Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Open Letter To President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

I followed the story of your grandmother with heartfelt interest because mine was also a huge influence on me. She was the one constant in a dysfunctional family with a father who was absent most of the time and a mother who worked all of the time. As the oldest child it often fell to me to take care of my younger brother and sister and the household too, especially since my grandmother was already a senior citizen when she came to live with us.

My grandmother immigrated to America a couple years after we did. It took that long to save the money to sponsor her, and during that time she struggled to survive until we could send for her. As I was growing up, she was my support, my encouragement, my source of hope. And she had endless stories of what it was like to live through two world wars, how she managed to stay on the safe side of political struggles that redefined the boundaries of her home every few years, and all the ways she escaped the horrors of the Nazis and the Fascists.

But there was one story I did not learn until after her death, and it was about one of her sisters who remained behind. In retrospect, she probably suspected her sister was a Lesbian, but in the period of time that extended from the turn of the century through the 1960's, it was not a topic one discussed lightly in any of her homes: the former Yugoslavia, Italy, or the United States. But it is a story that haunts me because it is one that is far too common even today.

My grandmother's sister lived with her partner for most of her adult life. I can only imagine what it was like to live openly with her "roommate" all those years. I'm sure they had friends. I'm sure her partner had family. But we never knew any of them. We never knew if she was safe, if she was fed, if she was afraid. She disappeared into a world where secrets are kept for life. She disappeared into a world where it was impossible to immigrate as her sister had done, as just about everyone who was related to her had done. She was left alone with only the woman she loved, a woman we could never bring here because she was not related to us by blood. In the eyes of the law, she was not family, no matter how many years she lived with my grandmother's sister as her life partner. The law would let us bring her but not the woman she loved. The law would make her abandon her partner. She chose the path of her heart and stayed behind.

I think of what my life could have been like with more than one granny, more than one adult who could nurture me, who could help me grow, or who could just help me in the many small ways that left me exhausted when I should have been playing with all the other kids. And I think of how lonely my grandmother's sister was when her partner died, how alone she must have felt. I can't even think of this without breaking into tears. I can't even begin to comprehend the unfairness of it in any way that would sense.

Mr. President, I tell you this story because this story is still being played out all over the world. I have American friends who are gay, who fell in love with citizens of other countries. In so many cases these other countries have afforded them citizenship rights and recognized the legality of their marriages. I have friends who have lived in other countries with their partners for many years and now they want to come home to the America that has new promise, new hope because of your Presidency.

But in order to do so they still have to make the choice my grandmother's sister had to make. I want to believe we are a better people than that time. I want to believe that we no longer split up families, people who love each other because of bad laws. But all the evidence says we still do and will continue to do so.

That's why I'm asking for your help in passing the UNITING AMERICAN FAMILIES ACT. It's time to bring home your citizens who want to help make America realize it's true potential as a beacon of hope and promise to the rest of the world. They want to be part of what we're creating together. But please, Mr. President, don't make them choose between love of country and love of their partners. Please help pass this vital piece of legislation for all Americans, no matter what their sexual orientation.

A bouquet of roses in red, yellow, green, lavender, pink, red,
black and brown requests "Equal rights for everyone." A better world is
built by equal citizens. Click on magnet to purchase on visit my Zazzle store for more selections here

Familiar recycle symbol in purple, green and blue says "Peace, Love,
Equality" in different colors. Support equal rights for all people or
the better world we want to build will stay just a dream. Click on sweatshirt to purchase or visit my Cafepress store for more selections here

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