Being a member of a minority group, especially in a country other than one’s homeland, raises a lot of personal questions. Many of these questions are concerned with the willingness to be a part of the normal society, against the motivation to remain loyal to the values and traditions of your own group. As much as this conflict may be difficult for the individual, it becomes much more powerful when it comes to getting married and raising a family.
This research paper does not aim to offer answers to this kind of questions, as they involve different consideration for different people. Instead, the paper will try to describe the various views on the topic of marriage between people of different ethnic origin. Moreover, it will try to use these views to describe the difficulties of a young man from Hong Kong, who may have to decide whether or not to marry a non-Asian woman one day.
The Traditional Belief on Intermarriage
Despite the diverse society in the US and political correctness, race is still a big issue for Americans. Even if pure racism is illegal today, “one’s cultural and racial identity will always be an issue because societies try to define identity and individuals, either with or against the grain.” But these are not only others that are examining an ethnic minority. Among the members of any given ethnical group, members look at one another and criticize their degree of loyalty to the “tribe.”
Many people see their race as a sort of connection with the past and their ancestors. For them, when someone marries a person of different race, he is necessarily given up on his or her identity. As a result, the “tribe” will become smaller, the values will become less significant and so on. They might explain this kind of “betrayal” by seeing the “traitor” as one who hates his or her roots, and therefore filled with self-hate. This opinion is even more strict within races who also have unique religious beliefs (such as Jews), but also for almost every racial culture that respect its exclusivity.
This attitude can explain some of the difficulties facing young individuals who live in mixed societies. People are afraid from being rejected from their cultures, and therefore will try to meet the norms that are expected from them. In addition to fear from their environment’s response, it may be very challenging to define the cultural nature of your interracial family.
For example, being a Chinese-American allows you to define yourself easily as an American citizen with Chinese roots. However, how should a son of a Chinese mother and a Caucasian father define himself? Moreover, in a society that is sensitive to race issues, such a child will find it very difficult to interact with other children, because he will always be different no matter where he will go.
As a result, the child is very likely to develop self-hatred from his own, or even hate the Chinese parent. Poet David Mura, a self-defined “sansei” (third-generation Japanese-American), tells about his friend’s and his feelings after learning about the internment camps for Japanese Americans in the US during WWII. When comparing between what happened to his parents’ generation to the discrimination he felt as a “sansei” in a white neighbourhood, Mura notes: “We were entering the forbidden; the silenced past; we were regaining a lost part of our heritage and ourselves.” Obviously, the way from here to hostility from both sides is not too long, and so is the thought that intermarriage is simply “crossing the lines.”
Following the traditional belief, even if self-hatred is not a cause for intermarriage (or at least not consciously), it may evolve from this kind of marriage. Both the first and the following generations of such families may not find their place in the general population. They will not feel a part of any group, will not find models of reference (especially in the media) and will lack any stable community life. Finally, these people will blame themselves (or their parents) for the deed, which took their identity from them.
The Popular Culture Belief on Intermarriage
The popular culture belief does not ignore race differences, but focus on the individual’s right to free choice instead of keeping a strong sense of tradition. This rather “liberal” view, which is probably very common in Western countries, can be compared to the vision of the founders of the US. That is, when a country is very reach in immigrants, it is immoral (or even impossible) to expect complete loyalty to one’s race. This belief does not separate marriage from other parts of life; if people work and live together, it is only natural that they some of them would like to marry one another.
In fact, every nation or ethnic group may be accused for harming other groups. For example, Mura’s daughter has both Japanese and Jewish ancestors, and thus her roots can be traced back to the camps of the Japanese Americans as well as the Nazi camps. The history is full with blood, but today it is more important to find what unites people, not what separates them.
Empirical findings show that intermarriage is a natural part of immigrants’ integration in Western countries, especially among the second generation. Intermarriage was also found higher among people with higher income and higher education. The result is faster assimilation, which comes with a certain separation from the ethnical origin of the person who comes from the smaller ethnical group. It is not unclear if integration leads to intermarriage or the other way around, but these two issues probably belong to the same positive experience of immigrants.
Clearly, even if such choices are natural and are part of the modern way of living, it does not mean that there are no difficulties. In order to solve problems that come from intermarriage, people must be sensitive to the difference and explain their children what do to with their “half-half” roots. However, according to the popular culture belief it is better to make the effort than to avoid marrying someone just because of the partner’s ethnical difference.
A young man from Hong Kong cannot and should not forget his roots. First of all, his physical appearance will always be different from non-Asian, a fact that cannot be overlooked. Secondly, the traditions, ways of thinking and many cultural aspects can be a source of inspiration to build a unique personality. In simple words, the cultural background can be useful and beautiful just as much it can be disturbing.
When it comes to marriage, ethical differences should not be ignored. The partners must discuss the issue and share any problem it may bring. Conflicts may arise not only with families and the general society, but also between the couple. This is mainly because being from Hong Kong origin is not only having a different race, but also having different mentality, habits, perceptions and so on.
But perhaps the biggest challenge is to explain this situation to the older generation. In Hong Kong tradition, respecting parents is a highly important value. Parents may be wrong sometimes, but their opinion must be heard and respected. Going against the parent’s opinion may lead to very strong conflicts with them as well as with oneself.
The process must be slow and positive as much as possible. For example, it may be very helpful if the non-Asian partner will learn some Chinese and follow some principles of the parent’s culture. In addition, the children must know where their father came from so that they will accept is as a positive thing and will also be able to explain the situation clearly to their friends.
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Kalmijn, Matthijs and Frank van Tubergen. “Ethnic intermarriage in the Netherlands: confirmations and refutations of accepted insights.” European Journal of Population 22 (2006), http://spitswww.uvt.nl/~kalmijn/kalmijn-vantubergen-ejp.pdf (accessed August 22, 2009).
Meng, Xin and Robert G. Gregory. “Intermarriage and the Economic Assimilation of Immigrants.” Journal of Labor Economics 23 no. 1 (2008), http://econrsss.anu.edu.au/Staff/gregory/pdf/interm.pdf (accessed August 22, 2009).
Mura, David. “Reflections on My Daughter.” In Half and Half: Writers on Growing up Biracial and Bicultural, ed. Claudine C. O’Hearn, 80-98. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.
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