Race Out Loud: 'Settling' on someone outside of your ethnic background

August 29, 2012

By Aurora Aguilar

(Photo courtesy of Danny Aguilar)
Aurora Aguilar dreamed of marrying a man who shared her culture.
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Even as a little girl, I had vivid dreams of my wedding. I’m wearing something lacy, a 1930s Latin movie star dress. My beloved is at the altar, gazing at me with his dark, deep-set eyes. After the ceremony, a mariachi’s trumpet signals the start of our first walk as husband and wife. 

The wedding reception is loud and wild. Friends and relatives pin money on my dress during the dollar dance. Arms and legs flail during La Vivora. My husband and I stand on chairs. Our guests race under the arch created by my lace-trimmed veil. The guests run faster and faster until they trip and land in a big pile.

The man in these dreams speaks perfect Spanish to his Bisabuela ….whom he calls every Sunday. As our family grows….we take our kids to lessons in Folkloric dance, our girls twirling their colorful ribbon skirts. We spend our evenings playing Loteria, screaming out “El Catrin! La Estrella!”

That was the dream.The reality is shaping up much differently. 

When it came time to settle down, the man I chose turned out to be completely disconnected from all the riches of my Mexican culture.

Five years ago this month, my husband and I were married in a garden, by a non-denominational minister.
As we chose passages from our favorite writings to use as our vows, I thought about reciting from The Alchemist. I wanted to read it in Spanish, the language I often feel most comfortable using. But if I had, my Indiana-born, Iowa-bred, white husband would not have understood my promise.

When it came time to settle down, the man I chose turned out to be completely disconnected from all the riches of my Mexican culture.

Now, this was never my intention.

In my dating career, I’d done some racial profiling of sorts. My heart and eyes had always been drawn to dark men who understood how passion and pride for my heritage made me cry at a good Ranchera. That narrowed my choices.

But while the men I loved could sing along to Pedro Infante or make a mean Michelada, I found that few of them could deal with my burgeoning career, its long hours and erratic schedule.

After more than one canceled or delayed romantic dinner, they would inevitably ask “How are you going to raise a family with your workload?”

I wasn’t sure how I would do it, but I knew I loved my work.  So, I kept running into problems trying to balance my career and my boyfriends, mostly men of color.

And then came the relationship that made me rethink ethnicity as a criterion altogether. 

At first blush, this boyfriend should have been the one.

He wasn’t Latino, but an Asian -American who—like me-- was fiercely proud of his culture. We had lots in common. He was a medical resident who worked a lot. We both loved exotic foods. We were dedicated to our families. And that, unfortunately, was our downfall.

My boyfriend’s mother warned him that I didn’t have the pedigree to be her daughter-in-law. I wasn’t Ivy-League-educated like her son and I wasn’t Asian or white. She wanted grandbabies with European or so-called Eurasian features.

He never told me this and we started shopping for rings. Then he confessed his family’s resistance. Once he’d started talking to his mother about marrying me, she’d disowned him. He wanted to wait to see if she changed her mind about us. But my pride wouldn’t let me get over this rejection, and we ended the relationship.

My heart was broken. 

I was trying to forget about him, spending lots of time going out dancing and drinking with friends when I met Evan. He gleamed with hope and possibility. He was beautiful, with light skin and hazel eyes and an individuality and confidence that sparkled.

When I asked what he was, he said “American.” When I asked where his people came from, he could only say “Europe.” He told me he thinks once we’re here, we’re all American.

I tried to find things wrong with him. I picked apart his outfit, his shoes, even his formal way of speaking, thinking it was “too white.” But before the end of the night, he’d won me over. He was funny, super smart, well-read, sincere and sexy as all get out.

And it was clear pretty early on that he was able to keep up with me and my job.

Still, our early romance had some cultural missteps.

I had to teach him that my female friends embracing him hello didn’t mean they were fresh. I came off as intrusive and pushy when I’m met his relatives and friends. I tend to ask overly personal questions and force feed people. This isn’t good.

Over the years Evan and I have become more attuned to each other’s habits and our friends and family are learning from each other as well.  Our values smooth over a lot of the cultural snags.

Two years ago, partly to appease our very Catholic parents, we had a religious wedding ceremony. I got the lacy dress and the Spanish mantilla (or at least my version of it). We also incorporated some Mexican traditions.

One of the most beautiful is the laying of the lasso. It’s kind of a large rosary that a couple whose marriage you want to emulate places over the shoulders of the new couple.

I ordered our lasso online and didn’t open it until the day before the wedding. It didn’t fit. Our priest offered a compromise. “Hold it in your hands,” he said, “And use it to pray together.”

During the actual ceremony, when Evan’s parents brought us the glittering crystal lasso, the priest commented on what a beautiful new tradition we were starting by using it this new way. And that’s how I deal with my cultural hang-ups now. All the traditions my family taught me might not be as natural in our home, so we tweak them and make them our own.  

Aurora Aguilar is a project editor at WBEZ. She and her husband Evan live in Pilsen with their black and white terrier mix, Backup.