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Interracial marriages are becoming more commonplace today with families blending cultures, traditions and lives. However, in the South Asian immigrant community, acceptance of multiracial relationships can sometimes be fraught with challenges. The South Asian color hierarchy is not something we can wish away. How do they cope with a spouse whose Indian culture can sometimes be snobbish, insular, at times overbearing and often judgmental.
A random sampling of views of Americans with Indian spouses, however, reveals a surprising smooth sailing of their wedded lives. Given the conservative Indian society that frowns on interracial marriages, one expects the road to eternal happiness to be littered with tensions and missteps. Minnesotan Scott Elvin, 45, director of IT, a husband and a father disagrees. But these are not the kind of issues that whip up the interest of anthropologists and sociologists.
Cooks and chefs, at best. Food smoothed it over. As we keep digging further, surprisingly, we find other instances of acceptance, where South Asian parents have risen to the occasion — accepting their new family member with open arms. From a family of 5, growing up Episcopalian in Southern Georgia, Tom was always interested in other cultures. Apparently at 7, he had declared that he was not going to marry an American. My dad actually knew her too.
So, he was okay. Some of my extended family, when I told them, made little noise as everyone in my family is white, but that was the extent of it. I never experienced any negativity. But both her grandmothers, who were alive at that time, came to our wedding from Mumbai and apparently after seeing me and talking to me it was okay. We got her blessings. Family is one thing, but the larger community is altogether a different kettle of fish. Particularly, the Parsi community which leans toward excommunicating and disowning women that marry outside the tight-knit community.
Tom, who now speaks quite a bit of Gujarati thanks to language classes and is affectionately called Tomla Indianization of his name by his friends, has since become a part of the community. David Rake, 53, a marketing researcher, who has been married for 15 years to Srabani, who hails from Calcutta, also had an easy time traversing the cultural divide. But I remember the one thing I was nervous about was taking Pooja home to Alabama to meet my grandma.
I never thought she was a racist or anything like that, but she had grown up in the Christian church and was very religious. And of course, being born and raised in India, Pooja was Hindu. And although marrying Caucasian partners would probably raise less eyebrows within the South Asian community as it is more widely accepted, a Black spouse does not go down well.
The South Asian community around the world mostly view Blacks through the white lens. But the path to bliss is not always easy for many. Pennsylvania substitute teacher and anthropology major, Kelli and her husband Bobby Banerjee will be celebrating 20 years of marital bliss in September. They had gotten to know Bobby as he would come visit them during the holidays with me and so they were okay with it. And that was an eye opener. Just a different culture. Everything was different. But that actually helped as his dad opened up a lot during that year.
It was awkward. And then she came to live with us. That was definitely hard. But it was not all roses. Today, many amongst South Asians still frown upon marrying a Muslim, concerned about faith rather than race. And New Jersey resident Kristina found that out firsthand. Now things have changed. Originally from Lithuania, Kristina met her husband Kaiser online. In , that was taboo. This was before eHarmony and Match. It was only Yahoo Personals. We would always say we met at work. But adjusting to cultural differences can be tricky. Americans are primarily individualistic, add to it the fact that I myself, personally, am an extreme introvert, it sets the stage for conflict and misunderstandings.
But I was shocked to learn that my visiting in-laws can stay with you for one or two months! Those little subtleties of culture as time went on, we discovered were the differences. A lot of beggars would come up to me. They saw me as a Caucasian. We had a three-hour train ride and then another two-hours in a car. Once there, his uncle took me around town in a bullock cart. The whole village came out to stare at me. It was kind of like being on the opposite side in a zoo. They had never seen blue eyes before, so they had to come see it to believe it!
Tom says that the assimilation between both cultures was easy as his wife, although grew up in India, knew the language etc. Many have thrived and flourished in the intertwining of cultures. I enthusiastically embrace wearing a lot of Indian clothing and even surprised my wife when I told her that I preferred she wear a sari instead of an American bridal gown at our wedding.
We all are aware that tensions can run high at most weddings, add to that an intercultural one, and it can cause a bad case of nerves. But about 20 people picked us up at the airport and they were the nicest people. I loved the whole family aspect of it. The family was always hanging out together. And my family was never like that. We have divorce in our family and stuff. Just seeing the way it was in India was pretty nice. And as they came, they either hugged my husband or folded their hands together in a namaste … but they had no clue what to do with me.
Another aspect of intercultural marriages that can cause some strife is bhasha or language. So, he speaks with each of them in a different language. Now if he spoke with all of them in the same language and I was constantly hearing the same language, I may pick it up better.
When we get together with our Indian friends, for the first half and hour or so everyone speaks English, and then they slowly go back to their own language. As for the next generation, one wonders how hard it is to raise interracial kids. We both made a big effort to use Bengali words and speak Bengali with our kids, but being in a predominantly English-speaking environment, it was hard to do.
The default language is English now. Both our kids gravitate to a more American lifestyle. This is a struggle for all kids I think, but more so interracial. My kids have friends from lots of backgrounds. No one can place what their nationalities are. When we visit my family, we take him to church so he can experience that.
We also go as a family to celebrate Durga Puja with the Bengali community here in Pennsylvania. We want him to know everything. However, when the kids came, there was a period when she craved cultural identity. And to do all of those things together — identify as American, as Indian and as Parsi — is difficult.
You see it often where immigrant parents remain very culturally identified with their home country and not where they are, and these kids become misfits in both. We wanted them to have more than an American identity. So, what advice do our couples have to those contemplating an intercultural union? Learn about the different cultures. The more you learn about why they do things the way they do it, helps you understand them better.
And because Indian prejudices and attitudes are largely based on what other people in the community think, and are generational, there is hope that with the coming generations educating their families about the values in other cultures, these attitudes can change, bringing with it a new day! Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication.
In the U. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6. Save my name, , and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Anu Ghosh. Tom says that their happily ever after started by a chance meeting at a local bar called the Monkey Barrel.
Srabani and Dave Rake. Pooja and Matt Hardy with their daughters, Simran and Emerson. Matt has been married to his Gujarati wife Pooja for almost 12 years. Kristina and Kaiser Shaik. Originally from Lithuania, Kristina says stereotyping of Muslims in the media made it hard with her parents initially. Kelli and her husband Bobby Banerjee and their son Braedon. Scott is married to his college sweetheart Kayli for 23 years.
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