As cultural, geographic and religious barriers continue to break down, more and more people of mixed backgrounds are getting together — and getting married. Yvonne Phua and Nat Sarginin find out how such couples make it work.
The question of marriage does not immediately pop up when you meet a new romantic interest. As time goes by, and you both know that you want to spend the rest of your lives together, that’s when the sweet reality of endless life-defining moments as a married couple start to really sink in. For couples of mixed backgrounds, an added dimension presents itself—how best to meld their individual uniquenesses.
The courtship between Emril, a Malay Singaporean, and his Chinese Malaysian wife, Sofia, was blessed right from the start. They had strong support from both their families, which helped to cement the foundation of their relationship. Still, rather than to look at the differences between their races, they choose instead to ‘see the commonalities of two human beings’, says Sofia. Emril’s similar outlook on life and love suits Sofia to a T. ‘Don’t try to turn the other person into someone they are not, just like in any other relationships. We are consistently learning from each other, and the great thing about being in an interracial relationship is that we get to learn a lot more.’
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It is because of their willingness and openness to share and learn from each other that Sofia made the decision to convert to Islam. There was no pressure from Emril’s family – only their love, support, generosity and grace led Sofia to finding peace with Allah. Their 2008 wedding ceremony was a celebration of different cultures. ‘We designed a wedding that incorporated elements of both traditional Malay and Chinese ceremonies,’ says Emril. ‘We wanted the wedding celebrations to be intimate and for everyone to experience that they are an essential part of our lives; that they are not just guests witnessing our union.’
Open Heart, Open Mind
Ukrainian model Kateryna Talanova and her Japanese husband Toshihide Nakajima (aka Toshi), met in Japan where Kateryna was stationed for a modelling stint. It was only at the insistence of her roommate that she joined a gathering of friends at a café—and that was the first time she met Toshi. But it was only a year later that Kateryna contacted him, upon her return to Japan. A long distance relationship quickly followed, and Kateryna quit her modelling job at the request of her then-boyfriend. She accompanied him on his many business trips for a year. However, as visas are difficult to obtain for Ukrainians, it became increasingly difficult for the two to be physically together. The question of marriage arose. Not long after, they tied the knot.
In fact, the more I know about his religion, the better I understand my husband
For Kateryna and Toshi, an Orthodox Christian and a Buddhist respectively, religion was never an issue. ‘We never had any conflicts in this field, and I am always happy to learn something new about his religion and traditions. I believe that by observing them, I do not go against my own beliefs. In fact, the more I know, the better I understand my husband.’
Likewise, the backgrounds of Jessica, from the UK, and Agus Djamhoer, an Indonesian, were never an issue. Jessica had lived in Indonesia before, and Agus had also worked overseas with expatriates. The couple adopt a ‘learn as you go’ attitude. Their son, Harfi, enjoys being surrounded by people of different beliefs and cultures. ‘He doesn’t understand the differences yet,’ explains Jessica. ‘In the UK, he would run off with his cousins without a second thought, and it is exactly the same here in Indonesia. He has the ability to rope in any child to play with him; whatever their colour, race or background—and I hope it always stays this way. We celebrate Lebaran [Eid ul Fitr] here, and when we visit the UK over Christmas, we join in my family’s traditions. It is good experience for our son that we do not alienate him from other religions and cultures.’
For Canadian Deanna Atiken, it was love at first sight. ‘It was surreal, really, and for some unknown reason, I said to him that the God in me loves and honours the God in you. And he replied, “Likewise!”’
It is with this same open heart that Deanna and her husband, Aaron Lim, a Chinese Malaysian, embarked on a relationship 18 years ago that is filled with lots of spice. ‘I think the best advice that I could give to interracial couples would be to allow each other to be who they are, and to appreciate their differences rather than try to change the other person—see through the eyes of your partner and walk in their shoes. Honour and respect each other as unique and wonderful individuals who have been magically brought together to help bring more love to the planet.’
- About one in seven marriages are interracial or interethnic
- Asians and Hispanics are most likely to marry outside of their races
- In 2008, African-Americans were three times more likely to marry outside of their race than in 1980
- Americans, particularly ‘Millennials’ (those born between the years 1980 and 2000), are more accepting of interracial relationships