When my Irish-American grandfather was a boy, he joined the other neighborhood kids and threw rocks at the window of the laundromat owned and operated by Chinese immigrants. Little did he know that, years later– long after his death, his youngest daughter would marry a Chinese man, that together they would open a martial arts school and share a small piece of Chinese culture in America.
What would my grandfather say if he knew these things were to happen? What would he think of his half-Chinese grandchildren? I wonder, would he have imagined his granddaughter was going to marry a young man who was half-black?
These questions will remain unanswered. I like to assume the best, and take my grandmother as a model for how things would have likely happened if my grandfather had not died when my mother was a little girl.
I recently asked my grandmother, “What did you think when my mom brought home a Chinese boyfriend?”
“I thought he was strange,” she replied, sitting cozy in her recliner, a pink afghan covering her lap. “But not because he was Chinese. He came into the house and your mother was still upstairs, getting ready. Instead of sitting nicely on the sofa, he sat down and stretched on the floor. Then he started kicking– doing kung fu in the living room!”
Somehow this did not surprise me.
My grandmother helped raise me and my brother as she had with all her other grandchildren. My family moved into her house when I was eight, and our nuclear family quickly adapted to include her. Not once did my grandmother say anything about me and Andrew being different, although she did turn her nose up when offered tofu for dinner. She got along with my Nai Nai– my father’s mother– a despite a slight language barrier, my two grandmothers respected each other.
Nai Nai passed away five years ago. By the time Kyle and I decided to get married, my grandmother had lost much of her short term memory. She doesn’t remember that we are getting married in a few weeks, and I don’t try to remind her. I think she can tell that we are happy, and never questioned Kyle’s ethnicity.
Two winters ago, we watched from her window as Kyle made a snowman. He looked up to see us waving, and he grinned back, rolling a ball of snow to create the snowman’s torso.
“He has such a nice smile,” Mum said.
That was enough approval for me.
I like to think that I was brave enough to love someone without needing my family’s approval, but I don’t truly know how I would react if I had come from a different kind of family.
When I told my elderly neighbor– who has known my mother’s family for decades– that Kyle and I were getting married, she stared at me. She said, almost disdainfully, “But your children will come out black.”
I was almost speechless. Mostly I was surprised that she could look at me, know my family, see that we were different from the neighborhood– which remains predominently caucasian, and make such a comment. I guess that’s the thing about ignorance– if you know that you’re ignorant, you probably wouldn’t be ignorant anymore. Probably, hopefully.
I asked her, “So what?”
I want to be able to claim that my otherness, my identity that has grown from two distinct cultures, has given me the ability to not see race. But I don’t think that’s true. If anything, it has made me more self-conscious. My multi-racial identity has been something I have struggled with throughout my life– something that I have needed to reconcile time and time again, forcing me to develop a vocabulary so I can understand who I am and where I fit in this world.
Being in a relationship with someone who is also multi-racial gives me a certain amount of flexibility to explore my racial identity without feeling self-conscious. Kyle understands what it is like to walk between races. He remembers what it was like to sit with the black kids or the white kids at lunch and feel like he fit in either group. He has been asked, countless times, “What are you?”
He always replies, “I’m Kyle. Isn’t that enough?”
It is amazing to think that, until 1967 when Loving v. Virginia led to the constitutional amendment allowing people of different races to marry– that my parents marriage, Kyle’s parents marriage, and our marriage would have been illegal.
But would a marriage between me and Kyle be illegal? We have shared many of the same experiences as multi-racial people– which has become a race in itself. I imagine what it would have been like to try and find a boyfriend who was my exact same race. Finding someone who was also Chinese and Irish– someone who I could get along with and share my life with– would have been almost impossible.
Our love, and our very existence, is a testament to how irrelevant anti-miscegenation laws were to the larger meaning of love. No one could stop me from loving Kyle. But 45 years ago, the government would have stood in our way. People would have judged us as we walked down the street. We would have been denied the fundamental right to be able to build a financially secure life together– or even have our love publicly acknowledged and celebrated with a wedding. I deeply sympathize with the struggles of same-sex couples who are denied these basic rights and fully support the movement for marriage equality.
There was so much media coverage of the Chick-fil-a anti-gay fiasco. The fact that everything in this country– down to a chicken sandwich– has become politicized is nothing short of asinine. As I was walking with a friend the other day, she pointed out, “Everyone is driven by a deep sense of justice.”
I agree with her. We live in a time when people fiercely defend their beliefs, so much that we forget that we share more similarities than differences, and at the end of the day we all wish to return home with a feeling of peace.
We live in a 24-hour news cycle, and Chick-fil-a is quickly becoming irrelevant. Soon people– both liberal and conservative– will move on to the next outrage. But there are people and families who continue to live, denied the same rights as other Americans.
I don’t understand how that is acceptable.
There was a moment last week when I thought, What would it be like, if both candidates in November wanted equal marriage rights. Or both wanted to fight global warming. Or both wanted everyone to pay their fair share of taxes. Imagine that world.
Of course, that is too much to ask. So for now, I want to live in a world that is defined by compassion and respect– or at the very least, tolerance.