By Sam George
Over the last two weeks, we have been deliberating over intercultural marriages (marriages across culture and race). We looked at the prevalence of such marriages in Indian American communities and the unique challenges faced within these unions. Thanks for e-mailing me your comments. Keep them coming.
We are living in the most interactional period in human history. As people interact to learn, work and play, they are bound to fall in love and desire to spend their lives together. As barriers of race, culture and background are breeched, and other commonalities like education, skill and worldviews collide, intercultural marriages are bound to increase.
The extent of cultural blending is something that immigrant parents never bargained for or envisaged when they flew Westward. In traditional cultures, marriages always happened within the same caste, race, culture, religion and geographical neighborhood. But, as people dispersed far and wide pursuing education and economic opportunity, it was common to interact with people, who were different from them. This not only continued with their children, but now the children are pursuing intimate relationships.
According to traditional Indian culture, marriage is an alliance between two families. Many immigrant parents prefer to have their children married to someone like themselves in order to maintain close ties with their children’s in-laws. Much to their disappointment, their hopes are dashed when children walk in with the love of their lives, who happen to be from another culture.
Then there are grandchildren. Many immigrant parents think that if their children marry out of the race, their grandkids will be interracial and distance themselves from their grandparents. Parents secretly hope for companionship with a child’s in-laws, but it is different when they are from another culture. They also fear that the other set of grandparents may vie for the affection of their progenies.
You may have grown up visiting your grandparents only twice a year, but a foreign-born spouse might come from a large extended family where everyone is hands-on with the baby, women defer to a family matriarch, and grown sons are expected to financially support elderly parents. Know the family structure and etiquette of your own spouse’s culture and upbringing, and prepare to be more yielding than you might be in a same-culture marriage.
No matter how liberal and open-minded your spouse appears to be, she might harbor subtle prejudices or occasionally display a bigoted opinion. Culture often plays a role in such attitudes. Be aware of common prejudices and prevalent social attitudes of your spouse’s culture before you find yourself disliking the person you married, or disliking the country you moved to. Sarcastic remarks from in-laws can poison marital relationships for many months and years.
According to the US Religious Landscape Survey, one-third of married Americans have a spouse with a different religious affiliation. While you may support each other’s faiths, spirituality grows and wanes, and this has the potential to displace previous expectations. Issues such as modesty, socializing, religious observances, holiday celebrations, dietary restrictions, and in what religion to raise the children, need to be looked at from both conservative and liberal points of views.
No doubt family relations get complicated as a result of intercultural marriages. Some amount of alienation and misunderstanding are sure to arise as a result of different cultural backgrounds. A couple’s commitment to work through the differences and letting their unique cultural background enrich their life and marriage requires much wisdom and maturity. It is hard, but never impossible.