Growing up I had heard stories about relationships going bad because the husband or the wife wasn’t Hmong. “He beat her,” I heard. “She ran off,” a neighbor said once. I even heard stories of Hmong couples’ relationships going bad because of non-Hmong third parties. “A white man lured her away.” In general, what I heard was that non-Hmong people ruined Hmong relationships. So when Alex and I met, this knowledge should’ve repelled an interracial relationship. The truth was, in the moment, I didn’t think about any of those stories, and I doubt that anyone really does when it comes to falling in love. On our eleven-year-journey together, I found that what my heart always knew to be true was true: race had nothing to do with whether or not a relationship worked out.
Loving Vs. Virginia
I felt the hair on the back of my neck raise and looked around to see an elderly white couple staring at me and Alex. We were in a diner on Interstate 15, going to Vegas, but this happened so many times in so many places, I’ve lost count. It wasn’t long after we started dating that I learned our relationship wasn’t just seen as wrong in the Hmong community, it was seen as wrong in the general community.
In fact, it was only 50 years ago that interracial marriage became legal in the United States. When I sat down to watch Loving, the movie depicting the couple--Richard and Mildred Loving--and the landmark case Loving vs. Virginia (1967), I was brought to tears by their courage, love and dedication. In 1958, when the Lovings married, Virginia and 16 other states still had anti-miscegenation laws, making interracial marriages illegal, subject to felony charges and prison time.
I loved the whole movie. The actors--Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton--were completely awesome. What affected me the most was a scene between Joel, who played Richard Loving, and Nick Kroll, who played Bernard S. Cohen, the attorney representing the Lovings. When Cohen told Richard that their case was going to the Supreme Court, Richard said, “We ain’t hurting nobody.” Further into the conversation, Cohen responded with, “The state of Virginia will argue that it is unfair to bring children of mixed race into the world.”
Unfair? Un-EFFIN-fair?! Unfair to whom? To you and your racist, narrow-minded “sensibilities”? Don’t you dare say ‘unfair to the children’ because that will just make me flip. How about how unfair it is that we have to deal with people like you?
I’m calmer now.
They don’t actually go into the details of the courtroom in the movie because the movie, just as the title suggests, is all about the Lovings. In 1967, the Supreme Court banned state laws against interracial marriage, citing those laws unconstitutional. The Pew Research Center recently released statistics that show interracial marriages and the acceptance of interracial marriages steadily rising. It has gone up 14% since 1967 when it was just 3% of newlyweds who were interracial. There is also a rise in children who are of multi-racial or multi-ethnic heritage. One in seven children born in the U.S. are multi-racial or multi-ethnic.
Families, friends and a wedding
People talked and sometimes they said things straight to my face. “Why not find a Hmong guy?” an auntie asked once. “How will your parents communicate with him?” I don't think anyone dared to say anything to Dad, but sometimes I wonder what they said to Mom. What she heard while she went to parties or when she saw someone at the store. Did they tell her about this one interracial couple in another town they had heard of and how horrible it had turned out for them? Did they warn her about how much of a catastrophe her daughter was getting herself into? Sometimes I wonder how much Mom had to defend her daughter’s decision to date a white guy. I can say for sure, though, that having my family on my side made everything easier, and as it turned out, my parents spoke English better than I ever gave them credit for.
When it came time for the wedding, Alex and I were so over it. We had been together nearly a decade and, honestly, we just wanted to get on with the rest of our lives. But we also knew the importance of making a public declaration of our intentions. We decided, with the support of our families, not to have a Hmong wedding or a Romanian wedding. Both had intricate details and would take a few days and a lot of preparation and neither of us had the time, money or energy for them. Instead, we had an “American” wedding, which meant we could do whatever we wanted.
It was a simple DIY wedding at the cheapest place we could find that would fit all our families and friends. To us, it didn’t matter that the place was cheap and uninspiring, only that we could all be there together. The flowers were carnations and baby’s breath. The dress was a gift from my uncle and the suit was on sale at Macy’s. And we made all the decorations with the help of families and friends.
On the day of the wedding, Alex and I woke up early and met my siblings and lifelong friends at our venue to decorate. We put up balloons and streamers and table cloths. We set up pictures and LED candles. In the meantime, Mom made rice and eggrolls--the only food item I requested--at home with the help of aunties and cousins. I did my own makeup and my sister put flowers in my hair. The wedding was over in less than four hours and it was perfect.
Showing up for each other
“It doesn’t matter who you marry,” I remember Dad saying once. “If they're good people, they're good people. If they’re bad, they’re bad.” He was right, of course.
The wedding wasn’t the beginning for us. The beginning was when we first realized how serious we were about each other and what that meant. We were committing to one another for the long run. We were going to support one another, and we were going to make room for one another in each other’s life. In order to make room for another person, we had to toss out some of the things we already owned--and I don’t just mean just physical things.
I’m not Christian, but I go to church with Alex and his parents for Easter. Alex isn’t Hmong, but he comes to my parents’ ceremonies. I don’t worship Christ and he doesn’t eat boiled chicken or laj (a meat salad tossed in herbs, rice powder and lime). We spend Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. We show up for one another. And once in awhile, at one of his parents' events, I’ll say, “I don’t feel comfortable,” and he’ll say, “That’s okay, you don’t have to do it.” And once in awhile, at one of my parents' events he’ll say, “I need to step out for a moment,” and I’ll say, “Okay.” But we always show up for one another.
Embracing learning as a couple
I remember dreaming about finding my true love (Argh, Disney movies!). We would look at each other and know right away that we were meant for each other. There would be no disagreements, no hurt feelings, just bright smiles and long looks into each other’s eyes. Kinda like Twilight, actually. The truth is, true love isn’t found, it’s built. It takes work and it takes time.
We started off rough, two young people still growing, still learning, trying to fit another person into each other’s life. It wasn’t easy because we didn’t come in perfect shapes. It wasn’t like one of those puzzle pieces that just fit snuggly. We were different people who came from different life experiences and different cultures. Being an interracial couple meant people were always watching, waiting for us to make a mistake, so they can say, “Told ya so.” There were many times we almost gave up. What saved us was respect, love and a willingness to learn how to be the best people we could be--not for each other, but for ourselves. Because unless you can be comfortable with yourself, unless you can love yourself, you can’t love anyone else.
Now looking back, what I value most about my relationship with Alex is the fact that we developed as a couple together, but we grew into ourselves separately. We’re not just Alex-and-Pa, we’re Alex and Pa. We have our own ways of dealing with hardships and we respect each other for our individualism. We’re not perfect, and we sometimes have to remind each other of our differences, but the respect is always there.
Alex isn’t Hmong, and I’m not Romanian, and it was different, but it wasn't wrong. It isn’t wrong and our children aren’t going to be wrong. They’re actually going to be the norm.
For Alex and me, race didn't matter at all. What mattered most was respect. What do you feel is most important in a relationship? Comment below.