Introduction

It’s natural to judge by appearances. Humankind’s tendency to quickly determine whether someone is white, black, Asian, or Latino has pervaded daily living, seeping into the media, education and entertainment industries. Nonetheless, as therapists we know people want to be understood and accepted for the many cultures, ethnicities and regional experiences that make up the whole of their person. In today’s multicultural landscape, first impressions no longer suffice.

Our mission in Mixed Blessings is to delve into the heart of what it means to be a multicultural, multiethnic couple. We will look at educational self-help aspects of themes we have encountered in our collective fifty years as counselors, and we will highlight these relationship issues using examples based on real life.

We are neither academics nor formal researchers, yet between the two of us we have lived and traveled across the globe and resided in several regions of the United States. We are conversational in multiple languages. We know what it means to live and work across cultures and ethnicities and the wherewithal it takes to thrive. Included are our own personal stories that describe our separate paths and the drive that led us to write this book.

The structure of Mixed Blessings includes two parts and a resource section. Part One is what we in the counseling field call ‘psycho-education.’ That means we will look at the big picture of couple issues using developmental, socio-cultural and anthropological concepts. This is complex stuff. It might tangle your brain in knots. You may want to read it again after reading Part Two, to put it all together in a way that works for you. In the end, we hope the psycho-educational information can be a validation, a welcome relief, a life raft, or a reference on your relationship journey.

Part Two is a collection of twelve stories told in the voices of twelve fictionalized couples from a variety of cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, educational and life experiences. All of the stories are inspired by actual relationship challenges couples have brought to our offices. In each of the couples’ stories we have added counselors’ perspectives that proved helpful and thoughts on ways to apply them in your own relationship.

Part Three of Mixed Blessings is a non-exhaustive resource section. There is so much out there to discover in libraries and on the Internet that we can’t begin to include it all. These resources are a few of our favorites and we have used them successfully over the years. We hope you find them useful.

To get started, we introduce you to nine couples living Mixed Blessings. Each couple offers different perspectives on what it is to be a multicultural or multiethnic couple. Their diversity is precisely what we celebrate and explore throughout the book.

Keeping the Faith: Karen and Glen

Karen and Glen married in their early 50’s, much to the chagrin of their grown children. The wedding was small, a celebration with friends with a potluck at home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Before their second anniversary, Glen’s employer went bankrupt. Glen’s brother-in-law offered him a job in Salt Lake City, Glen’s hometown. After the move, Karen was put off by Glen’s extended family’s aggressive attempts to convert her to the Mormon faith. Glen, never really devout, became cranky, saying, “I love you; why are you so defensive and threatened by Salt Lake and my family?”

Shadows of the Past: Valerie and Tim

Valerie emigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with her parents and siblings when she was four, settling in a large Korean émigré community in Southern California. Tim is a doctor’s son from Pennsylvania whose ethnic heritage is primarily Pennsylvania Dutch, German and Scottish. Tim and Valerie met in college, originally drawn to each other by their many differences. As their relationship deepened they discovered that their similarities ran deeper than their differences. They reflect that comments and questions from friends and family focus on their differences, and it annoys them.

We Are More Than What You See: Janette and Raul

Janette’s French-Canadian parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970’s. Her husband Raul is Brazilian with dark skin and is often mistaken for a black American. Janette considers herself bicultural after growing up in the U.S. and visiting Montreal in the summers, speaking French at home and English outside the home. She says, “I am also multiethnic because I am a Jew in Seattle, WA, where I am a minority. My husband and I consider ourselves multicultural. We think we know who we are, but explaining our couple identity to others is pretty crazy-making.”

A Sense of Place Makes the Connection: Lucy and Robert

Robert is from Nebraska and Lucy is from Iowa. They met in the U.S. Army. They identify as multiracial but not multicultural. Robert likes to say their ‘culture’ brought them together. “We bonded as middle class farmers from the Midwest. I found my comfort zone with Lucy. We could talk about moving back to Nebraska to farm and raise kids. According to Lucy, “In our community everyone knows and respects us. Being a biracial couple has not been a problem. Outside our community can be a different thing altogether.”

First Generation Immigrants: Gaurav and Roni

Gaurav and Roni married through a traditional family arrangement in New Delhi and immigrated to the U.S. in 1980. Both feel as though they belong in two places. They consider India their homeland and are committed to their children knowing extended family. Gaurev says this about the finances of traveling abroad: “Often the travel has been a financial sacrifice and meant we didn’t have other kinds of family vacations. We are comfortable in both countries and sometimes not comfortable in either. Today we switch easily between customs and languages.” Roni talks about feeling more comfortable with other couples who, according to her, “understand the experience of moving between two cultural worlds.”

Second Generation Immigrants: Anil and Lena

Anil is Gaurev and Roni’s twenty-seven-year-old son. His fiancée is Lena, whose mother is Swedish-American and whose father is from Calcutta, India, a different region altogether than the one in which Anil developed his understanding of Indian culture. Anil and Lena consider themselves multiethnic and multicultural. Anil has a different view on being bicultural than his parents. “I consider myself an American first and I have a greater comfort in the U.S. culture than that of India. I have great love for some of my Indian heritage, yet there are philosophical and cultural differences between my parents and me – the big one being marrying for love.”

First and Third Generation Immigrants: Eric and Ling

Eric is third generation American-Chinese. Ling is a Chinese citizen and has lived in the U.S. for eight years. They started out as colleagues and friends at work. Their relationship became serious, and when they announced their engagement their families were thrilled. Ling says, “When we told my parents in Singapore and Eric’s parents in San Francisco they were happy to discover our family roots are from the same region of China. Everyone thought this a fortuitous sign for a happy marriage.” Ling had thought she was acculturated, but in marrying an American-Chinese she discovered, in fact, she was Chinese and Eric was American. She says, “We are ethnically similar and culturally diverse.”

Cultural Identity, Appearance and Loss: Jennifer, Anders and Hana

When Jennifer Chou married Anders Sondheim in 1982 they hyphenated their last names, content their daughter, Hana, would carry both cultural surname legacies into the world. Last year Hana married a Spaniard, Javier Garcia de Costa. Hana couldn’t imagine introducing herself as Hana Chou-Sondheim-Garcia de Costa with a straight face, so she took Javier’s surname. Hana also told her mother Jennifer that a twenty first century woman doesn’t lose her identity by taking her husband’s surname. Next month Hana and Javier are expecting their first child. Jennifer is thrilled to be a grandmother but also a little sad, remarking, “There are no sons in my generation so there is no one left to carry on my family’s surname. I also wonder if my grandbaby will look like me at all.”

Social Class: Anna Maria and Eduardo

Anna Maria is first-generation Mexican-American, raised by migrant farm workers. Eduardo is from an upper class Argentine family. Family politics have been a big challenge for them as early as their wedding day, when the differences in their social classes created a scene. According to Anna Maria, they had talked about eloping, but as the youngest of four kids and the only girl she knew it would break her mother’s heart. Of being shocked at the wedding, she says, “When Eduardo’s extended family arrived in their fancy cars, loaded with jewelry and an entourage of nannies to mind the grandchildren, my family and friends at our little community church were upset.” The couple relates that it helps when they talk about social class as being the way they are bicultural.

Join us and step back to explore the dynamics of culture, social class, social context and family experiences that shape each partner in multicultural, multiethnic relationships. If you are in a mixed cultural, multiethnic relationship of any kind, you are the child of parents in a mixed ethnic, multicultural relationship, or you are a teacher, counselor, physician, nurse, attorney, or other type of helping professional who works with couples today, this book is for you.

 

Part One: Code Switching Chapter

 

Part Two: Angie and Francois Chapter