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Looking For Love In Latin America: Introduction/Marriage Agencies   Leave a comment

On New Year’s Eve I ran into a woman that runs a local matrimonial agency.  I had just come from the home of fiends.  She had just come from a party at the Hotel de Prado.  I have to put that on my list of possibilities for New Year’s next year.  From the looks of people leaving the hotel they had fun.   We exchanged numbers, vowing to go to get-together.  So when on one of my walk/jogs, Barranquilla sidewalks are great exercise because they are uneven, I found myself close to her office and dropped by.

Yami runs the Barranquilla office for A Foreign Affair (AFA), a well-established player in the business of bringing American men to foreign countries to find wives, or whatever.  After about two minutes of pleasantries, the question came.  Do you have a girlfriend?  I was not put off by the question.  I kind of expected it.  Truthfully, I had no knowledge of introduction agencies until I started coming to Colombia about three years ago.  I mean, I had heard of mail order brides.  In fact, when working in Philly I met a faculty member that had ordered himself one from China.  But that was more than twenty years ago.  It was during a visit to Manizales that the then owner of Manizales Cupido tried to get me interested in becoming a client of his agency.  Though I did not join, he did make me curious.  Who uses these services?  And why?   Are these guys desperate?  Are the women?

Last year, while looking for the answers to these questions, I saw Lisa Ling’s report, “Online Brides” on Our America.  An AFA tour to Barranquilla was the subject of her story.  Her story focused on one particular young woman.  Her interviews gave depth to the hopes and dreams of men and women looking for love and stability on foreign shores.  So, I decided to see for myself.  And if I met someone great fine!  After calling their corporate office, AFA is based in Phoenix, Arizona, I arranged for a rate reduction because I did not need the hotel.  I was living in Barranquilla during the time of their next tour.  That is how I met Yami, who was now very curious about my relationship status.

What I have come to learn is that these agencies are largely unregulated.  The screening of participants can be as stringent as interviews and reference checks or as lax as anyone who walks in the door can participate.  Because of two cases involving foreign women brought to the United States as potential brides, but eventually murdered, some agencies advertise their compliance with the International Marriage Broker Act of 2005 (IMBR).  They conduct background checks on men who seek to use their services to meet women.   AFA is one of them, even though they seem to regard the Act as something which will “…make it somewhat more cumbersome for you to make initial contact with foreign women.”  This statement comes from their website.

There are at least five Introduction/Marriage agencies operating in coastal Colombia: Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena.  Their fees can range from $595 to $1795, airfare excluded.  AFA is a worldwide introduction/marriage agency.  To travel to other parts of the world, including Costa Rica, Philippines, China and the Ukraine their costs can get close to $3000, again airfare not included.  Some agencies will also arrange for individual introductions for those men willing to pay the fee for the added attention. 

AFA does not lie though when they say that they will have lots of women at their events.  Principally consisting of two socials, and three side trips, the first evening there were over seventy women there.  The next evening there were almost ninety.  I learned later, though, that the ways they get women there can be a bit scheming.  Kellie, a 30 year old Barranquilla woman, with no children, shared with me her felling about the whole affair.  She had attended three AFA tour events.  The first time, she says, was to know what was possible.  The second time they called saying that there was a guy that had traveled to Colombia wanting to meet her.  Later, she said, she found that was not true.  The third time they had friends convinced her to come.  And that was when we met.

Throw out the image of desperate losers looking for beautiful poor women to do their bidding.  On the AFA tour I attended there were businessmen, a postal worker, an attorney, a doctor, an IT expert and other professions represented.  They came to Colombia from as far away as Seattle.  In my mind these guys had choices.  Yet, there was an air of disappointment in the group.  No one said it aloud.  But it was there.  We found, after asking about certain women, that the AFA website is padded with women who are no longer participating in their events.  Their online tour orientation, which was terrible both technologically and content wise, had a “come and get it” tone to it, as if one was being affirmed for joining the Latina nookie club.  Confirmed by the sexual overtone that exists on their website.    Regardless of what they say ahead of time, one should know that there is no guarantee that anyone in the room will be interesting to you, or interested in you.  You pay your money and take your chances that someone in the sea of faces will be the one.  Or if you are just there hoping that you will get laid by some hot Latina the tours have that potential also.  According to Kellie and others, it happens.

Introductions are big business, and AFA has their formula down to a science.  Though to most of us their events were a bit like organized chaos. Their format, for which neither I nor the guys I talked with felt prepared, was a combination of speed dating, interviewing and the getting third degree. We were assigned an interpreter to help us overcome the language barrier; introduced to the throng of women in the room; and then given about 15 minutes to meet between eight and ten woman seated at a round table.  Some of whom say no potential in any of us.  Some of whom were seriously looking for a life partner.  Some of whom, it was obvious, were just there for the dinner.  I can only imagine how the two hour round robin, tell a stranger about yourself in an attempt to make a life-long love connection before dinner is served made them feel.  Kellie confided that she felt like she was selling herself.   There is a lot of competition between women she said.  “Many women are hoping for one man.  No one has time to know the other person sincerely. There is no time to know what we had in common.  It is like you need to be perfect.  The man looking for a perfect woman and women feeling like they have to show that they are perfect, in fifteen minutes.”

My belief is that AFA, and others, do indeed play on the potential that a relationship with a foreign man will improve these women’s lives.  But for the most part the image of women seeking visas and sugar daddies is not true.  Latin America is a machista culture.  In general, women depend on men for economic and emotional stability.  That is just the way they roll here.  Economics, family and religion can drive relationship decisions.  Practical decisions about what type of life that can be lived can take a back seat to the fairy tales of falling in love and living happily ever after that we are bottle fed in the United States.

To answer Yami’s question.  No I do not have a girlfriend.  I did make a great friend though.  Melissa (see her and I on left, hanging out), my tour interpreter, a great young lady working her way through college, has been my Spanish tutor and friend since the tour.  It was actually from Melissa’s family’s home I was coming when I ran into Yami on New Year’s Eve.  For many reasons, I am resistant to the see one, choose one and marry one format that one seemingly needs to have to make the most of an Introduction/Marriage agency.  Some of my Latina friends have accused me of playing or taking too much time to make a simplistic decision.  Maybe there is some truth to both.  In my own defense, I have always made decisions from my brain, always trying to do the right thing.  For perhaps the first time in my life I am going to follow my heart’s desire -wherever that may lead.

Posted January 17, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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