When it comes to America and marriage, a generation has made all the difference
My parents met in the 1960s and fell in love. My mother was a recent Chinese immigrant. She arrived in the United States to attend college.
She found my (Caucasian) father at Kansas University. More specifically, she found him in a graduate-level anatomy class. She was the Teaching Assistant leading the class; my father was a student. Despite my father’s excellent grades, he kept showing up at office hours. As the story goes, my father waited until the end of the semester to make his move. The fact that he arrived at my mother’s office hours after he earned an A in the class might have been a tip-off for some. Not my mother.
My father invited her out to coffee. “I don’t drink coffee,” she responded. How about tea, my father asked, undeterred. “Actually, I’m not a fan of caffeine,” she responded. Somehow, my dad convinced her to chat over a glass of water.
Great story, isn’t it? The rest, however, was far from history. My mother and father had to address an aversion to interracial marriage. My father’s family disapproved of miscegenation.
The way I see it, their marriage was one part legerdemain and two parts courage. The trickery involved traveling to Germany as students to get married. Yes, to elude racism, my father (a Jewish man) had to flee to a country that only two decades earlier had performed genocide. With an ocean separating them from all the ill will, my parents planned a wedding.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Atlantic wasn’t a large enough barrier to keep the specter of segregation out. One of my dad’s siblings trekked to Germany and urged him to not get married; the sibling even spoke to my mom and begged her to call the wedding off. Luckily, my parents didn’t let social mores or ignorant stereotypes slow their plans. Race and nationality seemed secondary to them.
At the time, others used terms like “unnatural” to describe mixed marriage, yet my mother and father felt that their relationship was perfectly natural. My paternal grandmother warned my father that his children would be subject to horrible ridicule and become pariahs in America. My mother and father viewed this assertion as exaggerated melodrama.
Thankfully, my parents served as excellent seers. They figured that their multiracial kids could handle themselves; they figured that the future was about finding connections, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
As you all know, last week, the US Supreme Court approved of gay marriage in California and paved the way for other states to do the same. I can’t help but feel as if America itself served as an oracle. The justices saw the landscape of the United States — polls indicate that most young people don’t care about race or sexual orientation when it comes to relationships — and realized that the country was inexorably moving toward equality.
Who knows, perhaps a generation from now, we will hear stories about a man and a man who are in love, who want to get married — and have to travel across an ocean to the United States — to do it.
David Weinshilboum, who happily refers to himself as a “Chew” because of his Chinese and Jewish heritage, can be reached at email@example.com.