Reflections on Intermarriage
Why marrying someone of a different race/culture is no big deal, and yet a really big deal at the same time.
It was February 4, 2002, at the New York University swimming pool. We met by chance, I was in Lane 5 and she was in Lane 6. I approached her out of the blue and suggested we exchange first names, which she reluctantly agreed to do. “Bianca,” I heard her say. “Alan,” I replied.
She excused herself shortly thereafter, telling me she has to get back to her swim class. I wasn’t sure whether she was blowing me off, or literally just had to get back to her class. But there was a way to find out.
After leaving the pool I hunted down a piece of blank paper, a pen and a single piece of scotch tape. I wrote a note: “Bianca, if you ever want some swim lessons, let me know. Alan. PS: Do you believe in love at first sight?” I included my cell phone number at the end.
I then boldly taped the note with “BIANCA” facing outward on the wall directly outside the exit of the women’s locker room, so that every woman leaving the pool that night had to see the note.
As I left the building that night I could see from the atrium above that she was still swimming. I thought to myself, if it’s meant to be, something will happen. Then I left.
Two days later I was at work and my cell phone rang. It was Bianca! Only it wasn’t really Bianca, it was Priyanka. Apparently, I had misheard her name that night. But she saw the note, remembered that we had exchanged names at the pool, and because that confusion happened frequently with her name, she assumed the note must have been for her and pulled it off the wall.
And she called. Which in retrospect turned out to be the luckiest day of my life. We had a great conversation on the phone, Priyanka was not only incredibly beautiful, she was also smart and funny, and we clicked immediately. A date was set for the next week to meet at the then trendy “Coffee Shop” restaurant on Union Square.
Fast forward 16 years, Priyanka and I are married and living in Los Angeles with 4 daughters, a dog and a house with a two-car garage.
So that’s how we met and where we ended up, and obviously there is a lot to tell about everything that happened in between, but the topic of this essay is intermarriage, so that’s the aspect of our relationship I want to focus on now.
Priyanka is Indian. Yes, from India, not the Native American variety. She’s Hindu and Jain, from ancestry, and speaks a dialect called Gujarati. She moved to the US with her parents when she was 8 years old.
I’m Jewish, from Brooklyn. My parents were a part Lithuanian, part German. I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, had mostly Jewish friends, was bar- mitzvahed at age 13 and was culturally Jewish, although by no means religious.
She’s darkish brown, I’m pasty white. We look different.
From the very beginning, Priyanka and I always got along splendidly and I never thought much about the racial and cultural differences between us. I never really thought about us as an “intermarriage,” even though by all obvious standards of logic and reason we clearly were.
Priyanka prayed in an unfamiliar way each morning and I thought it was cute to watch. The names of all her friends were unusual and unfamiliar and, at first, it was challenging for me to tell from their sound which names were male and which were female. Her friendship circle was almost exclusively Indian and I remember gatherings where I was the lone, non-Indian in a group of 10 or 15 people. Her Mom’s cooking was completely vegetarian, Indian and so different from the food I was used to.
I fully embraced the Indian culture. We travelled to India and met all her relatives; they liked me and I liked them, and still do to this day. We had an Indian style wedding, which suited me just fine, because I’m not even sure what a Jewish style wedding would look like, as distinct from an American style wedding with a white gown, black tuxedo, tall cake, etc.
To me, the Indian connection was a fun and exciting aspect of our relationship, I never once viewed it as an obstacle to be navigated around or a handicap to be overcome.
Of course along the way there were some slight indications that a clashing of cultures was occurring. For example, we sent out wedding menu cards to our guests asking if they prefer beef or fish and my father and step-mother wrote on the card “American Food”. I laughed it off as a typical manifestation of their sheltered, Long Island North Shore experience, but Priyanka was not as amused, she found it slightly (very?) insulting, which I can now understand.
Another example: at our wedding (2010) there is an Indian tradition which calls for the girl cousins to steal the groom’s shoes and he has to offer them money in order to get them back. Don’t ask me to explain the purpose or significance of this custom, I don’t have a clue, I was only playing along because it’s fun. So I get into a faux “negotiation” with Priyanka’s cousin about the price I’m going to pay to get my shoes back and when I was showing no signs of offering more, she said “Alan, don’t be such a Jew!”
A clash of cultures!
Anyway, I’m not easily offended by such things, even when they are genuinely offensive. I’m a baby boomer, I grew up during an era when racism and “culturalism” was just the way things were, and everybody had preconceived notions about the way certain groups tended to be, and that seemed kind of normal. Jews had these characteristics, WASPs had those, black had theirs, Asian had others, etc., and we just did our best to laugh about the differences and have fun with them. I myself have told many “Jewish jokes” which Jewish friends of mine found offensive. I never cared.
Nowadays, all that has changed and everyone is a sensitive snowflake and we’re not allowed to talk about those differences without being accused of “racism” and something-o-phobia.
Lately I wonder, if everyone is so opposed to racism and “other-phobia,” why don’t more people actively promote intermarriage? It seems to me that intermarriage between races and cultures is the only real, surefire way to eliminate racism in the long run.
If racism is the biggest problem facing mankind, and by the intensity of the popular conversation these days it seems to be, why not just get rid of all the different races and the problem is solved? If there’s no more black and white, hispanic, Arab or Asian, but everyone is a mixture of all those, then POOF, racism will cease to exist and we’ll be able to focus all our energies on stamping out “culturalism” instead, which is the belief, I assume, that certain cultures are different and maybe even “better” than others.
And yet, I rarely hear anyone promoting, or even talking about intermarriage. True, intermarriage is on the rise, especially among higher-educated people living in big cities. But it’s still a rare event outside of cities and among the majority of people around the world.
Racism has been an issue and a problem for thousands of years and it seems like just talking about it and rallying against it doesn’t have much impact on the problem. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the more we talk about racism, the worse the problem becomes because now we’re focusing on the issue and, as all fans of the “Law of Attraction” know, the more you focus on something, the more of it you get.
In contrast, if everyone were to simply marry someone of a different race than themselves (e.g., black marries white), or at least of a very different culture (e.g., Jew marries Arab), then the problem of racism would be solved once and for all in 2 or 3 generations (50–75 years) max. That’s not that long in the scheme of things.
When I look at our 4 daughters (newborn, 2, 4 and 6 years old), I am amazed to notice that they don’t seem to be any particular race or culture. They’re near impossible to pin down as being of any particular background, and that is from only 1 generation of mixing. Imagine what happens as they get older, inter-marry and mix up the marbles in the jar even more…
Another interesting aspect of our inter-marriage is that because there is no one, clear culture we “have” to follow, Priyanka and I are free to experiment with and adopt those aspects of all cultures which appeal to us the most. For example, though neither one of us is Christian, the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are our families favorites, and we go “all in” on those holidays as if they were in our families for centuries, even though they never were.
For my life, I feel that intermarrying has not been such a big deal. I don’t notice any real negatives, nor do I notice any major advantages, it seems more neutral to me. Far more important is that I found an amazing woman to partner with, to create and raise a family with and to share the rest of my life with.
But when I think of it from a “macro economic” perspective, I see how what we are doing has a major, long lasting impact on the future for generations to come.
Thanks for reading to the end but gotta run now, Kanye and Kim are coming over for dinner in a hour and we have to prepare the veggie samosas.