A couple of days ago, I wrote about how becoming an insider among another race can make you an outsider with your own. Today, I wanted to talk about the flip-side of being an insider…the second edge of the sword that often cuts interracial couples and multiracial individuals just as deep. Combining race, culture, religion and more, can often mean walking a fine line and getting grief from both sides. Now, I’m not claiming that a bicultural life is all bad (it’s most definitely not), but these posts are my attempt at discussing the more difficult topics for interracial families. Again, this is me, speaking from my own personal experiences.
Just about every couple knows that when they walk into a marriage, they are also taking on a second relationship with their spouse’s family. With racial and cultural backgrounds added to the mix, tensions tend to amplify. Before my husband, I had no idea that the dilemma even existed, but now I feel that I’ve become somewhat of an expert on the topic. Both my husband and I have taken the slurs, the dirty looks and plenty of derogatory comments from both sides of the family. Being a newbie insider way back when, I knew to expect some resistance from my family, but I hadn’t expected my husband’s family to interrogate and distrust me. It started off fine at first. They were skeptical, but friendly enough and his mother even accepted me as her own for a while. I’ve talked about this before in several of my ‘mi vida‘ posts about my life, which mostly cover our interracial relationship and identity confusion.
Well, the closer we got to our wedding, the more skeptical my in-laws became and the fact that my hubby turned to his mother and sister every time we had a disagreement didn’t help. Now the skepticism I can understand to some degree. I’ve seen racism rear it’s ugly head in my husband’s direction and witnessed misguided (and sometimes downright offensive) attempts at diversity, so I know there’s reason to be wary. But their caution didn’t bother me…I was actually glad to see that they were looking out for him…at first.
I remember the first time I brought up race around my mother-in-law. I was studying anthropology in college and there was this girl in one of my classes who swore up and down that she would only date Mexican men. I didn’t get involved in her conversation, but I found it disgusting to listen to her boast about “sampling” many races and deciding that Mexicans make the best “lovers”. I was appalled!
After class I made my usual pit stop to the hubby’s house (then my fiancée) and discussed my shock at the whole situation with him. What I didn’t expect was for my mother-in-law to chime in at this woman’s defense!
“What’s wrong with Mexicans?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said quickly, “It’s just that this woman was seeing them as some sick party favor. She kept saying that she will only date Mexicans and was talking about them as if they were outfits to try on.” Ok…this is where I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but I guess talking about race freely in my classes was giving me wings.
“So, maybe she only likes Mexicans,” she said, “Is there something wrong with that!?”
“Um….yeah.” I told her, starting to get upset. “You don’t pick who you date based on their race. You choose based on love.” Ok, was I being naive here (?)…maybe, but I still feel that way in large part (more below).
“So, I guess you don’t like the fact that my son’s Mexican or you think Mexicans are disgusting? Why would anyone want a Mexican, right?!”
Crap, I was really into it now and she wasn’t letting up. I think that deep down she was hoping that I would break down and confess to being racist and admit that I thought Mexicans were indeed filthy people.
But the problem was, that I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt connected to my soon-to-be hubby’s culture and took this woman’s remarks as a personal attack. I saw her girl as a conquistadora of sorts. She had freely bragged in class about her conquests to “taste the flavors of the rainbow” and gave tips to the other ladies via her experiences with “Latin Lovers”. Ignorance may have blinded me in youth, but I knew this stereotype all too well, and it offended me on many different levels, but mainly, for it’s “exotic” interracial assumptions…the same that refer to white women with black men as partaking in “Jungle Fever”.
But you can see how my MIL might be confused by my position right? Especially since there are some very valid reasons for choosing someone based on their ethnic background…which often coincides with race. At the same time though, my point was to defend Latino men who are often pursued with the ‘Latin Lover’ stereotype in mind, not to point out any inferiority. But, the cultural differences between us and my suegra‘s experiences with racism, especially from whites, made for an interesting and controversial conversation.
The truth is though, that newbie insiders can be trusted…but like the relationship between you and your spouse, a bond of trust has to be nurtured. I understand my suegra being sensitive to race discussions (and my sister-in-law), but I can’t help but resent being lumped in with bigots. I also won’t disagree that being white gives us certain privileges (most often, a lack of awareness of other viewpoints), but for newbies out there who will struggle with understanding both sides of the story from time to time, keep on keepin’ on. You’ll get there. ;)
How about you? How have you dealt with these types of discussions?