While our families didn’t oppose our interracial marriage, we were the first in both our families to marry outside of our race, so they did have a few concerns. Daddyken’s parents were worried that our mixed kids would be bullied at school because one, they’d ‘look’ different, and two, they’d be taking rice to school instead of sandwiches. My parents were worried that this Westerner was just out for some fun – the ‘love you and leave you’ stereotype they had of a Westerner. It didn’t help that both sets of parents lived in suburbs not conducive to extensive interactions with cultures wildly outside of their own.
My mother-in-law coped by reading anything in the newspapers about everything remotely connected to ‘Asian-ness’ and reading it out to me… I remember telling Daddyken that I’d never been so reminded that I was an Asian person than when I was with her! And my mum told everyone that her daughter’s fiancée was a gweilo (ghost or white man)… BUT he was a really nice one.
I think that even if you marry someone from your own race, you’re still going to encounter some challenges, not only between yourselves but also the extended family. The merging of two different extended families who didn’t necessarily choose to be together isn’t always going to be a smooth ride. But naturally, when you add the extra ingredient of two different races, it’ll inevitably add some extra bumps to the journey.
For the record, we’ve just had our 14 year wedding anniversary, we live in an area where mixed kids form a sizable chunk of the population, and while the Cherubs love rice (and Panda does sometimes take fried rice to school), they also love their vegemite and cheese sandwiches.
So to celebrate, I’ve put together my top 4 list of advantages and disadvantages of an interracial marriage (I know 4 is an unlucky number for the Chinese, but 4 + 4 = 8, and 8 is a favourite number of the Chinese because it means ‘make a fortune’ : )).
Note that I could wax lyrical about the amazing romantic-ness of the union of two different cultures etc etc, but life isn’t lived in the serendipitous clouds all the time – let’s get into the nitty-gritties.
Boo for Interracial Marriages:
1. Separate togethers: My in-laws don’t speak any Asian languages, and my parents’ English is good for general conversations about the weather. Awkward for everyone when there’s a family get-together. As a result, we have separate family gatherings… some may say that’s a good thing though, and I admit I deliberated a bit when trying to decide whether it was a Yay! Or a Boo : )
2. Language Block: The Cherubs can be a little shy with my parents because they aren’t able to fluently communicate in Cantonese with them. I take some of the blame for that because my Cantonese isn’t so flash either, and I speak to the Cherubs in English. I’m reluctant to send them to Chinese school though because I hated it when I my parents sent me to one when I was young.
So my parents converse with the Cherubs in broken English, with a few Chinese words thrown in, and the Cherubs use the few Chinese words they know whenever they see my parents, like hello, good morning, good night and good bye. And I think they all also assess the situation they’re in and just bluff their way through.
3. Pure Misunderstandings: I’ve perfected the outwardly calm, nonchalant, show-your-teeth-slightly smile, while frantically messaging Daddyken with my eyes and (hopefully) subtle movements of my head to give him an ‘ABORT. I REPEAT: ABORT LINE OF QUESTIONING/COMMENT/JOKE IMMEDIATELY’ signal.
It may have happened many, many years ago, but don’t put China.
And War. together in the same sentence to a Chinese man who grew up in the aftermath of that conflict.
Also, try translating a joke into another language. There are SO many things that can get lost in translation that it gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it. Best case scenario is that the joke just falls flat and there’s an awkward silence. I repeat, BEST CASE.
4. The Issue Of Prawns: The Cherubs don’t like prawns. What Chinese kid doesn’t like prawns, albeit a half Chinese kid? Just eat half a prawn then. One cannot thrive on vegemite or cheese sandwiches alone, says this Chinese mother. I blame Daddyken for that. The White half of them has got the Chinese half in a headlock over prawns. I’m working on this difficult situation and will keep you posted.
Yay! for Interracial Marriages:
1. Cultural Collision: The Western side has an advantage with this culture thing because we live in Australia. However, I’m very close to my family and we live a few minutes away from both my parents and sister, so the Cherubs get the full Chinese family experience on a regular basis.
Our interactions with Daddyken’s family is very calm, orderly and planned. We ask how the other is, discuss the weather, what the other has been doing since we last met and how much rain each family has received in their respective locations. We eat quietly and the conversation is very polite.
As to my family? (Daddyken has a lot to say about this, but his main point would be that when he married me, he didn’t realise that he also said I do to my whole family) I’ll summarise: eating too much, having family members drop by all the time, any day of the week, any time – not necessarily to see us, maybe to get something out of the pantry that they need (even while we’re sleeping… yes, they have our house keys), cooking for 16 when there’s only 8 for dinner, being upfront and blunt about anything and everything (Your hair looks bad today or Those pants don’t suit you or Denim’s not in this winter and This doesn’t taste very good at all), an insane focus on eating all the time and the loud incessant conversations that overlap one another with no break in-between because everyone’s trying to say something and not willing to wait for an appropriate break in the conversation because frankly if you do wait you’ll never be able to get a word in and then apparently it’s just your bad luck you didn’t say something when you had the opportunity.
I like to think the Cherubs will grow up well-rounded.
2. Bridge of Pardons: Don’t like what the other is doing? Typical crazy Chinese people. Don’t understand why that’s happening? These white people have no idea. There’s a world of pardons that helps to smooth the bridge between our 2 families.
3. Happy obliviousness: Daddyken doesn’t understand many Chinese words except for gweilo, go lo (tall man) and a hand-full of random words that you wouldn’t be able to string together to make a coherent sentence. Which can have its advantages. For example:
Daddyken sat between my parents at dinner once, and mid-way through that dinner, my parents started arguing loudly and heatedly behind and across the front of him (I’d like to say that they fought over the top of him, but at 183cm tall, not many people would be able to do that, let alone two elderly Chinese people) about who dug up whose chives in a certain large black pot and now who won’t have any chives in their noodles and who should have marked that black pot in the corner with a sign so that there would be no confusion as to whether or not the large black pot was empty and who should have known…
Daddyken calmly ate his dinner, finished eating, thanked me for cooking and left the table. After they went home, I commented on the fight my parents had just had. When? and Really? Your family always speaks so loud and fast all the time I didn’t notice. So how did it go?
4. And the ultimate pièce de résistance: THERE’S NO FIGHTING OVER WHO’S HOUSE WE GO TO FOR CHRISTMAS OR CHINESE NEW YEAR!! Christmas is Daddyken’s domain, Chinese New Year is mine, and never the twain shall they ever, ever collide.