I want to preface this blog post with a few disclaimers:
- I love my South Asian culture roots. I grew up surrounded in a culture enriched with love and beauty. I might not agree with some of its attitudes or perceptions, but that’s okay.
- I’m stating the obvious. I love my parents. We might not agree on everything, but that’s okay.
- This turned out to be quite the lengthy post. I felt it was important to provide context on me. I decided to split this into two posts.
- These are my opinions and observations.
- Every relationship is beautiful, irrespective of colour, race, or gender. If there is one thing I want my readers to takeaway from this post, it is to spread love and be kind to the human race.
Let’s hit the rewind button and take this story back in time. I am the first generation of immigrant children in my family privileged to grow up in a diverse and progressive society, the Canadian dream. Like many immigrants, my parents wanted to establish a life filled with opportunities for themselves and their families. My parents worked tirelessly to provide the best of everything for my brother and I. This meant working in jobs they were over qualified for. Or working odd shifts that did not give our family the quality time we deserved to spend together. Through the darkness, they never gave up. This was the epitome of survival. We might not have had the most lavishing clothes, but we had clothes to wear. We did not have the biggest house on the block, but we had a roof over our heads. We had birthday parties for many years at the local Pizza Hut because it was affordable and allowed for us to celebrate with family and close friends. And because my parents were dedicated to providing a better life for us, their children, the expectation was high that we achieve success in our lives so that we wouldn’t have to go through what they did. Education was key. My brother and I never had the easy way out.
Our first elementary school was located right behind our house. The school was predominately Caucasian. I have so many precious memories of this school. From participating in choir to attending the field trips to the amazing teachers who I still remember so dearly. I met my first best friend (fun fact: we are still the bestest of friends) at this school. Another coloured human like me! With her, I didn’t have to teach her about Bollywood movies or explain why I had henna (mendhi) on my hands. We had this mutual understanding of each other’s cultures that none of our other friends understood. In grade 7 I moved to another school and made new friends. Again, the population at this school was very Caucasian. But, I met another coloured friend like me again! We were in the same friends circle and often talked about our Bollywood movie actor crushes (another fun fact: her and I are still friends, even though she’s moved to another city). At this age, kids were starting to explore the innocent boyfriend/girlfriend relationship – you know, holding hands at recess, picking up the phone to talk to one another after school (something our future generation will never understand), sometimes entertaining the first kiss. It was all new territory. For me. And for my parents. I remember one of my first ever crushes. A Caucasian boy. He happened to show up at my front door one afternoon after school. My dad answered the door. He had advised this boy that he is to never ring our door bell in the future. And this is where the fun began.
In our household, dating was something you considered much later in life. Usually when you had completed post-secondary education and started your professional career. It was taboo to fantasize the thought of having a boyfriend/girlfriend. When asked why by my peers, the best answer I could give was “this is how our culture is.” It was frowned upon for a boy and a girl to even hang out. It wasn’t until mid high school that I could mention to my parents that boys who were apart of my friends circle. It was like walking on glass because I would get drilled about how my studies were more important than boys. This was my normal. But during my years in high school, my friends circle slowly morphed from Caucasian folks to more the South Asian crowd, or what we used to call ourselves, “the brown crew”. My high school was very multicultural. I finally found people who got me. It was here where I could be open about my culture and showcase my passion for dancing and music to tunes from my ethnicity. I did not feel isolated or marginalized because of my skin colour. I did not have to explain myself anymore. The high school years were the most critical for me; I discovered a lot about myself. My first real friend in grade 9 is still one of my good friends today (you know who you are) – we for sure thought we were going to make it to Bollywood.
I guess where I’m getting at with all of this context is that I thought my path would take me in a different direction than where I am today. And I mean that in the most positive way. Our experiences are what drive us to be where we are today, and I truly believe after everything, this was my destiny. I had previous relationships, some serious ones, all with South Asian men. I never eyed any other race. Why? It wasn’t something we talked about within my family, and I kind of wonder why we didn’t openly chat about this more. After all, we were/are living in a multicultural society – did our parents accept the idea that their children could potentially mix with other races?
It was the fall of 2012 – I was on a high with life. I had started a new position at work. Purchased my first car. I was in my mid-20’s and completely unbothered by societal pressures. My parents on the other-hand were all of sudden concerned about my marital well-being. This topic become a prominent one in our household. According to my parents, I had hit every check box on this fictitious list of becoming a fully accomplished woman, except the obvious one: I was still single at the age of 24. Because what does the culture tell us? That by a certain age, you should be married. That magic number is undetermined, – but realistically you shouldn’t be younger than early 20’s and you most definitely should not be older than your late 20’s.
I had no intentions to settle down in the foreseeable future. My goals at the time were to focus on the activist work I had started and pursue endeavors that I was passionate about. I resisted the thought of settling down because I had conceptualized that I would ultimately “get stuck”. And this brings me to another fault of my culture. Within the South Asian diaspora, the concept of marriage from a very young age has been portrayed as a form of worship. The wife must be present, both mentally and physically, at all times for her husband. She must support him in all his ambitions. She must cook, clean, and keep the household in order. She must wait for her husband to return from work before eating her meal. Get the drift? In my eyes, this felt suffocating. Would this mean I would have to sacrifice my life for the well-being of my husbands. Naturally, I was turned off. I’m a feminist and this ideology was completely against my beliefs.
But then life showed me once again how unexpected it can be. Matt and I stumbled upon one another at work. What started off as an innocent conversation led its way to something more serious. Matt was not my “typical” type. He of course wasn’t South Asian. I had my guard up. I was reluctant. But I decided to ride the wave. Matt and I started to hang out and quickly realized we had a lot to talk about. We also quickly realized how different we both are; I’m the extrovert and he’s the introvert. I admired his maturity. He admired my drive and optimism. We knew we would make a good pair. Now came the part that gave me all the nerves – introducing Matt to my parents. Matt and I still didn’t have a plan. We knew we wanted to be together but what did this mean for us in the future was still up in the air. I had to explain to Matt that moving in together before marriage was never going to happen. He simply replied with a puzzled “really?” – it was a foreign concept to Matt. As the months went on, my parents were warming up to the concept of me dating a Caucasian man. And then the questions of marriage started. And this is where the true realization hit that we were about to venture into becoming an official interracial couple.
Matt was not opposed to getting married but he also didn’t care for it. We knew that moving in together without officiating our union was out of scope. I want to be very clear here – there was absolutely no pressure to get married. We knew what we wanted and felt that this was eventually going to happen so we took the next step and got hitched. Admittedly, we took the fast lane. Matt proposed to me on his 30th birthday in September of 2014. We were married in March of 2015. The most exhilarating feeling was planning a wedding within 6 months. However, I sometimes still wish we eloped. It came as a surprise when I expressed to my parents that I didn’t want the typical “Big Fat Indian Wedding”. Again, I was this person who idealized Bollywood and all the glitz and glamour. But I had plans to spend my money elsewhere. Instead, we decided to make it fun and do a destination wedding. As much as this was our plan, we had certain obligations to meet. Needless to say, there were some obvious bumps along the way of wedding planning.
Because we knew not everyone would be able to attend the wedding down south, we felt compelled to organize a few events in Ottawa for extended family and friends. This was pretty much my side of the family wanting some sort of a “Average Sized Indian Wedding Celebration”. We decided to host a Sangeet, a pre-wedding celebration. We decided to have a Hindu wedding ceremony at the Temple. I would wear the white dress in Punta Cana. Sounds easy enough. It was quite the opposite. There were discussions around the type of ceremony, the length, the commitment from Matt’s side, why was there no ceremony in a Church? Weddings already are a stressful time. Add in two cultures to the mix and it’s a whole slew of managing expectations and realities. Personally, the only people who I wanted to please during this process (and that too within reason ) were my parents and Matt’s parents. I did not want the immediate family to feel uncomfortable or pressured into doing something they didn’t want to. I was as transparent as I could be. It’s a known fact that weddings in the South Asian culture are not just about the bride and groom getting married, it’s about the two families uniting as well. Don’t get me wrong, as much as it was stressful, it was fun. I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds: wearing the typical red attire for the Hindu ceremony and having the opportunity to go white dress shopping (yay to countless hours of watching Say Yes to The Dress!), dancing away at the pre-wedding celebrations, organizing surprises for our families, and the best part, marrying my love.
I had decided to keep the South Asian traditions minimal. I did do a haldi ceremony: cleansing your body with tumeric and yogurt to make sure there’s a nice glow on the skin for the wedding day. I wore the choodha set: the bangles to signify you are a new bride – usually to be worn for an extended period of time post nuptials, but I took mine off instantly. Oops! My mom insisted I get a manglasutra, a necklace that identify’s a woman as being married. I thought a ring was more than enough. Ultimately, I picked my battles. My parents were adamant in certain areas to be sure that this wedding would be organized in its proper manner. I get it. I was the first to get married. I had many emotions during the planning of our wedding. I had moments of doubt and uncertainty. There were so many complications with the mere planning of an interracial wedding; was this a glimpse of our reality going forward? Do you understand why I wanted to elope now?
I think through the planning of our wedding, Matt and I came out stronger as a couple. We learned the importance of standing united and not letting the little things weigh us down. We’ve stuck with this mantra for the past 5 years. Our path to meet was an interesting one. If someone had told me back in high school or my university years that I would be married to a man outside of my culture, I would have laughed. For someone who loves the Indian food, the dancing, the traditions within reason (I will never practice karva chauth – the day wives fast for their husbands longevity and prosperity), it was out of character. I am a huge believer in destiny and I truly believe Matt and I were destined to be a couple. Our paths met for a reason. We each have brought our experiences into this relationship. We have learned so much for one another and we continue to do so as the days go by. We respect each other’s boundaries and value that being forced into a situation is not healthy. There are always options when it comes to situations. All my doubts of settling down were overpowered by the love I felt for Matt. Our marriage is not based on worship. It’s based on respect, commitment, and understanding. It’s based on loyalty. I am supported in what I desire to do as is Matt. So, it’s safe to say, within reason, maneuvering the interracial gig has definitely been manageable when it involved just the two of us. But since adding two little humans to the mix, let’s just say it’s a different mix. Stay tuned for Part 2.