AMWF History: Sarah Burke and Wong Suey Wong, Arrested in 1883 USA (For Love)

A Chinese American man.
A Chinese American man circa late 1800s/early 1900s.

Chances are, if you’ve ever been in an interracial or intercultural relationship, you’ve experienced your share of negative comments or racist remarks.

But at least you’ve never been arrested, like Sarah Burke and Wong Suey Wong were in San Francisco, California in 1883. That’s just one year after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.

Here’s the initial story from the San Francisco Chronicle, 7 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com):

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.

(As shocking as this sounds, it reminds me of the restrictions the US had placed on same-sex couples. Hard to believe the US Supreme Court only legalized marriage equality just last year!)

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!

Here’s the story in the San Francisco Bulletin 12 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com):

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!

Fortunately, all charges were dismissed against Sarah Burke, and the couple were married by Reverend Mr. Vrooman.

But did they live happily ever after? Hard to say in the late 1800s in America, a world filled with hostility for interracial couples.

What do you think?

P.S.: Thanks to Tony of Frederickbee.com for tipping me off to this story and offering a wonderful repository of information at his website.

I’m always on the lookout for more AMWF history. If you know of a couple or story you’d like me to spotlight, contact me today.

People Who Feel Like They Own the Opposite Sex of Their Race and Culture

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This photo of a marriage registration in Beijing was taken two days before the woman was stabbed to death by a Chinese man who hated Americans. I wondered, did he mean “American men” by that, and was he another example of someone who thinks they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture?

It’s funny how things in life mysteriously collide – that two seemingly unrelated events I’ve heard about recently actually have something in common. Specifically, the concept of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race or culture.

The first is the stabbing murder of an innocent Chinese woman in Beijing just married to a French man, a confirmed hate crime prompting my recent post, Is Beijing Becoming Dangerous for Couples of Foreign Men and Chinese Women?

In the discussion in the comments section, I noticed that people started linking this murder to the idea of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race/culture. See this comment from A. Madhavan:

I can’t help but notice the deep misogyny in this murder – many times when we date out of our race/nationality, men of our race will try to “claim” us and shame us for dating/marrying outside of it. As if we are pieces of property and only belong to them. I have seen this happen with white men to white women; black men to black women; Indian men to Indian woman – how dare a [sic] we women marry outside her race and have complete autonomy over our decisions? It is threatening to A LOT of people…

And this comment from R Zhao:

This sometimes happens in America, too. It happened to me when I was dating a black American man. I was accused by a small group of black women (who I didn’t know) of “taking one of theirs.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think there is a lot of frustration. Black women face a lot of discrimination while dating and have a significant smaller dating pool than white women do because of cross-race dating preferences. This happens to Asian men as well.

To be sure, there is a shortage of women here in China because of the gender imbalance, leading to a growing population of unmarried bachelors in China’s countryside known as “bare branches”. According to this article from Tea Leaf Nation, “an estimated 12 to 15 percent of Chinese men — a population nearly the size of Texas — will be unable to find a mate within the next seven years.” Personally, I’ve even heard Chinese men who lament that China is “exporting” far too many of its women overseas.

The Shanghaiist confirms in a recent story that the Sanlitun killer “said he ‘hated Americans’ before attacking Chinese-French couple in Beijing,” specifically asking the woman’s husband if he was an American before stabbing him and his wife. And while it’s never explicitly stated, I can’t help but wonder, does this man represent the anger and frustration of millions who feel a certain entitlement to Chinese women over foreigners because of the shrinking dating pool?

Obviously, this is an incredibly complicated and potentially delicate issue, depending on who you are and whether you’re one of the folks facing a more limited dating pool simply because of your race and/or culture.

What’s your take on this? What do you think about the idea of people who think they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture? Is it ever justified? Sound off in the comments.

UPDATE: I’ve edited this post because that some of the content was inappropriate and insensitive towards the Jewish community. I made some poor choices in what I had written and failed to consider how my words might actually come across to readers (including the individuals I had specifically mentioned in this post). I want to apologize for this mistake.

Thank you to those people who were courageous enough to reach out to me to point out the errors in the original content. I wanted to append this apology to let you know I’ve learned a tremendous lesson in the importance of being sensitive about how groups of people are portrayed on this blog, as well as what should and should not be quoted in posts. 

3 Myths About Failed Interracial & Intercultural Relationships

(Photo by siti fatimah via Flickr.com)
(Photo by siti fatimah via Flickr.com)

“Oh, I knew it would never work out…”

It’s a familiar phrase we’ve all heard time and again applied to relationships that failed. He wasn’t good enough for her. She couldn’t commit to anyone. They were always arguing.

But what if someone says this ONLY because it was an interracial and intercultural relationship?

Yikes.

Yes, when you choose to date outside the lines, even your breakup attracts a level of scrutiny that nobody should have to endure during this painful time.

What are some of the myths about failed interracial and intercultural relationships? Here are three major ones:

Myth #1: Racial and/or cultural differences mainly caused your breakup

Back when I started dating Chinese men years ago in China, I didn’t just encounter surprised looks from fellow foreigners; I also learned that many foreigners assumed it could never work out. Why? Because they believed the cultural differences were too great and would eventually bust our relationship.

Just substitute “racial differences” for “cultural differences” – that’s what you’ll hear back places like the US (and other Western countries) for relationships like mine.

Can race or culture play a role when interracial and intercultural relationships fail? Yes, sometimes. Race might get in the way if, say, your girlfriend’s racist grandpa won’t leave you alone about the fact that you’re Chinese. And I’ve met many a yangxifu (foreign wife of a Chinese man) griping about how their in-laws or even husbands don’t agree with them on how to raise the kids (sometimes, to the point of a divorce).

But it’s wrong to assume that race and/or culture is always the culprit for a breakup or divorce.

Sometimes, it’s just an issue of personality. After all, I’ve met so many yangxifu here in China – and every one of their husbands (and relationships) is unique and different. I think Susan Blumberg-Kason – author of the terrific memoir Good Chinese Wifeputs it perfectly in this interview about her book:

I wanted to show how people sometimes justify their relationship problems as cultural differences when they are involved with someone from another country. This happens with people from all over the world and isn’t unique to Asia by any means. What I’ve learned is that when something doesn’t sit well with someone, it doesn’t sit well. It doesn’t matter if this issue stems from a cultural difference or a personality one. Respect is crucial for a successful relationship.

Exactly!

Myth #2: You’ll never want to date someone else like your ex

Years ago when I first came to China, I fell fiercely in love with a Zhengzhou native who quickly became my steady boyfriend. I had never fallen so hopelessly in love with a man like this and I was completely charmed by him – from his rugged James Dean good looks to the romantic way he would wine and dine me out on the town. (For the first time in my life, I even pondered the prospect of marriage with him.)

Well, it all came crashing down on me months later when, while he studied abroad in Europe, we broke up. I wept for days over what I had secretly dubbed my first real adult love, asking myself again and again how this could have happened?

But not once did I ever say to myself, “I’ll never date Chinese men or Asian men again.”

You know, that wasn’t even the last time a Chinese guy would stomp all over my heart. I’ve had enough heartbreaking experiences to make one heck of a dramatic romance novel and then some. Still deep down I loved China so much and believed I would find a husband here. And sure enough, I did.

While I’m sure there will always be people who swear off dating someone from a certain race, culture or country, don’t assume it’s a given.

Myth #3: Your failed relationship proves why people shouldn’t date “outside the lines”

Remember the scandal a few years ago with Li Yang (the founder of Crazy English) and Kim Lee, where she posted the dramatic and frighteningly graphic photos of her bruised face on Chinese social media, putting a very public face to domestic violence. It was such a big story even the international news covered it, along with the divorce proceedings.

Yet I’m sure some folks read that story and concluded something like this: “Good god, why did she marry that Chinese man? She should have known it would never work.”

Yes, Kim Lee and Li Yang, a cautionary tale of why you should never date people outside the racial/cultural lines.

You could arguably say the same about Susan Blumberg-Kason’s memoir Good Chinese Wife, the heart-wrenching tale of her own personal “love affair with China gone wrong.”

But is it fair to come to these conclusions? Personally, I don’t think so.

It’s always a foregone conclusion that when people get together, a certain percentage of them will eventually break up or divorce. It happens all around the world. I’ve seen it happen in the yangxifu community in China over the years too (including this very public divorce).

While I’ve come across articles reporting divorce rates as higher among interracial and intercultural couples, I’ve also met many Western women who found their happily-ever-after with a guy from China. (John and I have passed the 10-year mark in our marriage and I still love him just as much as when we first met.)

Divorce or breakup doesn’t have to be the obvious conclusion to an intercultural or interracial relationship. So why should anyone use a broken up or divorced couple to represent every intercultural or interracial relationship?

Meanwhile, those people who do break up or divorce have enough trouble to deal with – heartache, stress and, in the case of divorce, all sorts of unpleasant legal issues that will keep you up late at night. The last thing they need is someone holding them up as a “bad example” or another “I told you so!”

Ugh.

As I often say on this blog, love just happens – and sometimes, it happens to create an interracial or intercultural couple.

Whether you’re happily coupled up, contemplating a split, already apart, or hoping to land your perfect partner, here’s hoping for a little less judgment and a little more understanding in the world for all of our messy, imperfect but ultimately beautiful lives.

Wanted: More Guest Posts from Asian Men on Love, Dating and More

(Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com)

Today’s the first day of May (Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in the US) and it’s the perfect time to put out my latest call for submissions. If you’re an Asian man and you have something to say about love and dating, I want to hear from you!

Here’s a snippet from an anonymous reader’s e-mail that inspired me to put this call for submissions:

The simple thing is that many of us Asian men have a very hard time escaping not only our own paradigms of the world, but the paradigms of American white women. I know that the only paradigm we can really change is ours. Change our paradigm and soon how the world looks at us changes, too. But that paradigm has such a powerful hold on our lives that I find myself constantly falling back upon my old thought patterns of worthless and asexuality. And I work out and have been improving my fashion sense and people skills for the past couple of years!

Here’s where I hope that an influential site such as yours can help to effect the change I want to see in the world. The majority of your posts seem to be mainly about couples in China. Would it be possible to get a balance of couples in America, models that men like me can see and then believe in the possibility of love where skin color do not exist?

I think it would also be a great idea for your blog to have guest posts by men who were able to overcome their f***ed up beliefs, gain more confidence in themselves, and what they did to find love.

Additionally, this post by Big Asian Package also gave me an extra nudge:

Asian men, bros, let me have your attention for a moment. I don’t need to tell you about the discrimination, you’re living in it. You have to act if you want change. It’s a hostile environment, but the ladies are leading the charge, kicking all kinds of ass, and you’re not helping enough. So don’t think of it in terms of modesty, privacy, or hassle; think of it in terms of picking up a fair share of the work that we all agree needs to be done. Write your experiences. They are worthwhile.

Exactly!

So, what should you write about? Here’s a sampling:

  • Stories of how you found interracial love (that classic tale of how you met and, if you married, how you tied the knot)
  • Stories about how you were able to gain confidence in dating and overcome barriers (such as stereotypes and racism)
  • Your personal experiences with interracial dating anywhere in the world

Of course, you’re welcome to write about anything that you feel fits within the scope of this blog. See my blog’s tagline above for starters or peruse my submit a post page for additional ideas.

I’m looking forward to your submissions and can’t wait to hear from the men out there!

Why I’m tired of hearing “you’ll have a hard life” about interracial relationships

Not long ago, a white friend of mine moved back to America with her Chinese husband. They were happy with their decision to return to America, but it also meant living with her parents for a period of time. Which wasn’t easy…and lead to some uncomfortable conversations. She confessed that her mother (who she said wasn’t the most pleasant person to begin with) wasn’t thrilled that she hadn’t chosen an “easier life.”

In other words, the fact that this friend had chosen to marry a Chinese man – instead of, say, one of the white guys she used to date at university.

Ugh. I shuddered just thinking about it.

Obviously, her mom is not the supportive type. But the thing is, “you’ll have a hard life” (and all of its many variations) is something that many interracial/intercultural couples have to hear. Loving versus Virginia may have paved the way for legal interracial marriage in the US, but it sure didn’t stop people from telling you how “tough” it’s going to be.

Here’s why I’m tired of hearing this:

1. So what if it’s “tough”?

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Given the fact that interracial coupling was illegal for a really long time in the US (and, I would imagine, many other countries around the world), there’s no doubt that we’ve had to fight for the right to love who we want to.

Even now, we’re still fighting. From white supremacist hate groups who would frown upon my marriage to the continued discrimination against people of color (including people like my husband), it’s not always an easy ride when you date and marry differently.

Yeah, we get it. It can be tough. So what?

There will always be haters when you’re dating or marrying outside the box. It’s part of the package deal – and believe me, we already know.

2. It can be racist

(photo by Loving Earth via Flickr.com)
(photo by Loving Earth via Flickr.com)

Okay, I know that’s a loaded statement (I suppose anything becomes a loaded statement when you throw in the “R” word). But think about it. If you’re wishing that your white daughter didn’t marry outside of her race (and, for that matter, culture and country), that’s like saying that she should only date and marry white guys. Because, after all, life is so much easier when you’ve got the full benefit of white privilege, right? (Never mind that white privilege IS the problem, folks.)

Yeah, SO not cool.

3. Marrying within your race doesn’t guarantee an easy life

Just because you're white and you marry a white guy does not mean you're going to become the next picture-perfect William and Kate (Photo by geraldstolk via Flickr.com)
Just because you’re white and you marry a white guy does not mean you’re going to become the next picture-perfect William and Kate (Photo by geraldstolk via Flickr.com)

I grew up in a mostly white suburb of Cleveland, which exposed me to ALL kinds of white folks – and taught me that there are plenty of losers, scumbags and lunatics within my own race.

I know that marrying white doesn’t guarantee you some romantic Prince Charming who will sweep you off your feet for the rest of your life. I’ve seen marriages between lots of white people that have ended in utter disaster and ruin – including the folks who seemed to “have it all” (the money, the luxury cars, the beachfront property).

When two people from the same race happen to marry, they don’t necessarily have special “insurance” against a divorce or devastation. Crap can happen to any couple out there.

4. It ignores the fact that love just happens

As I wrote a while back, I never intended to marry a Chinese man. I had actually dated a steady stream of mainly white guys before I moved to China – where I was eventually swept off my feet by an extraordinary young guy from Hangzhou. I didn’t think about whether it would be harder with him…I just knew I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Period.

Sometimes love just happens – in the most unlikely and unexpected ways. Instead of worrying about how “tough” it might be, shouldn’t we be celebrating that two people have come together to share one of the most beautiful things in life?

What do you think?

The “love, location, career” dilemma for Chinese men/Western women in love

John and I knew exactly where we wanted to live and work in the future: China. But these decisions don't always come easy for other couples -- and sometimes lead to breakups.
John and I knew exactly where we wanted to live and work in the future: China. But these decisions don’t always come easy for other couples — and sometimes lead to breakups.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a certain e-mail finds its way into my Ask the Yangxifu inbox. The story usually goes like this: Chinese boy who was born and raised in China meets Western girl, they fall crazy in love and the future seems ripe with possibilities for the two of them…until reality hits in the form of a few simple questions. What about our careers? Where will we live?

So when I receive these questions — which are invariably confidential — it either happens that 1) the couple can’t decide where to live (often China versus her Western country) because each country somehow handicaps one person career-wise, or 2) the relationship ended because one or both of them gave up.

Whenever people talk about Chinese-Western international marriages, you would think that language or culture pose the greatest barriers. But when it comes to Chinese men and Western women in love, this “love, location, career” dilemma more often threatens an otherwise outstanding relationship. Career options aren’t always the same for both people in his home country (China or another Asian country) versus hers. Sometimes, when a couple can’t reach an agreement, they sadly break up — just as my Chinese ex and I did years ago.

At the time, he had moved from China to a European country for university and hoped I would follow him and, in his words, “be his wife.” It sounded glorious at first when he whispered this to in my arms…but not when I discovered the unappealing possibilities for a US national in this European country (not to mention all of the visa headaches for me). It didn’t help that his phone calls, e-mails and other communications dwindled over time, until an entire month passed without a single e-mail from him. So on top of the whole “where to live/work” issue, I also started doubting our very relationship — the foundation of everything we had together. In the end, I had to say, “Enough!” I couldn’t justify all of the headaches of moving to this country when he couldn’t make the time to even write me a simple e-mail or call me.

My face was glazed with tears the day that I called him and said I couldn’t move there. I knew our relationship would collapse and sure enough, we broke things off officially in the weeks that followed. But looking back, I also realize that — in a sense — he determined our fate the moment he put down a deposit for that European university. He was fluent in English and could easily have chosen to study abroad in the US, my home country…but he didn’t, citing a personal distaste for America.

Hence I learned my first lesson in cross-cultural relationships: love isn’t always enough. When you add into the mix each person’s careers and dreams (often linked with a specific country or place in the world, especially if a person only speaks one language) it complicates things in a way that couples from the same country would hardly understand.

I think about my stepsister, for example, who is happily married to her college sweetheart. They both were born and raised in the Cleveland, Ohio region in the US and, naturally, always wanted to settle and build their careers up there as well. There was never any question about what country might offer the two of them the most opportunities and most benefits, no tug-of-war about living here versus there or somewhere else.

Nothing like what I experienced with my ex-boyfriend in China. It was his lifelong dream to reside in this European country, so naturally he wanted to study abroad there. But his dreams clashed completely with mine. Granted, I was still trying to find my way in the world at the time. But the longer I pondered moving there with him, the more I intuitively realized I just didn’t belong in that country — that following him would be a colossal mistake.

With my husband John, though, the choices were a lot easier and, in the end, much more obvious. John had always envisioned getting educated in the US and then bringing his talents back to China to start a business. We had discussed this years before when we started dating, developing a long-term plan together to help him achieve his dreams. But it’s not as if I was putting his needs before mine. In fact, China made sense for me personally and professionally for a variety of reasons…not to mention that I’m fluent in Mandarin Chinese, absolutely love this place, and find endless inspiration here for my writing.

Unfortunately, decisions don’t always come so easy.

For example, I’ve heard from couples where she wants to settle in her home country in the West for career reasons, but he doesn’t for reasons of his own (he can’t speak the language, he has better opportunities in China). I’ve also met couples who decided to live in her country, only to realize even more problems with his career — for example, people don’t value his degree from China. Even gaining an education in her country offers no guarantees of employment, as prospective employers may discriminate against him.

Then there’s the flip side — he says, “Let’s live in China,” and she’s not sure. Maybe she struggles with Mandarin Chinese or can’t even say a word. Or she spent years studying in a certain field — which offers few or no opportunities in China — and doesn’t want to abandon her chosen career.

How should Chinese men and Western women handle a “love, location, career” dilemma? Here are some of my thoughts:

Support, support, support. He’s into pharmacy, she dreams of being a physical therapist. Whatever your partner’s work dreams are, you should say, “More power to you!” In other words, support them.

Think about both of your respective careers first and foremost. Don’t get caught up in finding the ideal for your own career — instead, the question you should be asking is, “What’s good for both of us?”

Don’t fall into the “sacrifice your job for my sake” trap either. I’ve heard of couples, where one person expects the other to quit their careers or jobs for all sorts of reasons — but that should honestly be your last resort, if at all. It breeds resentment (i.e., “How come I have to make the sacrifice and he/she doesn’t?”), and resentment is not a good bedfellow in any relationship.

Compromises sometimes have to be made — but if so, give it an expiration date. For example, my husband washed dishes in a restaurant in the US, but we both agreed he would only do this for half a year. I also know of an American woman considering teaching English in China for a year, which would give her the chance to remain closer to her fiancee while they apply for his US green card from China.

Never choose places over him/her. Preferences and prejudices about where to live and work can sometimes wreck an otherwise awesome international relationship. For example, my Chinese ex could have chosen to go to the US; maybe that wasn’t his dream location, but he would have had no problem finding endless universities with his field of study (a very popular one) and I would have had no problems finding a job. Instead, he prioritized geography over me — and contributed to our eventual breakup.

If you and your partner both agree on where to live (like John and me) you’re fortunate! If not, look for locations that benefit both of you career-wise. It could be your home countries or even a third country or region. For example, one American woman married to a fellow from Northeast China agreed to try living in the US first, with Hong Kong and Singapore as backup options.

Back to school. Sometimes all you or your partner needs is a little education — whether graduate school or business school — and suddenly you end up with a great location for everyone in the relationship. I know several couples of American women and Chinese men who are moving to the US, where both husband and wife will enroll in graduate school. Studying Mandarin Chinese at one of China’s many universities (like Sara Jaaksola) can offer foreign women a wealth of career opportunities in China.

It’s the relationship, stupid. Still butting heads over London versus Shanghai? Sometimes that’s just a symptom and the real issue is your relationship. Look at my Chinese ex — he didn’t e-mail me for an entire month, proving that we had bigger issues going on in our relationship.

If you have a relationship problem and both of you feel motivated to work on it, consider relationship counseling.

What do you think? What advice do you have for couples struggling over where to work and live?

Interview with Kevin Bathman on the Chindian Diaries

Bathman Mahalingam (Chinese/Tamil) and Shirley Choong (Chinese), Kevin Bathman's parents.
Bathman Mahalingam (Chinese/Tamil) and Shirley Choong (Chinese), Kevin Bathman’s parents.

Chindians are people who identify as both Chinese and Indian. But, as Sydney-based social entrepreneur Kevin Bathman puts it, “the Chindian culture is often a forgotten and unrepresented subculture.” He hopes to change that through the Chindian Diaries, his storytelling project that captures and documents the lost stories of Chindian marriages and families.

The Chindian Diaries began in 2012 when Kevin started delving into his own Chindian heritage (his father is Chinese and Tamil, his mother Chinese) and felt compelled to write up and share his family stories. Then he invited others in the Chindian community to join in through the website and Facebook page, and soon more stories and photos documenting Chindian interracial marriages and families started coming in. The Chindian Diaries’ Facebook page (over 3,000 likes and counting) and coverage in the media ( The Diplomat, The Star, New Straits Times, Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service and more) attest to the project’s growing popularity and success. 

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Kevin Bathman and the Chindian Diaries through this interview, which covers Kevin’s family, his favorite couple on the Chindian Diaries, why he believes there are fewer couples of Chinese men/Indian women, what it was like to spend Chinese New Year in his Chindian family and more.

If you love this interview, be sure to bookmark the Chindian Diaries website and follow the Chindian Diaries on Facebook.

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In the course of the Chindian Diaries project, you’ve shared your own family stories. Could you tells us any fascinating or surprising things that you have learned about your own family?

Kevin Bathman (photo by William Yang)

When I first started this project, we were told to delve deeper into our family ancestry – something that I hadn’t done but had been meaning to do for a while. Some of the surprising facts I found about my paternal side of family include how my Chinese grandmother was disowned by her own family for marrying my Indian grandfather. This led to my Dad not having known the Chinese and was only exposed to the Indian side of the family.

I also learned more about my aunt, who had a staunch Catholic upbringing and all her siblings married three different races in Malaysia — a Chinese, Indian and Malay partner. It’s more common now but in those days, it did raise a few eyebrows in the family!

You’ve noted that the majority of Chindian marriages are those where Chinese women marry Indian men, leaving Indian women marrying Chinese men in the minority. Do you have any thoughts on why this happens?

There are no concrete data or evidence that has ever been collected on this subculture. So, while its hard to gauge the number of Indian men marrying Chinese women, and vice versa, there are some theories.

In those days, a male child (sons) played a more dominant role in the family, and many went against their family wishes and married their Chinese partners. They chose love over family obligations. A daughter, on the other hand, was thought to be more subservient and followed the wishes of the family. But, not in all cases obviously.

Could you mention one of your favorite couples on the Chindian Diaries?

 

Mollynah Goh’s Chinese Peranakan father and Indian mother

This is my favourite couple story:

MARRY WITHIN THE RACE

Born to an Indian Mum and Chinese Peranakan Dad has made me appreciate the three cultures that run in my ancestry: Baba Nyonya, Chinese and Indian.

Although my Mum, Pandari Devi speaks Tamil, English and Malay and my Dad, Roland Goh speaks Hokkien, English and Malay, we only speak English at home.

My parents met in 1975 when they worked at the same medical company in Negeri Sembilan. Back then, Dad was a supervisor and Mum, a lab assistant.

According to Mum and Dad, when they first met – it was love at first sight for both of them!

Nervously, Dad had approached Mum while sending some chemical samples to the lab and had asked her out on a date. Mum recalls feeling smitten after being asked by a good looking Chinese man.

They had to date in secret as they knew their parents would not approve of their union, particularly both my grandfathers. My maternal grandfather, Varatharajoo wanted Mum to marry an Indian man and my paternal grandfather, Goh Heng Chuan wanted Dad to marry a Nyonya woman.

Although my grandfather Varatharajoo was Indian, he could speak Hokkien fluently due to the fact that most of his friends were Chinese. But to him, it wasn’t enough for him to allow his eldest daughter to marry a Chinese man.

Eventually my grandfathers found out about their relationship and restricted them from meeting each other. On one occasion, Mum tried to sneak out from the house to meet Dad but was caught by my grandfather. She was grounded and had a curfew placed on her.

Despite the odds, they were in love with each other and tried their best to see each other. This continued for 2 years.

Bit by bit, they managed to convince both my grandfathers about their relationship. And when my grandfathers finally saw how serious they were in getting married, they finally relented.

After both the families met, my grandfathers agreed that true love and their children’s happiness were more important than keeping with tradition.

Story of Mollyna Goh for The Chindian Diaries

Since the year of the horse is upon us and everyone’s getting ready to “guonian” here in China, I have to ask — what was it like celebrating Chinese New Year in your home? Did your family give the holiday a little Chindian flare?

Our Chinese New Year fare was a big feast when my Chinese grandmother was still around. She would cook a whole tableful of traditional Chinese dishes, but also would include many Indian dishes which she mastered as well. After my Chinese grandmother passed away, we did less of the traditional dinner, and chose instead to do our meal in restaurants.

From conversations with other Chindians, there was always evidence of both cultures in their celebrations. You normally get the Indian relatives visiting a Chindian household during Chinese New Year, and the Chinese relatives visiting them during Deepavali, the festival of lights for Hindus.

The Indian and Chinese cultures are very similar in many ways:

1. Cultural norms like the colour red. To the Chinese and Indian, red is an auspicious colour especially for weddings, whereas white is deemed inauspicious. Widowers of both cultures wear this colour.

2. Family values, respect and looking after the elderly have high significance in both cultures.

3. General living etiquette (e.g. remove shoes before entering the house).

4. Roles of women and men in the marriage

Many of my readers have cross-cultural families with mixed-race children. Since you grew up in a cross-cultural family as a mixed-race individual, do you have any advice for these families? Specifically, how can they help their children celebrate their heritage on both sides of the family?

Looking over the interviews with Chindians, most of them do feel a sense of belonging to both. Whichever culture they resonate more, depends on their upbringing. With Chindian weddings, for example, most of them have the traditional Chinese tea ceremony and the Indian temple wedding to honour both sides of their heritage.

I have yet to meet a Chindian that has disregarded one side of his or her culture. Some of them have grown up without any cultural barriers or issues, but yet some of them felt ostracised by one of the races, or worst, both.

As their grow up, they eventually find the beauty of coming from a mixed background and most of them are proud of their Chinese and Indian background.

While it can be a trying time growing up as a mixed child, the thing to remember is they have the best of both worlds, and that they can use it to their advantage.

My advice to mixed-race families is to honour all the cultures, and to expose their child to as many of the cultural practices and traditions, so that it is not forgotten.

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Thanks again to Kevin Bathman for doing this interview! Visit the project’s website and Facebook page to learn more about the Chindian Diaries and how you can get involved.

Yin-Yang: Discovering a Whole New World with My Chinese Husband

(photo from http://nickichenwrites.com/)
Nicki and Eugene (photo from http://nickichenwrites.com/)

American writer Nicki Chen, who blogs at Behind the Story, has lived one fascinating life. She married her late husband Eugene (who grew up in China) in 1967, the same year that the US Supreme Court made interracial marriages like theirs legal in every state in the country. Nicki also spent 15 years in the Philippines with her family as an “expat wife” and traveled to China in the 1980s. It’s no wonder, then, that her experiences have inspired much of her writing and blogging. 

In this guest post, she writes, “Before I decided to marry my husband, I remember thinking: We complement each other, and that’s a good thing. We had a lot in common, too, enough to make our marriage work. But the fact that we were so dissimilar meant we had a lot to learn from each other.” I could have easily written the same about my own marriage. Chances are, many of you will relate to the “whole new world” Nicki captures in her post.

Thanks so much to Nicki for this fantastic essay! If you love her writing, you can subscribe to her blog and follow her on Facebook.

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Bruce Lee vs. Mary Poppins

(photo courtesy of Broadway Tour)

My first martial arts movie was The Big Boss starring Bruce Lee. It was 1971. We’d recently moved to the Philippines, and though Bruce Lee was already well known for his role as Kato in The Green Hornet, I’d never heard of him. My taste in movies ran in a different direction. I’d seen every musical that came to the Dream Theater in my hometown: Oklahoma, South Pacific, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The King and I, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, CamelotI’d seen them all and memorized most of the songs. What did I know about kung fu movies?

My husband was Chinese however. In his childhood, while I was in the United States reading fairy tales and Little Women and Little House on the Prairie, he was in China living under occupation and reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is not a romance at all. It’s a four volume Chinese classic written in the fourteenth century, a non-stop account of the historical and fabled battles and intrigues that took place between 169 AD and 280 AD when three kingdoms were struggling for dominance in China.

Pompoms and judo

Eugene after judo class (photo courtesy of Nicki Chen)

In our teenage years, while I was taking ballroom dancing classes and shaking pompoms at basketball games, my future husband was in Japan, studying judo and kendo after school.

So now, here I was, expanding my horizons as I accompanied my husband to the little theater in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. The Hong Kong version of The Big Boss was definitely more violent than I was used to. It showed, for example, Bruce Lee’s fingers piercing the rib cage of the villain, a scene that was partially cut to get an R rating in the United States. And yet, Lee was a sympathetic hero. And though the evening was punctuated with the sound of our fellow moviegoers cracking melon seeds between their teeth and throwing them on the floor, the movie intrigued me. I could conceive of liking martial arts movies.

Enter the Dragon

Nicki in her dancing shoes in 9th grade (photo courtesy of Nicki Chen)

The following year Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon came out. I liked them … and sometimes I didn’t. In 1973 we saw Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s last movie before his tragic death. This time it was playing in the big modern theater in Makati. We brought our oldest daughter, who was five years old by then, old enough we thought to be introduced to a kung fu movie.

I suppose I’ll never be the biggest fan of martial arts movies. I still prefer a film in which dialog and meaning trump violent action. And yet, I have to admit, a good fighting scene is a pleasure to watch. I’m glad my husband helped me expand my horizons.

The Promise of an Interracial Relationship

Before I decided to marry my husband, I remember thinking: We complement each other, and that’s a good thing. We had a lot in common, too, enough to make our marriage work. But the fact that we were so dissimilar meant we had a lot to learn from each other.

Kung fu painting

Every relationship provides opportunities to learn and grow, to share ideas and enthusiasms, hobbies and histories. But in an intercultural or interracial relationship, those opportunities are enormous. If both people are open to new ideas and experiences, their worlds can double in size.

Nicki Chen blogs at Behind the Story and is the author of the forthcoming novel Tiger Tail Soup.

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We’re looking for a few good stories from Chinese men and Western women in love — or out of love — to share on Fridays. Submit your original story or a published blog post today.

On Working-Class White Women, Interracial Dating and China

Recently, I’ve been reading this book by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva titled Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary America. On the chapter regarding white progressives, Silva mentioned the following in his conclusion:

Contrary to those who hold the “commonsense” view on racial matters, racial progressives are more likely to come from working-class backgrounds. Specifically, I found that young, working-class women are more likely than any other segment of the white community to be racially progressive. They were more likely to support…interracial marriage, have close personal relations with minorities in general and blacks in particular…

Elsewhere I have argued that whiteness is “embodied racial power” because “all actors socially regarded as ‘white’…receive systemic privileges just by virtue of wearing the white outfit whereas those regarded as nonwhite are denied those privileges. However, the wages of whiteness are not equally distributed. Poor and working-class whites receive a better deal than their minority brethren, but their material share of the benefits of whiteness is low, as they remain too close to the economic abyss. Hence, white workers have a powerful reason to exhibit more solidarity toward minorities than whites in other classes…

…racially progressive women, one after the other, used their own experiences of discrimination as women as a lens through which to comprehend minorities’ racial oppression. It was also clear that their shared class vulnerability with minorities (such as bad jobs and low wages) was involved in their racial progressiveness and it may even be the reason why they were the most likely subgroup of all the whites in these samples to have dated across the color line…

Continue reading “On Working-Class White Women, Interracial Dating and China”

A Story of Sexism, Chinese Men and Who Should Wash the Dishes

Washing the dishes
(photo by peapod labs)

“Washing dishes? That’s women’s work.”

That’s how Yao, my first Chinese boyfriend, ended one late Saturday night dinner at his apartment.

Up until that moment, he romanced me the entire day like any real gentleman — from running to the hospital for my medicine, to regaling me with a delicious homemade dinner of fried rice. All afternoon he told me to rest, relax, take it easy — I still felt exhausted from my recent illness, and had only just regained my appetite. Didn’t anyone ever tell him that sexist slurs are hard for girlfriends to swallow?

“What do mean, ‘women’s work?’ Are you telling me you won’t do the dishes, ever?” I asked.

“It’s not my job.”

I glowered at him. “So who’s going to do the dishes then?”

“Just leave them for my mom,” he said. He immediately jumped up from his seat and wandered over to the bedroom to start watching Saturday night football games.

How could he say that? Didn’t he realize he was dating a feminist who grew up in a household where both mom and dad were breadwinners, and didn’t believe in things like “women’s work”? I wrestled with these, and many more, questions about the man I was dating, and the future we might face ahead of us. But never, ever did I hold the one thought that all too often gets slapped on a guy like Yao — that he was just another sexist Chinese man I should never have dated in the first place. Continue reading “A Story of Sexism, Chinese Men and Who Should Wash the Dishes”