Tuesday, July 07, 2009

In the process of getting my apartment organized last weekend, I ran across a short piece I wrote almost seven years ago about moving to Mexico...

Queer Alien


I'm beginning to feel comfortable here in Mexico. After one year, I'm starting to feel that I could call this place home. This tiny studio apartment with troops of ants that march en masse if even a crumb is left on the counter of what functions as a kind of pseudo-kitchen. A 'cocineta' in Spanish, a little kitchen. It is an appropriate description as everything in it is condensed; the tiny refrigerator, a two-burner countertop stove for those occasions when there is gas for cooking. The only thing full-size is the sink, a bit of irony in that we have precisely eight dishes to wash; three bowls, one cracked, a saucer without a cup, two coffee mugs, and two glasses which, when purchased, held candles. We do, of course, have silverware; eleven spoons, three forks, two butter knives and a steak knife. Most of these were left by previous tenants, I assume. The coffee mugs and the glasses are ours and I rather like the glasses. We will soon have a full set of four once the candles are burned out of the new ones.

Nevertheless, I'm starting to feel at home. It took me twice as long to feel as though I could settle in San Francisco and there I spoke the language. And had a complete set of dishes.

We live in Playa del Carmen, my partner and I, a quaint little beach town full of Italians and Argentinians, dive shops and jewelry stores, and our little room just one block from the beach. My brother told me it sounds romantic, but he was thinking of linen curtains blowing in the warm Caribbean breeze and the sound of mariachis passing in the street below. The reality is cockroaches the size of my pinky-finger and cleaning boogers off the wall left by the previous tenant and the only music comes from the pizza shack downstairs whose owner is fond of singing along with, but much louder than his radio. The curtains are not linen, nor any other natural fiber and they do not blow gently in any breeze milder than a hurricane force 3, but hang instead, stiffly, flowered and dingy. But I did not move here for the romance. I did, however, move here for love.

I moved to Mexico out of necessity and because the alternative was more than I could bear. My partner is Mexican. We met in San Francisco where we were both living at the time and quickly fell in love. Had I known at the time that he was illegal, I would perhaps have been more cautious with my emotions, more guarded with my affections. When he did tell me, I was already unwilling to break off our deepening relationship, barely two months old. I preferred to leave the country of my birth rather than leaving the man of my dreams. And so, I moved to Mexico, and I'm starting to like it here.

I do not fault him for keeping his secret. American society demands it. Immigration is a pressure cooker of an issue, complex enough that lawyers can specialize in navigating it's intricacies but which many view in black and white, them vs. us, American jobs and the illegal Mexicans who are stealing them all away. On the surface, a surface shellacked by misinformation, it's easy to choose a side for those unwilling to ask questions. In the US, blustering indignation masquerades as authority. Americans need a bogyman, someone to blame, and we want to be told who it is. And if our favorite talk radio host is indignant enough, outraged enough, we're convinced. No questions asked. Why put your index finger thoughtfully to your temple when it's so much easier to point it at the immigrants, or gays. In these times of intense patriotism fueled by terrorism and international conflict, anyone who is foreign-born is a potential enemy. There is a vocal minority that would gladly close our borders to new immigrants, legal or otherwise, and promptly ship out those who are discovered to have slipped across the border undetected or overstayed their welcome. America, it seems, is no longer big enough for the tired huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

My partner had lived in the states for nine years. He had extended family in California that he saw often, close friends who had known him when he was still struggling to communicate in English. He had a drivers license and a VW Jetta and paid his taxes. He was a young gay man living in the most progressive state in the nation and feeling for all intents and purposes that he had found his place in the world. He is fiercly proud to be Mexican, but he also felt like California had become "home". All he was lacking was the piece of paper that made it so. He would be the first to tell you that he went about it the wrong way, the illegal way. I would be the first to tell you it was justified and, to my mind, harmed no one. In my opinion it is illegal in the same sense that breaking the speed limit is a crime, both are borne out of sense of urgency. Double parking in San Francisco should carry a more severe penalty. I would happily round up all the double parkers and ship them out of the country to open up choice spots for Mexican immigrants. Ship them anywhere but Mexico, because I'm starting to like it here.

Moving to Mexico was not our only choice, but it was the only choice we could live with, together and without fear of deportation. Because we are a gay couple, our relationship is not recognized by the INS, or as it is now called the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). It does not matter that we call ourselves married or that we wear wedding bands as a symbol of our commitment. All that we have is
ours, not mine or his. It is a concept that applies not only to our personal belongings and our bank accounts, but to our struggles and successes as well. Our setbacks and our celebrations are shared because we are a couple, because our lives are shared. When I've been overly confident and adventurous with the food here in Mexico and been poisoned by some microorganism, he is the one who holds my head while I throw up or runs out to the pharmacy at 3 o'clock in the morning. It makes me crazy that he leaves the cap off the toothpaste and he chides me gently when my fingernails need clipping. When I've gained 30 pounds and fear that he might not find me as attractive as he once did, he hugs me tight and tells me he would love me if I gained 300 pounds. And I know, of course, he means it. I know when he is preoccupied and he knows when I am feeling crabby. We give each other advice and support, we talk to each other, and more importantly, we listen. Our parents welcome us, as a couple, into their homes. No rare feat for a Mexican butcher and his wife or blue collar small town Iowans whose exposure to gay men was previously limited to lispy effeminate stereotypes on Phil Donahue, circa 1984. I can count all the fights we've had, two years worth, on one hand and still have enough fingers left for the next two years. I love him unconditionally and yet, in spite of all of this, neither his government nor mine consider us a family or will allow one of us to sponsor the other for purposes of immigration.

The Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA) would finally change that for us and thousands of other bi-national same-sex couples whose circumstances are similar to ours. Although the bill has so far failed to make it out of subcommittee in the House of Representatives, it continues to gain bi-partisan support and was recently introduced in senate as well. Still, it could be another three years or more before the US government wakes up and rights this wrong. Until then, we will stay in Mexico. We have no other choice and that's okay for now, because I'm starting to like it here.


A lot has changed since that was written. Unfortunately, so many things have stayed the same. I spent three years in Mexico before we made the decision that I would move back to California and go back to work. In the 9 years that we've been together, that is the one decision I regret having made. We've managed to keep our relationship alive, in spite of the distance and the fact that we've spent less than 3 months together in the last 4 1/2 years. In a short time, however, we'll be together again in the states and although it's only temporary, it feels almost miraculous.

The PPIA is now called the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and although there was a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and the bill continues to gain support in the house and senate, it still has not made it out of subcommittee for a vote. If you haven't written or called your Senator or Congressman, please do.

Playa del Carmen is no longer quaint. It has experienced an enormous amount of growth and is now the third largest city in Quintana Roo, after Cancun and Chetumal. I would still recommend it over Cancun, though. It was an amazing place to call home for 3 years.