Opinion: The Role of Race in South Asian Marriage

Photo Credit: Table 4 Weddings Photography

Photo Credit: Table 4 Weddings Photography

I consider myself very progressive when it comes to issues like race.  In theory, I fully support the idea of interracial marriages.  If love is blind, then it must be colorblind as well.  If an Indian man falls in love with a Latina woman or if a Pakistani woman finds true happiness with an African man – well, why should anyone stop these couples from living happily ever after?

Many of my contemporaries wholeheartedly support the idea of interracial marriage, but the fact remains: it’s still considered extremely controversial in many South Asian homes and communities.  For my family (and many of the families that we interact with on a regular basis), marriage is meant to be a union that joins two people of similar racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds.  I’ve always scoffed at this idea.  To me, things like ethnicity have never been indicators of anything that goes beyond genetic facts, and I’ve always felt that they shouldn’t shape our opinions about who is and who is not suitable for marriage.

But here’s the thing: As I grow older, I’m starting to understand why my parents feel so strongly about me marrying someone from a similar background.  It isn’t about the superficial things — skin tone, a traditional name, the gossiping aunties – it has much more to do with the preservation of our culture.

I’m a child of immigrant parents, and my culture has always been a huge part of my life.  I visit India, the place of my birth, at least once a year.  I eat Indian food often and crave it when I’m away from home.  I wear desi clothes, celebrate the traditions and customs, and even take in the occasional Bollywood movie.  My heritage has been a huge part of my life this far, and I hope that it always is.  I want to raise my children with the same exposure that my parents have given me, and I want them to feel as deeply rooted in their cultural identity as I’ve always felt.  Despite the fact that I’ve always felt that interracial marriages should be less of a cultural taboo, even I have to agree: keeping this culture identity alive will be much easier for me if I marry someone of the same race – and, more importantly, someone with a similar attachment to this amazing culture.

Let’s face it: Being able to truly understand and embody a culture takes a lifetime of immersion.

This isn’t something that is unique to South Asian culture; so many friends of mine struggle every day to accept the fact that they may not be in their happy and secure interracial relationships forever.  But I have to wonder — is the inability to accept an interracial marriage a thing of our parents’ generation?  I have every reason to believe that it might be.

For one thing, each generation will presumably become more liberal-minded, more willing to break down racial limitations.  And while this isn’t a bad thing at all, I worry if the importance of cultural identity in America will simply fade away.  Already I fear that the ties to heritage will dwindle as many of us raise our children as second-generation Americans.

Without the immigrant experience behind us, our ability to pass on an authentic understanding of our countries (and all the things that go to make them what they are) is compromised.

Perhaps by working so hard to preserve the structure of the racially homogenous family, traditional South Asian parents are trying to avoid the prospect of a completely homogenous America.  That is to say, maybe the eventual outcome of rampant interracial marriages is a country that boasts no existing cultural differences.  Sure, this may seem ideal — it may extinguish the stereotypes, the conflicts, the hostilities – but much of America’s appeal is that it is made up of so many different cultures.  To change this would be to alter the entire essence of our country, and while there are certainly elements of good in this model, it’s a difficult concept for me to fully grasp.

So am I saying that I’ve changed my mind, and that I now feel that interracial marriages shouldn’t happen?  Not at all.  In a perfect world, we would all be with whomever we choose, and issues like race and religion would not factor into this at all. But as much as I wish that we lived in this kind of world, the truth is that we don’t, and sometimes in interracial marriages, things get lost in translation.

There are people out there who could never see themselves entering this kind of partnership, and there are others who feel that race should never matter – and after carefully considering the complications that interracial marriages may create, I’ve started to believe that neither view is wrong.  Eventually it’s a choice that we all must make based on what we feel is best for our lives, families, and futures – but I definitely feel that there are two sides to this argument, and that they’re both worth examining.

Zara Husaini is a contributing writer to Divanee.com.

  • nadia

    great article! very well written and this is def an interesting and thought provoking topic!

  • Samar

    As someone in an “inter-racial marriage” I can say with confidence it hasn’t hindered the celebration of my Pakistani heritage. My Irish husband has accompanied me on every annual trip to Karachi (as I do for his trips to Ireland), happily eats Pakistani food every single night, and is the one insisting our baby due in Sept be spoken exclusively to in Urdu by me so she grows up bilingual. Perhaps instead of looking at this as an issue of” to marry in or out of the community”, one should look at the individual one is choosing. There are plenty of South Asians who wouldn’t do the above and plenty of non-South Asians who would. Choose whomever you fit best with and part of that will be an understanding of the importance of your heritage and family in your life.

  • http://www.zainlodhia.com Z-L

    I agree, definitely a well written article that explores the benefits of both paths a person can take when entering that stage of their life. Culture is a beautiful thing, but sometimes the lines that allow us to use it as a way to celebrate our diversity blur too easily with the ones that make us focus on our differences in a negative manner.

    If a person comes across a potential “someone” who is compatible and understanding of who they are and where they come from, there should be no hesitation in at least exploring the option. Maintaining cultural identity is important, but it’s reflection in our personalities comes from how much we identify with it to begin with. Those who strongly identify with their particular culture will probably go on to make sure that identity is maintained while others will explore options which naturally appeal to them. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. If you make a decision you are truly comfortable with, you will find happiness and satisfaction in it and so will the people who care about you.

  • fa

    I too am one-half of an interracial couple and my Blackamerican husband is very supportive of Desi culture. However, i do find myself agreeing with this article – preservation of culture is important and is much much harder to do with someone of a different race/ethnicity. The same goes for the other person – my husband very much wants our children to understand their blackness and their African-American heritage. He’s going to have to work twice as hard as am I. I am in a very happy marriage, but my advice for the youth going forward is to think twice. You might be more desi than you think you are.

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