Melanie & Claudia - Exiled in Brazil
My name is Melanie, I am 45, and I am an American who has lived the past year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the love of my life - Claudia. She is a 42, a Brazilian citizen and we met 1.5 years ago on the internet.
Because the US does not offer the same rights to same sex couples, thus making it impossible for Claudia to come to the US to start a life with me, I made a decision 11 months ago to leave my family, friends, long-time banking career, high-powered job, home, and life in CA and go to the love of my life in Brazil to stay - anyway we could. We'd previously spent 5 months together on the telephone and internet - 12 hours/day sometimes, and at that time we'd never even met in person... But, I never had a doubt- nor she- that we were meant to be together. To be sure it is not easy for a US citizen to obtain more than a tourist visa, which limits the time a person can stay in Brazil, and it is nearly impossible for Claudia to obtain anything more than a US tourist visa, with strict US visiting restrictions. We have spent countless dollars on attorneys in Brazil to help me obtain a business visa that at least will allow me 3 years here. I am currently in Brazil after investing over US$150,000 in a growing business - but as of today, my business visa could be revoked at any time because our small company has had many difficulties. We experience prejudice and have lost customers because people discriminate here as well. We can sometimes see this when we arrive together to establish business with a new customer… Ah yes, I forgot to mention that the long-time career I left in California had always been very lucrative for me- I was making nearly US$225,000/year as a Sr. Vice President of one of the largest US' Banks when I left - and I thank God that I, until now, had enough money from a lifetime of work to invest in a business in Brazil, pay all my accounts, home, car and credit cards bills in the USA, AND still help support Claudia and I in Brazil while we tried to grow our business…But the money I had saved is nearly gone, and we've had some bad business deals from dishonest business people here in Brazil, which nearly bankrupted us. Even everyday life in Brazil is very very difficult. More than I can detail in this email, and more than I tell my family because I don't want to scare them, but imagine this, while Brazil is emerging as a world power and contributor, it's really still a 3rd world country in many respects.. It is a dangerous place with extremely high rates of murders, kidnapping and the police and military are still trying to gain order in parts of this country. It is a country fighting a civil war. Health standards are also far different than what we in the USA enjoy. Human waste is not an unusual sight in the streets, even in chic tourist areas… It is difficult to be an American here, unless you are rich. No one trusts you and everyone wants to suck whatever resources you have… Money is difficult to earn and make here, the average salary in Brazil being about US$450/ month!
Claudia has made many many sacrifices too - her own money, job, and her family (who does not respect, understand or support Claudia's and my love and partnership) have essentially disowned her and made our life even harder here. We are very alone in this country, and struggle to live everyday and fight for our future together. Can you imagine the stress? But through this all we have remained the strongest of couples and we support and love each other with respect and passion. We believe and work hard so that nothing can keep us apart! But our desire and (dream) is to come back to the USA together as a couple, to enjoy the same rights that all others, regardless of what country they come from, are afforded if they marry with a US citizen of the opposite sex… It is disgraceful that Claudia and I, and all others like us, are treated as though we had less value as human beings, not even basic human rights…That we can't marry and live, work and enjoy the great USA and all it has to offer, and all we have to offer it! Claudia and I have a registered domestic partnership in the State of California. Claudia is a very skilled, talented, smart, warm woman and would impress anyone who met her. And here's the irony- even Brazil acknowledges same sex couples for Immigration (after you can prove the existence of the relationship long-term) but Brazil is not a country where we can flourish, or even survive- I am afraid this country and its very difficult (and dangerous) way of life and business- will kill us soon…
Maybe this story will strike a chord with you; maybe it will inspire some, and upset others. I hope it will bring more visibility to the inequality of life not just in the USA, but for Gay people/same sex couples everywhere. But most of all, I hope someone can help Claudia and I find a way for her and I to live and work in the US legally.
Of course, as you know, President Obama has recently made some great strides for changes in Human Rights-specifically Gay rights, but the issue of DOMA still remains a stumbling block for so many people and couples like Claudia and me. We are asking for help- even in the form of visibility. We would be willing to pay high-powered lawyers to help us, but sadly (and frighteningly) we don't have much money to live on anymore.
Thank you for reading a little of our story- there are many more details and layers to our life- like with all people and couples. Claudia and I ask you with all humility and respect- If you can help us, even by telling our story to others- we would be so grateful and would work to repay you and others however we could!
Melanie Servetas and Claudia Amaral
Vila Isabel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil