Every marriage is an intercultural marriage.
Think about it: the person you marry is bound to be from a different culture than the one you grew up in. His family likes barbecues and hydroplane races; yours goes to museums and book signings. Her mother cooks dinner every night; your mom always brought home take-out. His family hikes and runs marathons, they sail and ski and play Frisbee; your family doesn’t even watch sports on TV. Her family shops for fun and runs up huge credit card bills; you grew up in a frugal family that believes in saving and investments. I could go on and on—noisy families and quiet ones, Democrats and Republicans, Catholics, Baptists, Jews and atheists, small families and large, parents who are single, divorced or re-married.
So with all these differences, how much could race matter? And I mean only race, boiled down to that one essential difference.
Not much. At least not in our marriage.
I’ve been trying to think of problems related to race that Eugene my Chinese husband of 31 years and I had, and the only thing I can come up with is food.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love Chinese food. And my husband loved steak and fried chicken. But (and I think I’m not exaggerating here) food is simply more important to the Chinese. The Chinese women I knew in Manila went to the market at 5am to buy the freshest produce. They made steamed dumplings from scratch. They served eight or ten delicious courses at their dinner parties. I couldn’t keep up; nor did I want to. Still, their examples left me feeling pressured to be more enthusiastic about cooking than I was.
On the plus side, Eugene was an excellent cook, who also took pride in choosing great restaurants—high-brow and low, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese … Yum!
(Now that I think of it, even attitudes toward food are not a racial but a cultural difference.)
It’s not your partner; it’s other people.
In an interracial marriage, the problem often comes from the attitudes of other people. I suppose there were some who disapproved of us. But if they did, I didn’t notice. I tend to be oblivious to lots of things. In fact, until fairly recently, I had no idea that interracial marriage was against the law in many US states until 1967. Coincidentally, that was the very year Eugene and I were married.
In ancient China they also had rules against intermarriage. But during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), they tried the opposite tack, requiring West and Central Asian males to intermarry with native Chinese women. Assimilation. Swallow them up.
In the early years of our marriage, Eugene was the only Asian in town (Sedro-Woolley, WA). Consequently, he may have been the target of discrimination and a number of dirty looks. Who knows? He never complained. He was proud of being Chinese. And if he wasn’t welcome, for example, in the local tavern favored by the town’s tar heels, it didn’t matter.
He was supervising a shock test for shipboard equipment for the Navy. His team, composed of several North Carolina transplants, had strapped the equipment to a barge on a small lake owned by the boss. They lit the dynamite. But something went wrong. In a flash, Eugene jumped in and saved his men’s lives. When everything was over, they bandaged up his thumb and dragged him off to their favorite tavern. Guess which one. The bartender, true to form, refused to serve him. But the men insisted. “He’s an honorary tar heel,” they insisted. “Give him a beer.” And the bartender did.
If the topic of interracial marriage interests you, check out Jocelyn Eichenburg’s blog, Speaking of China. Her most popular post is “On the Rarity of Foreign Women and Chinese Boyfriends/Chinese Husbands.” In the past four years, 440 people have commented on the story.
And if you have a story to tell about your own interracial (or intercultural) marriage, I’d love to hear it.
Next week’s post: Chinese Food Love