Immigrant Parents Gradually Accepting Interracial Relationships
By Nirushan Sivagnanasuntharam *
When Praga, of Tamil heritage, entered into a relationship with Ken, a Caucasian Canadian, she knew she would have a difficult time when it came time to tell her parents. Delaying that inevitability, they, at first, kept their relationship quiet. When she felt the time was right to tell them about Ken, she arranged to have her brother and brother-in-law present. Ken waited at a convenience store nearby.
“When I told my parents, my mom immediately started to cry and my dad just left the room. He just said, ‘No way,’” says Praga. “They actually didn’t speak to me for a month. We all lived together, but they still continued to ignore me. They went to all sorts of astrologers for guidance. It took them a really long time to accept Ken and to agree to meet him. They didn’t tell my other family members because they were really ashamed of ‘the situation.’”
After the initial shock wore off, the situation improved. “Things are OK now,” continues Praga. “My relatives have all met him and I am sure they have their own opinions, but we try to look on the positive side.’’ More and more immigrant families in Canada have been dealing with this situation over the last decade. Between 1996 and 2006, there has been a 33 per cent increase in interracial relationships and that trend shows no indication of slowing down. If four per cent of relationships were interracial in 2006, then that number can be estimated to jump to 10 per cent by 2016. As Canada’s population continues to become more diverse due to immigration, there is simply greater opportunity for individuals to fall in love with someone from a different ethnocultural background, especially among younger generations who have been born or mostly raised in Canada’s diverse environment. The rate of mixed couples also increases in urban settings, with cities like Vancouver at the top.
According to Carl James, a professor of sociology at York University, immigrant parents usually fall into two camps when it comes to interracial relationships. Many, like Praga’s parents, are strongly opposed to the idea, at least initially. Where they come from, interracial marriage is an unfamiliar concept, and even though they chose to immigrate to a multicultural country, it was certainly not something they had expected to have to deal with personally.
“Home is a sacred place and any invasion of that cannot be taken lightly,” explains James. But James points out there are just as many parents who want their sons and daughters to marry outside their culture because of what it might symbolize or represent. “Immigrants expect their children to do better than them,” he says. Such parents, says James, consider the effect the union will have on their son’s or daughter’s social mobility in the adopted country.
When Phuong first told her Chinese family about her intention to marry Frank (names changed for privacy), an Italian Canadian, they were concerned only with the fact that Frank had no university education and worked in the trades. They saw this as Phuong marrying below her. Frank’s family, on the other hand, appeared to have no issue about him marrying a Chinese woman.
Over the years, Frank and Phuong have had more than a few problems related to their cultural differences. But, these days, 12 years into their relationship, Phuong says most of what she and Frank disagree about have more to do with regular male/female conflicts, the kind that can exist in any relationship, interracial or not.
One cultural problem that has continued to persist has to do with religion. Phuong had been raised by Buddhist parents and is not particularly religious herself; Frank had been raised in a typical Italian Catholic household and he and his family are very religious. Phuong agreed to a Catholic wedding only because Frank’s church did not require her to convert to Catholicism, which she was opposed to doing.
The church did have some requirements of the couple, however. Before going forward with the wedding, Frank and Phuong had to take marriage counselling sessions. “If you want to get married in a Catholic church, you have to take marriage classes to make sure you are compatible,” says Phuong.
Three main challenges
James says that the main challenges specific to interracial relationships come down to three things — religious practices, cuisine and language. The challenge is usually greater for the parents of the couple who, if they are immigrants, are likely to be raised in a culture where there was no interracial marriage at all and are more set in their ways. When Praga’s parents chose to come to Canada, they did not envision their daughter marrying outside the culture. But Ken will soon be part of their family. They have to learn more about his culture, and he about theirs. It’s a big change.
For Frank’s family, although they did not oppose his decision to marry a Chinese woman, they remained rigid about their expectations for a Catholic wedding, and later a baptism for their grandson. On the positive side, men and women in an interracial marriage are much more prepared for the challenges they face as a couple, says James, because they are already willing to make compromises and are open to change.
[Source: CanadianImmigrant.ca © Star Media Group]