When it comes to dating, most people find their partners through a dating app or social media. But what was it like to find your life partner before the internet?
My parents have been in an interracial marriage for the past 30 years, and they have a truly unique love story that started with a chance encounter with a complete stranger.
Just to give you a little bit of background, my father is Caucasian and lived in the United States while my Chinese mother lived in Singapore. Despite geographical barriers and cultural differences, they made a miraculous connection in the 1980s and are still happily married today.
This video is a tribute to their love story and how they met. I hope their story can bring encouragement to all of us. Our YouTube channel is about the unique experiences as a (Chinese + American + Indian) multicultural family living in Singapore.
While recently watching the new PBS series Asian Americans, which premiered earlier this month, I learned about a fascinating couple — an Indian immigrant to the US named Moksad Ali, who married an African American named Ella Blackman in 1895 in New Orleans, USA.
According to Vivek Bald, an associate professor of writing and digital media at MIT with an interest in the South Asian diaspora in the US, Moksad Ali represents one of the earliest migrations of South Asian immigrants to the East Coast — people who were mainly Muslim men who hailed from the Hooghly region north of Calcutta and worked as silk traders.
Vivek: The peddler network in some ways has gone under the radar because that group was so transient. The majority of men who were peddling would come during the summer months to New Jersey to the seaside resorts and then make their way south to winter tourist towns. Moksad Ali was one of the earliest to settle in New Orleans.
Moksad Ali and the other peddlers, in order to sell their goods, they played up their South Asian-ness, their Indian-ness. They played to the fantasies of the exotic East that the tourists who they were selling to expected.
At the end of the day, however, they were dark-skinned men in a deeply segregated society. And the places were they were able to live, build homes, marry and begin families were within African American communities.
Moksad Ali settled in New Orleans around the same time as Jainal Abdeen and married a local African American woman, Ella Blackman. Ella’s family had come to New Orleans from other parts of the South in the years before and after the Civil War. Her father’s side came from Tennessee, her mother’s from Virginia. Moksad and Ella married in May 1895, when Ella was seven months pregnant with their first child, Monzure. On Monzure’s July 12 birth certificate, Moksad Ali listed his occupation as “silk merchant” and penned a clear but labored signature in Roman/English cursive letters.
In the series Asian Americans, Vivek Bald also builds on the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman by speaking with the descendents of the couple, including in this exchange:
Robin (Descendant): I can recall my grandmother telling me a story about when they were small that her and her dad and mother went to New York on the train. The kids and the father was all allowed to sit up in the front of the train, but my grandmother had to sit in the back and she said, well, it wasn’t that she looked black. It was the fact that they knew she was black.
I said, well that’s odd because some of the kids’ skin complexion is darker than my grandmother’s. So, I thought that was really weird, but…
Vivek: Moksad was darker than your grandmother.
Watch a portion of the Moksad Ali-Ella Blackman story in this clip from the PBS series Asian Americans:
Or, view the entire segment on Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman in the first episode of Asian Americans (video only available to viewers in the US):
What do you think about the story of Moksad Ali and Ella Blackman?
People often say that to understand the present, you have to look at the past. That’s why I started my AMWF History series, to examine interracial relationships between Asian men and non-Asian women in earlier times.
So today, I’m revisiting some rather telling quotes from posts I’ve featured for AMWF History, in an effort to raise awareness about how people have talked about Asian men in interracial relationships years ago.
As I compiled this post, I found it disconcerting (but not surprising) that a number of the opinions described below still endure, including in dark corners of the internet. A lot of people still believe interracial love is wrong.
This list of quotes is by no means comprehensive. So please, sound off in the comments with your examples too — let’s continue the conversation together.
The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.
She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.
It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…
They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.
Quong asked Margaret’s father, George Scarlett, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though he was a friend of Quong’s, George refused. Quong Tart and Margaret waited until the day after her twenty-first birthday, on 30 August 1886, and married anyway. Quong was then thirty-six. The appearance of grandchildren eventually reconciled Margaret’s parents to their daughter’s marriage.
Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned her. How could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again.
Aunt Sanora told me that on one particular occasion when they were going out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, a woman had taken the time to follow them to the entrance of the establishment. As she harassed the two of them for being together, Aunt Sanora took the woman’s hat and tossed it in the gutter. Aunt Sanora remembers this woman chasing the hat down the sewer drain exclaiming, “My $100 hat!” When the miscegenation laws were repealed, it took them three days to find a judge who would marry them. When they finally did, the judge remarked, “She looks old enough. If she wants to marry a chink, that’s her business.”
Lotte fell in love with Anton Maramis, a Manadonese petty officer, and married him with her family’s support, although she battled much antagonism from the broader Australian public she encountered. Many other young Australian women faced strong opposition from families and friends to the decisions they made to marry their Indonesian fiancés and return with them to their homes once Independence had been declared.
Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.
What quotes have you come across about how people in the past thought of interracial relationships with Asian men?
A few weeks ago, a fan wrote to me asking, “Do you and Jun ever fight?” She mentioned fighting on occasion in her own intercultural relationship — her husband’s Chinese, she’s a non-Asian woman from a Western country — and sometimes it was not easy for her to resolve the tension because they had different ways of arguing. While she wanted to talk it out, he just stonewalled her.
One thing I’ve never written about is that, in some ways, movies have helped us overcome fights and open up conversations, especially about cultural differences that could potentially cause a snag or too in a relationship. Call it my intercultural love hack, #108.
I’ve always been a huge fan of romantic comedies on TV and the big screen, which meant my husband and I would often watch them when we declared it a “movie night” (or “TV night”). In the early years of our relationship, we lived together in China, and at the time I was desperately missing my home country of America. Movies were a way for me to vicariously visit the US in the comfort of my own home, so I often chose titles set in America. And hey, it was great for both of us, since English is my native language and Jun’s second language.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in choosing these English-language romantic comedies from America, I was inadvertently schooling Jun in dating and relationship culture in the US.
See, Jun and I had met in China, and while he’d studied European-American culture in college, he’d never traveled or lived outside the country before we met. Meanwhile, my two years of living in China, plus previous relationships with Chinese guys, gave me a leg up that he didn’t have when it came to my culture. (I’m the first and only woman he has ever dated, so it’s not like he had other women, or even foreign women, to compare with me.)
But movies stepped in to fill the gap, in ways I never anticipated.
The thing that first caught his eye in American movies? Kissing in public. Name me a romantic comedy from the US and there’s a more than 90 percent chance the couple ends up locking lips among a crowd of people (often their friends or family), and probably a more than 50 percent chance that said crowd showers them with applause. It was fascinating to Jun because…well…that’s not how it’s done where he grew up, where people prefer to kiss in more private places and spaces. And so it opened up a whole conversation about public displays of affection, and differences between our respective countries and cultures.
But of course, all movies – even romantic comedies – thrive on tension and drama. Which means many, many films had couples arguing about all sorts of things. Even stuff that was eerily similar to things we might have been hashing out on our own.
Here’s the thing, though. When you see people fighting about something that you’ve encountered, but it’s in a movie, it gives you a certain distance to talk about it in a more nonjudgmental way. It’s not the two of you doing it, it’s the characters.
Not everything is about culture, either. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personality too. But either way, seeing it reflected on screen can provide an opening to talk, where you’re discussing the characters instead of fingering the other person.
It’s also really helpful if you can find examples that encompass each of your respective “argument styles”, because everyone has a different approach. Bonus if they portray the fights in a humorous way, so then the two of you can laugh at them (and hopefully, later on, yourselves).
While watching a movie won’t magically solve all your intercultural marital woes, it could raise the kind of awareness — cultural and otherwise — that opens up possibilities for resolution and understanding. Plus, it’s fun and who wouldn’t want an additional excuse to prop up their legs, bring out the popcorn and declare it a movie night?
So maybe that old cliche should be updated to, “The couple who watches movies together, stays together”?
What do you think? Have you found movies to be a beneficial way of encouraging mutual understanding across cultural or racial lines?
In particular, the statistics on Asian Male/White Female (AMWF) couples appeared rather alarming. Based on data from the 2008 study, AMWF marriages had a 59 percent greater chance of ending in divorce.
Granted, this wasn’t as high as the divorce rate for marriages between Black men and White women, deemed 200 percent more likely to split. But it also didn’t compare favorably with White Male/Asian Female (WMAF) marriages, with only a 4 percent likelihood of divorce.
So was the data illustrated in the “cute, handy chart” right about interracial marriages of Asian men and White women? Are our relationships really that vulnerable to divorce?
The short answer is, not necessarily.
Driven by curiosity, I headed over to the very Wikipedia article the Thought Catalog piece referenced to look at the section on marital instability among interracial and same-race couples.
In this 2009 study, Asian-White marriages were the least likely interracial pairing to result in divorce, with even lower divorce rates than White-White marriages.
Or, as the authors of the 2009 study put it, “Mixed marriages involving Blacks were the least stable followed by Hispanics, whereas mixed marriages involving Asians were even more stable than endogamous White marriages.”
I was stunned.
Why did the author of the Thought Catalog article and subsequent “cute, handy chart” ignore the 2009 data?
Well, it’s true the data wasn’t in Wikipedia when he was working on his article. (See screenshots of the page for Feb 13, 2014 and July 14, 2014 as proof.) But seeing as the 2009 study was already published and available in 2014, you can’t blame this on a Wikipedia omission alone.
And while we could sit around and ponder why the author of the Thought Catalog failed to do his due diligence on the subject of interracial divorce, I feel that his “cute, handy charts” (which probably should be renamed “cute, misleading charts”) are symbolic of our human tendency to want black and white answers, even when the reality isn’t so clear cut and conclusive.
Research on the outcomes of interracial relationships is inconclusive, with some evidence showing that Asian-White relationships are at less risk for relationship dissolution. Some research on interracial romantic relationships has found that interracial relationships involving Whites and Asians do not necessarily have worse outcomes than their same-race counterparts (Gaines & Agnew, 2003; Gaines et ah, 1999; Troy et al., 2006), challenging the long held notion of relationship dysfunction among interracial couples (Bratter & Eschbach, 2006; Bratter & King, 2008; Eeckhaut, Lievens, Van de Putte, & Lusyne, 2011; Heaton, 2002; Zhang & Van Hook, 2009).
In other words, you shouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions about interracial divorce rates — or worse, enshrine them in potentially deceptive charts — including when it comes to Asian-White couples.
If you asked me what graphical illustration I’d use to represent the outcomes of interracial marriages, I’d say this is more on target:
When it comes to interracial marriages and divorce, we need more people asking the right questions — and less people coming to simplistic conclusions.
What do you think?
P.S.: The data above come from studies on interracial couples in the US. Still, for anyone wondering about interracial marriages and divorce in China, there doesn’t appear to be enough evidence to conclude, as people often do, that divorce is necessarily more likely.
As Figure 3 below shows, the number of divorces registered between mainland Chinese citizens and foreign nationals rose from around 80 couples in 1979 to over 1,000 couples in 2000. That figure increased to over 3,000 couples in 2003, before skyrocketing to nearly 9,500 couples in 2008. It then decreased to around 5,700 couples in 2010.
This decline is consistent with the fall in the number of Chinese-foreign marriages registered in mainland China starting in the early 2000s. The PRC’s Ministry of Civil Affairs began to disaggregate Chinese-foreign divorce statistics in 2005, by including separate figures for those involving ‘waiguoren’. Unsurprisingly, given the higher proportion of other categories of Chinese-foreign marriage until recently, most divorces relate to the ‘Chinese’ categories of Chinese-foreign marriage.
In other words, the divorce rate appears consistent with the rate of Chinese-foreign marriages registered in China, and the authors believe that many of these divorces are still between people of the same race and ethnicity.
* I’ve intentionally chosen not to link to the WeChat article I referenced, but if you absolutely must see it for yourself, search for the official account for HiTouch艾达旗 and check their articles in the past few weeks.
Recently, I awoke to a powerful headline in the China Daily:
Determination is everything
The headline accompanied a group of photos underlining elite athletes’ perseverance in the world of sports. But I found myself so inspired by the phrase that I used a pair of scissors to cut it out of the paper and asked my husband to paste it on a door in our apartment.
Given the determination we’ve had to summon in the past several years to fight against a grave injustice (a fight that is still ongoing as I write this), it was inspiring and comforting to read these words, to be reminded of the power of sticking with it even when times are tough.
But as I pondered the phrase, I also recognized that it could apply to interracial relationships, including what I’ve experienced and observed among interracial couples here in China.
Longtime readers of this blog will recall what happened many years ago when Jun and I first began dating, and he returned home to share the news about his new girlfriend from America. His father said, “You can be friends with a foreign girl, but not date her.”
You can imagine, then, that when I once again encountered this response from Jun’s father, I thought our relationship was done. It was as if a parent merely uttering any rejection toward dating a foreign woman would automatically set in motion a cascade of events that inexorably led to breakup.
Except, in our case, it didn’t.
Jun just shrugged his shoulders, as if his father had merely offered an opinion on the latest news or one of their neighbors. It didn’t matter to Jun that his father disagreed with him about dating me. Jun was going to date me anyway.
He was determined to date me. So we stayed together, and eventually got married.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to connect with and meet many other women like myself, who were not Asian and happened to date or marry Asian men. And what I’ve found is that many of them have very similar stories, with their beloved’s parents voicing some kind of opposition to the relationship. But they persisted, they stayed together and everything turned out OK too.
I’m also reminded of the many stories I’ve read of other interracial couples, who had to navigate all sorts of landmines before they eventually made it to their wedding vows, and more than just a statement that it’s not good to date someone. Things like friends who reject your partner, racial epithets from strangers who happen to see you and, worst of all, family who decide to disown you. I’ve read stories of couples so deeply committed that being shunned and even disowned by their families didn’t stop them from moving forward in a life together.
Now I’m not saying that determination is the answer for everyone. Sometimes we’re faced with really tough choices when we date differently, and not everyone can afford to risk a rupture for life with their families.
At the same time, I’ve also learned that there’s a difference between families who would outright expel you for your choice to date outside cultural and/or racial borders, versus families who might not initially welcome it (but could warm up to your presence, over time). And in the latter, a strong dose of determination by a couple could decide whether the two of you end up together in a glossy wedding photo – or apart, writing out the painful history of what went wrong in a diary.
What do you think? Do you believe determination is everything, even in interracial relationships?
So what about me? What does Loving v. Virginia mean to me?
You might think, since I’m in an interracial marriage, the answer is obvious: the right to love and marry anyone, regardless of race. Of course, I must acknowledge this. Without Loving v. Virginia, the United States would never have recognized my marriage to Jun as lawful.
But Loving v. Virginia means a lot more to me than just the right to love.
It means courage. The courage to move forward with what you know is right in your heart, even if the law isn’t on your side just yet. The courage to battle that injustice, all the way to the nation’s highest court.
It means determination. The determination to fight injustice, even if it means waiting years (or nearly a decade) for the relief you know you deserve.
It means sacrifice. The sacrifice that comes from two people so committed to staying together that you’re willing to risk jail time and penalties, and even willing to move far away from family just to remain a couple.
While interracial couples in America and the world over honor Richard and Mildred Loving, the historic Supreme Court decision bearing their name is only the beginning.
There is still so much injustice in our world, and there are still reasons for interracial couples to seek redress through the US Court system. I should know, because my husband and I are currently doing just that. When I look back on the day we first filed our lawsuit, in light of this upcoming anniversary of Loving Day, I remember that Richard and Mildred Loving made it possible for Jun and I to fight this unfathomable injustice together, as a legitimate couple. Their indomitable spirit and determination inspire me every day.
They proved there’s enormous power in Loving, together.
The other night, I received a frantic message from one of my closest friends back home. “I’m getting divorced,” she typed to me in an online chat.
It was the culmination of years of troubles brewing between her and her husband. They had fought over their beliefs. She was fed up with how almost all the domestic and child-rearing responsibilities were on her shoulders, despite the fact that she too had a full-time job. She also had it with her husband, who was turning out to be another child to manage instead of a source of support. Therapy had failed to resolve a single thing.
Did I mention she and her soon-to-be-ex-husband are both white Americans, with similar cultural backgrounds?
I wasn’t surprised she filed for divorce. So many of our recent conversations had revolved around the growing rift between her and her husband. There was always a tension lurking in the background, the feeling that things were slowly unraveling between the two of them with every confession of how he just didn’t get it…and probably never would.
So much is written about the vulnerability of intercultural and international couples, that we’re supposedly more likely to divorce. While new studies suggest this just isn’t true, a lot of people still believe you’re better off marrying someone from your own culture/country.
Or rather, that marrying someone from your culture/country will guarantee happiness and stability.
My friend’s story, however, doesn’t fit that narrative.
I remember my curious feeling when I discovered the link in my Google Analytics. What website is that? I figured it was just something new.
So imagine my shock when I clicked on the link and found my blog discussed in vile terms online. They called me, along with every other white woman choosing to marry a Chinese man, a “traitor” and “trash”.
The Southern Poverty Law Center website confirmed my suspicions – that, indeed, a white supremacist website had linked to my blog.
This wasn’t anything new. This was hatred, pure and simple – a hatred older than most of us want to admit.
So what does it mean when a white supremacist website links to your blog about interracial love? It means you’ve hit a nerve with some of the worst racists on the planet.
I don’t usually write about these things. Like most of you, I would rather live in the light than the dark. I would rather turn my head away from evil.
But the recent alarming uptick in hate crimes, including those by white supremacists, makes me no longer want to keep silent. Whenever we stay silent about these things, we give more power to those who do harm.
No matter what you thought, racism hasn’t ended. It is still here – it always was. The Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving versus Virginia didn’t magically turn America into a country where everyone embraced interracial marriage. A lot of people still don’t.
A lot of people still think interracial love is wrong.
There was a time when I used to think blogging about interracial love was just about promoting diversity and understanding. But now I think it’s so much more – it’s about combating hatred too.
So if you’re blogging about interracial love, just consider that every post you publish is a bold statement in support of interracial couples everywhere. Let’s support love, together.
Officer Travers brought to the city prison at 12:30 o’clock this morning a Chinaman on whose arm whose was hanging a pretty young girl of some twenty summers. The couple proved to be no others than Wong Suey Wong and Sarah Burke. The arrest was made at 728 Jackson Street, a house of ill-fame, being the abode of several Celestial courtesans. Here Sarah Burke was found, in one of the upper rooms, in a bed completely hidden by sheets used as curtains. At the police station she said that she had gone to the house on Tuesday last, knowing that it was a house of ill-fame, but not caring, since in a day or two she would be legally married to the choice of her heart, with whom she has been living for the past five months. On being parted from her Chinese lover she squeezed his hand, which he returned with equal fervor. In the Chinaman’s pocket was found, besides a receipted bill for a bed and a spring mattress, a photograph of his fair amorata, from which he parted with evident reluctance. He was charged with felony in having lodged a girl under age in a house of ill-fame, while she was booked for residing in a house of prostitution.
In other words, the authorities dredged up some pretextual reasons to throw them in jail, since they didn’t like the idea of a Chinese man and a white woman being in love.
And if you had any doubt as to how people felt about a relationship like this in those days, well, read the first line of the April 8, 1883 story in the San Francisco Chronicle follows on 8 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com):
Sarah Burke, who has unalterably set her mind upon a disgusting marriage with a Chinese laundryman, acknowledged that she had passed a dismally and frigidly cold night in prison on Friday. Wong Suey Wong, her Mongolian fiancée, coincided in this experience. About 11 o’clock yesterday morning some of the pair’s Chinese friends obtained the release of the couple on bonds in $100 each.
This April 8, 1883 story highlights the challenges the couple faced in trying to marry, noting, “…it was fortunately discovered that for decency’s sake a marriage between a white and an Indian, mulatto or Mongolian, was prohibited and therefore the County Clerk could issue no marriage license.” Sarah and Wong’s only options were a marriage under a civil contract or a marriage without a marriage license.
But it gets worse when Sarah’s father attempted to have her committed to an institution for insanity, “who deemed the fact of her infatuation for a repulsive Chinese sufficient grounds for believing that she had lost her reason.” Ugh!
The father testified that his daughter had always been possessed of ordinary common sense until about the first of last January, when she conceived her unhallowed desire to wed Wong Suey, since which she had acted as though possessed of the Infernal One. He had never had any reason to doubt that she was a chaste and moral girl until now. Sarah Isabella was also examined. She again reiterated her love for Wong Sue, and desires to marry him….
The Commissioners, however, concluded that they could not commit the girl as insane. She was evidently suffering from a moral eclipse, but her mental trouble did not, in their opinion, come within the meaning of the law….
The story even chronicles how “a stalwart policeman grabbed Wong by the nape of the neck and small of the back, and hurled him into the hallway adjoining the Commission” after Wong entered the room and embraced Sarah. Horrible!
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