A Journey In Black and Indian Love

A Peek inside the marriage of an African American woman and her East Indian spouse

Are We Animals in a Zoo? April 4, 2009

I know I promised to write about religious differences today but I’ll save that for tomorrow. An incident today reminded me of another important topic I think should be addressed-reactions from other people when they see us together.

Earlier today we went to an air show in our area. While there, we saw more Indians than we’ve ever seen in our city. We live in an area where the Indian population is small compared to other cities, so when my husband sees other Indians he always turns to me and asks “Is that one of my cousins over there?”  It’s much like I feel and act when I see another Black person in India. I’m grateful someone else is sharing the experience.  But today when I came home I thought about the differences in reaction among Blacks that saw us and other Indians.  Bear with me please while I explain.

When I was in India, stares were normal. I kept trying to figure out whether it was because they recognized me as being African American or if it was because I was larger than the average Indian or even if it was just because I was clearly American. Then I noticed something. Other Indians would mistake me for being Indian when I wore my hair straight. If I wore it curly, they would ask if I was from a multitude of places ranging from Morocco to Spain..but never America. I never found out why the stares happen but they were and are consistent with each visit to India.

Now across the seas is another thing. When I’m here at home, it’s not the Indians who stare and me and M. It’s fellow African Americans.  Hispanics and Caucasians don’t seem to give us a second glance. Tonight we went to a family owned fish joint to get some take out.  As I pulled in, I told M that I would run in and get the order.  He teased me and said ‘why? Are you afraid to be seen with me?’ I laughed because I knew what he meant. The restaurant is black owned and the majority of its customers are black. The first time M ever stepped foot into this place a couple of years ago, the people stared at him as though he had dropped from Mars. We’ve laughed often about his reception there…so today we all decided to go in as a family, (us and the kids).  We figured, if nothing else we could provide some entertainment for others while they waited on their food too. We knew what was going to happen and it did.

We felt like animals in a zoo! The guy at the register couldn’t stop staring at us long enough to ring up the order properly. The customers stared and one woman actually sat at the table with my children and kept looking back and forth at them and me and M . She was trying to figure it all out and she couldn’t.

I understand we make an unusual couple especially here in the south but WOW, the stares are unreal sometimes. Most of the cold reaction I get comes from blacks..black men specifically. Black women are usually more curious about how the union happened. Their stares don’t have cold hatred behind them like those of many black men. They view me as a sellout because I didn’t “stick with my race” (see ignorance runs in every culture). One man actually had the nerves to tell me this once. He further went on to say that I was an example of what was wrong with black women today that we keeping messing with these “f”ing foreigners.

M and I handle stares differently. He pretends like he doesn’t notice or care about them. I notice them and I DON’T pretend as though they don’t bother me because often they do-especially if I have my children with me. Usually when I catch someone staring us up and down, I stare back until they either break the stare or get up the courage to speak. I do this in India and I do this here at home and in each place I get the desired results. It’s about reminding people that you’re human and that they are gawking.

Thankfully my children aren’t old enough to understand that me and their poppa are the source of the extra attention. I hate the feeling that we are animals in a zoo to some people. I understand the curiosity…perhaps even the occasional ‘how the hell did THEY wind up together.’ But I’d much rather people simply asked me outright than to give weird looks and whispers. Stares can hurt, especially on days when you are feeling vulnerable. Stares are like whispered words of discontentment with what is being seen…like an oddity you’re not quite comfortable with.

If you’re a person who’s self conscious about how other people feel about you or view you when you are in a relationship, then perhaps you need to rethink being in a multi-cultural relationship because the stares will come. It’s just a matter of when.. but look at it as I do,  fascination has its place and you never know who you may inspire when they see the two of you together. Until the next blog…

 

Would You Do It Again? April 3, 2009

Yesterday I asked my husband the million dollar question.  “If you had to do it all over again, would you marry black woman again?” My husband looked and me incredulously and said, I probably wouldn’t get married again period.  LOL.

Early on, I explained to M that I bear no resemblance to a stereotypical Indian woman in anyway. I wasn’t going to be subservient, I wasn’t going to be a baby factory and I don’t hold my tongue about whatever is on my heart no matter who it is and I was always going to work until it would be physically impossible for me to do so.  I was trying to prepare him for the occasional neck and eyeball roll and hands on the hip that comes sometimes when a sista has had her fill. I don’t think anything prepared him for life with a black woman.

M didn’t realize so much went into the upkeep of our hair. He didn’t realize that Western women juggle a great number of tasks that can sometimes disrupt the flow of daily life. I think that’s been the biggest adjustment for him because both of his sisters are stay at home wives and mothers. His mother had not been in the workforce for a number of years.

But something strange happened along the way of developing relationship.  I found myself wanting  to do things for him that some may attribute as giving away my power. However, I see my role as his wife as a supportive role and one that when synced with my husband properly, can only serve to strengthen our relationship. M had to learn to adjust his role too. I tease him often about how shocked his family would be if they saw him cooking and folding and ironing clothes. Marriage is a partnership and thankfully we both know we have to do our parts in order for it to succeed. Now that’s not to say that there are not days I have to remind him about how it’s to be a partnership. M likes to remind me that when he married, he married for life, so I’m stuck with him. … Tomorrow I’ll tackle the subject of religion and how M and I have dealt with having different religions. Until the next blog.

 

That Pesky Skin Tone Issue April 2, 2009

True love knows no caste, creed or religion
True love knows no caste, creed or religion

Several years ago I posted a response to a woman who was dating an Indian man on a forum called www.Lovingyou.com . She was concerned about being accepted by the guy’s family because she was African American.  She had heard so much about Indians rejecting others because of their skin tone. My words to her were designed to offer hope and share my experience. Since then I get many emails from women (and men) who are dating an Indian partner and they are trying to demystify the whole process.

I wish I could the skin tone issue was simply an Indian myth or stereotype but it does exist. What is surprising to me is that it even exists among the darkest of Indians. I’ve often told M that it’s as though some Indians look in the mirror and see another image staring back at them other than the reality. The image they see is a throwback to the British colonialism days when white was right. Many Indians (espcially older Indians) still think that if they are ligher (or more fair as they call it), they will be accepted more easily in Indian society.  Sadly, in some cases this is true.

Take a look at some of the Indian matrimonial ads out there and look at the overwhelming number of them that describe themselves as wheatish or fair. It’s as though that is supposed to be some type of major selling point. Sadly for many, it is.

I feel so sorry for the darker skinned Indian girls who grow up in a society where the shade of one’s skin is more important than the content of their character. If they don’t hear the words spoken from others such as their parents, there are tons of ways society is reinforcing this backward way of thinking. For example, skin lightening cream commercials showing darker skinned women being turned down for jobs and then getting the same job after they’ve lightened their skin using the special cream. It’s sheer madness.

When my husband told his mother he had married an African American woman, he told me she asked if I was fair.  After my incredulous reaction, I think my response made my position on her question quite clear. Now, to this day he swears this conversation never took place. I think it’s because he knows my reaction will never change.  Let’s just say that part of my response involved a little neck swirling and eye rolling while I asked, “what are you going to do return me if I’m not fair enough for her tastes?” and “has she looked at you lately because you’re darker than me!” That’s the edited version of that conversation.

Here’s the nuts and bolts of the skin tone issue. Are there Indians out there who discriminate against others because they may be slightly darker? Definitely.  Are there Indians out there who still in this day and time refuse service to some people because they may be darker? Yep. Is it sad and pathetic, YES!  But for every one of those backward idiots there are those who show a different more sane way of thinking. They recognize that the outside of a person only holds so much. It’s what’s on the INSIDE that will sustain them over a lifetime.

This idea of darker skin being something evil or bad is steeped in history.  Many years ago (and in some villages even still) there is a lower caste of people called the Untouchables.  Basically, this group of people is considered to be too impure or unclean to be amongst those of a higher caste. They couldn’t drink from the same well and often had to ring bells to let people of higher castes know they were approaching and if they saw someone from a higher caste on the road, they were to get off of the road and yield to the higher caste person. They are banned from some temples and basically life is just miserable. Here’s a couple of interesting articles on the untouchables if you want to know more.  

http://www.untouchables.org

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0306/feature1/

The experience of the untouchables reminds me of what blacks went through during slavery and the period prior to the Civil Rights Movement.

If a man doesn’t want you because of the color of your skin then he’s not worth it. Consider it the best gift he can give you.  Until the next blog….

 

Blending-How the Heck do You Do It April 1, 2009

The recipe for a successful culturally mixed marriage varies from day to day. I wholeheartedly believe that on some days M probably wonders how he wound up with me because I often wonder the same thing. That’s not always a bad thing.

However, there are some days where we are so culturally far apart that it places us on two seperate islands. For example, when Katt Williams makes a joke based on African American stereotypes, I get it and find it hilarious. M often needs me to explain the joke (although he’s getting better about this) which sometimes just takes the humor out of the joke. You ever had one of those moments with someone? By the time you explain what’s supposed to be funny, it’s no longer gut busting laughter anymore.  In moments like these, I feel we are strangers on opposite sides of the street because it makes me feel for a brief moment that maybe he doesn’t “get” me.

But then I remember why I fell in love with him and it makes moments like the one above seem so small. Quick example. While in Delhi, my son was running a pretty high temp and needed some motrin since the tylenol wasn’t working. The monsoon rains were coming down like mad. Our driver was no where to be found and there were no rickshaws in the area. Against my protests, M made the decision to walk in torrential rains to Apollo Hospital to get the medication he needed. It took him nearly two hours to walk the two miles to the hospital and back but he did it and never thought twice about the magnitude of what he had done. I knew then that I made the right choice.

I realize that often, those of us in intercultural relationships can easily blame problems on being because the SO is from another country but we have to be careful about doing that because if we’re honest with ourselves, I’ll bet we would find that the very same relationship problems can be found in non mixed relationships. Think about it.  Until the next blog.  

 

The New Family March 31, 2009

I am blessed to have for the most part a good set of in-laws. My husband is the eldest and the only son in his immediate family. Having heard all of the horror stories about in-laws who mistreated the wife, etc., I felt it was important to have a good relationship with hubby’s family. I chose early on to ensure that I did my part to try to maintain the best relationship with them.

Being from Kerala, my husband’s mother tongue is Malayalam. I’ve tried and there is no way I can master the language. It is much faster and much more tongue twisty than Hindi. My mother in law speaks limited English and although both of my sister in law’s speak English, only one communicates with me on the level that I think we are both comfortable with on a consistent level.  They can all read English just fine. One of the first things I did was hire an interpreter to help me speak with my mother in law on a weekly basis. I also began to write her letters.  

It was important for me to get to know my in-laws without the interpretations from my husband. I felt it was important for me to get to know them without him butting in and cleaning stuff up and vice versa.  Even more importantly, it was important for me to tear down all those negative stereotypes they had about Americans but especially African Americans. We’re often seen as being uneducated, drug addicts or only rapping or playing ball. They needed to know my family background was far from this and that often the images they saw of African Americans on television didn’t represent my people as a whole. This is why the interpreter was so important to me. It was one of the best things I could have done.

My husband’s family had tried to arrange him several times and he refused so when he chose to marry at the ripe old age of 38, I think they were just glad he married period. By the time I began to communicate with them, they had either a) accepted the fact he was married to me or b) pretended pretty well.

His mother has not only accepted me with open arms but when we speak with her and the kids get on the phone to speak with their achama (grandmother in Malayalam) she always asks in her limited English “do you know who I am? I am your grandmother.” And each time it touches my heart. It never grows old. It would have been easy for her to turn her back on my kids because they weren’t M’s but she saw that he had accepted them as his own and she loves them in return. I couldn’t ask for more.

The middle sister had a much harder time accepting the marriage. Most of it is my husband’s fault. He had not had a formal relationship with them for several years until I forced it a couple of years ago. Even though this was the case, she was not happy about the marriage when she found out. My suspicion is because I wasn’t the good little Indian woman they had tried to hook him up with but they will never tell me. Her husband did send me an email saying they were against the marriage from the beginning. I made it clear however, that I am here to stay and they can take me or leave me just as I can take them or leave them. They’ve opted to take me .

Hubby’s youngest sister is wonderful! She accepted me and my children (even sending them gifts), she puts hubby in his place when she needs it and she even helped me get dressed for my traditional Keralan ceremony!

When it comes to the in laws, my suggestion is to do what you can to fulfill your part in the communication process-even when there is a language barrier. Sometimes you have to be creative in getting around it. In our case it took a while for my mother in law to trust the translator but after a while, it was normal for her to have the invisible third person on the line with us.

I don’t want to paint an all rosy picture because even though my husband nor his mother will tell me, I know there are some people in his family who boycotted our last ceremony because I was not Indian. It happens and in cases like that, there’s nothing I can do. I can only be the best wife and mother I can be and love and respect those members of his family who did show up to bless us (and talk about me!) I’m no idiot. I know some of the family probably showed up only so they could have a firsthand account on what I looked like, how I wore a sari etc.  For them the concept of an African American was built on stereotypes and the needed to see if I fit the bill.

Not all of us will be accepted into our in law’s family with open arms. I know that lack of validation hurts but at the end of the day we have to realize that if we have done all we can do, then we’ve done all that has been required of us. Some people just won’t ever grow past the smallness that invades their minds no matter how many seeds we plant or how often we water them. If your husband has chosen you for all the right reasons and still chooses to love you despite the fuss his family may put up, accept that and remember how badly it must feel for him to be placed in the middle. In Indian cultures especially, parents have a great deal of pull. To go against the grain is never easy.

I’m thankful. Since marrying my husband, my family has grown to include two elder sisters I never had, an incredible mom in law and two nieces and two nephews that think they have a pretty cool American auntie (at least that’s what I like to think). I couldn’t be happier. Until the next blog…

 

How It All Began-The Journey of Our Love March 30, 2009

Us after a long day at my family reunion

Us after a long day at my family reunion

M and I recently celebrated our third year of marriage. Our relationship is one that is unusual and we both know it. It’s not often you see unions such as ours (African American and East Indian). We live this crazy upside down life with 8 year old boy girl twins and two poodles (Miles and Ella). Adjustment to two different cultures is easier on some days than on others but each day we awake and start again to form a new building block to our future together.

M and I met during a time I promised myself I would never get into another relationship. I had just come one that had left me rendered mentally and emotionally drained. However, a friend recommended we meet. M emailed and the rest as they say is history.

Initially, I wasn’t interested in getting to know him or being involved with him but his intelligence and wit grew on me and the fact that he was pretty darned cute helped his case even more. Having just come out of another intercultural relationship (Saudi guy) I knew that relationships outside of the culture were frowned upon and even more so with an African American woman. I addressed this head on and M assured me his family wouldn’t frown upon our relationship. Even though he told me this, I still had my doubts. I consider myself to be a realist and the reality was that Indians rarely formed intimate relationships outside of their culture.

The other thing that made our relationship an even bigger no no is that I was divorced and had twins from my previous marriage. M had never been married and was the only son in his family. They had been trying to arrange him in a marriage for years but M, being the rebel he was always said no. He says he knew he always wanted to marry for love. By the time we met and married he was 38. We knew that given all of the parameters, the odds were more likely to be against us than for us.  

M was still in India when we met and I was still in the U.S but I didn’t let the distance scare me away. We spoke by phone several times a day, emailed and chatted. Boy did we run up some phone bills! Our love for one another grew quickly. Within three months, I was head over heels in love and M had asked me to spend the rest of my life with him.  Was it fast? Yes! Would I recommend this type of speed? It depends on the two people in the relationship. For M and I, we were older, (both in our 30’s) and we had been through the relationship wringers and knew what we wanted.

In March of 2006 I flew to India to marry him. On a sunset beach in Goa we quietly (and secretly) said our vows to one another in an intimate ceremony where we were the only guests other than the people staying at the Inn where we chose to marry. The next day I flew back home to the states-I know ..how sad.

After a few weeks of bumpiness and lots of separation anxiety, I decided to take a leave of absence from my job, pack up my home and my children and move to Delhi. I did this in May of 2006.  I should mention that while M told his family we were married, I didn’t tell my family until a full year later when we had a traditional Keralan ceremony in M’s home state. You’ll see why as you read on.

The initial reactions to our marriage were strangely much more different than I expected. His mother and one of his sisters has accepted me and my children with open arms. It warms my heart to hear my mother in law speak to my children and ask them if they know who she is and then she says “I’m your grandmother.”  One of his sisters has always had a rocky relationship with M but when she found out that he had married a non Indian girl, her reaction was less than thrilled. Her husband later told me in an email that they were against the marriage from the very beginning. I have yet to get a direct answer as to why they were so against it even though I ask all the time.

I thought my family would ALL be extremely receptive but the most supportive people were my aunt and my sister. My mother and other aunt were less than thrilled but for very different reasons. My mother’s reaction was swift and racist. She went on and on about how she didn’t trust foreign men and how I should think about what I’m doing and the safety of me and my children. And of course she cited the movie “Not without my Child” as an example of what I would be facing as life in India.

No matter how much I tried to explain to her that those were totally different cultures and that India and specifically M were not like what she saw in the movie, she wasn’t convinced. She cried, she yelled and she did everything she could to hinder my relationship with M and my moving to India but I was not going to budge. I had come to the point in my life where I was no longer making decisions that would make others happy but was making those decisions that I felt would be best for me and my children. So often we live our lives not for ourselves but for others and sometimes we don’t know it until it’s too late.

My youngest aunt’s only reason for turning her nose up at the thought of M was not just because he was foreign but more so because my aunt had a close bond with my ex husband and she still had not gotten over the idea that I dared divorce him.

Today, my mother eats M up. She sees how good he is with my children and how gentle he is. She sees that all of the stereotypes she had about him and his culture are wrong. My youngest aunt has also taken to him as well. She sees that he’s just like any other guy and wants the same things for his family that she wants for hers.

I know this blog post is long and the first few probably will be as I bring you up to speed. I know there are lots of questions because I had lots of questions about relationships like ours. So over the next few days I’ll try to address some of those like :What it was like living in India, how M and my ex get along, how M adjusted to being in the states once we returned, how the kids and M’s family and I get along, the religion difference, cultural differences and how we handle them, what the Indian cultural attitudes towards blacks tend to be. If you can think of any questions you’d like me to address, I’ll be more than happy to. Just let me know!

 It’s not easy putting your life out in cyberspace to be judged but after much thought, I did this with the purpose of hopefully offering hope to others in relationships like ours (culturally mixed) and that I may be able shed some light onto something so uncommon. Until the next blog!