Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Exiled in Ecuador, Brad & Raúl Try to Plan for a Future Together

Brad and Raúl
We first posted Brad and Raúl's story back in November. Recently Brad contacted sent us this update.

July 29, 2010 was a bittersweet day. That day was the culmination of my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador. I had a lot to be proud of. Over those two years, I facilitated a number of parenting and life skills workshops in the schools of my community. I even helped a local volunteer committee raise additional funds to build an elder care facility for the elderly of my community. Within the Peace Corps community, I played an integral part in the re-establishment of the LGBT Interest Group, a group that continues to foster a safe and inclusive environment for LGBT volunteers in Peace Corps/Ecuador. Though it’s easy to get caught up in such achievements, I was also aware of the people I was leaving behind, not the least of whom was Raúl, my wonderful partner. In my original post, I presented just some of the ways we were there for each other through thick and thin. Because of my relationship with Raúl, not to mention the members of my community, July 29, 2010 was not an easy day.

In spite of our impending separation, Raúl and I had hope. We had applied for a tourist visa so that he could go to the US and spend the holidays with my family. We were both anxious for him to meet my family as I have had the privilege to meet his on a number of occasions. As I described in my original post, the visit was not to be. The U.S. Consular Officer summarily dismissed Raúl’s application due to his inability to demonstrate sufficiently strong ties to Ecuador.

In the months following that September rejection, we spoke over the phone every day. Raúl never failed to ask about my family, my two part-time jobs, and my graduate school applications. Naturally, I was always eager to hear about his family, his work and his English studies.

In November, we decided to invest in a local café in Cuenca, the major colonial town in southern Ecuador where Raúl and I met and grew in our relationship. For about a month and a half, Raúl worked his job in construction and at the café in the evenings. We knew it would be difficult, but after some consideration, we both decided it was something we wanted to do. As the owner of a business, we also felt that this venture may strengthen a future visitor visa application. I did my best to encourage Raúl and assured him that I would soon be there to help.

Brad and Raúl with Raúl's niece
On January 8, at about 5:00 a.m., my flight touched down in Guayaquil’s International Airport full of anticipation. After 5 months of separation, I was about to be reunited with the man I love. At the airport, we embraced each other for a long time, trying not to cry. Surely we drew some stares, but we didn’t notice. After spending a day in Guayaquil, we spent a few days at the beach, celebrating our reunion and our one-year anniversary as a couple. It seemed so surreal. After 5 months, it seemed like we had hardly missed a beat. In spite of the very real pain of being separated, we were able to get to know each other in new and exciting ways. We definitely grew as a result of the experience.

A few days later, we returned to Cuenca, where I was to begin my current job as a Regional Coordinator with Community Enterprise Solutions (CES) in Ecuador. Thanks to CES and their partnership with a local Spanish language school, I was able to obtain a visa to live and work in Ecuador for one year.

In spite of the time I spend away from Cuenca while traveling with CES, Raúl and I continue to grow as a couple. Six days a week, we work together to run our café, Black and White. After leaving the office of CES, I open the café at 6:00pm while Raúl prepares dinner to bring to Black and White. Depending on the night, either one or both of us stay till close. Every month, we enjoy more and more success. Soon, Raúl will be able to devote himself full-time to the café, giving us more time to be together.

Managing Black and White has certainly been a challenge at times, especially since it takes up most of our free time. Fortunately, we have been able to manage the stress by maintaining an open and respectful dialogue and enjoying every moment we can. This month, we were able to escape and visit Raúl’s family for Carnaval!

Raúl and Brad at their café in Cuenca
As for the future, Raúl and I aren’t certain what it holds for us. In August, I will return to the US to spend time with my family before beginning a PhD program in Psychology. Acceptance and rejection letters have already started to arrive from various schools. As was the case last summer, we hope that Raúl’s visa application will be approved. Though the odds are against us, we hope against hope that we will both be able to attend my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, to which Raúl has been invited.

Aside from Raúl’s visa application, we are, like so many gay binational couples around the world, also holding out for a groundbreaking decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). During my “exile” I have followed almost obsessively the latest developments on the marriage equality movement and in particular the DOMA challenges. I could hardly contain myself the day I read about President Obama’s decision to stop defending the discriminatory law in court.
I believe that DOMA will be overturned or repealed in the near future, but the nagging question for us is: will it be soon enough for Raúl and me? How long will our approaching separation last this time? Will we be able to join the rest of my family for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary? Will my parents get to meet Raúl in person before we hit the two year mark in December? Will I have to choose between my career and the man I love? DOMA has separated far too many families like mine for far too long. I hope that soon it will be a thing of the past. I hope Raúl and I will get the fighting chance we deserve.

1 comment:

  1. Great story. Thanks for sharing. I am Ecuadorian and met my partner while studying in the US with a scholarship in 2000. My student visa expired and we moved to Ecuador together where we lived for 7 years, and then we moved to Europe because of my work. In my view, the US expelled my partner - a new yorker, and has forced him to leave his country (yes, because he chose love!). We have been very lucky, but there is always the lingering question about what his professional life could have been if he had been able to stay. Now he says he does not want to ever go back, and I sympathize with his feeling. By the way, under the new Ecuadorian constitution it is possible to sign a civil union which grants all the same rigths as a marriage except for adoption, and we did just that, which has allowed for us to be recognized as a couple where we live now. So hang in there; enjoy Ecuador; there are so many things that are still waiting to be done, developed, created, etc; and the quality of life,e specially in Cuenca, can be really good. Un gran abrazo, Xavier