It’s May 2009. Anthony Espinoza (he/him) (Public Allies Wisconsin ‘18) and Marleisa Quiles-Espinoza (she/her) (Public Allies Wisconsin ‘16 & ‘17) meet by serendipity, on a gloomy day in a backyard through mutual friends. Although they didn’t yet know it, teenage Tony and Lisa would soon learn, grow, and thrive together with Public Allies playing a key role in their love story.
“I believe in love at first sight,” Marleisa says. “I remember telling my mom that ‘Wow, I met this guy and he’s really special. There’s something about him,’ and now here we are! It’s wild to think that we were 17 and 18 at the time. It feels like a lifetime ago.”
“I do remember the first time I saw Marleisa. She got out of the car and walked into my backyard and it was like *angel chorus*! Like, who is she? At first sight I knew that we would be part of each other’s lives,” Anthony says.
Several years later, the pair learned about Public Allies together at a panel event at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marleisa’s alma mater. They each ended up going through the program but intentionally in different years so that they could each have their own, unique and authentic experience.
“I did my two years and Tony got to witness my whole experience in navigating PA and figuring out what it meant,” Marleisa says. “I didn’t want to influence his experience with his time in PA. He knew more than the average person going into it, but I didn’t give too much away. But Anthony had a good idea of how life-changing Public Allies was because it changed my life.”
“She didn’t tell me anything! A lot of it is, you know, trust the process.. And then something just clicked,” Anthony says. “I’ve tried to do the same thing with other family members [3 cousins and 1 sister] who have gone through PA. I also knew the impact and how life-changing it could be so I practiced the same thing. I didn’t give any insight or cut any slack. And I’m immensely thankful because who knows? Without Marleisa, I would have never been an Ally.”
In the Public Allies program, you come as you are. Here, you learn more about systems, your place in them, and how you can use your innate leadership to help dismantle them over the next 10 months and beyond into #PAAlum-hood.
“I certainly tell everyone that I meet about Public Allies! I wish that I kept track of the interns I supervised or the friends that I told about the program that ended up doing it,” Marleisa says. “And no pressure, but we’d love for our daughter Lola to be an alum, we joke that we’d love for her to continue the legacy. Public Allies is foundational to who we are as a couple and as a family. Our whole family knows that we’re #PAProud!”
In July 2023, Marleisa and Anthony will celebrate their 14th anniversary together (and 4 years married!) Both of them credit Public Allies for helping to teach them more about what it means to be in a relationship with another person and how to make sure you’re taking care of yourself in the process. PA also taught them how to hold space and be there for others. As partners, they keep each other in check by holding a mirror up to each other, lovingly. To them, it’s important to be honest with each other about how they’re showing up in the world.
“Neither of us came from a healthy example of what a healthy relationship looks like or what it should be, “Anthony says. “We definitely came into this relationship knowing what we didn’t want to replicate. Being a cis-gender man, you’re dealing with a lot of influences in society like ego, toxic masculinity, and triggers— you’re quick to get upset and think that someone is intentionally hurting you. You take everything so personally which results in challenges. Something that has stuck with me always is that once you know better, you do better. I’m always reminded of that. It’s easy to take reflection and feedback. It’s what PA is all about– you model the learning and practice deep reflection.”
“I also credit Sojourner, my placement, for a lot of what I learned about what it means to be in a healthy relationship and what that looks like. Public Allies helped us grow immensely as individuals and together. Especially when you meet this young, it’s easy to grow apart. But, PA has helped me learn to love and accept who Anthony is, and be excited to meet every new version of who he is. And, to give him the space to grow and learn,” Marleisa says.
Now, the two are staying connected and involved with Public Allies in various ways. Following her term of service, Marleisa was hired at her placement site and now supervises Sojourner’s Healing Services . Anthony spent a few years as a program manager with Public Allies Wisconsin and then joined the national office as a Manager of Alumni Engagement and Mobilization in April 2022.
But it’s more than just the program for them. Marleisa and Anthony surround themselves with others who share the same values they do– and coincidentally a lot of those people happen to also be program and staff alumni.
“It strengthens a relationship to have a shared experience that is so unique and so special.. And I would even say sacred,” Marleisa says. “My very best friends are PA Alum, they are the people in our lives that support us and show up for us. It’s such a gift to be a part of this community.”
“Now that Tony’s been a program manager and he works at the National Office, people at events will say ‘Oh yeah, that’s Tony’s wife!’ I love that women/femmes in the program are quick to remind people, Cami– they would be quick to remind people that ‘That’s Marleisa, Tony is her husband!’ Give credit where credit is due, I introduced him to Public Allies. He likely would not be a part of the PA community without me— we lovingly joke about that,” Marleisa says.
As for what’s next, Marleisa and Anthony are excited to continue to be lifelong champions of Public Allies and how it can change the lives of people in Milwaukee and across the country. For them, Allyship is a journey that they’re constantly working on. They’re thankful for the tools that PA provides them to continuously learn about each other, themselves, and the world around them. And for other couples that have found themselves in or through Public Allies, they offer this advice:
“Create space for joy in your process and journey of learning and unlearning,” Marleisa says. “Public Allies is so special to us and I think about the experiences we’ve had and how they’re so beautiful and sacred. Make space for joy amidst the growth and the challenges, because there’s nothing else like it. Soak it all in.”