My Asian Family Conflict Over My AMBW Relationship
By “Long Nguyen”
First off, let me start with a disclaimer. This is my own analysis regarding my interracial relationship with my parents. It is based on only my viewpoint and my own memories and feelings. My parents aren’t here to offer their own point of view on anything, and they certainly would not approve of me airing out our laundry on the internet for strangers to read and judge. So to protect their privacy, I will not be posting this article under my real name. Also, this shouldn’t be used as a guide to explain family conflict regarding interracial relationships with every Asian family. This is my story and mine alone.
OK, since we got that out of the way, you can just call me “Long Nguyen.”
My parents were born and grew up in Vietnam, and did not move over here until they were adults after they had graduated high school over there. I was born and raised in the United States. For them, Vietnamese was their primary culture and American was secondary. It was the opposite for me.
Dating was not an issue at first, as I was one of those overly studious, awkwardly shy, awesome at math, nerdy Asian stereotypes in school and I never really had a serious girlfriend for a while. I went out on dates here and there, but they usually never went anywhere and nothing was substantial enough to tell my parents about or introduce them to anyone.
Of course, knowing that my parents grew up and spent much of their lives in Vietnam, I expected that their clear number one preference would be for me to date and marry a Vietnamese girl. Since both their primary culture and primary speaking language is Vietnamese, there would be a lot more familiarity to make it easy for them to relate to her and her family. They also wanted my future wife to be well-educated, have a good job (or be on the way to one), and come from a nice respectable family, as most parents would. No surprises there.
I have tried to ask out Vietnamese and other Asian girls. I am attracted to Asian women, but I just never really hit it off with any. As I grew older, I then found myself extremely attracted to both white and black women as well.
I never really brought up my attraction to non-Asian women growing up because I assumed it would not be THAT much of an issue. I was also striking out left and right with all women, so I had no one to bring home to show them and see how they would react. I figured “Well, I was born and raised in the US, it shouldn’t be that big a deal if I dated someone an American and not a Vietnamese or Asian girl.” I went to public schools for elementary and middle school, so I had a diverse array of ethnicities amongst my friends as well, and my parents never talked badly of or objected to any of them.
In high school and then college I attempted to date mostly Asian and occasionally white women, as I mostly hung out with kids that were part of the Asian student associations in my schools and those were the demographics most readily available to me, so I didn’t realize how mistaken my assumption about who I dated was until later.
In graduate school, I made a lot of new friends, but it just so happened that most of them were black. It was nothing I specifically sought out, for whatever reason it just out that the people I best got along with were a lot of the black students in my classes. Of course, since I found myself around a lot more black women than I had ever been before, I found myself attracted to some of them. I then tried to ask a few black girls I met out, and that’s when I really learned about my parents’ view on interracial dating.
It was at this point in my life that we started having a series of serious sit-down talks. No surprise, Vietnamese women are at the top of the dating preference list, for obvious reasons as stated above. The consolation prize would be non-Vietnamese Asian women. Even though they wouldn’t share the exact same language and culture, my parents felt like their cultural values and sensibilities would be close enough for them to feel somewhat comfortable with. Any non-Asian race or ethnicity was not preferred, and even white women were included in this group, which surprised me because several of my cousins had at this point in time broken that barrier and married white women. Then again, my cousins were not the children of my parents, I was.
This new bit of knowledge did make me wary of whom I tried to date for a short while. However, I was still vastly unsuccessful with dating. When I moved away to start my first full-time career oriented job, I was tired of being alone and felt limiting my dating pool was detrimental to my social health. I made the decision to date whomever I was attracted to, no matter what their race or ethnicity was.
As I was still falling flat on my face in the dating scene, I then opened the door to online dating for the first time. In my preferences, I checked the boxes of every single race and ethnicity they listed as being someone to match me with.
After a few more misses with girls on that dating website who were Asian, white, black, and Hispanic, I finally really and truly clicked with someone. And, oh yeah, she’s black. Whatever, we seemed to have quite a bit of chemistry during our e-mail exchanges and online chatting, let’s just exchange phone numbers so we can set up a date and see how it goes.
As I said before, I can be extremely shy and quite socially awkward. This can lead to a lot of painful silences on dates. This didn’t happen with her! On our first date we were supposed to do the dinner and a movie thing, only we never got past dinner. We sat in that restaurant and talked for more than 4 hours. It might have been longer, but they had to clean up and close the place down, so we got (politely) kicked out. Suffice it to say, that first date blossomed into true love and a very serious, committed relationship.
I told my parents about her after we got serious a few months in. Aside from being black American and not Vietnamese or Asian, she was everything else they could ask for. Her parents are both working professionals, and when we were first dating she was in graduate school on her way to having a good job. They saw that I was “crazy” about her so they were willing to give her a chance.
But they began nit-picking her, without even meeting her yet. They didn’t like that she cursed in some of her Facebook status updates (only occasionally just to vent, mind you). They felt it was inappropriate to see her in a bikini in one of her profile pictures (she was not in a suggestive or provocative pose and she was with her mother, both of them covered in mud).
Then when they finally did meet her, they didn’t like the dress she wore to meet them (it was a cute but colorful and casual one-piece from Old Navy, not short and not revealing at all). They also didn’t think she was polite enough (and therefore, not showing enough respect) towards them. Really, it felt like they were just complaining about any little thing to use as an excuse to not approve of her. And I felt if she were
Vietnamese or Asian, they would be much more forgiving of these perceived “faults.”
But through all this, we remained strong together, and my parents seemed like they were trying harder to accept her and our relationship.
Until they saw some pictures I e-mailed them of us together.
“My girlfriend wears her hair natural, and I support her for it. Most of the time, she has her hair down in twists or braids, or sometimes just tied-up in a ponytail. Every once in a while, she doesn’t do anything with her and “lets it all hang out” so to speak. When she does this, her hair can get quite poofy and big. I honestly think it’s quite beautiful.”
The one and only time my parents met her, she had her hair down in twists. But it just so happened in these pictures that I sent to my parents that her hair happened to be “up.”
They thought her hair was too “wild.” Trying to convince them her hair was not a big deal (which was harder than I expected because apparently they had black co-workers who agreed with them to validate their point of view) led to learning another set of revelations.
Ultimately, they were against our relationship because they perceived that black American culture and Vietnamese/Asian cultures are far too different to be compatible. Because of this, they felt as if they would not be able to relate or get along with a black family. My parents were also afraid of racism against us and our future children (this especially became a hot topic when the Trayvon Martin murder happened).
However, most of all, I believe they felt that I was rejecting or abandoning their native culture from Vietnam in favor of black and American culture. In graduate school, they once told me they thought I was acting “too black” when they observed me hanging out with my group of predominately black friends, celebrating our graduation. During the course of this relationship, they described to me this fear they had that I would “transform into a black man” and become “unrecognizable” to them when all was said and done.
Now, I recognize how ridiculous this is. At this point in the story, they had only met her ONCE and had never even met her family! However, I will not absolve myself of blame for perpetuating these misperceptions and ill-conceived notions. I believe I made things worse and validated (in their minds) their irrational concerns by becoming avoidant with them.
It can be difficult and wearisome to deal with their resistance and discomfort with our dating relationship week in and week out, and I am not a confrontational person, so eventually I hardly ever discussed the various ins and outs of my dating relationship with them at all. This was problematic in the sense that it more than likely prolonged and dragged out our conflict instead of getting it settled much sooner. It also made things worse because I was “lying by omission” to them. They were hurt by the fact that I wasn’t being open and honest with them, as they were not being told of different and at times important things going on in my life.
“You see, in Vietnamese culture, your entire family (not just your significant other and your own children, but also your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) is supposed to be the most important part of your life and your community.”
By not being open and honest with them, I was not only distancing myself from them but also being completely disrespectful to them. The ideas of the children “leaving the nest” and becoming “completely separate and independent” from the parents is seen as being a very American or Western cultural value. So to my folks, based on my actions it seemed like I was rejecting both them and also Vietnamese cultural values in favor of American cultural values instead. This in turn led to them feeling that my girlfriend and our relationship were both bad, corrupting influences on me.
Things finally came to a head, but we all decided to get past our differences and work everything out, because in the end we love each other. They have gotten to know my girlfriend better and spend some more time with her, and now they like her (although they’re still trying to get a handle on her natural hair, but whatever). They are currently supportive of her and our relationship as well as where I want to take it in the future.
It helps that my girlfriend and I are showing that we are interested in learning about (and therefore not rejecting) Vietnamese culture either. We bought some books about Vietnamese culture and CDs that help teach the Vietnamese language. We are going through them together, using my parents to help guide us and answer any questions we have.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give any credit for my girlfriend for putting up with all of this and sticking by me. I couldn’t have done it without her unwavering love and support of me and of us. One of my greatest fears is that she would break up with me because of this struggle with my parents. I certainly would not have blamed her, and I understand the feelings of those on the various interracial blogs I peruse that have stated they wouldn’t date anyone if their family can’t be accepting of them.
This conflict with my parents certainly did cause strains on our relationship. We survived not only because we love and support one another, but also because I was able to assure her and demonstrate to her that I believed in our relationship and did not allow my parents’ disapproval to break us up.
“So yeah, I’m going to ask her to marry me. Very soon.”
I hope you found this to be an interesting and enjoyable read.