Friday, July 1, 2016

To Be Asian-American: Loving v. Reality

I was 5 years old when I had my first kiss. It was just a peck, nothing more than Preschool-aged play. I don’t remember her name, but I know that she was Caucasian.

My wife is Caucasians, and the vast majority of my past love interests (crushes and girlfriends) were also Caucasians. If you didn’t catch the hint from the title of this post, I’m Asian-American.

Growing up, my parents never talked to me about the why I should date within my own race or with people who shared my own cultural heritage or with the issues of dating someone who wasn’t Asian. My parents knew how hard it could be to find love and they didn’t want to put up more roadblocks. They also strongly believed in creating a new cultural identity mixing their Taiwanese traditions with America ones. Encouraging me to date other Asian girls was inconsistent with this approach to Americanization.

Then things started happened in high school that made it clear to me that while Loving v. Virginia, the 1967, United States Supreme Court Case that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage was long since past, not everyone was on board with that decision.

An Asian parent after finding out that I was taking a white girl to prom, complained to my mom saying that I should take an Asian girl since some of them didn’t have dates yet. A Caucasian teacher echoed this same sentiment. And then at a wedding reception, one of the people at our table after asking me about the race of my girlfriend and finding out that she was wife, chastised me for dating a girl who wasn’t Asian.

I fully respect people’s desires to date and marry within their own race or cultural identity. JDate.com, it’s all good. Even with only a cursory knowledge of Jewish history, it’s easy to understand why a persecuted minority group, who’s people have suffered incomprehensible tragedy and withstood efforts to erase their culture would want to marry within their cultural identity.

I also understand what that person was saying at that wedding. For many people having a shared cultural identity and race would help in developing a marriage. A shared cultural identity with similar life experiences could make a lot of things easier. While there’s a school of thought that says that people who have many differences actually have better long-term relationships, there is logic in the “marrying within your own race/culture is helpful”-logic.

The whole interracial thing hasn’t been a huge struggle in my life but it has presented challenges. Sometimes when my wife’s name is called in a waiting room people are surprised that she is white. There’s a lot of mandarin Chinese spoken in my parent’s house, that sometimes I forget to translate for my wife. I’ve had to correct acquaintances who assume that my wife is Asian (this is pretty awkward). I’m glad that everyone likes to mention how mixed-race children like my son are so good looking but many of these people are completely ignorant of the unique challenges that Ollie will face in his cultural development as a person who fails to fit into traditional racial categories.

I don’t completely understand the evolutionary biology, and the social influences that affected the relationships in my life. But I do know that I love my wife. You may not believe me, but her “white-ness” was never an issue in my mind. I’m not saying that I’m colorblind. I knew she was white from the moment I met her. Trust me, I’m very aware of the race of people around me. Our differences were bonuses, not burdens. It is exactly this shared viewpoint on life along with our belief in each other that provided the foundation for our relationships and our family.

We are not out of the woods in our acceptance and understanding of interracial marriage.  Yes, Loving v. Virginia was 49 years ago, but in issues surrounding interracial marriage still resonate in our cultural consciousness. About a month ago, I talked to a Hispanic student about how minorities often have preference lists for race when it comes to dating. With her parents, African-Americans were at the bottom of that list and she was told explicitly that she couldn’t date a boy because he was African-American. I shared the ranking that is typical for Chinese-Americans.

This isn’t so much an expression of racism but rather an expression of generational differences, cultural influences and societal pressures. The idea of a “ranking” is disturbing, but it’s a lived reality. I’m not proud of this shared experience between minority groups, but I’m really we were able to talk about it.

I wonder, do some Caucasian people have these lists?  Do they talk about it openly?
Have you talked race and dating with your family?

Have you been made to think about the race of who you date or who you marry?

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