Interracial Relationships and Family: Creating an Open Dialogue

interracial

I have never actually heard a brown girl tell me that her family was unperturbed by her dating someone of a different race or ethnicity. There are many nuances to an interracial relationship, especially when external forces like family and friends can influence it tremendously. However, conversation and open dialogue with your significant other, as well as those involved, can be really valuable.

It’s important to talk to family members sooner rather than later about being in an interracial relationship.

Yeah, I know. Its one of the most terrifying moments in a brown girls life telling her parents that she has decided to look outside of the South Asian Diaspora for love.

In my case, within a month of dating an Irish-Filipino, Catholic man, I told my Hindu- Indian family that I wanted to be in a long-term relationship with him. I was lucky to have supportive grandparents who persuaded my father into understanding that accepting the relationship was essential to my happiness and nothing else should matter. They made mistakes in their youth, putting stability and status before their childrens wishes in terms of love and marriage. My grandmother refused to have history repeat itself in the parivaar (family).

Its important to remember that a little pushback from parents doesnt always equal rejection of your relationship. Honestly, they might want more answers, see how serious you are about your decision and that youre not just dating someone on a whim. Its their weird way of protecting their children from “outsiders” because they feel thats what needs to be done.

However, letting your parents know that you are always willing to communicate when they are ready will show you have consideration for them.

Don’t shy away from having conversations about religion and politics.

Certain views dont have to make or break a relationship, but theyre always going to be subjects we butt heads over. If youre in an interracial relationship and you dont have the same religion (or a religion at all), being open about the values you hold will be less strenuous in the long run.

Its important to have uncomfortable conversations about cultural dynamics and effective arguments about politics with your partner because those are the moments that can create mutual understanding, whether you agree with the ideas or not.

My partner was brought up Catholic but doesnt follow that religion today. He likes learning about Hinduism and is not opposed to visiting temples with my family. Were not always on the same page when it comes to conservative or liberal values, but this has never really bothered us because we will always voice our opinions about it.

If you want children, its also important to talk about what both you and your partner would like to teach them in terms of cultural and religious values, if any, and whether there will be contradictions in your future relationship with family members.

How can your families communicate properly if they don’t share the same mother tongue?

If both families speak different languages and English isnt their forte, you and your partner will be stuck as the middlemen trying to translate and decipher it all. This can make it difficult to have heavier conversations, but a good strategy would be having both families find things they have in common, like their children, for example. Talking about their kids, work life and favorite foods are great places to start.  

My boyfriend and I were so nervous for our families to meet in case they said something inappropriate or insulted each other’s traditions without realizing it. That didnt actually happen, and all of our fears were put to rest once the families actually met and spent time talking about their kids and favorite restaurants they like to visit. There was the occasional dad joke that made me shush my father before he embarrassed me any further. My boyfriend high-fived him, anyways. Hes a lover of bad jokes and terrible puns.

Continuing conversations and having complete openness in an interracial relationship will create an environment where feelings are recognized and respected. If you ever feel like youre alone, dont worry, youre not! Youll find that your friends, acquaintances, people online and even those you meet at a party you were dragged to have dealt with the fear of rejection from family. All families are crazy, so whether your relationship is diversely based on culture, ethnicity, sexuality or religion, just keep an open line of communication and understanding with those around you, no matter how arduous it might seem at first.

Congratulations on finding the fulfilling and loving relationship you had always hoped for. Support each other in every possible way you can. All the best to you and your lovely families!


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By Priyanka Valand

Priyanka currently works in the financial industry. Her life-long love affair with books, movies and TV shows has made her … Read more ›

How I Create Everlasting Ramadan Memories as a New York City Mom

New York City mom creating everlasting Ramadan memories with her children

As we enter the holy month for Muslims around the world, Ramadan — a month of fasting, reflection, community, charity and celebration — I aim to foster long-lasting Ramadan memories and traditions for my children while also showing them the beauty of our faith.

[Read Related: Ramadan Reflections: How I Got The Best of Ramadan with My Children]

The rich tapestry of my life has been intricately woven by the threads of my Pakistani ancestry, an Indian-Kashmiri partner, and the multiculturalism we have passed on to our children. As I navigate the current journey of my life while being a mother to two children, I aim to provide my kids with a life enriched by different cultures which will ultimately help them to become compassionate and empathetic human beings in the future.

Through education, conversation, and exploration, I hope to help set a strong foundation of values that will serve them well in their journey as Muslim Americans and make Ramadan a holiday that they look forward to every year.

Before we explain the importance of Ramadan to children, it’s helpful to holistically explain the importance of the five pillars of Islam.

  • Declaration of Faith (Shahada)
  • Prayer (Salat)
  • Giving Alms/Charity (Zakat)
  • Fasting During the Month of Ramadan (Sawm)
  • Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)

When it comes to Ramadan for young children like mine, there is no better way to teach them than implementing practices of both fun and learning. Engaging them in activities that feed their interests means that they are much more likely to retain information.

Atmosphere

It’s amazing to see the assortment of Ramadan decor available at national retailers such as Target and Amazon. I purchased Ramadan lanterns for the kids, and we decorated our home with majestic lights, crescent moons, and other arts and crafts the kids and their friends enjoyed. Noah and Liyana also look forward to the ‘Countdown to Eid Calendar,‘ and put a star sticker on, each day before bed.

Charity and Gifts

Charity supports building a strong foundation for children and demonstrates to them that their actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference. I strongly believe that good habits instilled during childhood go a long way. The kids have been packing gift bags filled with toys and food packages for local orphanages. I have partnered with other Muslim families to create Ramadan cards for the victims of the Syrian and Turkish earthquakes.

Songs and videos

Another form of educational content that we have introduced to our kids is singing and watching animated videos — after all, we are in a tech generation! Below are some options for child-friendly and lyrical songs to teach your children about Ramadan.

Books and toys

Every evening, the kids alternate between different Ramadan coloring and reading books. Ramadan Bedtime Stories: Thirty Stories for the Thirty Holy Nights of Ramadan! is a favorite. Ramadan Coloring Book is also fun for them as you can’t go wrong with crayons and markers when it comes to toddlers! I have also bought some books about Ramadan in other languages such as Arabic and also Ramadan-themed puzzles, which seem to be a winner this month.

Community

Community is an integral part of a Muslim’s life and even more so important during Ramadan. It shows the profound significance of relationships to humanity. As a Muslim parent, it is important for me to make my kids excited about community-based traditions such as Eid-ul-Fitr. This year we will be taking the kids to the Washington Square Park Eid Event where there will be many family-friendly activities.

[Read Related: How to Prepare for Ramadan: 3 Steps I am Planning to Take This Year]

Whether it’s decorating our home during this blessed month, Ramadan-themed coloring books, bedtime stories or our ‘Countdown-to-Eid’ calendar, the best part of it is that we do it all together, as a family.

Feature Image courtesy: Zeba Rashid

By Zeba Rashid

Zeba Rashid is a guest writer at Brown Girl Magazine and resides in Manhattan, New York, with her two children … Read more ›

Rakhi Celebrations and the Hybridization of Cultures in the Contemporary World

Rakhi celebrations

Culture, in the broadest sense, is a shared set of norms, values and beliefs. We pass down our culture to our children based on our own lived experiences, and what we believe in. The decisions we make for our families reflect the values that we want to prioritize. We also hope that our children will want to pass them down to their own children.

As parents, it’s important to reflect on our cultural values: Where did they come from? Why do we believe in them today? Also, what values seem outdated or irrelevant in modern times and for our own children? By reflecting on these, parents will consciously be aware of the values that they believe are relevant, meaningful, and important to articulate to their children before they leave the nest and fly off into the world.

Our South Asian-American culture is constantly shifting and adapting to reflect changes of the modern times. Today, we are continuing to hold on to the celebrations that bring us the most joy and meaning in our lives. For example, I am attending a family wedding, this October, where the bride is Gujarati and the groom is Tamilian. They have decided to have a Sangeet which is traditionally a Punjabi custom, but they wanted to celebrate both cultures in this new way with their families because they both love music and dancing to Bollywood songs. They are also honoring their individual cultures during the ceremony by having a mangalsutra (the most important piece of the Tamilian ceremony) and the sindoor (the most important part of the Gujarati ceremony).

[Read Related: Celebrating Rakhi: An Ode to Our Brothers ]

As we approach Rakhi this year, I think back to how I used to celebrate Bhai Phota, which is a Bengali version of Rakhi celebrated during Diwali. Today, I have chosen to celebrate Rakhi with my brother and with my Bengali-Gujrati family as a separate celebration, that takes place in August, because this way we can spend more quality time celebrating this sibling bond.

Post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha puts forth how when cultures mix together, we often open up a hybrid, third space, which forms new ways of being and living in the world. This idea of hybridity acknowledges the space in-between cultures which is filled with contradictions and indeterminate spaces. By negotiating between these differences, we are able to create new forms of culture and identity.

“hybridity… is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to emerge.” – Homi Bhabha

Today, South Asian American children are forming new ways of connecting to their cultural identities. This summer, I launched my new children’s book, Shanti and The Knot of Protection: A Rakhi Story, to provide more context to children about the historical origins of Rakhi, while also capturing the new and unique ways Rakhi is being celebrated in contemporary times. In contemporary times, we don’t just celebrate with our immediate siblings, but also with our network of family and friends that we have created in our communities.

 

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A post shared by Dr. Amita Roy Shah (@dramitaroyshah)

We celebrate individuals in our lives (boys or girls) who provide us with a sense of protection and security. This could mean siblings that are both girls, siblings that are both boys, only children, or children who identify as LGBTQIA+ and don’t identify with traditional gender norms. I wanted this story to highlight images of inclusivity and to represent and validate the experiences of all children who are celebrating this festival in the modern day and age. Through this story, children learn the importance of creating a community and feeling secure with not just their siblings but with their friends and other caring adults.

[Read Related: 5 Books that Portray the South Asian LGBTQIAP+ Experience]

Shanti and the Knot of Protection also helps parents open up the conversation about what values they want their children to prioritize in our post-pandemic world and how to live a balanced life. In this story, Shanti’s parents die and she decides to rule her queendom based on the four values that her parents taught her: strength, curiosity, community, and security. In addition to highlighting the importance of relationships, this book also highlights the importance of balancing one’s life with the four domains of well-being: physical domain (strength), cognitive domain (curiosity), social domain (community), and emotional domain (security). These domains are all connected to one another and influence our overall well-being and happiness in life.

As parents, we want to be the North Star for our children and provide them with an inner compass to know what values are important and why. We also want them to know how to be resilient during difficult times. As Ann Landers states, “It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” Through this story, I hope parents can have important conversations with their children about prioritizing values that will contribute to their overall well-being, happiness, and resilience in their lives.

Feature Image courtesy: Dr. Amita Roy Shah

By Amita R. Shah

Dr. Amita Roy Shah is the founder of mysocialedge.com, a company dedicated to meeting the social, emotional, and cultural needs … Read more ›

Dating with Intention as a South Asian American Woman

I’m at the gym. I’m on my grind. I keep telling myself that if I keep doing ‘X, Y, and Z,’ I’ll get results. Which is true — all the fitness gurus say so. The personal trainer I once had said as much. Yet, I forget to take a breather. I’m hoping for instant gratification, when I know the results I want — better energy, endurance, and metabolism — take time. I have to be patient with myself. So why do I feel pressured? 

When I sit down to take a breath, I notice this idea of instant gratification weaves a common thread. I put pressure on myself to complete projects, quicker and faster. As a licensed therapist, my clients also talk about how they feel the pressure to do more work in a shorter amount of time, leading to longer work days and burnout. Some new clients ask, “How long does therapy take? Will I feel better after three sessions?” It’s like those junk tabloids with headlines like, “how to lose 10 lbs in 10 days!” In an ever-changing, fast-paced world, there are expectations to do things faster and better. On top of that, a relationship with our body, our career, our mind, and yes, our therapist, takes time too. To wait for results can create an uneasy feeling. We can’t trust the process if we don’t see results right away. We’re focused on the destination rather than the journey. 

I believe the same idea is being applied to dating and relationships too. I cringe and roll my eyes when I hear, “Dating is a numbers game.” While it’s true that you might have to meet many people before finding your person, this has caused some of my clients to ‘gamify’ dating: swiping right on every dating profile and trying too hard on the first date in the hopes of landing “the one.” This prevents them from slowing down, truly seeing the person in front of them for who they are, and being vulnerable. My South Asian American clients feel the cultural pressure to settle down quickly and think they need to “catch up” with their friends who are getting married. They’re working very hard in the South Asian dating market, hitting up all the singles they meet, and finding instant chemistry with “the one.”

But just like a fad diet, once you get the results, you’re back at square one. You gain all the weight back, and the person you fell in love with falls out of love with you. You start to feel demotivated and hopeless all over again. Relationships that build quickly tend to fizzle out quickly too.

 [Read Related: I’m 24 Years old, and I Don’t Want to get Married Right Now]

Here’s how South Asian American singles should stop shaming themselves for being single, this Valentine’s Day season, and try dating with intention. At the same time, this therapist has some thoughts on how we South Asian singles could be dating better. If you’re single this Valentine’s season and wondering, “when am I going to find my person?” you’re going to have to challenge some long-held, societal beliefs about dating, marriage, and relationships, both within and outside of our culture. It means:

Being okay with not going on a ton of dates

Dating is not a game to win! Forget about the “numbers” game. You are also not trying to “trick” anyone into being with you. That shit is not cute. Show up authentically and don’t be afraid to be “caught off guard.” After changing their perspective, some of my clients tell me, “I haven’t found a decent quality person!” Yeah, that’s kind of the whole point. You could go on a ton of mindless dates and have your time wasted, or you can have one or two quality dates and feel fulfilled. Pick one.

Stop love-bombing

Because some South Asian cultures have a much faster timeline with marriage, you might find yourself trying way too hard to impress your first date in the hopes that it will rush the chemistry high. Dating scenarios that start this way burn out once things get serious. Looking for chemistry too soon is like chasing a temporary high. Be patient and take your time getting to know someone because chemistry takes a long time to build. 

Paying attention to what your date says and how they say it

We’re all putting our best foot forward on a first date. What do they talk about? How do they talk about other people? Does the conversation feel superficial? Does it feel like a performance? Do they take an interest in you? Are they sharing anything about themselves?

Remembering what you want from a long-term partner

Superficial qualities aren’t an indicator of how good of a partner they’ll be in the future. Having a high income doesn’t mean they’ll contribute to your relationship or the family you both build. However, their financial decision-making can indicate what they prioritize and what they value. And while physical attraction is important, there is no fountain of youth. Will you still want to share your life with this person when they are 60? Or will they annoy the shit out of you? 

Taking your parents’ opinion with a grain of salt 

Marriage is not just a blending of two families; it’s a ‘business contract’ between you and your spouse. Would you go into business with this person? Would you want to share physical space with them? Share a bed with them? Your parents are not the ones who are going to bump uglies with them, and at some point, your parents will no longer be around. Whose decision do you want to be stuck with? 

Remembering no one is perfect

There is no such thing as “Mr/Mrs. Right.” Let go of the idea that there is someone better out there. Dealbreakers are important because they indicate what you have tolerance and patience for, and this can affect intimacy, but don’t write someone off for something workable. Think about the things that give you the “ick” versus things that don’t give you the “ick.” If someone’s qualities are only mildly imperfect but overall don’t give you the “ick,” then it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. If it’s something that can be changed, then maybe it’s worth being flexible. If it’s something that can’t be changed and you can’t get over it, then you’re wasting your time and their time too. 

[Read Related: Arranged Marriage: How Are Promises of a Lifetime Made in One Day?]

As a South Asian American who is also single, I am pressured by my family to get married quickly too. I know that many people in my situation would either give in to their demands or take matters into their own hands. They might date to appease their parents that they’re “working on it.” But I refuse to give in to the pressure. When I date, I date to enjoy the person in front of me. I see the person for who they are, not some idea I cooked up in my head for the outcome I’m trying to achieve. I put my most authentic self forward. If this doesn’t result in a relationship quickly, I’m okay with that. 

If this therapist can be patient with her process, then why can’t you? Like exercise, relationships take time, and you could be doing everything right and still not getting exactly what you want. You won’t be a good fit for everyone, and likewise, not everyone will be a good fit for you. But don’t close yourself off from the world. This Valentine’s season, learn to trust the process. Tune out the noise; the idea of “instant gratification,” Be patient, be honest, and be yourself. And don’t forget to take that breather. 

Photo Courtesy: Tracy Vadakumchery

By Tracy Vadakumchery

Bio: Tracy Vadakumchery, LMHC is a licensed South Asian American therapist in New York and Florida who specializes in treating … Read more ›