- Gender and Relationships»
Mixed Marriages do work.
I said to my parents, "what do you expect; we live on an island filled with different cultures and diversities, it's more likely for me to fall in love with some other race than my own." I could see in their faces especially my Mom's, the look of disappointment as I broke tradition, which all good Chinese children ought not to do. This was obviously a show of disrespect to them as well as generations of inclusive traditional values. Traditionally, Chinese do not marry outside of their culture like many other eastern races. This was considered to be taboo and downright unacceptable. Not only would the bloodline be tainted but such marriages only create cultural, communication and value problems and from their point of view these would either be thrown out, redefined or desensitized.
It was not my intent to break such things and create a cultural race problem in my family, but most if not all my friends were mixed in some form or another. I have seen my parents have friends who were of different backgrounds and darn it the very food we ate was diverse in its cuisines, unique to the island of Jamaica which very motto is "Out of many, One people"
After swallowing my declaration came the negative comments and problems such marriages face. We would be an outcast among the Chinese culture; our kids would not be of pure blood and what would their friends say (the traditional ones). The lecture continued; anger, tears, and sadness was expressed with guilt trips of not loving them despite all they have done for me.
I listened as any good child should, then bursting out: I said "what about my sister, she married outside our culture." Silence over shadowed the room; I had hit a home run, after all if she was able to do it, why not me. Both parents gave me a blank stare. Then silence was shattered like an artillery barrage of shouting, finger pointing and stomping. I really put my foot in my mouth this time, there was no escaping the onslaught; stating she was a girl and it's the boy who needs to carry on the family traditions, to show respect and not put the family to shame. As another hour passed, I just sat there and took my hits, my head down, my posture submissive; all I wanted now was for the tirade to end. You see in most eastern traditions boys are the family banner, they are to uphold, bring prestige and wealth to the family and most importantly ensure that there is no shame. And in strong eastern families the father and sons have been known to disowned or even kill daughters and sisters respectively, that have caused shame to the family. Even mothers have turned their backs on the daughters for such shame.
Now being second generation Chinese in Jamaica and despite being western educated and not even able to speak the language did not matter. The pressure was on to show respect and honor and continue age old traditions that no longer had a place in the modern world. I was expected to show my love for my parents; respecting their wishes and directions even at the age of twenty.
I was told in no uncertain terms my life was just starting and I had to pursue my career and establish myself as a professional, in other words keep to tradition. The implications weighed heavily on me either to make my life my own or break all ties and hope for the best. From my future wife's family perspective I was fully accepted into their family. Her parents were both from mixed races so acceptance was only natural.
To put things in perspective, some of my uncles married outside of the traditional Chinese pool, these marriages were frown upon by my grandparents and my parents. The marriages were complicated with suspicious circumstances including of being forced into marriage and also the complete lack of respect towards tradition and my grandparents only loaded the cards against me with my parents and their concerns. You see, the other reason for not wanting mixed marriage, is one of financial gain. Where we grew up, Chinese were considered prosperous having businesses that other races worked in. So it was looked on as "gold digging" when other races wanted to marry into the Chinese culture. As well, all Chinese children were expected to improve their financial future by marrying others with similar or more assets. Of course this was not considered the same type of digging but of consolidating cultural and family ties. This would bring honor and respect to the family and parents. It was the age old thought process to keep everyone with the same mindset and to bring in other influences would only destroy what generations have built up over time. I guess I was the last hope for my parents to have recognition and to be able to hold their heads high in society. Of course this was never my intent and I could not accept the fact that love would do this. That I would gain and lose love at the same time. I had to work towards a solution and hopefully overtime the issues would resolve themselves. Now like every cultural exchange including western ones a simple solution to working towards unity has always been breaking of bread. This sharing would be the start of a long lasting and respectful relationship.
What was I thinking; bringing both sets of parents together was like opening the door to another artillery barrage. This time in the form of cold shoulders and intensive stares and lectures on better ways of doing things. All I could do was to smile and show a brave face. Unfortunately, most of these issues came from my side of the family and I did not learn my lesson the first time, I put my foot in my mouth again; and again came the lectures, this time with ultimatums. This happened as I drove my parent's home with my tail between my legs. Now I had to make my intentions clear to both sides and especially to the one I loved. You can't force people to conform and disregard generations of culture and traditions over a simple meal. This was a hard lesson to learn, my only hope now was that time would truly heal the hurt and disappointments. Also, I needed to be aware it was not just time but the quality spent in building bridges, and allowing tolerance and acceptance to be grown and sustained. I made the decision not to lose any of my loves and to show empathy to both sides of the fence. The solution was not to be short but long termed. I was building my family.
More than a decade passed and due to my parents influence (insistence) of sending me to the USA to further my education and with several long distance phone calls and hand written letters (no internet/email at that time) we sustained ourselves till the day we finally got married. Looking back, maybe it was my parents hope we would break our relationship due to the distance, experiences and separation imposed on us. After a few months of being married we were told by my wife's mom, this was the case with her first mixed race love; his parents sent him away, only never to return or be heard from since. You see even good or bad solutions have traditions within them that are passed from one generation to other. Inter-race relationships have to best strong to overcome such adversities. We must also remember the intention of marriage is not a reason to disown family because of disagreements but should be seen as opportunities to expand not only physically but more importantly relationally, socially and to embrace the diversities and excitement that make us humans.
In all this drama, we did what we could to smooth out the edges, my wife learned to cook Chinese (best leave that to the experts); she developed an open relationship with my parents, not only through words but with lots of hugs and soon enough she won them over. She became a daughter to them, understanding their indifference and every so gentling influencing them with her personality. She adapted and changed to find a middle ground without compromising herself as an individual. Like all good relationships, we have to come to the realization that differences are the seed bed for building a more enlighten being and such experiences only contribute to our abilities.
My wife is mixed with every conceivable culture, race that every settled on the island. She has percentages of black, Indian, Chinese and even French in her. She is beautiful both inside and out. By this time, the battle laid at the feet of all three women now in my life. My wife, my mother and my mother in-law, the men had enough and we settled into what men do best, drinking, eating, laughing and shooting off our mouths. All battles lay with old and new traditions. There was Chinese mom, Jamaican mom (being of mainly African dissent) and of course my wife who was progressive in her outlook. Word of advice, this is when men sit back ready with the words, "Honey, I love you, do what you think is best". Of course, this doesn't work all the time. Men have to make the decision to get involved, or be prepared to be dragged into the fray. The issues became complicated especially after the honeymoon was over and once our daughter was born. Every mom now wanted to influence the child's future and of course my mom wanting to keep tradition going could not help it by adding that my daughter eventually should marry a "nice, rich Chinese boy". I finally learnt my lesson by not putting my foot in my mouth for the umpteen time but gracefully smiled and gritting my teeth, I stated; "what's for dinner." That statement goes a long way to defuse possible disagreements and works in any culture, tradition and race.
Other issues ranged from traditional cooking methods to knowing your place and ignoring outside family influences. Even through living in western culture was all around us, the strong eastern conviction was always ready to present a case for sticking to generations of counsel and practical applications. Even when we were preparing for our wedding day and a simple wedding invitation became a hot bed of discussions and finger pointing, not only from my parents but also aunts and their social friends. Now keep in mind my wife, mother and mother in-law all knew each other for more than a decade, a lot of ground was already won but tradition was constantly poking up its head. Chinese like most eastern cultures make every event special, spiritually and purposefully. The wedding had to use 'red invitations' significant in chinese culture for guest to participate not only physically but also importantly contribute to the stability of the couple financially, hence the color red in Chinese culture means success, joy and prosperity. Of course to western tradition this has no place and takes away all the atmosphere of being in love and wanting to express that through marriage vows. This and many other incidents later is when you practise what you preach. "Honey, I love you, do what you think is best".
There is another mantra that men ought to consider and obviously not take for granted the wife's concerns and that is "he who argues with his wife in day, has no sleep at night". Now it's not my intention to be coy. but the ability to keep and practise peace among the mom's required me, the husband first, the son second and the son in-law last to settle disagreements fast by providing clear directions as well as concise feedback providing a frame work for all to agree in. This tradition works well in my family to have the final word after considering all view points.
My wife and I had to define what was important, critical and essential to us. We had to reinvent ourselves without isolating ourselves, avoiding points of contention, focusing on the good traditional values and updating others. We had to set the right example for our daughter, who in her time will probably have a inter-race marriage and more importantly decide to marry someone she envisions to share her entire life with and have values, she is determined and willing to fight for. The road has not always been easy (like all marriages mixed or not) but by keeping our perspective we overcame most if not all prejudices and learned to ignores those which we could not influence to change. We will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary soon, our daughter is 16 and today my traditional Chinese parents live with us and have focused on other things to occupy their time.
Some quick statistics, mixed race marriages are on the rise, especially among Asians and even through in some countries one can be put to death due to religious zeal for the most of the world this is completely accepted. People don't go looking for a inter-race marriage but it is only natural when cultures are put into a melting pot, then relationships will natural develop especially in western cultures. Unfortunately, the average mixed marriage last only 10 years. Like all long term relationships they have to be founded on common ground, commitment and tolerance. Tradition and religion can work for mixed race marriages as long as the reason for marrying is kept in the foremost parts of our minds and the love for each other is constantly nurtured and evolved.