Most of the time we don’t even notice the fact that together we are a pair of different cultures in an interracial marriage. We deal with life as it comes. Our differences only made apparent when we are not together or when we are recounting stories of our younger lives. It’s possible that our almost ten years together has made us indifferent nowadays; however, I do remember that in the beginning, it was all we talked about.
Part of the problem, my mom, said at some point, was that white people were always on time. They didn’t like to be late. If you are Hispanic, however, it is inherent that you will rarely be on time for anything. After being together a few years, I would like to think I have improved my on-time skills, but I don’t think I’ve managed to be on time for anything other than job interviews, and medical appointments. Unfortunately, I’m positive lateness is in my genes. (Sorry, kids.) My husband has learned not to expect my family at the time they say, and together we’ve learned when it’s ok to be late or when it’s not.
On Saturday mornings my mom used to clue us in to start cleaning by playing her Mexican regional music on our stereo system as loudly as possible. We listened to people like Christian Castro, Joan Sebastian, Juan Gabriel, Los Tigres del Norte, or Banda el Recodo. As soon as the first song came on it was game time – start cleaning! Each of the kids had a task to do. At the time my brothers were too young, so it was mostly my sister and me. She would get to clean the living room, dining room, and hallway. I would need to clean the stairs, landing, the bathroom and sort the laundry. (Mind you, she is two years younger than me, and we were full on house cleaners!) We would switch chores every other Saturday. Now that I’m grown-up I still have that habit. The difference is when I decide it’s time to clean on the weekend, and I start blasting my Mexican music, my husband just looks at me like I’m crazy (lol!). Had he been Hispanic he wouldn’t even bat a lash. Sometimes I listen to American classic rock, or Lana Del Rey, Muse, John Mayer, Emeli Sande, Young the giant, La Santa Cecilia, OG Shakira, reggaeton, etc., – yet he still looks at me, while I’m dancing and doing the dishes like I’m crazy. He’s learned just to let me be, but I think he has unconsciously clued into the cleaning routine. I’ve made my mark. (I did learn later that listening to music while cleaning isn’t only a Hispanic thing; however, blaring the music loudly enough for your neighbors to hear is.)
Comparatively, he’s done things that make no sense to me or that have bewildered me. Notably, my introduction to movies or film. He is a movie aficionado. He studied theater before he settled on being an IT professional. His family is just as invested. There was a time before we dated when we went on a lunch “date.” I made the mistake of asking him about his favorite movies. He started naming and quoting and mentioning, and I just couldn’t keep up. There was not a single thing he said that I recognized. I was aghast and stupefied. It would be a long time before I would ask him anything related to actors, or movies, directors or theater. (A long time! LOL)
Nowadays he makes it his mission to “educate” me. We’ve watched movies from directors like: The Wachowskis (Matrix, V for Vendetta), The Coen Brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men), Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s 11), Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element) John Woo, Peter Jackson, plus many others. He’s shown me movies like Boondock Saints, Chocolat, and so on. The list of films we’ve seen is endless; likewise, is the list he wants me to see. The time when I was hesitant to ask him about his movie preferences is long gone, nowadays I just sit back, listen, and enjoy his movie ramblings.
Here’s a particularly sensitive difference between American culture and Hispanic culture: birthday cards, thank you cards, Christmas cards, birth announcements. Just, why? In my opinion, it’s overkill. If you are close to the person and the event being celebrated then why is it necessary to send a card? It’s a waste of money; it usually gets tossed in the garbage (after the obligatory few months on the fridge).
I feel it’s “sensitive” because all kinds of people have different opinions of them. My husband’s family adores them. My mother-in-law doesn’t expect them from us anymore, lol. However, if I didn’t send one in the past (I use the twins as an excuse now, sorry busy!), I could feel the oppression coming at me from a mile away with, “oh, we didn’t get your birth announcement – when was he born?” (You know damn well – you got the text) Then, recently we heard, “you guys didn’t do Christmas cards, but they are so fun!” (No, they’re not, they’re just a chore). This requests for mailed announcements wasn’t necessarily from my family anymore, but from friends or relatives, we didn’t see often. Maybe this makes me a grinch (or lazy) but I just can’t.
The ones that confuse me the most are thank you cards (writing them, not receiving them!). If I attended your birthday party or whatever celebration, and I gave you a gift, then chances are you already thanked me for it. Why would you need to thank me again? I applaud you for having the time management skills that I don’t have! However, if I didn’t attend the event and I sent a gift, it’s a gift. I don’t expect a thank you. I expect you will hopefully love and enjoy what I gifted – it’s so simple. I’m confident that the next time we meet you’ll probably thank me anyway (I have awesome friends like that). Or if YOU attended my celebration and gave ME a gift I will be thanking you for it right then and there. Nowadays, I can get away with not writing them because I have a legit excuse: twins and a toddler (my oldest is getting up there with the needing constant attention too.).
When you look at my side of the family, then you’ll notice our fridges aren’t covered in Christmas cards and birth announcements. It’s typical at Hispanic celebratory events to have a receiving line for gifts or to expect a verbal thank you from the hostess at an event. You CANNOT get away with not talking to Tio Carlos about his new venture or Tia Consuelo about how her family is doing while giving their gift – it’s just rude. So, eventually, during the conversation rounds, you are bound by blood and law to say thank you for whatever gift they gave you and expect a thank you immediately when you provide a gift. And that is that. No written thank you cards in the mail to be sent later – more like backtalk and scolding if you don’t say it then.
Same goes for birth announcements – you are expected to know these events are happening and usually obligated to visit. You bring your welcoming gift (not the baby shower gift) and hang out with the family. Help them do the dishes or change diapers or hold the baby while they get to feel like an average human for a bit. You are expected to KNOW and beg for forgiveness if you didn’t. It would be a shame for you to be out of touch with your own family. It’s both a blessing and a curse – to know what is going on with everyone ALL the time.
So, what’s my husband’s view of this topic? Meh. He’s appreciative if you send anything (me too I promise) but doesn’t feel the need to address anything of our own. Please don’t get me wrong though! I love receiving them. I appreciate the time and effort it takes to book a photographer, get everyone all dolled up, and then miraculously get everyone to smile (simultaneously) for a family picture. It’s just not for us. Honestly, I’m not positive if it wasn’t a convenience for my husband – men tend to be more dismissive of this type of thing. He probably enjoyed the fact that I don’t think sending cards is necessary.
There’s a video I recorded somewhere of our oldest playing in the snow in the backyard. In it, you can hear clearly and consistently my oldest speaking Spanish – “Mami mira!”, “Mami, esta frio,” “Mami, ven juega conmigo.” Regrettably, her fluency is all but gone. Fortunately, she can still understand these words and if she wanted she could say them, she could. However, she is nowhere near the fluency she had when she was young. There is a multitude of things I could blame for her decline: myself, my job (too busy), etc. Ultimately, the excuse prevailing is the necessity to communicate with my husband – he only speaks and understands English. Now, there is a gawking obviousness to our cultural differences.
With the introduction of Jacob and the twins, it has been infinitely tricky to interchange languages at home. They are beginning to learn how to speak so, for now, it is best to stick to one language at home. That is not to say I don’t consider the possibility of my children’s future speaking Spanish, but I feel it might be much easier once they have established a language first. For my oldest, it’ll come when she takes elective Spanish courses in school. I hate to think my responsibility for introducing her to her culture via an essential tool must be taught instead by some institution that hardly holds her in any regard. My plan to make up for this, is to one day send her to Mexico with my family for a crash course! In the meantime, she gets plenty of Mexican cultural learning from being with her grandparents and talking about my life growing up.
The sacrifice (as I feel it is one) of losing Spanish at home is not made with scorn for my husband because he can only speak one language. Instead, I decided because I am able. The actuality that in this lifetime I can love someone different from me is a cherished gift. Yes, it has had its consequences, but they are redeemable. We’ve made more significant strides towards a harmonious marriage despite all the outside noise by listening and believing in each other. I am a proud Mexican. My husband is a proud white American. Our two different cultures brought us together. In light of the increase in hate crimes and the boldness of previously “closeted” racists, here you have one example of how we can overcome this ugliness: love.
In conclusion, apparent differences from the beginning of our relationship are bygone. We live our daily lives as every other couple does. There is nothing “special” about us. The thing that would have a potential to divide us (hate) has only made us stronger.
I’d like to note; I do realize that other bicultural/interracial couples may not have as supportive an environment that I do. Potentially, they may not have the environment where the POC is BELIEVED to be oppressed. As a person of color, it’s hard just to live your life sometimes. At any rate, what I want to say is that there are interracial couples that are successful. There is the possibility of loving someone despite their skin color. Is it easy, no – but it is possible.
It is possible.