Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Interracial Relationship

While I was in high school I made an unofficial pact with myself--to attempt to date someone from each race. To be open-minded. To expose myself to what a person from a different race could teach me. And because I've always been someone that likes to shock people from time to time--might as well be honest here, right?
 
Zorig and my Father in Michigan

In my teenage mind I'm sure I just intended to date someone from the major racial groups (black, Hispanic, white, Asian). I made good on that personal challenge during my high school and college years (and even kissed a Norwegian soldier in Sarajevo while on deployment). With one exception--I had never dated someone of Asian descent. This wasn't because I didn't try. I always had an eye out for someone who could help me "check that box," so to speak, but alas never met or encountered one that I found myself attracted to. When I told my girlfriend, Julia, about this recently in light of events, she simply replied, "well, Heather, that's what you get for putting that out into the universe." And so it is that I now plan my future with the first Asian man I've ever been attracted to. How lucky am I that he also found me attractive?!?!


As I began to tell girlfriends about this man and our story, they each had a variety of responses. Julie commented, as we hiked along the trail in Red Rock Canyon Open Space, "You know Heather, this means you are in an interracial relationship." This is something she would mention because she is married to her high school sweetheart who happens to be black. She's been "dealing" with peoples opinions and thoughts about interracial relationships for many years--my experience has only just begun. And I am finding it surprising, to say the least.

For example, Z came along with me to campus on Tuesday where we ate dinner in the dining hall before going to the basketball game. While we were collecting our food, a male student (whom I've known since his freshman year and who is now a junior) from Taiwan, approached me and asked, "Mrs. D, is that your husband?" I said, "not yet, but he will be." The student seemed surprised to learn this news and my interpretation of his reaction was that he was surprised to hear that I, a white woman, would be marrying an Asian man. 

The following day, during a small group discussion with two groups of advisees I shared my news about meeting a man in Mongolia, that we were engaged, and that I would be moving there come summer. The two Asian boys in the room had looks of surprise and shock on their faces. This is not to say that the others in the room were NOT surprised by my news, but the Asian students' surprise seemed to be more about my making a life with an Asian, whereas the other students were surprised I would leave FVS and move so far. My interpretation (which could be wrong, of course) is that Asians are more surprised by this interracial relationship than my fellow whites are.

Z tells me that when we are in public--at the mall, in the airport, at a restaurant--that he thinks people assume he's Chinese. I confess that I'm not good at noticing the distinctions between individuals, whether male or female, from Asian countries. It's known as the Other Race or Cross Race Effect and I know I am guilty of it.

For a small example, here is a picture of my four advisees. Two are obviously white while the other two are of Asian descent. I know what country they are each from because I have their data, but do you know what countries they hail from?

It's true that names can give us clues as to the country of origin.....but that is something I've only begun to learn. And shoot.....it hasn't been all that long since some Americans referred to Asians as being Oriental! I don't know that if I encountered a Mongolian here in America that I would have any idea that he/she was Mongolian. I fear I would probably say China, just as Z says people assume of him.

Just this past Sunday we went out for Vietnamese Pho (one of Z's favorite meals from what I can tell). The owner/manager came back with Z's card after running it to pay the bill (while Z was in the restroom). He said he noticed the card said Bank of Mongolia and asked, was he really from there? (How else would he get the card.....I wanted to say, but didn't.) I said yes, that he was visiting for a few weeks and then I'd be moving to Mongolia in the summer. Again.....there was a pause and the look of surprise, after which he asked if we were married. I said, not yet. He seemed most intrigued and then told me about the Mongolia episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (mentioned in my post titled The Pressure to Conform). Even going far enough as to load the episode on his phone and play the first few minutes for Z and I. Why? He wanted to know how real the information was. Very real, of course.

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