“Are your parents okay with it?” That’s the first thing many people ask me when they hear that I am dating someone white. Most of those asking were other Asian girls, who struggle with their parental preferences on their dating life. Asian American girls often hear about what it means to date white to our Asian American peers (male and female) on blogs, but less about our parents.
Asian parents often are extremely sensitive to their children’s dating lives and many would rather their children date someone of their ethnicity. A twentysomething Chinese friend of mine revealed to her dad that she was dating after almost dating her boyfriend for two years. Her dad didn’t say one word to the boy. The one real thing that her mom said as consolation was that at least the boy was Chinese too.
Part of this racial preference might be construed as being conservative and wanting to keep a certain lineage. And that can be true in some, if not many, cases. Older Chinese adults have often told me with a knowing nod, “Chinese is best.”
But is it racist? It certainly can feel that way sometimes (and sometimes it is that way), but I think for the majority, the core of the matter has nothing to do with racism, and everything to do with our immigrant parents wanting to be able to communicate with their new son or daughter-in-law, along with adapting to different customs and cultures.
Our parents have left their native homes and joined a community where they do not speak the language (at least not strongly enough to have a political or philosophical conversation). They have been perpetual foreigners here, told to “Learn English.” The language barrier makes it difficult to be a part of their child’s new life and new family.
And family is such an important part of Asian culture. It’s not just the language, it’s the customs. If I were dating someone Chinese, how my parents and how his parents would act would be mutually understood. There are standard customs and beliefs for the Chinese that don’t align with their American counterparts. My parents grew up in a world where girls “left” the family for someone else’s family. The Chinese came to traditionally view daughters as less valuable because the girls would leave them, often to a different village altogether. Even though Chinese American parents don’t expect for their daughters to be moving into her husband’s parent’s household, they still expect their daughter to spend more time pleasing and taking care of her new set of parents.
There’s a bit of a rift between cultures, and it’s not always so easy to overcome. Because my boyfriend and his family are white, I often wonder whether my parents and his parents actually understand how to behave around one another. It’s the divergence in cultures that can be hard on Chinese parents, especially with things like “keeping face,” “face” meaning reputation and honor. Things like giving compliments, offering to pay, and showing respect to elders carry so much more weight to my parents than my boyfriend’s parents. It makes it all the more difficult for my parents, who feel like they must perform these duties and avoid any American faux pas on top of Chinese ones.
But is race irrelevant? Not quite for most Asian parents from an older generation. Many Asian cultures hold onto old stereotypes, but I think people of all races are still struggling with stereotypes.
I am really lucky. Whenever people ask if my parents are fine with my Caucasian boyfriend, I answer yes. My dad has told me time and again, with a smile and a shrug, “It’s your choice. As long as you’re happy.” My mom agrees, but it took conversations with her when I was younger (and far from dating anyone seriously). Without a doubt, my parents would love to be able to communicate better with my boyfriend, but they care much more about the kind of person he is. Even though my mom might have once also wished for a Chinese son-in-law, when I was hanging around a rather weak-willed and soft-spoken Chinese boy in high school, my mom could not stand it.
If you are Asian and in an interracial relationship, I hope you can talk openly with your parents. Too many of my Asian friends tell me they have to keep their relationship (even if it’s not interracial) a secret! Having these tough conversations, where you don’t simply dismiss everything they say as racist will likely allow you to have a real heart-to-heart. Being understanding about their reservations (not just race, but about communication, customs, and culture) should allow you to be open about why you are dating someone of another race. Remember that they ultimately want their children (that means you!) to be happy.