Our Interracial Marriage Three couples share their thoughts and experiences of being in a cross-cultural relationship. BY JESSICA Q. CHEN
Times are changing and so are the number of interracial marriages, which still offer unique challenges.
As the first son in his generation, Minh Le played a key role in his Vietnamese family lineage. So when Connecticut-born Minh told his family he planned to marry Aimee, a Jewish woman from California, and more important, a non-Vietnamese woman, he knew it wouldn’t be good news for everyone.
"It was painful for my grandmother on a very visceral level," he says. "She would always remind me that her father was second to the king of Vietnam." In other words, it was a letdown for Minh’s grandmother who hoped Minh would marry within his own race. In traditional Vietnamese culture, Minh’s personal choice to marry someone he loved would be overshadowed by the sense to carry the family name.
Luckily, the rest of Minh’s family wholeheartedly accepted Aimee, which in turn, helped Minh’s grandmother adapt. Still, interracial clashes, especially between generations, are quite common. While cross-cultural relationships in the U.S. have been around since colonialism, it was only 40 years ago, in 1967, that the Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia finally swept away all laws banning interracial marriage. Since then, the number of interracial marriages have steadily increased, from less than 2 percent of all marriages in 1970, to nearly 8 percent in 2005, according to American Community Survey data.
Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University and an expert on interracial relations and the changing American family, gives another reason for this—something he calls the, "Age of Independence."
"Young adults are marrying later, traveling away to college, and are more likely to live apart from their parents when they are single," he says. This means more exposure to different types of races, as well as parents that can’t dictate whom to marry. Combine that with the changing societal views on race, and you create a climate conducive for cross-cultural marriages.
Still, that doesn’t mean all problems are solved. In addition to the common issues marriages face, interracial marriages may have the added burden of lack of support from their families. Other issues, such as how to raise children with a mixed identity, picking a place where you won’t be constantly stared at, and learning what to say to those who stereotype you or your spouse’s culture, are realities for interracial couples.
Take Kris and Laura Maddox, for example. After meeting in college, Kris, who is black and Native American, and Laura, who is Danish and Italian, experienced two separate occasions where a black woman approached Kris just as Laura was walking away.
"One woman came up to me and asked me out," Kris says. "I told her I was with someone, and she said, ‘Oh, are you dating that white girl? What’s up with that?’"
In another case, one of Laura’s former mentor’s had previously mentored black couples and said African American men tend to be violent. "It made me upset," Kris says. "They told Laura in the ‘be careful’ type of manner. That could be the stereotype, but that’s not the way I am."
Sometimes, misunderstandings derive from true cultural differences. As a full-time pastor who met his Korean wife, Sungshim, in seminary school, John Loppnow says he’s learned one of their biggest differences is direct versus indirect communication.
"I come from a family that values and requires us to ask for what we need. Sungshim comes from a family that you had to know or guess what the other needed."
This creates a lot of confusion and guesswork on both parts. Gender roles are also deeply-engrained and differ between Eastern and Western cultures. While Western culture values independence, traditional Korean culture places the role of a woman in the home. Instead, John says a woman’s role is something he believes they can develop together. "I see our roles more based on gifts, skills and passions rather than gender," he says.
Ultimately, the ability to add another layer to a relationship also allows two people of different cultures to bond on a deeper level. In fact, most interracial couples would agree that they’ve found joy not only in their enriched family backgrounds, but also in understanding their own backgrounds better—it’s the journey of learning more about the other, not the destination.
"This is a dimension of our lives that will be there forever," Aimee says, "and we are committed to figuring it out, day-by-day, little-by-little."