Last December my partner in crime and in life brought me to South Carolina to meet his grandmother. Needless to say I was a wreck; I was so nervous about meeting his grandmother that I even created a few talking points in case the conversations went sour. What I didn't know was his real intent in bringing me along on this 11-hour journey to Charleston.
I will never forget that day. I was cranky and nervous when we finally arrived to the outskirts of Charleston where the exit to his grandmother's house was. He kept driving and missed the exit. I looked at him questioningly, until he went on to tell me that he wanted to bring me to downtown Charleston, which was 20 minutes away from our exit. In our relationship, when we disagree with each other, we try to reason with one another. So I took a deep breath and explained to him I was tired and just wanted to head to his grandmother's house without any delay. We kept going back and forth until he pulled our secret card that both us never use lightly. He said, "Felipe, you need to trust me. I want to take you downtown for a good reason." So I stopped arguing and didn't say anything until we arrived.
He parked the car by the bay in downtown Charleston. I was surprised about how beautiful the view was until he looked at me and said, "Felipe, this is the port where most slaves were brought into this country." The mood went from festive to very serious. He took me on a tour of the downtown area, pointing out historical remnants of Southern racism in the city. We were holding hands and I couldn't ignore the homophobic stares that pierced through our skins. Finally, he stopped at the steps of this huge building, which looked to me like a monument to the Department of Homeland Security. We walked up the steps of the building and then he turned and showed me downtown from that vantage point. He said, "This place represents the intersection of the struggles we've been facing our entire lives: racism, our failed immigration system and homophobia. These struggles were laid out on our paths for us before we were even born." He looked straight into my eyes and told me that he was not scared anymore because "facing oppression together makes the weight of it all just a little more bearable." I was still oblivious to what was happening until he got on his knees and asked me to marry him.
The first thought that came into my mind was, "Wow, he is the most beautiful man in the world, but what does this mean to my immigration status?" As a same-sex binational couple, we are not entitled to the same rights as straight binational couples. My second thought was, "He's right, we will fight for our right to be equal together and I won't be alone." I said yes. I saw the tears in his eyes followed by a smile, and now I am suddenly less than two weeks away from reciting my vows to him.
The decision has haunted me for months because, on the most meaningful moment of my life, all I could think about were the barriers of my immigration status. I comforted myself later by understanding that my reality as a queer undocumented immigrant pushes me to see life in a very different way daily -- calculating each new opportunity and challenge through a very special lens.
The shades of this lens are unique, sometimes magnifying pieces particular to my dual and triple realities that others often have the privilege of taking for granted. Preparing for my wedding has been a beautiful and painful process. For instance, we organized our ceremony in Miami, the community that has shaped who are, but we needed to go to Boston to get married legally because Florida has a constitutional ban on marriage. It wasn't a decision we were comfortable with at all, but we saw Boston as one of the only ways to secure a "legitimate" document that we could show for our relationship if the government ever tries to separate us. One knock at my door is enough to take me away from the man I have devoted my life to for four years now, and I know that without such a document, at best, the government would only continue to see me and treat me as his "roommate." My stance is that if we are to believe in social justice in this country, we need to be able to respect ourselves more than to settle for being institutionally categorized as permanent roommates.
I have found few organizations as committed to intersectional work as GetEQUAL. This is why I've decided to join the GetEQUAL family. As human beings, we frequently find ourselves belonging to multiple communities. The progressive movement for too long has worked in silos, pushing people to choose which hat to wear, which part of their identity to highlight and which part to hide away, depending on the occasion.
The uncompromising work of GetEQUAL has been an inspiration to me and I am honored to be part of the movement for full federal equality. I am hoping to bring my skills, but also my unique experiences to the table. I see this moment as an important step for our movement for human rights in this country. As a man of color, immigrant, undocumented and queer, I see this as our turn to really dig deeper on what it means to be an American with papers or without them in the 21st century America. It's our chance to challenge the powerful interests in our society that, for too long, have reduced us to nothing more than labor. So I invite the Latino and LGBT communities to work together on a new paradigm for our lives. We deserve to share our lives with the people we choose to love, and we deserve the equal protections promised by our forefathers. We deserve to, and we must, get equal.
Follow Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/f_matos007