RA: Tell us a little about you and your husband's cultural backgrounds.
Vanesa: My husband and I are both immigrants to this country. My family moved here when I was a preteen from Argentina, and my husband is from Trinidad and Tobago. His parents immigrated first and were living here for 10 years before my husband joined them, by that time he was almost 18 yrs old.
RA: Has the difference in your cultures/first languages created any challenges in your extended families?
Vanesa: I don't know that I would call them challenges but our differences have made for some funny and some awkward moments. All of our parents speak English, some better than others or more clearly than others, and Trini people definitely have a different dialect or way of pronouncing words so that even if it is English it can sound very different than what is spoken here in the US . When we are all together at any given conversation there can be a blank stare of "I have no idea what they just said!" and both cultures are too "polite" to ask for clarification. If I laugh or agree, my parents will laugh or agree and the same for my husband and his family. As funny as it can be, it does impede with the depth of relationship that one is able to have. Our families get along very well, but there is a certain amount of closeness that you can have when you can't always clearly communicate.
RA: Are your families and friends accepting of your ethnic differences?
Vanesa: With our friends and families, we have not encountered any sort of backlash for being together. We have a diverse group of friends where marrying someone outside of your culture is the norm rather than the exception. Both of our families have been very accepting of us, even to the point that sometimes we joke that my mom loves him more than she loves me and his mom loves me more than him. Of course it's not true, but there is a real affection and love shown both ways. Even when we visited Argentina, a place that is not diverse at all, everyone embraced my husband with so much adoration it was very touching to me.
RA: How about strangers and casual acquaintances? Do you ever feel like people are 'staring'?
Vanesa: There have been times that we are stared at, but who knows all the reasons why. There have been moments of "aggressions". I've had Hispanic men (not of my own culture, which is a whole other discussion on how the Hispanic culture discriminates within itself based on skin, heritage,etc.) ask me why am I with a black man. It has nothing to do with who my husband is as a person, it is only posed because of the color of his skin. Which, by the way, if you ask an African-American my husband is "light-skinned". I happen to have light olive skin tone, so to them, for me to marry someone with darker skin than mine is.....I don't even know what! I guess to them it's beneath me, which I find ridiculous and beneath me to judge someone solely on their skin color.
We were once eating lunch at a restaurant, a group of Hispanic men were sitting at a table next to us and they proceeded to say derogatory things about my husband in Spanish. The things they were saying were along the lines of, who does he think he is? That has nothing to do with me, but more to do with them seeing my husband daring to take one of their women an affront on the culture itself. My experiences have been similar to that. I've recently had an older African-American woman who was an acquaintance ask me, "How did you get such a catch?". I know enough to know, that again it has nothing to do with me but more on how did I get one of "their" fine, black man. My answer to her was that if she asked my husband, he would say that he is the one that got the catch!
RA: Do you think that having mixed heritage will be a challenge for your children? In what ways do you think it will be an asset to them?
Vanesa: Our children are very proud of their heritage, they love both countries we come from and their own country they were born into. My older son who loves soccer, often says he is happy he has so many countries he could play soccer for! I love that point of view, it is a blessing to have a stake in three different countries! They love all the different foods they get to enjoy from both sides of our families, they are exposed to a different language in a real way, they have more holiday/cultural reasons to celebrate. I see more assets than not. I'm not naive, I know the world will bring it's own challenges to them. But a big part of overcoming them is knowing who you are as a person and that is what we try to impart to them. To us, it is much more important what makes you a person of character than what the world will judge them for.
RA: Is there anything special that other people can do to support mixed relationships or biracial children and adults? Anything they shouldn't say or do?
Vanesa: Please don't ask what are you? Well, you can ask that way if you want. What you'll hear from us will be, "We're humans!" A better way to ask is, where is your family from? What is your heritage?
Vanesa, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview! I really appreciate it, and I think others will too.
To get notices about more Cultural Interviews as they're published, be sure to subscribe.