race relations

Adventures in Interracial Dating: Visiting Granny for Christmas


My grandma is the best person in the world.  Let me gush about her for a little bit before I tell you about how I sometimes make fun of her.  It will soothe my conscience.  She is hands down the most loving and forgiving person on this earth.  I crashed my mom's car when I was a license-less fifteen-year-old, and though she shamed me to no end, she still stuck up for me when I'm compared with my “no-good, lazy cousins.”  When I went to Korea earlier this year to teach English, she was so proud of me but then promptly dropped that act when everything went down with the DPRK. She cried for a week straight so I would come home (not going to lie though, kinda glad I can blame my grandma for that one.)  My grandma is seriously THE BEST. My Grandma and I at my college graduation last summer.

That said, she has a little bit of a Pilipino accent.  It has become customary for me to poke fun at this accent occasionally when the mood strikes. A couple of months ago, I inadvertently shared this accent with my boyfriend, Michael. He had not really spent much time with my grandma yet, and assumed I was over-exaggerating. He realized differently when we went over for a family dinner, and my grandma took to spilling all our family secrets.  You know, gossip about the aunties and who’s pregnant... normal stuff. Michael couldn’t really understand her, as she kept code-switching between Ilocano, Tagalog and English. But, as a granddaughter introducing my new boyfriend I was really excited about this. This excitement translated to me speaking like my Grandma the entire way home. We conversed like this for a good thirty minutes before Michael switched over to answering me in his own grandmother’s accent. I should add, Michael’s grandma is from the United States’s South - she's spent her life largely in Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina. I haven’t met her yet, but apparently she is very similar to my grandma, except she is white, and goes by the name Granny. This is when it dawned on me: getting my grandma to like my boyfriend was the easy part.  Now, I have to get Granny to like me.

This Christmas, I’m going to South Carolina to spend the holidays with Michael’s family. I’m most nervous to meet Granny, mainly because I don’t know how she will react to her grandson dating a non-white girl. Michael is my first white boyfriend. This isn’t really an issue, or even a source of uniqueness in our home in San Diego, California. However, it was not very far in the past where interracial marriage was illegal in South Carolina, and frowned upon in the upper-class white suburb in which he grew up.

Coming from a family that already crossed the interracial dating bridge a generation before, it never really occurred to me the cultural implications involved with dating a white guy. Aside from the pressure of coming across as nice, accommodating, self-sufficient, pretty, intelligent, and strong when I am invited into their home, I am anxious to prove myself as far more than simply the model minority. This brings me to the article that Ryann Tanap, fellow UniPro writer and editor, wrote recently regarding interracial dating and familial/cultural expectations.  I never considered being labeled as an “other,” but now that my boyfriend is white, the apprehension is different.

Now let me note, Michael and his family have been nothing but welcoming, supportive, and inclusive towards me. But the fear of rejection is still there.  And in my eyes, rejection from the matriarch of the family is something that is pretty hard to overcome. Ryann's article addressed that race relations are changing for current generations, but past generations still impact our current dating practices and attitudes.

I thought about how this is especially applicable to my experience, and how histories of hurt, discrimination, abuse, imperialism, and racism melt into today’s attitudes and fears, no matter how far removed. I mean... interracial marriages were legalized almost 50 years ago. Shouldn’t these concerns be completely irrelevant by now?

Family vs. Interracial Dating


“Why do you like blacks?” a relative asked me.

I was in elementary school at the time. I didn’t realize that the students that I had crushes on were from a different race than I mine. The question didn’t bother me, though. The fact was I just liked whomever I liked, and that was that.

I started dating shortly after middle school. My first boyfriend was black; he was smart and a stellar athlete. We even took advanced and gifted classes together. Now, I’m not sure if the tone was joking or not, but after learning that I was dating him, the same relative asked me a question that changed my perception of race and interracial dating.

“You’re going to marry a Filipino or white guy, right?”

I was confused. Was my relationship a disgrace? Was it not good enough? Why was I being shamed for something that was making me happy? I questioned my feelings and emotions toward this guy, and others thereafter. Subconsciously, I only allowed myself to be interested in boys who were Filipino or white. Whenever I had feelings for a black classmate of mine, and things didn’t work out, I blamed it on the fact that our races didn’t mix. I had conditioned myself into believing that people from our two races weren’t supposed to be together.

Cultural expectations

In the Fil-Am community, there seems to be a common understanding that Pilipinos are not to marry outside of their race (or ethnicity for that matter), unless of course, it’s to a white partner. Was this the reality of a Fil-Am household in so-called “post-racist” America? I was positive that one could love someone, regardless of his or her race, gender, sexual orientation and faith. So how could my own family, who had raised me to be an open and accepting individual, have an exception when it came to dating someone who was black?

While racism and hate crimes affect Fil-Ams and Pilipinos in the US, I wonder if we are even aware of the racist stereotypes that our own culture has adopted. With an issue such as interracial dating, we are able to see just how family expectations continue to create generational gaps within the Fil-Am community.

For example, the act of marrying within one’s own race or ethnicity is simply part of the norm. To our elders, it may ensure that we’re preserving our family traditions, ideals and faith.

In addition, dating or marrying a white person is also culturally acceptable. This stems from the Philippines’ history of colonization. Throughout Asia, if a young lady finds a partner from a Western country, she may instantly be considered successful and wealthy. Furthermore, Asian cultures yearn to have light skin, as some people resort to using whitening creams and bleaches. Sadly, the Filipino culture, isn’t any different.

Race relations in America

But what about the fact that we are in America? Anti-miscegenation laws were recognized as unconstitutional in 1967 with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia. Our country then saw a rise in interracial marriages. According to the 2010 Census, the number of interracial marriages continues to grow, thus making our nation increasingly multiracial.

Today, however, interracial relationships are still seen as taboo. Recently, Cheerios released a commercial that showcased an interracial couple and their biracial daughter. Unfortunately, Cheerios received some negative attacks. Inspired by the commercial, Michael Murphy and Alyson West, a couple from Atlanta, released a crowd-sourced blog, which celebrates interracial American families.

Our relatives have moved from the Philippines to the US, and the same types of traditional values and expectations historically embedded in our culture continue to exist within some Fil-Am families. While younger generations of Fil-Ams may be accepting of interracial dating and relationships, some older generations are not. It is up to us to help our families understand that we are truly part of diverse country, comprised of individuals who accept others. America is in fact a melting pot. We shouldn’t be afraid to continue mixing that pot and embrace love for what it is.

Photo credit: Loving Day