’ll stay in Chile, nor where I will go next. What I do know is that I am not throwing this relationship away, as it is the most beautiful love I have ever had the privilege to experience. The fact that I continue paying federal taxes on the money I make here (federal law) without receiving the same benefits of heterosexual citizens does irk me. The irony of this all being partially prompted by the State Department is not lost on me. Even if I wanted to marry her and move home I could not. Although several states have full gay marriage rights or a smattering of rights bestowed with the title “civil partnership,” this does not apply to couples from different countries because of DOMA. It trumps states’ rights, and federal law governs immigration. It also continually lets me know that I am considered sub-standard. A diminishing.
On July 8th a federal district judge in Boston, Joseph Tauro, ruled that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. While this ruling does not overturn DOMA, it does begin the process of debating a law whose sole purpose is discrimination. One of the attorneys in the case, Mary Bonauto pointed out that a House Judiciary Committee report “explicitly stated the purpose of DOMA was to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.” I challenge anyone to read DOMA in its entirety and find any use for it other than to limit the rights of non-heterosexual U.S. citizens.
By now it should be painfully clear that the U.S. immigration system is in need of serious attention. I contend that DOMA is also of major concern, and should be addressed immediately while we work at skewing our laws in the direction of fairness for all citizens and would-be citizens, and removing thinly disguised religiosity from them as well. In the meantime, I will continue my one-woman handwritten letter campaign to President Obama. My family asks me when I’m coming home. Eventually, I say, but not until I am welcomed and respected as I am. A building up.