Alumna shares memoir details

by Beacon Staff • November 2, 2011

strongMike Disman, Beacon Corresspondent/strong

Dressed in full costume at her favorite gay bar, Emerson alumna Liza Monroy balanced on one knee to propose to her best friend of four years. The proposal, followed by an Elvis-themed wedding at the Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel, took a relationship that began in an Emerson film class to the ultimate level, Monroy said, despite the fact that everything about the marriage challenged conventionality.

Monroy popped the question to her gay, Arab best friend, Emir, whose name has been changed for purposes of anonymity, to stop his deportation from the United States. As told in Monroy’s forthcoming memoir, emThe Marriage Act/em, her personal narrative questions the definition of love and what exactly makes a marriage valid.

“I love blurring lines, playing with definitions and pushing boundaries,” said Monroy, wearing a purple suede jacket, oval-rimmed glasses, and zebra scarf, while speaking to Emerson students and faculty on Monday at an event sponsored by Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone (EAGLE)

“It all comes back to the same question: How do you prove love?” she said.

Monroy, who graduated with dual a degree in writing, literature, and publishing and visual and media arts, said she and Emir hit it off immediately when they met, and the friendship was strengthened by shared classes and living on the same floor in Piano Row.

Soon after they both graduated in 2000, fate again intervened into their lives, Monroy said, this time across the country in Los Angeles, where their apartments were coincidentally located two blocks apart. Monroy said she and her companion were both searching for jobs at the time, she in the film industry and he as a marketer.

Then, tragedy struck when two Boeing 767s crashed into the World Trade Center, spawning nationwide animosity toward Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Monroy described how the attacks came at precisely the wrong time for Emir, whose student visa was three months from expiration. Emir now faced a very sobering reality: if he did not find an employer who would petition for his work visa in three months, he would be deported back to his home in Armenia, forced back into the closet, mandatory military service, and possibly even an arranged marriage.

The time following Sept. 11 was not a pleasant one for Arabs in America, especially those searching for jobs, Monroy told the audience. Emir’s potential employers could not find enough merit in petitioning for a work visa, especially for an Arab man, when hiring for an entry-level position.

“It struck me like lightning,” Monroy said in an interview. And thus, she proposed a marriage, one that would be beneficial to both parties.

Monroy said she was able to settle down and experience marriage without intimacy or heartbreak, and Emir was able to stay in the country and secure a green card after two years of partnership. Emir could not marry another man when attempting to secure a work visa, due to federal policy. However, the two faced one problem: they would have to convince the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Monroy's mother, who worked as a visa chief for the State Department and specialized in immigration fraud, that the marriage was real.

“It was a reality stranger than fiction,” Monroy said of the two-year marriage.

Monroy said she and her new husband continued to live as they had before the marriage. They shared an apartment, maintained a joint bank account and strenuous records, and took a multitude of pictures to present to the INS when it came time to evaluate the validity of the marriage.

Luckily for Monroy and Emir, their story checked out. But, when Monroy’s mother found out the truth years later, Monroy said that at first, her mother was understandably angry.

“She thought that I had committed a crime,” said Monroy in an interview. “Given her job, this reaction was pretty predictable. But as time went on, she became more interested in what I was doing, as opposed to just being against it. Now she’s a lot more positive.”

While writing the first drafts of her memoir, Monroy said she did not fully realize how serious the the issues her book focused on truly were. Thus, she said her first draft, which was light and full of humor, was rejected.

Monroy has since accepted that her story challenges serious social and political ideals, and said she will continue to fight for increased equality and an overhaul of the marriage system.

“I still believe in marriage, but the way the institution works is so skewed,” said Monroy. “Emir and I were a man and a woman, and we could get married even though it wasn’t what one typically thinks of as a marriage, and that was fine. But he couldn’t marry someone that he loved in the idea that marriage is constructed in.”

Despite the complexity of her marriage with Emir, including a tense encounter with the INS in which an investigator perused every last aspect of the couple’s lives, including details of their sex life, the alumna said she would do it all again in an instant.

“I have no regrets,” Monroy said proudly. “I think everyone should do something to reinforce their beliefs.”

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