Love is in the air today as many Valley residents prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day in their own way.
Regardless if they’re in a relationship or flying solo, several locals are spending the day with their friends, family, a special someone or even just enjoying a peaceful day by themselves.
With different types of relationships and friendships being celebrated, many residents are discovering their own way of embracing the day of love.
Staff Writer Celeste Alvarez can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost 36 years later, ‘impossible’ relationship working
Miguel Rodriguez had known his wife, Willie Mae, just two weeks when he made a bold offer. He asked her to marry him.
The year was 1977. Miguel was in the Army. He was just out of basic training and was awaiting orders.
“I told my wife the only way we could be together is if we travel. I told her we have a free ticket. If she didn’t like it I’d send her home,” he said.
And so began a relationship full of twists and turns, one that Miguel said should not have worked.
Miguel and Willie Mae are an exercise in contrasts. He’s gregarious and outgoing. He asked a young lady at a neighboring table at Starbucks, mid-interview, for her opinion on a point he was trying to make, that women love adventure.
Willie Mae is as quiet and reserved as Miguel is outgoing. She answered most questions with a simple yes or no.
And, most obviously, Miguel is Mexican. Willie Mae is black.
The first twist in their relationship came shortly after he proposed to Willie Mae. His paycheck was significantly smaller than he expected.
“When my check came, the military only paid $55. I was expecting back pay of over $2,000,” he said.
So, he hustled.
“All that night I played pool in the rec room. I walked out the next day with 15 pairs of sunglasses, 10 boom-box radios that I gave away as presents to my wife’s family and $900,” he said.
He bought two wedding rings from a pawnshop for $150 and a bus ticket to Virginia for $57, where he asked Willie Mae’s father for her hand in marriage. Her father said yes.
Another twist was that unlike Willie Mae’s family, Miguel’s family was not initially supportive of his decision to marry somebody of a different culture.
“She’s a hard woman. She believes Mexicans should marry Mexicans,” Willie Mae said of Miguel’s mother.
Miguel spent two weeks in Virginia without telling his commanding officers.
“I went AWOL to marry my wife,” Miguel said.
The Army did not look kindly on soldiers who go absent without leave. There would be consequences.
He was given an Article 15 — a military trial conducted by a commander for offenses that aren’t egregious enough to warrant a court-martial. He was also given 30 days of restrictions and 30 days of additional duty. Miguel signed the dotted line, accepting the punishment. But his commander had something else in mind.
“He said, ‘This is my wedding present to you’ and tore up the Article 15,” Miguel said. Miguel’s commander also let him keep the $250 he would have been fined, he said. However, Miguel was scheduled to deploy to a town in West Germany near the East German border the next day, where he would work as a radar operator for four years.
And, because money was tight on a private’s salary, he continued to play pool for cash.
“I played a $100 game and gave high odds. I never lost,” he said, adding that the Germans and Turks he routed at the pool table were gracious.
Miguel’s next orders were to Kentucky, and later Korea’s demilitarized zone.
Miguel’s mother eventually came to accept his wife.
“I told her that if she comes to our house, she would have to accept our way,” Miguel said.
Ultimately, Miguel said, it is friendship that has made his impossible relationship possible.
“She’s my best friend. I would do anything for her,” he said.
“How do you define love if you’re not best friends,” he asked, reflecting on a marriage that will reach its 36th year this July.
As for the offer he made Willie Mae more than three decades ago, that he would show her the world?
“The offer is still there,” he said, smiling. “If she doesn’t like it she can go home. She hasn’t gone home yet.”
Staff Writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or email@example.com
Cross-border love withstands financial, cultural differences
MEXICALI — The international border not only separates two countries but sometimes two hearts as many couples try to make their relationships work despite one living in the U.S. and the other in Mexico.
Long and inconvenient border-crossing times, financial stresses, and differences in cultural values can strain even the greatest love at times.
“It’s hard, but it was worth it,” Calexico resident Leyloni Chang said of her cross-border relationship years ago. “At the time you think you’re in love and you don’t care about the time. I wanted to stay forever.”
Her relationship didn’t end up working out for other reasons, she said, but many others hold on fast to theirs.
Francisco "Paco" Martinez was born in Mexico but was brought to the U.S. when he was 2 months old and grew up in Los Angeles.
He got into trouble growing up and when he was 17, he moved to Niland.
“I was trying to do good, but bad influences always followed me, ended up getting in trouble,” he said and was subsequently deported in 1996.
“I was supposed to be out for five years but had nowhere to go and came right back,” he said. “In 1997, I got kicked out again for 20 more years but came right back and started working again.”
Along the way, he came back in contact with Michelle Tello, a girl he knew from growing up in Los Angeles, where their parents knew each other.
“I never told her I had feelings for her,” he said. “But she caught my eye again, and I went for it and asked her if she would be my soulmate or girlfriend. It was kind of funny because at that time I didn’t know how to approach her.”
He warmly recalls seeing her eating an orange one day, and “it was silly but I asked her if I could taste the sweetness of that orange without eating the orange,” he said while laughing. She gave him a kiss.
“It actually worked, and that’s when I got those butterflies that are so amazing,” he said. “I never felt that before. It was something beautiful. I had mad love for this girl. She accepted to be my girlfriend.”
The pair had their first child together in 1999. In 2002, Martinez was caught on a warrant but went to Indio to fight his case where the public defender reinstated him.
“I said you can give me anything just as long as you let me stay in the United States,” he said and then did five years probation. “I was thinking I would never have any immigration problems again. I asked my probation officer if I’d have immigration problems again and he said, ‘It shouldn’t affect you.’”
“So I said ‘fine,’ and kept about my life. I kept working,” he said, and the pair had two more kids over the years.
However, Martinez said he still worried about being deported again with fear in the back of his mind whenever he saw law enforcement.
The pair has been together now for about 18 years, but two months ago, he was picked up and deported again to Mexicali, where he’s been since.
“I try to make the best of it for my wife, and she’s really held her head up high for me, and that’s something really special that I love about her,” he said. “It makes me feel weak now. I feel like a recyclable thing, you know, like life has put me in these steps for I don’t know why. I just know I love her a lot and my kids and miss them a lot.”
Trejo works in Niland and takes care of the children. They’re able to come down and visit Martinez about twice a month.
“It’s nice to see them when they get here but so hard when they leave,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “The cool thing is she’s getting less scared, I tell her you have to be strong no matter the courses life takes you on. We have to be strong together, hold ourselves like a chain, links together.”
He worries about her waiting in line, urges her to apply for a SENTRI, and wants her to have a car that uses less gas when visiting.
Many couples separated by immigration restrictions go to the international fence and simply speak through it before authorities shoo them away.
The couple haven’t arrived to that point yet, he said, and are just trying to stay positive.
“As long as I get to see them, that makes my day,” he said. “It gives me energy to keep going.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was amended to correct a name.