Photo courtesy of the author
THE FIRST TIME I got a whiff of judgement about my interracial marriage came from a close friend of my family.
This person was of a previous generation (or several previous generations), was living in the American south at the time, and had “what was best” for my husband and me at heart. Of course she did.
Upon learning of our engagement, she clicked her tongue and a look like she’d just been told the ice cream she was eating was made out babies, crossed her face.
“It’s just not fair,” she said.
Fair? To whom?
“The children. The whites, the Jews, the Chinese — nobody will ever accept them.”
“WHAT. THE. F**K.” I mouthed silently to my then-fiance. She was talking about our future children. Our poor, “half-breed” future children.
(NOTE: At the time of writing this, our cat is perfectly happy being the child of a mixed race household. Her vet has no problem pronouncing her Chinese-Jewish hyphenate name, and the other cats only tease her because of that one time she fell into the toilet.)
Though such interactions as the one above have been relatively few in my 10-year relationship with my now husband, I’d be lying if I said they didn’t happen. I will say that while living on the mainland US, people were rather predictable with their ignorant comments.
From our dear family friend and her “concern” over my husband’s and my nonexistent children, to the couple at Denny’s who loudly talked about how “upsetting” and “shameful” we were, ugly commentary about my interracial marriage usually fell into three major categories. They were:
1. What About the Children!?!
2. It Just Ain’t Right! (Bonus Experience Points if “God”, “Jesus” or “Bible” is called upon)
3. To me: Is This an Asian Self-Hatred Thing?
But upon moving off the US mainland, first to Hawai’i, then to Japan and Hong Kong, the reaction to our marriage began to evolve.
Living in Hawai’i was the most unremarkable my husband and I had ever felt in our marriage. A “haole” guy with an Asian woman, or vice versa? Totally the norm. More than the norm…snore.
While on the US mainland many of the comments were geared more toward the fact that I am Asian, in Hawai’i my husband actually felt a bit more of the scrutiny. If people commented on our racial differences, the comments often centered on me having married a “white guy.” Even then the comments were mild.
The “worst” I ever got was a sincere question from a coworker asking me, “Is it ever hard for your husband to relate to your Chinese parents? What’s it like having to deal with Jewish in-laws? I met my first Jewish person in graduate school.”
It was in Japan that the reactions to our marriage in some ways intensified.
As Japan is a very polite and considerate culture, my husband and I mostly went about our daily life with relatively few negative reactions — save for the occasional stares from older people or children on the subway.
But when people did cast judgement, there was no mistaking it, no lack of subtlety. It was the assumptions that got us.
On my husband’s side, as a PhD student researching Japanese culture, some of his peers would lay eyes on me and, without even bothering to find out if I was Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc., would roll their eyes and say, “Of COURSE you have a Japanese wife.”
The idea that my husband MUST be so obsessed with all things Japanese that he had to “get him one of them Japanese girls” came up more often than I ever expected. Non-Japanese people in Japan often assumed that he’d come to Japan not only to do research, but also to find the “ideal Japanese wife”. While some Japanese people looked upon his “fetish” with distaste. I once got mistaken for an escort.
On my side, I got yelled at by older people while in a more traditional part of Japan for “denying my cultural identity” as a Japanese woman (I learned quickly how to say “I’m a Chinese person” — it didn’t always make a difference). And a couple times I was accused of “marrying a white guy to rebel against my Japanese parents”.
Even when I was able to get through to people that I AM CHINESE AMERICAN, it didn’t seem to matter. The fact that I was Asian and married to a white man was just an indication of the lack of “ethnic and cultural pride” in “today’s youth.”
I was just excited to still be considered a “youth.”
Now that we’re in Hong Kong, the notice of our interracial marriage is again mostly unremarkable. Hong Kong being such global place, filled with so many expats married or in a relationship with individuals of Asian descent, my husband and I “fit in” again. Mostly.
Just the other day, I was waiting for my husband while he got his hair cut. The salon was located in a very “expat heavy” part of Hong Kong, and while most of the workers at the salon were Chinese, much of the clientele were not.
As I sat reading my book, my ears perked up when I heard two of the stylists standing nearby talking about “that girl who came in with the white guy” and “she spoke English, she’s an ABC [American Born Chinese]”. I was the only person sitting in the waiting area at the time. Most people assume I can’t understand Cantonese when they hear my American English.
“Chinese women love those white guy-pretty boys. Hong Kong women, ABC women, they all want to hook up with those white guys. They think they’re so good looking, or they want their wealth.”
I’d like to say I shot a witty take-down at the gabbing stylists, but I did not. I just got up and took my ABC ass to a nearby coffee shop to read instead. When I told my husband later, he asked me, “Did they really call me a ‘pretty boy’? Really?” We hear what we want to hear.
While the comments in the salon annoyed me, I can’t say I was angry. Was it disappointing? Yes. Insulting? Sure. But was the situation something worth losing my cool over? Nope. In the grand scheme of interracial marriage judgements, this was amateur hour.
But what it did make me think about was the fact that no matter where I live, no matter where I go, there are always people that notice my marriage. Positive or negative, when will my marriage stop being “other than”?
But I am hopeful. The fact that my husband and I are “boring” to more and more people, rather than “concerning”, is no small thing in the way the world sees race. I’d like to think that couples like us are changing the world bit by bit.
And who knows, maybe in a generation or two, “the children” won’t have to worry about who will or won’t accept them.