As stated in my previous post, I interviewed my cousin, Breanna, concerning her relationship with her Asian fiance, Huan. Just to reiterate, they’ve been together for a total of 15 years. Currently, Huan is a business owner within the field of technology, and Breanna works in human resources. They met while freshman at the University of California, San Diego, and they’ve been together ever since. While doing this interview, I learned a lot about the cultural differences as well as similarities, in addition to realizing how their relationship is interpreted in America as well as oversees. FYI, this a long post, so…get ready :)
Background Information: Breanna’s parents are African-American. Her mother is my mom’s sister, born and raised in Phoenix City, Alabama, and her father is from Maryland. Breanna was born in Decatur, Georgia but raised in Los Angeles, California, and as she stated, “My parents didn’t like being in self-segregation. California is heavily fused culturally and racially.” She also described California as being “free-spirited,” but she appreciated retaining her “southern values” stating, “The south has more formality. The blacks in the south have a better understanding and appreciation for their history and who they are as a race.” On the other hand, Huan’s parents were born in China, and they migrated to California prior to Huan being born. Although he was raised among a variety of races and cultures, he was brought up with strict family and cultural values, which includes no dating outside of the race or the Chinese culture. However, Huan followed his own mind (obviously).
Dealing With Racism: Due to Huan being born in California and being raised around a plethora of races and cultures, Breanna recanted having to inform Huan that America isn’t monolithic; what you see in California is limited to California. This really became known while they were visiting her relatives in Alabama, and she stated, “I have to inform him about the southern culture because he is very naive to it. Since he grew up surrounded by everyone of every race, he thinks everyone gets along, but they don’t. While we were in Alabama for the first time, some White woman yelled at us to get off of her property, but we weren’t on her property. As a matter of fact, we weren’t anywhere near it. I wanted to get out of the area ASAP because we were lost, and I was trying to tell Huan the people down here are different. He had this idealistic view, and this was a shocking moment for him. Here we were, a couple that included a Black woman with an Asian man, and this woman was freaking out on us. She called us some names too; it was horrible. It was new to him, but not to me because I know how the south is.” Unfortunately, their negative experiences weren’t only limited to Alabama; for, Breanna related an event that seems to happen often while in Atlanta when she stated, “While in Atlanta, people say negative things each time we’re out there! The last time we were there, a man rolled down his window of his car, and yelled out, ‘We don’t see that combination down here.’ Huan laughed, but I didn’t find it funny. Surprisingly, in New York, they stare us down. Don’t think New York is all accepting of this combination because it’s not.” Since Huan’s business has him traveling oversees a lot, Breanna accompanies him most of the time, and it was surprising to hear how their relationship is observed. While visiting Morocco and Egypt, Breanna conveyed, “They think he is Japanese and has money, so they treat him with a lot of respect. They don’t think we’re a couple, and that’s due to our race. Yet, the flip side is that I get hit on a lot by their men. This happens more in the islands, such as Puerto Rico. They’re more aggressive, and they do it in front of Huan. Maybe it’s because he is Asian, because I doubt they would do that if he was any other race.
Cultural Similarities / Differences: Breanna noted dating someone of color doesn’t vary much culturally when you come from an ethnic background with cultural values. When asked to divulge more, she stated, “We all want the same things, and the more you learn about someone, the more the cultural differences start to go away. The Chinese culture is family oriented, and the traditional African-American practices are the same way. That was one of the things that attracted him to me was the fact that I value my family so much. Also, food is often used as a way of expression, just like in the African-American community. They eat some of the same foods we eat, but it has a different name. Some of the differences include money and respect. The Chinese culture puts emphasis on building and sharing wealth within the family, whereas African-Americans don’t. Also, saving face is very important, and if one person brings shame on the immediate family, that shame is traveled to the whole family, so respecting the family is very important. Another difference is the food and entertainment. They’re not big on in-home entertainment such as much as African-Americans.” She also mentioned the Chinese culture has a different kind of respect for their environment (i.e. cleanliness), elders, and themselves.
Family Acceptance: This was an imperative part of the interview for me, seeing that Joseph’s parents are having a hard time accepting me due to my race. I wanted to ask her how has she dealt with acceptance, and how do their parents view each other’s families. Breanna began by stating, “He broke away from the family business, and that was partly due to dating me. His parents will never accept me. When we initially started dating, I assumed they would come around, but after 3 years, I was worried. As I stated before, when one person screws up, it brings shame on everyone, and knowing I would be the cause of that was very traumatic for me. They actually tried to get him to break up with me, but he wouldn’t do it. We’re still together, and we’ve made it work.” Hearing that was very touching for me, because I know my cousin, and she is a very strong-willed person. To know this situation almost broke her, I wondered how did she manage to remain in the relationship. Breanna described it by stating, “I dealt with it by affirming to myself that I wasn’t going to allow his parents to stop me from living and loving. His actions far exceed what they perceive. He still takes care of his parents because they’re much older, but he is also his own individual with his own mind and agenda that includes our relationship.” On the flip side, I knew how her parents felt about him, and she confirmed it by revealing, “You know mom and dad are accepting of him. They’re all for equality and acceptance of different races and cultures. They have no problem with Huan.”
Appreciations About Their Relationship: Breanna verbalized having “ah ha” moments with Huan because California has a limited appreciation for Black / African-American cultures, and she stated, “I enjoy being part of the learning process for Huan. He doesn’t know the sociology of various cultures within different parts of America, and it makes me feel good to teach him these things. Even the little things such as Black History Month, the food, the music, etc.” Breanna also noted since she was raised in California for the majority of her life, she appreciates being able to decipher and relate to him since they both have the California background that includes a life filled with knowledge of diversity in cultures and ethnicities. She also stated with humor, “I also have a better appreciation for good Chinese food. A lot of these Chinese food chain restaurants are horrible, and I didn’t realize this until after dating Huan. He will not go into them or want their food in our house.” That last statement reminds me of Joseph so much. He is so anti Olive Garden any just about anything else. I have seen him enjoy and appreciate only two Italian restaurants. Other than that, he is against the “fake Italian food.”
Adjustments In Their Relationship: While dating interracially, you have to make adjustments, and this is more evident when you’re dating someone who has a strong cultural background (I should know because Italians are very, VERY culturally bonded). Breanna conveyed some of the adjustments by stating, “Well, of course I had to adjust to the eating utensils. They use chop sticks a lot, and in my family, we don’t. His family doesn’t do holidays much outside of the Chinese New Year; that’s really big in the Chinese culture. His parents aren’t really religious, and my parents are Baptists, so we’ve had differences in our religious beliefs.” She also candidly mentioned how she had to adjust to him putting her shoes outside because in his culture, shoes don’t belong in the house (she says that used to really piss her off). She noted he had to adjust to how she does her hair since she has always had natural hair, and she stated, “Before dating me, he had never known about pressing hair or how to care for natural African-American hair. He thought my hair just grew out of my head like this.” Being that I’m Joseph’s first girlfriend with natural hair, I can relate to that as well.
Previous Dating Experiences: Now this part of the interview is very honest. My cousin is the type of person that says it like it is, and she wanted to speak from her dating experiences. I started off by asking her if she had dated Black men before, and she responded, “Yes, but in California, you’re lucky to find a black man…a suitable one…out here. They’re scarce, and it was always problematic for me; for, either I was too much of a hippie for them or just too different. The competition is real when you’re being compared to women of other nationalities and races. The last Black guy I dated, who was attending Carnegie Mellon, told me I didn’t fit his style. Either my butt was never big enough or whatever else.” Breanna noted while living in California, people date whomever is “accessible to you,” and she stated, “As a Black woman, you have to date outside of your race or else you will be single.” She further verbalized “Black men don’t really check for Black women due to having a bunch of other options. When I realized that, I sought other options too, and they were interracial relationships.”
Final Words: “You take for granted what you already know about your culture, and you realize this when you date someone of another culture. I’m not going to change who I am, but I am willing to teach Huan who I am, and vice versa with him. While dating interracially, you have to be patient and not get mad at your partner when they don’t know. You have to be willing to teach them, because let’s be real, not everyone knows about your background as much as you.”