As Told by Tonya
Cultural differences

Interracial Relationships: Getting real about our differences (AMBW)

June 26, 2017 4 Comments

In my opinion, when looking for a partner, a difference in cultural background should be taken into account. I think it would be expected of me to say that cultural differences don't matter, but the truth is THEY DO.

My husband and I…let’s just take a moment to celebrate the use of this word…FINALLY! If you are completely confused as to why I am so excited about using “husband” or why I am using it now, be sure to watch my UPDATES + STORY TIME + BIG SURPRISE video (although if you are reading this first I’ve killed the surprise🤣).

My husband and I love each other wholeheartedly but like any relationship, ours is not perfect. The average relationship will have its fair share of problems. When you mix races, social classes, religions, generations, cultures etc things can get even more interesting!

My hubby (oh the variations to come ^^) is Chinese American (1st generation) and I am African American. While on the day to day our race and cultural differences do not play a huge part, this post is dedicated to revealing the top fundamental differences I’ve noticed in our unique interracial relationship.

FAMILY RELATIONS and COMMUNICATION

Our family dynamics couldn’t be more different! I think the main difference between the two are in how we each communicate with them.

Something I noticed in the very early days of dating was how different our phone conversations with our parents were (we were both abroad in South Korea and long distance calling home). First of all Stephen called much more frequently than I did, about once a week. I on the other hand, would call about once a month.

My fiance’s conversations with his parents were extremely open, blunt and I saw no difference between the Stephen I knew and the Stephen interacting with family. For me on the other hand, I talk to my parents in a different manner than I do with my friends and our conversations are not as “friend to friend” like in my husband’s family, but more of your typical PG-rated, family friendly topics. I admire the blunt, cursing, trash-talking conversations that go down between Stephen and his parents! Never before had I ever had a second thought about my own family’s dynamic until I met Stephen! I was blessed to have an amazing childhood and I consider my relationship with my family a great one. But being in an interracial relationship really shines light on little things you never would’ve noticed.

Family

La familia

Living in Korea, I immediately noticed how blunt people were, things aren’t sugar coated like we do in American culture. If you’re fat, they tell you. If you are in the way, an older person will literally push you out of the way. I later found out that this forwardness is something that shows up in many Asian cultures.

My upbringing I’d say, is largely American-Christian influenced. We say things differently, less direct, and many times with a dash of sugar. This difference shows up a lot because it involves how we communicate verbally. Sometimes I’ll get offended by the way Stephen says something.

family

Stephen and his family

A lot of the time he will re-state the topic in a different way or apologize and change tone. For me, I learned that when with his family I must be direct. Instead of answering “Not really” to the question, “Are you hungry?”, I now know to clearly state “Yes” or “No”. If not I’ll end up with a feast in front of me!

dimsum

Dimsum in Texas with Stephen’s family

FOOD:

Speaking of feasts, it goes without saying that Chinese cooking and America/ African American cooking are very different from each other. While neither of us are particular picky eaters, our cultures and the food we were each brought up eating plays a big role in how we eat and cook today.

We both passionately love Mexican and Indian cuisines and their bold, flavorful tastes. When we dine out for food, we have no problem choosing a restaurant where we can both find something tasty. The difference comes in the kitchen. When we are cooking for ourselves our taste buds are strikingly different! So much so that we each cook our own separate meals. My fiance needs lots and LOTS of spice and flavor…like slap you in the face flavor!

Seriously our cabinets filled up with spices and condiments long before we had any real stock of food. For me I like “clean” and simple flavors and in comparison to him my taste is quite bland. The times I have cooked something he’s eaten, Stephen usually adds another 5 layers of seasonings and sauces on top. And vice versa, when he cooks, he removes my “bland” portion before adding all the extras he plans to use to satisfy his palate. When we talk about this, my husband always points out that it is because he grew up eating Chinese food and helping prepare it in his family’s restaurant. He points out how Chinese food is bold, each dish having a very distinct, powerful taste.

Chinese food

Delicious food prepared by Stephen’s dad at their restaurant!

I guess this is were my upbringing is a big more “American” rather than African American, while my mom cooked us delicious and flavorful food, we didn’t eat “soul food” daily (usually just on Sundays and holidays). If that was the case, I’d assume that the difference in our taste buds wouldn’t be so drastic since soul food is very flavorful and spice heavy like Chinese food.

MONEY AND DREAMS:

 Like the first two points, this difference comes from the way we were brought up along with the morals instilled in growing up. For me, I am a “free bird” and sometimes a bit too spontaneous for my own good. Dip into “food money” so I can take extra dance classes? That’s me. Decide to move to Korea not knowing a lick of Korean..also me.

Free Bird

“Free-Birding” in Hong Kong (a trip I’ll never forget but I came home to the bank account like 😮)

My parents raised me to believe I can do and be anything I want to do or be, the sky is the limit, I am capable of it all (#millennials). This upbringing has given me a great amount of courage and a risk-taker motto. Sometimes my free spirit takes me on great adventures and other times it puts me in a financial/ existential rut.

On the other end of the spectrum, Stephen is extremely financially literate and has the mind of a true businessman. These values were passed on to him from parents who grew their own business from the ground and strongly emphasized financial security. In Chinese culture it is custom that the boy of the family take care of his parents in their old age (financially and physically), thus my husband feels a strong sense of responsibility in this field. Sometimes his need for financial security builds his bank account and sometimes it stops him from taking chances.

family

Stephen, mom, and sister at his basic training graduation!

While the above differences are mainly due to the fact that Stephen and I come from different cultural backgrounds, I also believe that  our personalities, social class, gender, religion and other factors play into why we act the way we do.

In my opinion, when looking for a partner, a difference in cultural background should be taken into account. I think it would be expected of me to say that cultural differences don’t matter, but the truth is THEY DO.

Choosing a mate is something most take very seriously, therefore all things about that person should be considered. The fact of the matter is, cultural upbringing can consciously and unconsciously shape your personality and decision-making. Being aware of the culture you are marrying into, or going to date, I believe can be really beneficial towards helping understand your partner.

Stephen often states how happy he is that I lived in Korea for 3 years before we met, I must agree. While Korean culture and Chinese culture are different, they also have some big similarities as Asian cultures. I honestly believe that had I not lived in South Korea, I would have a hard time “getting it” when it comes to some of the cultural differences.

Above all, cultural differences in a relationship are not things to shy away from! Take note of them, acknowledge, and grow from them. When my husband and I talk about our differences, we usually “choose a side” that works for us OR we blend them and create our own path.

 

 

Tonya

4 Comments

  1. Kim Danley

    July 2, 2017

    Oh my goodness Tonya, this is such a great topic! Yes, the cultural differences in any family can be significant. Think about a black couple, but one was raised from a traditional American background and the other from a Haitian or Ethiopian background – same race but vastly different cultures.

    So you know my husband is White (Caucasian if you wanna get fancy with it) and I’m Black. Almost immediately after we got engaged our family upbringing came into play.

    I don’t want to to paint a broad brush that my In-laws are like all White people. I might have told you that I actually grew up in a suburb of Chicago that was only about 8% minority and many of the residents were Jewish (so I’ve been to more Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs than you can shack a stick at). All that to say, I’ve grown up with a lot of different cultures and my in-laws are unlike any other.

    Once we got engaged my Parents wanted to welcome my in-laws and invited them to dinner. I don’t know if they thought my Parents would take them to the ‘hood (btw – were bougie Black folks) or whatever, but they flat out refused to have dinner with us. It was quite shocking and frankly hurtful. My husband explained it as his parents are homebodies and don’t go out. I later learned that it wasn’t exactly true.

    It seems like when you and Stephen met each other’s families, things went really really well and I’m soooooo happy for you both. My in-laws don’t like me… and I can only guess it’s because I’m Black. Since they’ve never tried (in the least) to get to know me at all. I am sweet and fabulous, so it’s their loss. It’s gotten a little better over the years. (I’ll be married 9 years in September and I’ve never ever spoken to my MIL or FIL on the phone – I knowwwww “shocked face”, but it’s true). When we first got married, I’d go over to their house for family events and basically sit by myself… ignored for 3 or 4 hours. It’s been years since I’ve been over to their house (they pissed me off a couple of years ago), but it’s gotten slightly better over the years. One good thing…they’ll never EVER want to live with us!
    My parents have always been very open and welcoming to my husband and the kids – as they should be.
    What also troubles me about their behavior is they don’t make any effort to be in my children’s lives. We all live in the same town, my daughter just graduated from high school – you’d think they’d want to come to her graduation ceremony… nope.
    At the same time, my husband doesn’t have a close relationship with his Parents – which is completely opposite of mine. I find that to be really weird sometimes.

    Parenting
    Both my husband and I were raised in 2-parent families. I have one sister and he has three brothers and a sister. My parents are both advanced degree professionals and worked, but they were very involved in our school and extra curricular activities. Ashley’s Dad was the primary bread winner and his Dad is career military while his mom was a stay at home mom. I hear stories of his father being deployed a lot and his mom being the only one around (but not being really present in their lives). My husband even lived in Panama for a significant time during his childhood (which I think is cool), but they also moved around a lot. I get from my husband that his parents didn’t provided much structure or discipline during his childhood (and I don’t think the military has anything to do with it). I mean, the man (my husband) was never taught how to make his own bed – that’s a life skill every child should learn.

    As a result of how my husband was raised (completely opposite of me) his parenting style is very lax and it drove me crazy when we first got married. The kids would behave in a manner that I thought was extremely inappropriate for children. And when they acted out…he never ever disciplined them. As a result, as they’ve grown, they’ve struggled with their behavior (especially my son – men/boys mature slower than women). I struggled with my husband’s parenting style. If I could give you and Stephen any advice, discuss and get on the same page with your parenting methods BEFORE you have children. I didn’t think this would be an issue, but it ended up coloring major life decisions (we can talk about those later).

    Food
    Now…I’m Black and both my parents are from the South, my Mom is from here – Memphis and my Dad is from Louisiana. Chile’ we cook and we can throw down on some eats. I like all types of cuisine (spicy and American fare) while Ashley is more of an taco, hamburger and bacon & eggs guy.
    My Dad could make ANYTHING! Cakes, pies, fancy meals, and omg the creole food! Its funny, when I was little we could never just eat corn…it would have corn with red & green peppers in it! I’d Dad beg my Dad to just make “regular canned corn”, I appreciate his cooking so much more now that he’s gone. Cooking is not my fav thing to do, but I can cook. And Ashley is pretty good too, but he’ll never cook anything too spicy.

    Now his parents food on the other hand….how can I be delicate…ummm I can’t!!! ITS NASTY!
    Ashley tells me stories of growing up eating tasteless food. I didn’t really believe him (or I guess I couldn’t relate) that is until I experienced it for myself.

    First, his Mother invites us over, but tells my husband WE have to bring, a side dish, bread, dessert, beverages and THE TURKEY! Who invites someone to their house and then makes them bring practically ALL OF THE DAMN FOOD! (In hindsight it’s good we did).
    Picture it, it’s our first Thanksgiving after our marriage and we go to his Parents house for dinner. So my MIL made two jello dishes and the stuffing. First of all, who eats jello for Thanksgiving, but Tonya…this jello had NO FLAVOR! One of them even had chunks of fruit in it and it still was tasteless.
    It gets worse, she made this stuffing…it was bizarre…it was crumbly and dry with these black flecks that I couldn’t identify. Gulp* I choked down just a spoonful of this stuff, just to be nice. My kids were like…aw hell naw I’m not eating that!
    I brought “black folks” macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, Hawaiian rolls and a Cajun fried turkey with a red velvet cake (I bought the turkey & cake – girl I work! Ain’t nobody gots time to cook all that). My FIL and the kids threw down on my food! He kept going on and on about how good it was. My MIL on the other hand wouldn’t touch anything we brought but a Hawaiian roll…(I have a few choice words for her, but I’ll keep it Sunday friendly)!

    I absolutely agree with you, couples should consider each other’s cultural differences. I’d asked my husband when we were dating “how his family felt about his choice to date outside of his race?” He assured me they supported it, when in actuality they “tolerate” it – big difference and one I’d wished I’d known.
    It doesn’t change the way we feel about each other, but I’d like to think I would have been better prepared for their treatment of me had I understood their feelings about biracial couples.

    Great vlog, as always! Keep them coming, your doing a fabulous job!

    Take care – Kim

    • Tonya

      July 3, 2017

      Haha Kim! I LOVE reading your comments. They are the best! You write in a way that I feel like I can hear your voice 😀

      You PIL sound like A LOT to handle! I keep hearing horror stories from married friends about in-laws. I’m starting to realize how blessed I am. I always thought that grandchildren were the key to mending in-law relationships, however your situation is the second one I’ve heard this month of that not being the case. It is really hard for me to understand such a mindset.

      I will definitely be taking your advice on discussing parenting methods before we have kids. Like you and your husband, Stephen and I have very, very different upbringings and I think there will be A LOT to discuss. He too, was not taught by parents on how to make a bed, but instead was taught by the military. This difference is probably more cultural but there are plenty other things I’m sure we’ll need to discuss.

      Your story about Thanksgiving at your in-laws had me Laughing Out Loud!! It is indeed a good thing you guys were required to bring so much food (although I would’ve been salty about bringing that much too!). Your MIL must have been jealous about the food you prepared (there’s NOTHING like black folk mac n’ cheese!). I’m sure your cooking was missed the following day haha.

      You bring up another great point, acceptance vs. tolerance. I think that is a whole conversation by itself! I can imagine knowing that your relationship would only be tolerated by his parents would’ve been extremely helpful. I remember being very worried before I met or spoke on the phone with Stephen’s parents. Especially because I had been living in Korea, I knew of how taboo interracial dating was there and I feared it would be the same in Chinese culture.

      Such a beautiful thing that against all odds love is love!!!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the vlog 🙂 Your encouragement is very much appreciated <3

  2. Kim

    July 4, 2017

    Yes, I’m sure you’ve figured out that I “write” for a living. I write and develope communications for A large package delivery service. We’re a very big company, I write employee facing retirement related communications.

    So I’m chatty and I like to write. 😄

    • Tonya

      July 7, 2017

      Wonderful! And even more honored that you read my writing 😉

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