This Sunday, I woke up to an email from a girlfriend who is not Desi. She said that there was a really thought-provoking article in the New York Post, which reminded her of some of our conversations. She thought I might enjoy it. Enjoy it? I could have written parts of it. It was about Dating While Brown-- and dating other Browns, to be specific.
The piece was called, "MELTING NOT: Why Young People Like me Started Dating Within our Race". In it, NYP reporter Raakhee Mirchandani wrote a sensitive, honest explanation of her views on love-- and I can just imagine the nastiness she might be encountering because of it.
It's never easy to put yourself out there, so I salute her for doing so. Besides, with this issue, you can't win. You date outside your community and you're either a sell-out, desperate or a coconut. Date within it and you're insular, insecure and biased. Ugh. Can't we all just get along? I wish we could remember to be kind to one another, as we discuss an issue which affects all of us, albeit in different ways. We've got to let love rule, or whatever Lenny screams. On to the story.
I know so many friends, whose experience mirrored this:
Growing up, the man in my dreams was a mystery; he was white, he was tall, he was dark, he was slick. He was always handsome. In my fantasy it didn't matter if he was Catholic or Muslim, European or African, if he ate pigs or worshipped monkeys. It didn't matter if he understood that I came from a rich tradition of Indian Hindus who were strict vegetarians, quietly conservative, obsessively dedicated to family and maniacal in their love for cheesy song-and-dance movies with mediocre acting and music.
And so when we met, freshman year at Boston University - the street smart Eastern European with a gorgeous smile, big heart and wicked sense of humor and the artsy Indian girl with a penchant for big hair, Bollywood and Biggie -it seemed like the perfect cross-continental match.
Ah, Biggie. I pour some of my Robitussin with Codeine out for you.
But somewhere along our six years together, the Indian girl from Jersey, who had naively promised him Catholic children, steak dinners and consistently defended his refusal to hang with my family as a simple difference in opinion, had a change of heart. And he did, too.
I remember him looking at me on an evening not far from our last and saying, "It's like all of a sudden you became Indian." In a way so quiet I didn't even realize it was happening, the brown from my skin must have seeped in and colored my heart.
That line just slays me. I project emotions and explanations all over it. Is it accusatory? A blurt of hurt? Is becoming "Indian" a negative thing? The defending "his refusal to hang with my family" is also poignant. America may be a country of individuals, but most of us who are of South Asian descent are tightly tied to our families, for better or for worse. No one wants to be caught in that vise between one love and another.
Surprisingly, I'm not the only one. While the rate of intermarriage among races increased over the past half-century, the last decade has seen a reversal - particularly among Asians and Latinos. According to a Ohio State University study, from 1990-2000 the number of Hispanics marrying outside their race fell from 27% to 20%, while Asian intermarriage dropped from 42% to 33%.
I'm no Razib, but this matches what I feel like I'm witnessing around me (and yes, this is the same stat Abhi mentioned in this post on SM). At one point, if I saw a second- or third-generation Asian-American with an Asian spouse, I was surprised, because so many of my friends had married "out". Now, I see a reversal of that. Maybe it's easier for us to find each other, thanks to the internets. Then again, maybe Ohio State and I are full of it (highly probable-- I'm supposed to be a Michigan fan).
After brushing it off for so long, many of my relatives and friends are listening to that nagging voice in our collective heads. You know, the one that sounds like a hybrid of your mom/dad/grandparent/aunt/uncle/neighbor-in-the-old-country telling you in heavily accented English, "Have you found anyone yet, dahling? Can we introduce you to Mr. Kapoor's son? He is doctor. Ven vill you finally give us good news?" Despite my better efforts to buck the traditional Indian girl inside me - glossy black locks turned to bleached blond in a weak moment of teen angst; pre-med was never an undergraduate option and much to my parents chagrin; I have always favored copious amounts of worthless costume jewels over precious museum-grade family heirlooms - I discovered that I'm not really that much of a rebel after all.
Yeah, me neither. Well, except for the remaining defiantly single at 34 bit. Maybe it's because I've retired all five pairs of my Doc Martens, but I don't feel like a rebel...until grateful letters from some of you label me as such; "I'm so glad there's another Desi girl who isn't married...I'm 26 and the pressure is horrid!" Note to 26-year old: don't allow yourself to be rushed in to a damned thing. The people who nag you to get hitched now won't have your six when you separate or get a divorce. Then you'll be THAT girl, the one with the "past". Even if you end up happily married, they won't stop butting in to your life, because a few seconds after your wedding reception commences, they'll be demanding a schedule for when you'll be procreating offspring, or where you'll be purchasing a home.
I could never do it in the first place, mostly because of what I've bolded below:
During the Obama campaign, commentators asked if younger people were growing up in a colorblind society. I certainly hope it's a more tolerant one - but not blind. Living in harmony doesn't mean camouflaging our differences, or denying that we have any. And while I would never judge an Indian person who chose an interracial relationship - love in whatever way it comes is flawless - I know that I could never do it again.
I'm more of a wanna-be geek, so my declaration contained something like, "I want someone pre-loaded with all this software, I don't want to have to install anything". Please don't tell me if that makes no sense. :) Just focus on my alternate line, "I ain't no one's cultural tour guide." Classy, I know. That almost sounds like I hate non-Desis. Not at all. In some of those instances, I desperately didn't want to be the object of someone's fetish or part of that one guy's UN fantasy which involved...well, you get the picture. Even if the rare non-Desi guy who expressed interest didn't fall in to one of those two weird categories, I worried that having to explain every little thing or answer a plethora of questions would become exhausting.
Relationships are hard enough, no matter who you love. Maintaining and sustaining them requires a combination of courage, compromise and dedication. But there's a comfort in building a solid foundation with someone who comes from a similar place. I don't want to have to explain the minutia of my complex culture, hoping for both understanding and approval. I want to begin on equal footing, roots already firmly planted in a common garden.
Yeah, I'm just going to state for the record right now that I could never put a sari on in a public bathroom. I don't even like to put a sari on in my current apartment, because the full-length mirror is unfortunately near where I put on and take off shoes, near the door. Eeek. Oh, Raakhee, you are a better ladki than I. While you're not asking, I also like Black and coke instead, thanks!
I'm the kind of girl who is as comfortable worshipping multi-armed deities as she is worshipping at Chanel. The kind who can easily wrap herself in to a 5-yard sari in a public bathroom but much prefers Uggs and leggings. Certainly the kind who washes down a spicy curry with a glass of Johnny on the rocks.
YES. I agree, 100 percent. At the same time, I have noticed that interracial couples where both parties are from minority or "ethnic" backgrounds--which emphasized family-- do seem to find some common ground.
That makes me Indian and American, and the truth is, it's easier when someone understands the first part of that as much as the latter.
So now I've taken the UPS approach to dating: What can brown do for me?
:) Here comes her happy ending:
More than I ever thought.
My current boyfriend, Agan, is the kind of Punjabi prince dreams are made of. He held me last year when Bombay burned and I broke. He high-fived me when "Slumdog" took home eight golden trophies and I squealed. He rolls his eyes when I talk about Yankee Stadium like it's The Bronx version of the Golden Temple. He's from the left (wrong) coast, you see; not everything can be Disney fairytales.
But he understands without questioning that I will live at home with my parents until I get married. That family obligations trump any evening plans we may have made. Without my suggesting it, he mentioned that when we grew up and had a house of our own, there would be room for both sets of parents, his and mine. I was enamored.
In that moment I knew why it never worked between me and anybody else. I had underestimated the power of my parenting, the grip of my culture and the strong but subtle shades of India that I reflect.
Your mother can text?! Mine thinks GChat is annoying enough. Lucky! Speaking of superior communication products made from Goo, I GMailed Raakhee to ask if anything important had been cut from the story. Here's what she had to say:
In less than a year he has earned his way into my parents' hearts, fielding near daily text messages and e-mails from my mother, approving but curious glances from my father and even joining my brother in a weekly basketball league. It's as if they already knew each other. And in a way they did.
What we had to cut from the essay which I thought was important was the idea that being Indian was something I had to grow in to. Not in a conscious way, but something I had to sort of become comfortable expressing. And just being.
Oh, if that isn't Junior year of high school revisited, I don't know WHAT is. Sigh. Back to the article, for the last two paragraphs:
Also, I grew up in a way I imagine many desi chicks did who are my age (27); I was a nerdy, hairy (omfg the 'stache, the unibrow, the horror!) and completely convinced that I would never, ever date. I thought Indian guys wouldn't get me and all the others would think I was gross. In a way, despite my ridic inflated sense of self (and trust me, i thought i was some super hot shit when i was younger!!), when it came to dating and relationships, I didn't think I was good enough to date either, brown or white.
Despite the countries we share, we are still different. His family is Sikh. He wears a turban. Mine are Hindu and we don't accessorize. But the fundamentals are the same; family first and everything else next.
I'm happy for you, Raakhee, the same way I'm happy for anyone who finds their lobster. Everyone deserves the bliss that is love. We may have different desires, preferences, approaches to searching for it or ways to label it, but in the end, we each want the same thing, no matter with whom we may find it.
As usual my parents were right, bless their darling immigrant hearts. It turns out I am both New Delhi and New Jersey, and the man in my dreams finally has a face to reflect that.