Couple clears immigration hurdles to be together in Montana
By Elias Baer
A wild rollercoaster of love brought Gladys and Bruce Townsend together against all odds. From Peru to Alaska, the ride came to an end in Big Timber.
Raised in Pisco, a small village near Lima, Peru, Gladys Farfán Townsend married at age 15, following cultural norms. After being married 24 years and having two children, however, things changed.
“I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I was lonely and I wasn’t happy, so I decided to travel. I quit my job and everyone said that I was crazy.”
Gladys had a Peruvian friend living in Anchorage, Alaska, in need of a babysitter for two months and, having never visited Alaska, Gladys jumped on the opportunity. In the summer of 2003, she got a six-month travel visa and hit the road.
“I was just wandering,” Gladys said.
While babysitting full time, Gladys also studied English in Anchorage.
“I could read and write English very well already,” she said, “but I couldn’t speak at all.”
Then Bruce came into the picture. “My Peruvian friend’s uncle introduced us. He was actually his (Bruce’s) boss,” she said.
It wasn’t a romantic introduction. Gladys said that Bruce intended to show her around and help her learn some English.
“He would read books to me,” Gladys said. “I couldn’t talk but I could write so I would write notes for him on the McDonald’s napkin or whatever was around.”
The pair met for the first time on August 10, 2003, and spent a lot of time together.
However, they didn’t have their “real first date” until August 30, Gladys said.
“She couldn’t talk (English) when we first met,” Bruce said, “and everyone was jealous that I had a woman who couldn’t talk and didn’t like to shop.”
But Bruce and Gladys were up against a ticking clock. Gladys’ visa was running out and she was going to go home to Peru.
“He asked me to stay with him. He said, ‘you can’t leave,’ ” Gladys recalled.
Besides the visa, there was another big problem: Gladys didn’t come to America divorced and she didn’t immediately take the time to file the necessary paperwork to complete her divorce.
“I didn’t think of it when I left Peru because I didn’t come to America to get married. I had to do the divorce from the U.S. and it wasn’t easy,” she said.
Against all odds, Gladys remained in America, and eventually, after stacks of paperwork, finalized her divorce.
“Going through the immigration process legally is extremely difficult without getting married,” Bruce said. “It was a horrendous process keeping her here. There were never any legal problems but there was a tremendous amount of paperwork.”
In 2005, Bruce brought Gladys to Sweet Grass County where he was raised, to visit the family ranch.
“We visited and I just fell in love with Montana,” Gladys said.
The two stayed on the Thompson ranch where Bruce’s aunt, Annette Thompson, lived at the time. Annette had several serious health problems and, coincidentally, Gladys was a registered nurse, so Annette asked if Gladys wouldn’t mind coming to live with her and take care of her. Bruce still had to finish out a work contract in Anchorage, but Gladys wasn’t tied down so she decided to move to the Thompson Ranch.
“I came out here in February 2005 and Bruce came in June. We’ve been here ever since. We took care of her for two years before she died. It was Annette that introduced me to this beautiful community,” Gladys said.
When Annette died in October of 2006, leaving half of the ranch to Bruce, the couple finally stepped off their rollercoaster ride, landing at the Thompson Ranch.
The couple has been happily married since November, 2006.
“We got married so late that we decided to count our anniversary in dog years,” Bruce said. “And depending on how you figure it, that’s a pretty long time.”
Ten years later, in 2015, Gladys’ son Luigi Clavarino Farfán visited his mother in Big Timber and hopped on his own coaster ride. After he met Dulcie Bue Clavarino, a Big Timber resident, he followed his mother’s footsteps and stayed in Montana.
Luigi and Dulcie were married June 2016 and still live in Sweet Grass County. They have two children, Massimo and Apollo.
After 12 years on the waiting list, Gladys’ daughter and her family are set to emigrate to Montana some time this year, completing the Farfán family unit in Sweet Grass County.
Photos courtesy Bruce Townsend