Tag Archives: Marriage

American by Birth, Nepali by Marriage

I’m kind of outing myself a little, but I recently wrote a story for a new Nepali magazine. I wanted to share it (I hope the magazine folks don’t mind) as I really liked how it came together. I was asked to talk about my views as a non-Nepali married to a Nepali, and I see the article as a nice introduction to how I see my world today.

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“Can you see Mount Everest from your house?” I asked my friend, a native of Kathmandu. We were sharing French fries in the campus cafeteria, and I was making conversation. I remembered the glossy photos of past Everest expeditions in the National Geographic I received each month, like a prize, from my grandfather after he had finished reading. Every article on Everest started with the expedition team departing from Kathmandu; a yellow star on the map followed by dotted lines that connected the city to the top of the world. I assumed the giant mountain towered on the outskirts of the capital, like an ancient skyscraper of rock and ice.

My friend narrowed his eyes, searching my face for signs of sarcasm. Finding none he smirked, and responded, “Oh yeah, and some times during gym class we hiked to the summit to have a glass of tea.”

I had only been at the university for a few weeks, so I was almost naïve enough to believe him. I knew very little about his country aside from the magazine pictures, an unfortunate side effect of 1990s American public education. High school curricula simply weren’t very “global,” at least when it came to non-Western countries.

A year later I would meet my future husband, not more than a few hundred feet from the cafeteria where I first began to learn about Nepal. He was bean-pole skinny, with medium-length black hair, and glasses that tinted in bright sunlight. He was quiet, and sweet, and would occasionally leave a sticky note on my dormitory door that inquired, “के छ?”

It has now been almost nine years, and not only have I been to Nepal, I have seen Mount Everest with my own eyes—while panting for breath on the steep upward climb to Namche Bazar. From Kathmandu it took a small plane and two days of hiking to catch a misty glimpse of the mountain, and would take several more days of hiking if I wanted to touch its feet.

I have journeyed far in other ways too. I am now part of a Nepali family and my identity includes words like buhari and bhauju. I celebrate American Thanksgiving and Dashain, Christmas and Tihar. Our home is often filled with laughter and conversations with friends in both English and Nepali.

I have fallen in love with a man, but also a country.

My journey has not been without bumps. I cringe each time my father-in-law greets me at the airport by pinching my arm and exclaiming joyfully about how “fat” I have become. Ironically my mother-in-law compares the amount of rice I eat to that of a five-year-old child, but I have to surrender; I will never be able to keep up in the daal-bhat department.

My biggest hurdle has been language—that same hungry five-year-old would clearly beat me in a Nepali oratory contest—but I lumber on, still feeding my mind a few new words every day.

In many ways I have become a hybrid. I am American by birth and Nepali by marriage.  As the years unfold, our cultures are better interwoven, pulling two worlds together with a tighter thread.

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Name Changer

First of all I apologize for how this post probably rambles on. I’ve wanted to write about my name for a while, and I’m probably trying to cram in too many thoughts at once, please bear with me. Also I don’t mean to offend anyone, or pass judgments on anyone’s particular choices. Everything in here is my own opinion and highlights choices made specifically for me and my situation. My intention is not to preach to anyone, just explain the thinking behind how I got to where I am with my own name.

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to clarify: Both my first and last names start with C. P is in the same boat, with a first and last name that start with the same letter. So I started out at “C C” and now I am “C C-P,” and P is “P P.”

I recently received our first Christmas card of the season and the envelope was addressed to “C and P” without any last name. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. I’m sure we will get all sorts of name variations on our holiday mail this year, because when we got married I decided to hyphenate my last name. I believe I’m the first person in my family to have done this, so I can imagine that many will be confused at what the protocol is for addressing an envelope when the wife decides to buck the trend, even though I’ve been putting “C-P” as our return address for the past two years.

From a very young age I felt strongly about my last name. Perhaps it’s because my dad has three daughters and no sons who could traditionally “carry on the family name,” and I think he always imagined that his branch of the “C’s” would end with him. Or maybe I’ve always been stubborn with an acute sense of how I perceive my identity; but anyway, I never understood why a man intrinsically got to keep his name while a woman spent part of her life as one name and the rest as another. Something about it just irked me to the core.

However, ironically, I also admit that I was equally annoyed as a child when movie stars who I knew were married didn’t somehow share a semblance of a name to publicly show their familial tie. I always felt that without some sort of name connection the family lacked a sense of unity, or wasn’t as committed to each other.

I didn’t know how to rectify this in my mind. Growing up in a fairly conservative place, I didn’t really have classmates with different naming conventions. I didn’t know what options were available to me, or that options even existed! As I said before, my family always followed the pattern of a new wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage.

Then in high school my parents began their long messy divorce. I remember feeling strange for my mom… that she was now saddled with her married “C” last name which she elected to keep as a visible sign of her connection to her kids, even though she didn’t want to be connected to my dad anymore. I’m not sure if she ever thought about it, but I certainly did… that her last name could act as a constant reminder of the husband she no longer had. By no means am I saying that I’d want to keep my name in case I’m ever divorced (heaven forbid!) so that I can retain my maiden name without much difficulty, but it was something to think about when I was at a formative age.

It also struck me that I didn’t have the same relationship with my mother’s maiden name—“M”—that I had with my own last name. Of course I always thought of the M’s as my family too, but I was never an “M” in the same sense as I was a “C” (not meaning I was closer to one family or the other, it’s just I felt more like the name “C” represented me as an individual more than the name “M” did). It saddened me to think that if I had children and didn’t pass along my name in some form, then my potential future children might have that same noncommittal feeling about my name as I have about my mother’s.

Then one of my mother’s younger sisters got married when I was a freshman in high school. She was a corporate lawyer, a high powered go-getter, someone with a strong personality who married in her thirties so she had a long life as a “M” before marriage. I was totally shocked when she took her husband’s name without batting an eye. Of anyone in my family I thought for sure she would be different, times had changed. I was almost offended, why was this strong woman deciding to change how she is identified to the world simply because she married a man?

A few years later, I was sitting next to my aunt’s daughter, a blunt eight year old, who asked me what P’s last name was. “So you will be Mrs. P after you get married?” she asked me. “No.” I told her. I could see by the expression on her face that my answer completely caught her off guard. “Why not? What else could your name be?” she asked. “Ms. C-P” I explained. It seemed to be a completely new concept for her.

A Colombian student of mine put it nicely one day… most people from Spanish speaking cultures have two last names because one is from the mother and one from the father: so for example a person named Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a father whose last name was “Sanchez ______” and mother whose last name was “Rodriguez ______”.

Anyway, this student of mine didn’t really understand what “maiden name” meant on immigration forms so he would put “Rodriquez” as his maiden name and “Sanchez” as his last. I told him that people in the US would interpret this to mean that he was a) a woman and b) married if he filled out forms in that way. This launched us into a long discussion of last names in the US. Even though he had been living here for several years he hadn’t realized that most Americans only have one last name, from their father’s side, he just assumed they went by one of their two names for simplicity in a class room situation. At one point he declared “But, with only one name that’s like they are an orphan on their mother’s side!” I kind of liked that line of thinking.

As a college student I decided that if I were to marry someday I would want to hyphenate because it seemed to be the best of both worlds—my name and my husband’s name—my identity, and his, with family continuity on both sides. I remember having quite a few heated debates with people about my plan. People told me that hyphenated names were “pretentious,” or too long, or confusing. That a kid would never be able to spell such a name in kindergarten. I think it was the hyphen in particular that annoyed people, but I thought that without the hyphen it would be all too easy to drop the “C” or for people to assume that “C” was a middle name and not a last name, that it would be easier to mess things  up. I thought for alphabetizing purposes a hyphen made it easier because the names were connected, so something would have to be filed under the first “C.” It made more sense to me.

“But what about your kids?” someone asked once, “If you give them the same double/hyphen name as yours, what happens if your kid’s future spouse also wants to hyphenate? Will you have grandkids with four last names? How ridiculous is that? Where does the madness end?” To that I can only answer that I made the decision for myself, and any potential future kids can ultimately make their own decisions about their own naming conventions.

As it became more apparent that my marriage partner would eventually be P, I was adamant about my choice, and the fact that any potential kids will also have the C-P last name (or P-C, at one point I said if he decided to take my name he could decide on the order). P was always fine with me keeping my C, that was never an issue. However I pressed for P to take on the C-P last name as well so that the entire family would share the same name, a stronger, more visible identifier of a family unit. At first he seemed cool with the idea, but after starting his phd program and having some publications under “P P,” and as our actual marriage got closer, he wanted to stick with just “P” for his last name.

He worried that if he changed his name people back in Nepal might find it “weird,” or that it might mess up his immigration documents, or his Nepali citizenship papers. He didn’t know the legal hoops he would have to jump through. I still encouraged the name change, but eventually figured he wasn’t going to budge. I had to be fair, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had continually pressed me to drop my C (which he never did), so I couldn’t keep pressing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When we applied for our marriage license he lingered for a few moments over the “name after marriage” question and I held my breath to see if he would change his mind, but eventually he filled it in “P” and looked up at me apologetically. Ah well.

Right before we got married I had briefly struggled with the idea of just keeping “C” instead of adding “P.” Many of the female international people I knew had kept their maiden names after marriage. This was due, at least in part, to having married in the US and not wanting to deal with changing over all their immigration documents to a new name. Many of my international students at work had kept their maiden names for the same reason—and all the Chinese students kept their names, since it was not a Chinese custom for a married woman to change her name after marriage. I had an American friend in my book club who had kept her name, and when she had a baby the baby’s last name was a hyphenated version of her’s and her husband’s name. I almost felt that by hyphenating I didn’t feel “progressive enough,” but then I would think back to the Hollywood actors that annoyed me as a kid, and realized that it was important to me to have both the names.

In particular I thought it was important to have P’s name as well as mine to denote the influence of South Asian culture in my life. Not everyone will recognize P’s name as South Asian, but those who do have a little bit more knowledge about me when I introduce myself. It kind of “breaks the ice” so to speak or gives me some South Asian street cred.

For example, a professor came to my office recently. I had sold something over the university email listserv and he was coming to collect the item. He noticed during our back and forth emails that part of my last name is “P” and he recognized it as different than the Irish sounding parts of the rest of my name. He was curious because even though he is just as “white bread” as I am, his wife is Filipino and he had known some Filipinos who had similar last names. He wanted to see if I also had a Filipino connection, and started by asking, “I don’t mean to pry, but I was interested in your name, what is its background?” It started a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the post-wedding transition has felt smoother for me since the “C” is still in my name. On occasion I forget to add the “P” when introducing myself (I’m getting better at it), but it’s easier to say, “I’m C C…… -P” instead of the more awkward sounding, “I’m C C—er—nope, I mean C P.” Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m C C-P” and I think, “maybe it does sound long and pretentious?” but ultimately I think I would have deeply mourned the complete loss of the “C” had I decided to change my name. I’m really happy with my decision. Now I just need to gently coax people to use my name correctly.

For my birthday this past August my mother sent me a card that was addressed to “Mrs. P P.” I decided to nip that trend in the bud from the get go. Perhaps it makes me sound like a psychotic control freak, but I called her up and said, “Hey mom, thanks for the card, I just wanted to ask you to please send me mail under the name ‘C C-P.’ I’m not ‘Mrs.P,’ and certainly not ‘Mrs. P P,’ I have my own name.” She brushed it off by saying, “Well, I was in a rush and it was faster to write that.” But I pointed out that in eight years of dating P and many years of living together it was never faster to write his name on my card before. She probably doesn’t really see what the big deal is, but I’m hoping the next time she sends something she will hopefully remember our conversation.

An article in the Huffington Post summed up my feelings about it (although the married couple in the example decided to change their name to a new name combining the two original last names, her sentiment on receiving the card is what I thought echoed my own):

Emily Zeugner, 32, who works in media in New York, and her husband, Amos Kenigsberg, made a similar decision — they changed their last name to Zeeberg.

Ms. Zeeberg explained that changing her name would have sent a message she wasn’t comfortable with, one that that effectively said, “I’m shedding my identity, I’m joining your family.”

“As a feminist, it really bugged me,” she said. “I’m glad that we created our new identity.”

After the two married, they received a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Amos Kenigsberg.

“I just saw the envelope, and I felt such annoyance, and on a small scale, kind of outraged,” she said. “He gets full billing and his full name, and the only thing I get is Mrs. It just really pissed me off.”

Similarly, friends of ours (the Bulgarian-American couple who got married a few weeks after us) in their newlywed excitement like to call up and say to me, “hey Mrs. P!” and I usually gently correct them, “it’s Ms C-P, how are you?”

Last night we received another Christmas card in the mail from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She made out the card to “C C-P and P P,” and I appreciated her efforts in keeping us all included. I guess the best short hand would be “C-P Family/Household” I guess we will see what people ultimately do. As long as I’m not the dreaded “Mrs P P” on an envelope I’ll probably be happy.

So that’s the story of how I became C C-P. What about other married (or soon-to-be married) couples? Did you change your name or keep it, or part of it? Did you follow a tradition, or make up your own? Is there a story as to why you decided to do what you did?

Let’s Teej Again, Like We Did Last Summer…

Other Teej Posts: Teej (2009), It’s Time Again for Teej (2010), Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees (2010)

Today is my first married Teej and my first Teej with my mother-in-law.

I first learned about the holiday when P and I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2007. I’ve taken part in the festival every year since, generally by wearing red and fasting for 24 hours, and usually by dressing up in a sari and going to the local temple with several female friends (AS, S-di) at some point during the day.

This year Mamu is with us, so I am letting her dictate how we should celebrate the occasion. Last night she explained that I should wake up early, take a shower so that I am “pure,” then I should dress in red clothing and wear my bangles and green and gold wedding tilhari, then we would worship Shiva and Parvati.

“And fast all day?” I asked.

“Eh, fasting too difficult.” Mamu said. “You have to work, not so strict. Eat pure foods. Milk, potato, sweets, fruits. No salt, no rice.”

“But Mamu that seems like too easy of a fast.” I told her. “No salt and no rice is easy if I get to eat sweets and fruits all day.”

“In Nepal it used to be harder.” Daddy explained, “No food, no water. But now the rules are not so strict. No need to fast all day. Sweets and fruits are fine.”

“But potatoes? Eating boiled potatoes hardly feels like a fast.” I insisted.

“It’s okay.” They said, “Eat, eat.”

If one thing is true above all else, I’ll never starve as a member of the P family.

So this morning I set my alarm for 6am… and snoozed it until about 6:40. By the time I was conscious enough to roll out of bed and stumble into the shower Mamu had already beaten me there. So I laid down for a few more minutes and listened to the water, waiting for her to finish.

Then I showered, and dressed up in a red kurta top that Mamu and Daddy picked out yesterday. I selected ten of my red and gold glass wedding bangles, putting five on each arm, and slipped my green wedding pote with golden tilhari over my head. When I went out to the living room Mamu and Daddy were already sitting on the couch waiting.

“Come, come,” Mamu said, “Wash hands to purify, then we go to worship Shiva.” At the sink she asked me, “Where’s your tikka? No tikka?”

“Should I put?” I asked.

“Tikka put on. Small tikka. Very pretty.” She insisted. So I went to my bedroom and fished out a packet of small sparkly tikkas from my jewelry box and stuck it between my eyebrows. While I was at it I asked P to put a small dot of orange sindoor at the part in my hair.

“Good,” Mamu said, and we walked to her bedroom where she had a small altar set up on the dresser. She had folded the Nepali calendar she brought with her from Kathmandu so that a picture of Shiva and Parvati was facing upward. In front of the picture she had a cucumber, a banana and an apple on a plate. She lit two incense and said, “Today we pray for the long lives of our husbands,” and motioned for me to pick up the plate of fruit/veg. I circled it in front of the gods’ picture and then she gave me the incense she had been holding. She folded her hands in Namaste and whispered a quick prayer. After I circled the incense she took them back and stuck them in the cucumber in front of Shiva to finish burning. She then motioned for me to touch both the heads of Shiva and Parvati, and then touch my own forehead with my right hand, then motioned for me to touch the two images of Ganesh and again touch my forehead.

“Okay, finished.” She said, “You want boiled potato?”

She took me to the kitchen where she had two small boiled potatoes on a plate ready for me. I felt like I was cheating. I kind of like fasting. I don’t have many opportunities to do it and I like having a reason to abstain from food—it’s like a personal challenge, and it makes you think about what it is like for the people in the world who have to go without. It teaches you discipline, and gives you some clarity. I have great respect for people who fast for Ramadan. One day of fasting hardly seems like a sacrifice.

I guiltily took one of the small potatoes and took a small bite.

“How many?” Mamu asked, “Two? Three?”

“One is okay.” I told her. “Potatoes are heavy.”

“But I have many!” She said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker to reveal another four or five floating in the water.

I compromised, “I’ll eat one now, and take two small potatoes for lunch.”

“And sweets?” she asked. At the Indian grocery store last night she had picked up two boxes of sweets—barfi and jelabi, and a canister of rosgolla. She thrusted three barfi into my hands.

“I’ll eat one now and take one for dessert.” I said.

“No… two. You want another? Three?”

“Okay, I’ll take two.” I packed a small lunch box with two small boiled potatoes, two milk barfi, and an apple. So much for “fasting.”

“No salt today.” Mamu instructed. “Only pure foods—ghee, milk, fruit, sweets, and potato.”

So now I am sitting in my office with tikka, sindoor, tilhari, red kurta, and glass bangles. In my own office it doesn’t matter so much… I’ve dressed “international” before, and it is more accepted by our student population (being that they too are international), but I have to meet with a domestic student today that the university administration asked me to take off campus for a serious issue tomorrow morning, so I am a little shy about meeting her all “Nepali-fied” and having her think I’m “weird.” I also have to host the campus religious diversity center open house—which I guess dressed in Hindu festival attire I won’t be too out of place, but I prefer my bubble of cultural diversity when dressed in this way.

The plan for the rest of the day is that once I get home from work I’ll dress up in a new maroon silk sari that Mamu brought me from Nepal specifically for Teej and go to the temple where P and I got married with Mamu and S-di.

So happy long life to my family, and happy Teej to anyone else celebrating today. Hopefully your MILs and/or significant others are helping you cheat with sweets as well today ;)

Applying for the Marriage License

The last time I saw my Dad’s family was at Thanksgiving. Sitting around the dinner table they asked various questions about the upcoming wedding. One of my uncles joked that it was important “not to forget the marriage license.” Apparently when he and my aunt got married they traveled up from Texas to New York, and between organizing things from afar, and all the little details of the wedding the “week of,” everyone forgot about applying for the marriage license. Luckily my grandmother knew someone at the country clerk’s office, and everything was rectified in time.

I consider myself pretty organized. I’m trying to get a lot done in advance so that the “week of” we are not so stressed out. I’m keeping a running spreadsheet on RSVPs (for the two ceremonies), meal selections, gifts, and thank you notes. I already have center pieces and guest favors mapped out and pre-ordered. I’m hoping to have programs for both weddings done within the next two weeks, as well as song lists and photographer info. I like thinking about the details. Or maybe I’m just an event-organizing-freak.

But the time ticks by quickly! A college friend of ours is getting married on Friday, which is exactly one month before our American ceremony. Tomorrow is exactly one month from our Nepali ceremony. I’ve been waiting a really long time for this, and needless to say I’m excited, but it’s also crazy how quick it all of a sudden is! I blinked, and now it is only a month away!

So with the 30 day mark hovering I thought, what the heck, lets apply for the marriage license so that there is one less thing to worry about.

In Massachusetts you have to fill out an application for your “intention” to marry, and three days later you can pick up your license. You have to use your license within 60 days, which we already have covered. Last night I said to P, “Let’s go to City Hall tomorrow and fill out the application.” And today during my lunch break at the office I went to the ATM to take out the $40 application fee, drove to P’s university to pick him up, and together we headed to City Hall.

I can officially pick up the license on Monday and I can store it safely until 32 days from now!

"Documenting" the moment. This photo is also a very nice example of "pinky-whiteness" versus nice and tan (from my last post).

American Immigration, or Why We Aren’t Getting Married in Nepal

And while on tangents, here is a second one…

I’ve had the question on the blog before: Are you getting married in Nepal? And yesterday’s post should make it clear that we are not. But there is a reason for that too.

So as I’ve mentioned in the past, my day job (when I’m not secretly blogging during my lunch break or lulls in student appointments) is an international student advisor at a university in New England. I really love my job. I love working with and talking to people from around the world on a daily basis, I love helping them when they have problems or questions, and it is a lot of fun to be constantly learning new things about culture. It’s not so fun working with immigration regulations… although having a good knowledge of these tricky regs helps me to better serve my students when they come with questions. But… that means I really know what I should do immigration wise, and what I shouldn’t do, and that if I break the rules, I don’t have “ignorance is bliss” to fall back on if we are caught, and professionally I can’t affording getting in trouble with this topic.

I’ve read on some blog forums about people going to India and getting married, then coming back in to the US, and getting married at a later date. Occasionally these couples are graduate students. P is also a graduate student on an F-1 visa. Going to South Asia on an F-1, marrying an American spouse, then coming back in through US immigration and not declaring the change of status, and then later changing it once getting married in the US is technically an immigration violation.

An F-1 student visa is “non-immigrant intent” meaning IF your intension to immigrate to the US changes (such as marrying an American and planning to stay here—unless you make it crystal clear that you both don’t intend to stay, but will return to South Asia and not apply for permanent residency) and you leave the country and re-enter, you have violated your F-1 status. (Similarly the most common visa rejection reason is Section 214(b) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act– that you do not have enough ties to your home country, or that you have not overcome a presumption that you are using the visa to immigrate or work illegally in the United States.)

Violation of F-1 status is an offense that could potentially have your SEVIS record at your university terminated and have you sent back to your home country. If you are taking this regulation exactly by the book with a strict interpretation—even being engaged and traveling internationally and coming back in could be a violation of your status. Certainly the last thing you should do is waive an engagement or wedding ring in an immigration official’s face at the port of entry (even though you will be in two separate immigration lines anyway—the American national in the US passport/green card line, the foreign spouse in the non-US passport line).

The other potential problem is coming back into the US and marrying here and initiating the paperwork for a Change of Status from F-1 to Permanent Residency (Green Card). If the time is short (between your foreign spouse’s entry and the US wedding/paperwork) the US gov’t can potentially give you trouble when processing your Change of Status info because they can question your spouses, “intention to immigrate” when they last entered the country close to your wedding date. Do they always give trouble, probably not, but the potential is there.

If a foreign national plans to marry an American then technically (if we are going “by the book” here) they should come into the US on a K-1 (fiancé) visa. However then your partner could potentially be stuck outside the country for months waiting for the paperwork to clear before they could enter and marry. It is a perpetual frustration… US immigration rules make things so challenging, that it encourages people to break the rules.

On the flip side… you get married in the US first, then plan to go to Nepal… after you marry here you would have to initiate that same Change of Status paperwork and at least get “Advanced Parole” (travel papers) before you leave the US. That could be one month to several months (or more depending on the country, spouse name, etc) to receive that paperwork. So either way, you can’t do a wedding in the US and abroad within a few days of each other legally.

From what I hear, in the past you could get married at a court house and walk across the street to a US gov’t immigration center and get your Green Card the same day. But long gone are those days.

Anyway, besides the silly desire to want anniversary dates close to one another for memory and consistency purposes, my main worry was that if we did the wedding in the US first, and too much time passed before we were able to make it to Nepal, then people might feel… well… the wedding is over now, so much time has passed, let’s just leave the Nepali part. We can have a party to introduce you to relatives, but no point in doing the rituals.

I didn’t want the Nepali ceremony to go by the way-side because immigration and timing just couldn’t add up. Plus I was certain that few, if any, of my relatives would come to Nepal. My sisters, probably, but my parents, particularly my dad, definitely not. I thought it would be good to expose them to P’s culture while I had the chance.

So… this is why both weddings are in the US. P and I hope to travel to Nepal before the end of 2011—either during Dashain or December depending on immigration paperwork and time off from work, and perhaps we will have a gathering of family in Nepal as a wedding party, but at least the main events will have been taken care of by then, and no immigration rules would have been flagrantly broken in the making of our marriage.

Alright, I’ll take a break from wedding posts for a little while to give you all a breather :)

“Marrying Out”

National Geographic this month has a short article on “Marrying Out” as part of their continuing series on population. It briefly highlights that marriage demographics are changing in the US (using Barak Obama as an example– when his mother married in the early ’60s only 1 in 1,000 marriages were between someone of African descent and a Caucasian, however now it is 1 in 60).

[Nat Geo article pdf]

The article visually represents different spouse pairings, and explains that black women are least likely to intermarry while Asian men are second least likely. (hmmmm!)

The information is based on a report by the Pew Research Center by the same name with the tag line, “One-in-Seven New US Marriages is Interracial or Interethnic.” I haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, but I thought I would share.

It’s kind of reassuring. I started this blog because sometimes I felt like I was the only one who had cross-cultural issues. Sometimes when I talk to my family, they make me feel like the only one in the world who wants a bi-cultural household, or wants to organize two weddings to highlight different cultural traditions, or wants to learn another language– but you know, we are not alone. And it feels good.

Marriage Politics

Nepal, like many parts of South Asia, still has a lot of “arranged marriages,” even in the cities– although it seems to me that arranged marriages are more like a “matchmaking” service these days, rather than a situation where the bride and groom didn’t know each other much or at all prior to the wedding like in generations past.

Today parents will introduce their adult children to each other and arrange a few meetings (or perhaps the couple will start dating) and after sometime the children can decide whether or not they want to marry. Sometimes there are professional “matchmakers” involved who come to your house with a folder of headshots and resumes to start the process, and now, of course, there are actual matchmaking websites like South Asian versions of eHarmoney.com. Parents even sometimes find potential matches for their children through ads online or in newspapers, etc. If P and I hadn’t gotten together, it is entirely possible he could have gone down this path. Who knows? Maybe his brother will.

The flip side of arranged marriages are what are referred to as “love marriages,” or marriages that are more like the marriages you find in the US… people meet each other on their own, form a relationship, and eventually decide to get married. Love marriages are becoming more and more frequent throughout South Asia, although they are not a new thing entirely. There were love marriages in previous generations, but they were much more rare (“Frank Uncle”).

The danger of love marriage is that, gasp, it is possible to fall in love with someone from outside your community! In the South Asian context (Nepal specifically) your “community” could mean several things including your religion, your “caste,” your ethnic group, even your economic peers. The one that I find really fascinating is caste.

For readers unfamiliar with caste (although I am sure most of you know more that I), Wikipedia defines it as: “a combined social system of occupation, endogamy, culture, social class, and political power. Caste should not be confused with class, in that members of a caste are deemed to be alike in function or culture, whereas not all members of a defined class may be so alike.” It’s a complicated concept, so I’m going to leave the definition there.

But anyway, there are several “castes” in Nepal as well as ethnic groups that are kind of slotted into the caste system. For example there are the Brahmins and Chetris (castes that are also in India), but also Newars, Gurungs, Rais, Sherpas, etc (Nepali ethnic groups) that are (in my somewhat limited understanding) somehow slotted into the overall hierarchy of caste or are sometimes treated as a caste (someone feel free to jump in and correct me if I have this wrong). Even within a specific caste or ethnic group there are hierarchies and different cultural traditions, etc.

One place where this comes into play is marriage. In an arranged marriage, one often limits one’s choices to people specifically within your caste/ethnic group and even your specific designation within this grouping. Some ethnic groups, because of the type of relations between them, are able to intermarry without too much trouble… for instance Sunwars and Rais who traditionally inhabit the same rural hilly region of Nepal, while some groups are very strict, like different types of Brahmin groups, who have fairly limited traditional marriage options (population wise).

Anyway, it still amazes me when I hear of Nepali families… in the year 2010, who are upset when their children fall in love with other Nepalis who come from different castes, or, better yet, they are from the same caste but different designation within that caste. At this point I want to shake their parents and say, “at least your child is still with a Nepali!” especially if their child has been living abroad for many years. One friend’s father didn’t talk to her for about a year when he found out she wanted to marry a Nepali man from another caste. She is Chetri and he is Brahmin. Things are slowly getting better for them now, but for a while it was pretty dicey in terms of family cohesiveness.

So now you can see why I feel pretty lucky when I say that P’s family was relatively “cool” with the intercultural relationship thing, because not only do I not really fit into the caste system, I’m from an entirely different religion, ethnic group, culture, language, etc, but I’m still accepted by the immediate family (the extended family doesn’t really know who I am yet, but more about that another time). It is really very awesome, even if I do run into misunderstandings from time to time (Please… No More Rice!) ;)

I’ve mentioned before that P’s dad is very liberal and forward thinking… well, one reason that he was probably so easily able to adjust to the idea of an intercultural relationship was probably because he had, gasp, an intercaste love marriage himself! (cue dramatic music… dut dut daaaa!)