Authors: Ruben Olague, María I. Castillo & Valentin Ekiaka Nzai.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
Photo Credit: May Yee Ng
This article discusses insights from a focus group exchange about intercultural partners’ challenges when dating a partner from another culturally and linguistic diverse background in a predominantly monolingual setting. A Ginsburg technique was used to collect and report a story from an intercultural couple (Indian and Mexican backgrounds). Overall findings suggested how both partners have to face some societal moral belief restrictions in order to discover the beauty of their intercultural love.
Key words: intercultural love, bicultural setting, culturally rich, moral beliefs
An Intercultural Love Story in a Bicultural Setting
Recently, a question regarding the rationale for marrying a foreigner was posted on Multilingual Living Forum. It reminded us about an interesting focus group discussion we had last summer with intercultural partners in a monolingual setting. One young couple attracted the attention of all the participants, since he is from India and she is from Mexico. Generally speaking, the majority of Indian people in the United States seldom select their partner outside of their ethnic group.
This article summarizes our conversation on intercultural love in a bicultural setting guided by the following narrative question: What are the challenges that minority partners encounter when dating a partner from another culturally and linguistically diverse background?
To help our readers better understand the ideas discussed in this paper, we will briefly present a core verbatim transcription of the script, using the Ginsburg (1993) approach, before suggesting some conclusions. Trustworthiness was addressed by sharing the emerging themes with the couple. To protect our participants’ privacy, we used the following pseudonyms “Nathe” for the boyfriend and “Mayela” for the girlfriend.
Verbatim Transcription of the Narrative Script
Nathe is a participant from India in his late 20s. He is assertive and self-confident. Mayela also is in her late 20s. She is very determined and perfectionist. Nathe was standing against a table, explaining his background, while Mayela was seating down facing the scrutiny of the audience. The discussion began to take a serious shape when one participant asked them the following question:
1. Female student 1: Do you think you will have any social issues with family relatives and friends?
2. Male student 1 (to Mayela): Do you have any issues with your friends?
3. Mayela: Ah, they have an issue with…
4. Male student 1: Oh, they have an issue with him.
5. Mayela: They have an issue with the relationship.
6. Male student 1: Why? May I ask? What do they say, basically?
7. Mayela: Ah…They have preconceptions… Some of them don’t accept other cultures, so…
8. Male student 1: Well, he looks like a Mexican. (Group laughs)
9. Male non-student: Mexicans with Mexicans, Africans with Africans… for my wife’s friends.
10. Male student 1: Is that the case?
11. Mayela: Traditional Mexicans are very judgmental. (Reaction noise from crowd)
12. Nathe: I have a friend, my best friend, Abhay; he is also in a master’s program. He said he loved his girlfriend who he dated for two years. He follows the Hindu religion. I hope most of you know various religions. She was also a Hindu. That religion has cast systems, and they were both from two different casts. Even though the boy’s family accepted the girl; even though she spent almost a year socializing with Abhay’s family, the girl’s family didn’t accept Abhay. Finally, it didn’t work. That’s the cast system – how bad it can get. So Indians with Indians is the usual scenario, and this is the usual scenario: Africans with Africans, Germans with Germans…
13. Female student 2: When you have somebody from your own culture, she doesn’t have to deal with food or music. I mean she has to learn all the new things and must be really open to know how to listen to her music and your music, to share her food and your food… That’s what I mean… marrying somebody from your own culture because tastes are the same and you don’t have to try something new.
14. Nathe: I have a very optimistic approach to this. So, I would say, I have Indian here, I don’t get to know anything else, she loves me, I love her, ok, classic scenario. Take the Indian and put a Mexican: I get to know the mariachi, I get to see the Mexican marriages, I experience chicken enchiladas, lots of dishes, I’m learning a little bit of Spanish, I know how people from that part of the world think, what they think of religion… As a human, I want to, that is my purpose, to know, to solve, and that is my way of looking at things. To truly experience their love, we need to fight against our own cultural oppression in order to grow as a couple. As far as food, she has blended very well with food.
15. Mayela: I love spices, I’m Mexican…
16. Nathe: Regarding the music, she makes me listen to American music, Mexican music, I play anything. Sometimes I listen to my own music and translate it to her.
17. Female student 2: Does she like your music?
18. Mayela: Well, that’s the good thing about our relationship. It has been on a tight basis, you know?
19. Nathe: People here say you are not guilty until you are proven guilty. At our place we first prove ourselves and then, well, we are so strong on our point. So we have that conflict most of the time.
20. Male student 2: There has to be a balance. If you wait and take responsibility for the conversation and how you decide to live your relationship, you’ll find the way… you’ll find the way.
21. Male student 1: Interesting.
22. Male student 2: Are you interested in learning Spanish so you can talk to her family?
23. Nathe: As I have told you, I have traveled a lot of places, I have learned many cultures, and I have learned to – at least – to understand or to speak or to write the language. I know Arabic, I know four Indian languages, I know Farsi, and I know English. My school was in English. English is my first language and Indian language is my second language and my fourth language is my religious language: Arabic; fifth, sixth, and eight languages are originally Indian languages.
24. Male non-student: I think you have an opportunity to learn about people. You’re not alone, you are happy… and this is an intercultural learning every day you learn. She learns from you, you learn from her, and at some point this is enrichment – you become…
25. Nathe: Culturally rich.
Analysis of Verbatim Transcription
The worth of the story, love, lies amongst the preconceptions of a society which acts “patriarchal or matriarchal” towards almost anything that is not itself (Rothenberg, 1998/2007). This means that culture, religion, friends’ opinions, family criticism, and general disapproval is only the product of an established order historically accused of being intolerant. Mayela stated, “They have an issue with the relationship” (see line 5). The following themes emerged from an idiographic analysis of the above transcription:
a) Language as a Challenge
It is clear from our verbatim that the interpretation of meaning due to the differences in language has played a critical role in the lives of our participants. While it is easy for Mayela to understand questions and issues posed by friends and families through nonverbal communication, her boyfriend cannot get it. Speaking your partner’s heritage language is the key to communication with your political family (in-laws) and friends.
b) Culture as an Obstacle
Analysis of the above verbatim suggested how many intercultural partners’ relatives and friends are acting under their own cultural oppression, which put undue pressure over the couple. The idea of “Marrying somebody from your own culture because tastes are the same and you don’t have to try something new” (see line 13) makes Nathe and Mayela survive alone in an island. Moreover, family relatives and friends might be oriented by prejudices and stereotypes: “Traditional Mexicans are judgmental” (see line 11), suggested Mayela.
c) Measure of the Future
Concepts like altruism and seriousness in a relationship are being considered by Mayela to measure her future with Nathe. This is a challenge that the boyfriend needs to take into consideration in order to nurture their love in a bicultural setting.
d) Intercultural Love Means Cultural Richness
Why not avoid going through the trouble of defining language, culture, and family values? In other words, why is dating and marrying a foreigner necessary when there are thousands of girls or boys out there from your own culture? The answer was simple: love in intercultural setting means personal enrichment, asserted Nathe. Partners have an opportunity to get involved in an intercultural learning experience every day; they learn from each other and “Become culturally rich” (see lines 24 and 25).
What is important about “Nathe and Mayela” is that nature is brighter than cultures, a lot more intelligent than languages, livelier than Mexican music or Indian food, and much more truthful than cultural preconceptions.
The fact that Nathe and Mayela were exposing themselves to the scrutiny of the audience is undeniable evidence that their languages or cultures did not constitute any boundaries for the outcome of their intercultural love. We noticed that the questions posed by some participants were not related to language and culture, but on how both were forced to face this society with its de facto moral beliefs.
Analysis of the above script suggested that it takes a lot more than being a multicultural or multilingual-multicultural individual to understand the rationale of dating or marrying outside of your own ethnic group, for the reason that life goes beyond our recognized moral beliefs (Mill, 2007). Therefore, an individual with higher level of intercultural identity might not understand why Mayela’s friends and some relatives still “have an issue” with the relationship if dating or marrying a foreigner means logically becoming culturally rich.
In short, love in a bicultural setting has nothing to do with science, research, narrative, analysis of social protocols, or anything but LIFE; and life should be lived without restriction of norms – social, economic, moral, religion, or scientific paradigms.
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Rubén Olague, M.S., is a former CNN correspondent working on the interdisciplinary application of the cell-to-cell communication protocol. As of September 2013, he is a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Olague has traveled extensively and interviewed personalities, dignitaries and scientists including Edward Teller (Father of the H-Bomb), Carlos Fuentes (RIP), Isabel Allende, Alfonso Arau, and many others.
María Iliana Castillo, M.A., is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Teacher and Bilingual Education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Her research interests primarily lie in the area of adult education, with an emphasis on technology-based language teaching, and the applications of brain research and cognitive approaches to language education. In recent years, she has focused on the applications of technology to language education. She has keenly collaborated on faculty research projects and co-authored research publications and presentations. She currently coordinates an English language program for adults concentrated on exploring the teaching and learning possibilities offered by a Multi-User 3D Virtual Environment (MUVE).
Dr. Valentin Ekiaka Nzai is a multilingual-multicultural Assistant Professor of Teacher & Bilingual at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He is the Principal Investigator of the Virtual Multilingual Center and Multilingual Immersion Laboratory Projects. His research interests focus on multilingual – multicultural instruction and religious fundamentalism/radicalism mitigation and social peace, cyberlearning and 3D virtual world learning environment and digital game-based curriculum design; ethnic media and cultural competence development, and intercultural marriages minority-minority.