I am the product of an interracial marriage; my dad is white and my mom is Korean. And because of my experience as the biracial child of an interracial couple, I have always felt like race should have no place when it comes to love. Call me naive, but it confuses and offends me to to hear people talk about how they wouldn't date or marry a person of such-and-such race. Of course, attraction and love are tricky, complicated subjects when it comes to race (i.e. when does attraction cross over into fetishism?). But, ultimately, it makes my head explode to consider the idea that I would refuse to fall in love - or refuse to marry somebody I loved - if that person were of a different race than me. The idea is to me - a biracial person - personally hurtful.
Ultimately, however, I married a Korean American man. Being Korean was not on my Future Husband Checklist, but marrying my husband and starting a family with him has connected me more deeply to my Korean American identity. I am both proud and grateful for that. I like that my husband and I share a culture, identity and experience as second generation Korean Americans and I love being able to share that with our kids, but I know also that neither or marital bliss nor our familial strength are based predominately on those commonalities.
These experiences - as a mixed-race person married to a somebody of my own race (sort of) - make the recent report on the rise in interracial marriage by the Pew Research Center endlessly fascinating to me. Even more exciting perhaps is the section of their report on the Millennial Generation (teens and 20-somethings, that would include me) that reports on the near-universal acceptance of interracial dating and marriage among my generation. The first report on interracial marriage claims that 1 in 7 U.S. marriages is interracial or interethnic and this has got a lot of people very excited. As groundbreaking as this might seem, this CNN opinion piece by Cornell professor Daniel T. Litcher suggests that everybody calm down, take a deep breath and realize that the reason we've seen such a rise in the first place is that the baseline was so low to begin with. It was only in 1967, after all, that interracial marriage became legal. In other words, we've come a long way, but only because there were virtually no interracial marriages a couple generations ago.
Particularly interesting in Litcher's piece are the tidbits on Asian American marriage statistics:
"Unfortunately, most of the nation's headlines ignored Pew's observation that intermarriage rates with whites actually have declined among Asians and Hispanics since 1980. This is something new.
My research with Julie Carmalt and Zhenchao Qian, to be published in Sociological Forum, documents recent declines in intermarriage rates among U.S.-born Hispanics and Asians after decades-long increases. Declines in intermarriage have been largest among the second generation, the U.S.-born children of immigrant parents."
"Since 1980, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of native-born Asian women marrying Asian immigrants.
One explanation is that substantial new immigration has simply expanded the marriage opportunities for native-born Hispanics and Asians. But it is also likely that the extraordinary recent growth of the immigrant population has reinforced a new sense of identity rooted in shared ethnicity and culture. This seems to have encouraged more in-marriage with co-ethnics at the expense of more out-marriage with whites.
Demographers sometimes consider intermarriage to be the final step in the assimilation process, or an indicator of racial boundaries or lack of them. The current retreat from intermarriage among America's non-black minorities raises new questions about racial and ethnic balkanization in America."
(I've always found it kind of offensive that intermarriage (to whites, in most cases) is considered "the final step in the assimilation process" even though my mom is arguably more "assimilated" than her friends and family that married other Koreans. Still though, why do we all got to assimilate anyway, huh?)
Anyway, ultimately, I want to celebrate interracial marriage and the idea that people shouldn't love and marry on the basis of somebody's race without diminishing the idea that marrying somebody with whom I can share my cultural identity is also something to celebrate. Am I asking too much?
Nina Moon also blogs at Sweet Disarray.