Together for 23 Years, Linda and Lydia Raised Two Sons and Married, But Fight For Every Day Because of DOMA
Twenty-three years ago, I was unexpectedly re-united with Linda, my life-partner, my soul mate, my wife.
It was meant to be.
Many years before, we knew each other as children back in the Philippines. Distantly related, Linda and I would see each other occasionally at family gatherings. Sometimes her mother would bring “goodies” from her farm and Linda would come to our house to share the bounty. I loved going to Linda’s family’s house; her father was very accommodating and he made the best pancakes. Their home was comfortable, bountiful and almost everything came from America. Those feelings of comfort and security became part of my dream of coming to the United States, of becoming successful and helping my family. Growing up in a developing country where we lived just above subsistence levels, my goal was to come to America, which I viewed as the land of opportunity and the land of the free.
At that point, Linda was no more than a distant relative to me who was lucky enough to have been born in America. As an American, she was raised having everything she wanted. The contrast between our experiences were stark. She attended private school, while I went to public school. We were not close; all her friends were wealthy and they were free to hang out while I had to attend to chores and homework after school. When Linda’s mother sold their business, and Linda returned to America with her family, I assumed she forgot about me, her poor cousin back home.
After graduating from college in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to work for the government. Fresh out of college, I was very idealistic. I was raised in an environment where you treated people how you wanted to be treated yourself and if you had an opportunity to help others, it was your responsibility as a human being to do so. I loved my job because it allowed me to do just that. As an Executive Assistant to the Governor, one of our major projects was to bring local communist insurgents back into the fold. My position was critical to the success of the project. I loved working at the grassroots level. The interaction was incredible and the experience was humbling. I felt I was making a difference in their lives and that of the community. Unfortunately,the insurgent group did not like the outcome of our projects; thus, they began to intimidate and torture my family. They kidnapped two of my uncles and threatened to continue the kidnappings unless we stopped the project. My optimism turned to fear.
No one could guarantee that my family would be spared. I was afraid for my life. It came to a point where I had no choice but to leave my own country.
At the height of kidnapping, torture, and killing back home, I fled the country without much preparation. I came to San Francisco and stayed with family while preparing to file an asylum application with the U.S. government. In the process, Linda and I were reconnected through a cousin. She was going through hard times and so was I. We supported each other and grew closer, not knowing yet that it would lead to something else. We fought our feelings thinking that it was not going to be good for anyone involved, especially for our immediate families. We were both miserable. We knew that we loved each other, but it was a secret we felt we had to keep from others. The harder we fought our feelings, the more it drew us closer. Twenty-three years later, we are still together. And not only that. With the love and support of our extended families in California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, we recently traveled to New York and married. But I am skipping ahead.
Our lives are very simple. I love Linda’s warm smile and her wit. I am the more serious one. She is funny and she has the most beautiful heart. Together, we are two peas in a pod. To this day we know what the other one is thinking and we finish each other’s sentences. We are so blessed to have been reconnected in life.
But as a couple, we have been through a lot.
Linda and I were blessed to have raised her two incredible sons, Bryan and Charlie. Although they were her children when we met, they quickly became my children as well. I cared for these two boys like my own. Our family is just like any other family. When our children were little boys, we woke up in the morning, got them ready for school, fed them, made sure they had their homework, brought them to school, got ready for work, picked them up, helped them with their homework, cooked dinner, played, had conversations, got ready for bed and woke up the following morning to do it all over again. I had my share of fixing boo boos, running to the emergency room, building forts, cheering during the ball games, helping repair flat tires, and watching curfews. I had many sleepless nights after long conversations. I fixed their ties and pressed their shirts. You name it, I did it. I loved our sons and they knew it. If there was a difference in our parenting style, I guess I’d say that I was the strict parent. I made sure that they followed the rules, did their homework, excelled in school and sports, and that they were happy, loved, and felt safe and comfortable. Our boys were the best thing that ever happened in my life, the first of course, being together with Linda.
Our lives revolved around our boys. Since I worked closer to their school, I picked them up on my lunch hour and every time they got hurt I ran to their rescue. Charlie is now thirty years old and nothing has changed from the time I came into his life. He has grown up like any other boy in Nevada, with loving parents who have done everything to care for him and give him all the opportunities life has to offer. In his case, he was raised by two moms and his dad. We were always a close loving family. As a family, we laughed and cried, and faced life’s greatest challenges together. None was as difficult as losing our son, Bryan, who tragically died in a car accident just after his eighteenth birthday.
As any mother would, I remember that day in all its painful details. Bryan was coming home from school. The paramedics who treated him at the scene discovered that he had around twenty missed calls on his cell phone, half of those were from me: I was calling him to see how he did on a test he had that day. The hurt that I felt was so intense that I could feel it all the way in my heart. I will never fully know the pain Linda experienced, losing the son she gave birth to. Our family has never been the same since, but we have remained strong together. Still, there is always a void; it is impossible to forget that Bryan is gone no matter how many years pass. Linda, Charlie and I will always share this tragedy as we share our wonderful memories and love for Bryan. Birthdays and holidays are both happy and sad, because Bryan’s absence is felt. Unfortunately, we know that will never change for the rest of our lives. Part of the measure of our love for each other as a couple and for our son Bryan, is our ability to remain optimistic and see the joy in our lives despite this horrible loss.
The love that we have as a family and the love that is given to us by our extended family gets us through difficult times. We support each other. We pray together. The bond that we have and the love that we give each other make us strong and steadfast. Every waking moment, I feel the love in our family just like every family. Our love and commitment to each other is no different from everyone else. We have been through surgeries, through life and death issues. You name it, we’ve had it. And yet here we are, twenty-three years later still loving each other more than ever. Our love and commitment to each other is stronger that it has ever been.
My initial asylum application was denied but we continue the fight for legal status, even though we know we are facing a steep, long uphill battle. I live in fear of being taken away from Linda, Charlie and our extended families and friends. Despite the fact that Linda and I have been together already for many years as a committed, loving couple raising two sons, there are currently no options for me. Because of the incredible, courageous work of couples who have participated in The DOMA Project‘s Stop The Deportations campaign, we know now that the Obama administration has created deportation rules that aim to keep families together. This has given us the strength to stand up and speak out. We traveled with our son, Charlie, to New York to get married. That was a huge step for us, not because of the commitment, but because we were so afraid, not knowing any better, that I may somehow trigger a deportation if we traveled and married. Thankfully, our prayers were answered. We had a safe trip to New York and celebrated our love for each other in the presence of family and friends.
Still, because of DOMA there is a danger that the life we have built for twenty-three years could be crushed, all because our marriage is not recognized by the Federal government. We are still denied access to the green card process because of DOMA, and we cannot have security for our future. Our son is now an adult, but we could never imagine leaving him or being split up as a family.
The America that I knew growing up as a little girl in the Philippines is a country that stands for equality. The America that Linda cherished growing up as the daughter of a World War II veteran is a country that stands for equality. Yet the promise of equality has not been fulfilled for our family, and it is up now to us to carry the torch and to help perfect it for all.
I am fifty-three years old. Almost half of my productive life has been here in America. I have raised a family, built a great career, paid my taxes, and volunteered in my community. I have made a positive difference in many lives. But because of my immigration status, I can no longer work legally. And despite our marriage, nothing can be done to fix that, all because we are both women. Any other married couple could easily remedy this situation. There is no question that our marriage is “real” that our family is “real” and that our love is “real.” This injustice has practical consequences for us as we try and struggle to make ends meet on one salary. It is terrifying growing older not knowing how we will survive in the future.
We cry when we talk about this. We cannot imagine life without our family, or without each other. We cannot leave our only son, Charlie. What would happen to all the people that we love and care for, to our home, to everything that we have built together, and to the relationships that we have established within our families, our church and our community?
We now live in fear of being separated from each other. I cannot let Linda consider leaving the United States and moving to the Philippines. She is an American citizen and she should not be forced to choose between me and our son. We have already lost one son. I know that I may be forced to leave this country. I may not be here to see my son, Charlie, get married and raise his family. I may miss the opportunity to be actively involved in his life as a grandmother to his children. And we all know that the sole reason for this is DOMA.
There have been a lot of sleepless nights, filled with worry. I have been hospitalized due to panic attacks. We are frustrated and angry that the Obama administration is dragging its feet, and failing to put policies into place to ensure that LGBT families like ours are treated the same way as all other families. Linda is an American citizen! She was born and raised here, yet she is treated as an outsider. She lives an exemplary life valuing faith, family and her country and yet because she is a woman in love with a woman, she is not afforded the same rights as all other Americans. Our son, Charlie, is deprived of the security of knowing that his family will always be together.
We are holding on tight for now with strong faith in God. We are surrounded with love and prayers from our families and friends as we continue to fight for us, for our love and commitment, for our marriage. We also believe that sharing our story of love and loss and our determination to stay together will help bring an end to this injustice. We urge others to stand up and speak out. No court and no President has our “rights” or our “equality” in their hands. Only we do. But we must raise our voices and make change happen.
Though many may say that a Supreme Court ruling on DOMA is coming, my family does not have the luxury of being able to wait and we cannot take a favorable ruling for granted. That is why we decided to share our story and speak out. By building pressure and awareness at all levels, we will continue to build momentum for both long term and interim solutions that protect all families like ours. Thank you for reading our story and please consider sharing yours.