The Emotions Issue: Sebastian Cordoba

Sebastian Cordoba knows a thing or two about binational relationships. The 37-year old Argentinean journalist/lawyer/filmmaker came to America ten years ago and fell head over heels in love. Riding the wave of lusty optimism, Cordoba abandoned his homeland and settled in The States. Unfortunately for Cordoba, his lover wasn’t having it.

Determined to stay, Cordoba obtained a work visa and went on to find more American love. As that relationship crumbled, Cordoba partnered with famed immigration lawyer Lavi Soloway to secure the more reliable artist visa. Brainstorming a project, Cordoba decided to keep it personal and thus embarked on a two and a half year journey to chronicle the trials and tribulations of binational couples.

The result? His first feature documentary: Through Thick and Thin.

Read what Cordoba has to say about the project’s political importance, the impending legislation and how he really fucked up his first love.

Plus, Cordoba gave us a few minutes of the flick. Ain’t that sweet?

Andrew Belonsky: How did you find all of these couples to interview?

Sebastian Cordoba: Well, basically, Lavi helped found Immigration Equality, which is the premiere LGBT immigration lobbying group in DC. They’re responsible for helping draft the United American Families Act – along with Human Rights Campaign; they’re the only groups in the United States that do lobbying in support of LGBT immigration issues. So, I accessed their pool with their permission. [I thought] I would get one or two responses and in two weeks I got hundreds of letters… The big job became to really single out the ones that we needed the most.

AB: What were those criteria?

SC: We tried to have the three aspects – we didn’t want to cover people in a binational relationship that have a fraudulent marriage or that have a work visa for the non-American partner – it’s either illegal and we’d be exposing them or it’s not interesting to know that people have six years to figure out what they need to do. Immigration wise, six months is a long time. Either a tourist visa runs out or you have a new hearing and you get deported and move out of the country. We knew we had to get people who were geographically diverse in the United States or abroad and ethnically diverse and also socio-economically diverse, so there was a little bit of everything.

We knew that things were changing so fast that we knew we had to be ready. Even if we weren’t ready, we had to just get whatever we could. That became our most pressing concern: not missing important events for these people. The other thing is that immigration things are not very exciting. It’s like, you go to a hearing but you can’t film it. When people receive notices from their lawyers saying, you’re in or you’re out. [You can’t be there all the time.] It’s not reality TV, so it had to be more about their journey and how they faced each step of the way, what was happening with them, what effects them. It’s about how they stay together, the magic that binds them. There’s a lot of heart, but it’s not an MTV documentary where you get things unfolding before you.

AB: I was fascinated by Terry [who lives in the UK] and Charlie [who lives in Idaho]. This may sound callous of me, but their relationship didn’t seem – the other relationships, they were together and they were really in it to win it, but those boys – there was a lot of desperation in there and it really made me sad, because I didn’t understand – they seemed like they were hanging on to this thing. I just wanted to say, “Stop the madness!” Their video conferences – it just didn’t seem like a relationship to me. That must seem like a terrible thing for me to say, but it’s true.

SC: What I found that is very interesting is that people project their own things on the couples and I’ve heard a lot [from people], “Why suffer so much?” I believe – even the way they look – [Terry and Charlie] are intertwined. Certain things would grate on me – why find somebody at the end of the world, it’s like you’re telling the universe, “I’m afraid I’ll never find anything else.” The universe is very rich and abundant. For some people, that’s it. They’ve found their spiritual partner. We live in a society where the comforts around us are so immediate and everything is so fast, it has to be instantaneous and when you see people that break the mold, it’s like, “No, you’re wrong. You should not try so hard. It should be easy.” For some people – I just finished reading Jane Austin’s Persuasion and it took a couple eight years to be together. At the time, that was the norm: long courtships. To see these [couples] in the 21st century; it’s odd. But when [Terry and Charlie] are together, they’re linked at the hip. It’s so insane – the love they feel for each other is so strong.

AB: Tell me about your first love. Do you remember when you first fell in love?

SC: I can tell you it was a two-month relationship and it was this hot guy and I did something really stupid, I cheated on him with his best friend.

AB: That was stupid.

SC: I thought the thing was going to end, so subconsciously I wanted to end it on my own terms and it was really stupid.

AB: People do that all the time – end things prematurely.

SC: What happened was that I was very young – 18 or 19 – I couldn’t cope with not knowing if it was going to really work. When you’re young, you do those stupid things. These guys are the opposite – they chart their lives from now until five year on.

AB: Are you in a relationship now?

SC: I’m dating. I’ve been in other relationships since I broke up. But now the binational issue is no longer a problem, since I can renew my artist’s visa anytime I need to.

AB: They’re pretty lenient about that?

SC: Yes. I’m trying to turn it into a green card. This movie will probably give me enough credibility to apply for a green card. Somehow it’s going to end ten years of struggle. I moved here with a law degree. I speak three languages. I’m ten years away from when I landed and I still have not settled down in the States. It’s arduous enough for binational couples – it’s so horrifyingly narrow. Either you break the law or you have to do whatever you can. Breaking the law is either marrying or overstaying your visa, so I moved here when I was at the peak of my youth with a lot of impetus and I still have not been able to fully remedy it.

I hear people telling me, “Oh, I met this guy in Brazil and I’m going to bring him [to the States]”. Most of them think, “I’m American, I pay my taxes, there’s a way around it”. When they approach me to see what I can do for them, I tell them “I’d rather not be put in this position, because what I need to tell you is that there’s nothing you can do. Either you move to Brazil or try one of the illegal ways. If not, forget about it.”

We’re really hoping that the film will change some minds in Congress. We’re planning a screening in DC by the time the Uniting American Families Act is reintroduced. There are 116 sponsors in the House. We want to get a few more because as soon as you get more than 120 or 130, you can bring it to the vote because a lot of people are going to vote for I that aren’t sponsoring it. That’s our hope.

AB: When does that come around?

SC: That is early May, but there are other bills in Congress. A lot of the Democratic Congress doesn’t want to deal with immigration bills that would take care of one, small situation. The big immigration bills that are in the House and in the Senate – they need to be coordinated. Unless that happens, I don’t think this one is going to be approved. It could just pass the House of Representatives, but Bush could veto it and they don’t have enough votes to override. So, nothing’s going to change in the next two years unless we have a new Congress and a new president. That is why everything is so hopeless right now. But I think that these organizations are doing a lot to just prepare the soil for future things. So this is the moment where it’s much better than four months ago when we had a much worse Congress, but we’re still not out of the woods. It’s going to be at least two to four years for this to be really over, at best.

… I think if think if this bill were presented in Congress, the Christian right wouldn’t have time to react, they wouldn’t see it coming. It’s one thing more that you chip away for not having marriage for gays. Of all the instances of marriage, this is one o the most important ones. This one would be in which the lives of so many gays and lesbians would be improved. I think the Christian right is so focused on fighting marriage that they wouldn’t even notice. That’s why it’s so important that gays and lesbians understand what’s at play. In the film, we don’t support gay marriage, because we know it’s going to get embroiled. Rather, it’s one little thing.

AB: Do you have another film project lined up for after this?

SC: I love to make films about gay people because that’s something so innate to me and I understand where they’re coming from. One of the films that I really want to make is a film following an asylum seeker because they were gay or lesbian in their home countries. What happens to them – even if they’re granted asylum – sometimes they fall through the cracks and they end up doing drugs and prostituting themselves because the wounds that the carry from their home countries where they were totally cast away. They’re not programmed to live in a society that accepts gays and lesbians. So, they usually end up leading tragic lives. That is a film that Lavi suggested – it’s very dark.