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The Flip-Side: Can Newbie Insiders Be Trusted?

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how becoming an insider among another race can make you an outsider with your own.  Today, I wanted to talk about the flip-side of being an insider…the second edge of the sword that often cuts interracial couples and multiracial individuals just as deep.  Combining race, culture, religion and more, can often mean walking a fine line and getting grief from both sides. Now, I’m not claiming that a bicultural life is all bad (it’s most definitely not), but these posts are my attempt at discussing the more difficult topics for interracial families.  Again, this is me, speaking from my own personal experiences.

Just about every couple knows that when they walk into a marriage, they are also taking on a second relationship with their spouse’s family. With racial and cultural backgrounds added to the mix, tensions tend to amplify.  Before my husband, I had no idea that the dilemma even existed, but now I feel that I’ve become somewhat of an expert on the topic.  Both my husband and I have taken the slurs, the dirty looks and plenty of derogatory comments from both sides of the family.  Being a newbie insider way back when, I knew to expect some resistance from my family, but I hadn’t expected my husband’s family to interrogate and distrust me.  It started off fine at first.  They were skeptical, but friendly enough and his mother even accepted me as her own for a while.  I’ve talked about this before in several of my ‘mi vida‘ posts about my life, which mostly cover our interracial relationship and identity confusion.

Well, the closer we got to our wedding, the more skeptical my in-laws became and the fact that my hubby turned to his mother and sister every time we had a disagreement didn’t help.  Now the skepticism I can understand to some degree.  I’ve seen racism rear it’s ugly head in my husband’s direction and witnessed misguided (and sometimes downright offensive) attempts at diversity, so I know there’s reason to be wary. But their caution didn’t bother me…I was actually glad to see that they were looking out for him…at first.

I remember the first time I brought up race around my mother-in-law.  I was studying anthropology in college and there was this girl in one of my classes who swore up and down that she would only date Mexican men. I didn’t get involved in her conversation, but I found it disgusting to listen to her boast about “sampling” many races and deciding that Mexicans make the best “lovers”.  I was appalled!

After class I made my usual pit stop to the hubby’s house (then my fiancée) and discussed my shock at the whole situation with him.  What I didn’t expect was for my mother-in-law to chime in at this woman’s defense!

What’s wrong with Mexicans?”  she asked.

Nothing,” I said quickly, “It’s just that this woman was seeing them as some sick party favor.  She kept saying that she will only date Mexicans and was talking about them as if they were outfits to try on.”  Ok…this is where I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but I guess talking about race freely in my classes was giving me wings.

So, maybe she only likes Mexicans,” she said, “Is there something wrong with that!?

Um….yeah.” I told her, starting to get upset. “You don’t pick who you date based on their race.  You choose based on love.”  Ok, was I being naive here (?)…maybe, but I still feel that way in large part (more below).

So, I guess you don’t like the fact that my son’s Mexican or you think Mexicans are disgusting?  Why would anyone want a Mexican, right?!

Crap, I was really into it now and she wasn’t letting up.  I think that deep down she was hoping that I would break down and confess to being racist and admit that I thought Mexicans were indeed filthy people.

But the problem was, that I didn’t feel that way at all.  I felt connected to my soon-to-be hubby’s culture and took this woman’s remarks as a personal attack.  I saw her girl as a conquistadora of sorts.  She had freely bragged in class about her conquests to “taste the flavors of the rainbow” and gave tips to the other ladies via her experiences with “Latin Lovers”.  Ignorance may have blinded me in youth, but I knew this stereotype all too well, and it offended me on many different levels, but mainly, for it’s “exotic” interracial assumptions…the same that refer to white women with black men as partaking in “Jungle Fever”.

But you can see how my MIL might be confused by my position right?  Especially since there are some very valid reasons for choosing someone based on their ethnic background…which often coincides with race.  At the same time though, my point was to defend Latino men who are often pursued with the ‘Latin Lover’ stereotype in mind, not to point out any inferiority.  But, the cultural differences between us and my suegra‘s experiences with racism, especially from whites, made for an interesting and controversial conversation.

The truth is though, that newbie insiders can be trusted…but like the relationship between you and your spouse, a bond of trust has to be nurtured. I understand my suegra being sensitive to race discussions (and my sister-in-law), but I can’t help but resent being lumped in with bigots.  I also won’t disagree that being white gives us certain privileges (most often, a lack of awareness of other viewpoints), but for newbies out there who will struggle with understanding both sides of the story from time to time, keep on keepin’ on.  You’ll get there.  ;)

How about you?  How have you dealt with these types of discussions?

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  • Anonymous
    May 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm

     I am white USian and my husband is Pakistani. In Pakistan, my sister and laws both act really defensive when I say anything, as if I am insulting Pakistan. There is a lot of sensitivity. I didn't get it at all at first. Like. once I gave my SIL a gift of Thai curry paste because I knew she liked to cook Thai food. I gave it to her and said: "Oh, I got this for you b/c I remember you said you loved to cook Thai, and I didn't know if you could get this here." Instead of "how sweet of you to remember," or just "Thanks," she snapped "Oh, We can get EVERYTHING here." Later at an international expat market, I saw the Thai curry paste and that it was very expensive, being imported, so I knew she never would have bought it for herself anyway. But she didn't like that I had implied "you can't get this here." She just heard American arrogance in my statement because it is true that you can't get a lot of products in Pakistan, so it sounded like a judgement to her. (I swear to God that is NOT how I meant it) I have had a few incidents like that with them. I just try to overlook my SIL's hostility to me and recognize my privilege:white privilege, Blue Passport privilege, developed world privilege, etc. I know my SILs are just being petty, but they can smell my privilege when I make comments about what is and is not available in Pakistan, and it irks them. 

    • Chantilly Patiño
      May 16, 2011 at 5:36 am

      I had the same experience with my SIL, I guess I’m lucky I only had one…but she sure was a mean one, so I hear ya!  Sometimes, we also make mistakes without knowing it because we’re not aware of certain things that an ‘insider’ might be aware of, but I think we need to have grace on both sides…even though it isn’t easy.  Thank you for sharing. ♥

  • J Olivarez-Mazone
    May 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I am a Mexican American and I am married to a black man. It was very difficult at first with my family as you can imagine and with his. My father was very upset about the marriage until the he finally sat and talked with my husband. I told my family that I loved my husband and if they couldn’t deal with it, then they didn’t have to see us. The issue we have is educated based. I hate the stares, the looks, and the comments but I found love. I also know lots of MA who will not date outside their race. I was told never marry a black, only white if you choose outsider your race. When I ask why, so your kids won’t be dark. I am a dark skinned MA. Really, it’s the stereotypes that kill me the most. I love this site and look forward to reading all your posts!!

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      May 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      Thank you for the comment!  I know where you're coming from and my husband had the same conversation with his parents.  He was told that he could only marry a Latina…period.  And his mother harped again and again that he'd better NEVER marry a black woman.  We it came to the point that he fell in love with me, he was nervous that his mother wouldn't accept me, and she didn't in a lot of ways, but I think she was glad that at least I wasn't black…I was a "good white girl" as she called me…"not like the other anglos".  So there was always that stigma there about me being white.  She would point out all the time about how funny their family would look to other Mexicans now that there was a "white girl" in the group.  I was always reminded by her and my sister-in-law that I was an outsider.  Then never trusted that I wasn't racist and they always pointed out how "Latinas are better" and would tell me all the ways in which I didn't measure up.  They would encourage my husband to see me as less than a whole woman, simply because I wasn't Latina…so I hear you.  It hurt…it still hurts.  In the end, we had to cut ties with them and move out of state to feel like we could breath because they were always trying to control his life and judge every decision that he made.  When it came to the point that they questioned our daughter's racial identity and said that I wasn't fit to raise her because I wasn't Mexican, we'd had enough.  That was the breaking point.  Wow…I haven't really talked about all this on here, but it sounds like I should write a post about it.  Thank you for stopping by.  I know what you and your husband are going through and I'm sorry that you're in that position. ♥

  • LDNolasco
    May 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    I agree with your adverse reaction to your classmate's comment about using Latino men as "party favors." That in itself is a widespread stereotype. Luckily, since I am in my 40s, people are no longer as likely to accuse me of "exoticism" or "Jungle Fever" because I married a Dominican who happens to be "cinnamon-skinned." He is 12 years older than me and has a full head of white hair. When people see us together, they are more likely to think I am a light-skinned Latina with an older husband, especially when we are speaking Spanish in public. My problem is with Latinos who have mastered English, hold degrees and see in my husband something they wish they could forget. I guess they are wary of the "newbie insider." Many of the women are Latinas who have married into the mainstream U.S. culture, so my presence seems to represent a "double jeopardy"- a non-Latina who married into their culture via a dark-skinned, blue-collar, non-English-speaking husband.

    • LDNolasco
      May 28, 2011 at 8:43 pm

      To add to this last comment, the worst thing is that there is no discussion and that nobody wants to address the elephant in the room.

  • Chantilly Pati&ntild
    June 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Yes, I know what you mean.  I have a post that I am working on about this for the new site about interracial relationships being seen by many as exotic.  It's a disgusting practice and I think that fact that it's a regular occurrence can make many cautious.  To me, it would have made more sense if my MIL would have been on my side of the debate, but you know suegras…most like to argue…lol.  The best advice I can give is, try not to take it personally.  Let people see that you're the real deal, and if that's not good enough for them, then it might be best to just put some distance between you.  Nobody deserves to be degraded.

    I've gotten mixed reactions from Latinas, so I can't say for sure what's up with that, but I think for some…it's like a slap in the face when it seems that white girls are preferred.  There definitely is a lot of that going on though, and I know many Latinas who say that non-Latinos appreciate them more as women….meaning Latino men don't.  Some feel that they prefer anything but Latinas and it can be offensive.

  • Beth O
    October 20, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Not only did we have some racist baggage with people attaching meanings I didn't intend… and never was around any significant amount of even Hispanic culture much less specifically Mexican culture for the first 30+ years of my life… ALL of our conversations happen in my SECOND language that I never spoke before my 30's, and I'm just fluent enough to get myself in trouble, in other words, people tend to assume what I said must be truly what I meant to say, although this definitely is not always the case.
    From the beginning, whenever his family misunderstood my intentions, my guy always had the same response: 1. if they have hurt you, you need to tell them they have hurt you, and 2. when they get to know you better, they will understand how you are, and we're married for the long term, nobody's going away, so this is just a brief interlude, not worth getting too upset about it.
    In fact if I insisted he intervene he did not always take my side!!!
    This did not feel very helpful at all to me.  
    I was not sure what do do so for a while I did nothing.
    Yes I did a LOT of biting my tongue and telling myself whether it was in 6 days, 6 months, 6 years or 60 years, at some point I was going to confront with them what this person just said. But I decided that going at it while I was boiling angry and feeling kicked-down was not the right moment or the right position I wanted to be coming from.
    What I eventually realized is that my husband is very self-confident and basically he was expecting me to be the same. This was very frustrating for me and I felt lost, because I was never a very assertive person. However since he refused to fight my battles for me, I had to get more assertive if I was going to make this work without giving myself an ulcer. Avoiding family is in my mind simply not an option, just the way I was raised I guess. So I had to figure it out. Somewhere inside I knew this was actually good for me in general. At the same time, somewhere along the way he realized that I really needed just a bit of help, if only to boost my own confidence and feel like he was really in my corner!
    In 5 years they HAVE gotten to know me and learned that they can give me the benefit of the doubt. Or, to be more correct, feel free to make fun of me to my face for hours, or weeks, about what it sounded like I said.
    It has even gotten to the point where I feel I can –gently– give my unsolicited (usually not particularly welcome) opinion to my relatives about how they should be using a child carseat or not letting the child drink 4 cokes in a row. After all these are my nieces and nephews, now, and not only is it in my nature to care, I do know by now they do actually agree somewhere down inside it's right.
    But I would say this is still best considered a long-term project and in the short term it's not always smooth.
    I still ask my husband to run interference for me sometimes. Particularly if it's about who should pay for what. I have seen my sisters-in-law not talk to each other for months about some argument and at the root of it there is usually something about money. So I just tell my husband, talk to ___ about paying for ___; I don't ask him too often so he may grumble but he'll do it.

  • Lori D. Nolasco
    May 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you for reviving this discussion. I discovered multicultural bloggers two years ago around this time, and since then I have stopped seeking approval from others. Instead, I am trying to build up my home life. My husband Ramón and I just bought our first home,and my mother is back in my life after an almost two-year estrangement. She has come to see me as an independent person, and I discovered that she always had a very high opinion of my husband. His skin color or fluency in English (or lack thereof) do not matter to her.

    My Spanish has gotten even more fluent, and my Dominican students are overjoyed. As far as the Latinas in the community at large are concerned, they are discovering the ways I serve through music (singing at weddings and funerals), poetry (a bilingual poetry group) and my teaching of international students. When I do not try so hard and let actions speak louder than words, people are more likely to show interest.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Patiño
      May 29, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      Lori, that is such a beautiful way of looking at it, and it’s true…actions speak much louder than works. Congrats on your new house and reclaiming your relationship with your mom! Awesome! Teaching international students sounds like so much fun too! :)

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