GOING THE DISTANCE
Lilly Rivera & Elsa Vasquez | New Jersey
Since meeting in 2005, Lilly Rivera and Elsa Vasquez have never yielded to the challenges they have faced together as a couple.
Almost ten years ago, the now mothers’ of two, were both attending a comprehensive, capacity building educational program at the Centers for Disease Control/Associated School of Public Health Institute for HIV Prevention (IHPL). The 9-month intensive program took place in Atlanta, GA. At the time, Lilly was living in New Jersey, while Elsa was living on the other side of the country in California. They both flew in to attend the program and within a few months of meeting had made a connection. Despite the 3,000 miles separating them, Lilly and Elsa began dating.
Living and working on opposite coasts hindered their budding relationship, but, where other new couples would have faltered under the logistical hardship of a long distance relationship, Lilly and Elsa persevered. They continued to date and in 2006, after only 10 months of dating, decided to take the next step in their relationship. Elsa quit her job, packed all her belongings into her car, and drove across the country to begin her life with Lilly, leaving behind her family, friends and home in Los Angeles.
Lilly and Elsa now call New Jersey home with their two beautiful daughters, Olivia who was born in 2008 and little Luna who joined the family in 2013. The two proud mothers describe six year old Olivia as a “spitfire of energy” who regularly graces the family with her wonderful, if loud, singing as well as interpretive dances and creative stories. Luna is a calm, curious, and cheery companion for her rambunctious, older sister. Chasing their little bundles of joy around is an exhausting job for Mama (Elsa) and Mommy (Lilly), but they insist they wouldn’t have in any other way.
“We spend lots of time with our girls, riding bikes [and] scooters at the park, attending rehearsals and performances, visiting our local bookstore, [and] hanging out with extended family.”
Lilly and Elsa have been married for five of the ten years they’ve been together. In 2008, they were joined in a civil union in New Jersey and later that year Lilly and Elsa were married in California, shortly before Proposition 8 was passed. As a couple, they have discussed the option of now getting married in their home state of New Jersey, not only because Olivia wants to be a flower girl, but, as Lilly and Elsa explain, “we want another layer of protection for our family."
“Marriage matters to us because we are a family, a family that is loving, nurturing, and wants to feel safe. As a parent, you want to protect and provide for your family, this is a basic instinct. It is important that the protection and benefits that are federally available to straight marriages and families are available to all families, period,” said Elsa.
Lilly and Elsa, who have overcome so much to be together, are proud to be a part of the progress the LGBT movement has made towards equality, most recently the momentous Supreme Court Ruling on DOMA last year.
“It was exhilarating to witness and to be a part of such a momentous event in time. It was also amazing, to experience it through Olivia’s eyes and adding this to her understanding of our world and how families like ours are depicted and recognized,” Lilly said.
Family is the most important thing to Lilly and Elsa, “we are very connected to our extended family. Without them, we would be incomplete. We are constantly surrounded by the loving network of family and friends that enrich the lives of our daughters. We spend a lot of time eating, laughing, and teaching our girls the value of family. Our home is often full of people, smells of Mexican-Puerto Rican (MexiRican) food, and the sounds of music and laughter”.
Lilly and Elsa embrace their intersectional identities and are proud to say, “our family is a typical Latino family.” They are a testament to the endurance of love, but many other couples are also going the distance to be recognized and accepted as typical families. Lilly and Elsa hope that one day the ability to marry will no longer be an obstacle in any loving couple’s way.