After Giving Two Years of His Life to the Peace Corps, Former Volunteer Wants to Spend Rest of His Life with Ecuadorian Partner
Ever since I was a kid, the holidays were a blur of good food, family, and friends. Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas were always reminders to be thankful for what we had and share with those we love. This year, Raul and I have much for which to be grateful. For the first time since 2009, we will be sharing Christmas together. After more than a year of living in different countries, we now live under the same roof, sharing the same meals, and making friends in a new city and country—the United Kingdom, our new home.
Raul and I first met during my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Southern Ecuador. I was working as a social worker in a rural highland community. I still remember getting that first flirtatious text message, thinking “he’s surely exaggerating his positive qualities”. Fortunately, he wasn’t! Raul really is the sweet, caring, and handsome man he said he was. After some initial hesitation on my part, we started a relationship that continues to this day, nearly three years later. For the rest of my time in the Peace Corps, Raul and I were nearly inseparable. He would often visit me and my host family in the parish where I lived. We would travel Ecuador together on vacations, visiting friends and his family on the coast.
As my service experience drew to a close in mid-2010, we started to explore our options. We both wanted Raul to meet my family over the holidays as I’d had the chance to visit his on many occasions. Sadly, Raul’s application for a visitor’s visa to the US was denied, in part because he did not have enough assets to convince the immigration officer of his return to Ecuador and in part because he was honest about our relationship during his interview. I still remember the day Raul called me with the bad news. He was devastated, and there was nothing I could do to comfort him that day. I promised I would save up and return to Ecuador if he could not see my family for the holidays.
I returned to Ecuador at the beginning of 2011 to work as a field consultant with a social enterprise initiative, earning just $200 per month. We also opened a small café/bar together in the hopes that it would improve his chances of eventually visiting my family in the US. During the next 8 months, the two of us worked hard at our day and night jobs. We were poor and tired, but at least we had each other. Acting on pro-bono advice from Lavi Soloway of the DOMA Project (www.domaproject.org) we prepared for Raul’s next visa application by securing invitations, bonds, and letters of support from family and government officials, including my Congressman at the time, Bruce Braley. We knew that chances were slim that Raul would be granted a visitor’s visa, but we had to try. My grandparents were going to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and it was the perfect way to meet my extended family. On what I would describe as one of the happiest days of my life, Raul’s application for a visitor’s visa was granted. It was just short of a miracle.
In August of 2011, Raul’s and my wish finally came true. He met my family and shared in the celebrations of my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. He was even included in the family photo! Raul’s visit allowed me to share with him my hometown, American football at my alma mater — Notre Dame – and the city of Chicago where I would ultimately spend the next year pursuing my Master’s degree in Psychology. As Raul’s departure drew near, anxiety soon settled in as we were left with few options. He could either overstay his visa, living in fear of deportation or return to Ecuador. For a number of reasons, we decided it would be best for Raul to return.
On our two year anniversary in December, I returned to Ecuador to celebrate our Civil Union in Ecuador. It was a modest celebration held in the house of one of Raul’s friends. While the circumstances were not what either of us envisioned for our marriage, we knew we needed a more formal recognition of our relationship. Following our short “mini-honeymoon” to the central Ecuadorian highlands, I returned to the US to celebrate Christmas with my family. It would be nine months before I would see Raul again.
Those nine months were some of the most difficult we have experienced. The loneliness was crushing at times. While I loved Chicago and my studies at the University of Chicago, my heart was elsewhere. Soon after my arrival, I eventually began exploring the possibility of PhD programs in the UK and Canada where I would be able to live together with Raul. As fortune would have it, my supervisor connected me with a researcher at the University of Birmingham. Faster than I ever expected, I was not only admitted but offered a generous studentship—not an easy feat in cash-strapped Europe.
This year, Raul and I will be sharing the holidays with our families from behind a computer screen, more than an ocean away. While online video calls are a reality for many Americans who find themselves overseas for the holidays, our life as exiles entails an additional burden: Raul remains stuck on the outside. I promised him I will not leave him again and I mean it. For this reason, we’re joining with Out4Immigration and GetEQUAL to call on Congress to include provisions for exiled LGBT families like mine in Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Inclusive immigration reform would allow me to sponsor Raul for a green card and start our lives together in the US. It would mean that we would be free to spend the holidays with my family—something we have been unable to do to this day. There is no excuse for delay. Justice delayed is justice denied. The time to act is now.