If I had a nickel for every time I heard that I should be dating Sri Lankan men to preserve my Tamil heritage, I wouldn't be rich. But if I had a nickel for every time that sentiment was passive-aggressively indicated to me by various women in my family (better known as "aunties" in my culture), let's just say I'd be upgrading my bedroom from IKEA to Pottery Barn.
At first I thought this was only something that Brown kids went through, like having a five o'clock shadow around your eyebrows every two days. But it's not. To wit, it has come to light that Yair Netanyahu, son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is dating his Norwegian classmate, a woman who is decidedly not Jewish. And of course, without fail, crotchety old folk stuck in the traditions of yesteryear are freaking out.
The Orthodox Jewish community in Israel has condemned the relationship, on the grounds that Yair is an Israeli treasure and assimilating with non-Jewish people will surely bring the destruction of the Jewish people and/or the Israeli state. The head of the Orthodox Shas party has claimed the relationship is a national concern, dramatically exclaiming (I'm assuming with the back of his hand to his forehead), "Woe is us if it is true." Yair's own uncle claims by dating a Norwegian lady, he is "spitting on the grave of his grandfather and grandmother." (Interestingly enough, Benjamin Netanyahu himself was once married to a woman who was not Jewish, though she later converted).
Sure, there's not a lot going on in Israel that wouldn't draw huge controversy. (Yair himself is no stranger to firestorms, having posted anti-Islamic sentiments on social media multiple times—awful in general, but especially when you're the PM's damn son.) Still, it's unsettling to see such outright intolerance regarding relationships in 2014. But it just goes to show that no matter how privileged one may be, there will always be an older generation imposing weird, biased expectations for dating and marriage. It's the prejudice-flavored floss that passes through the lives of basically anyone dating during their twenties and thirties, and it sucks.
I feel lucky to have had pretty liberal parents when it came to dating. I had my first boyfriend when I was 15, and he was a white kid. (I had to ask my mom, and her mandatory dating/relationships talk left me with the impression that I should never ever take my clothes off until I was married and that sex after marriage would be great because in her words, "Hindus do it best—we wrote the book on it." It was traumatizing.)
As a teenager and even now in my early twenties, race in dating is irrelevant — but only because at this point in my life, marriage is irrelevant. However, I know that as I approach marrying age, I'll hear more and more about those racial preferences. Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of first-generation Brown (as in South Asian) people who happily ended up with non-Brown spouses, and there are plenty of Brown parents who are truly open-minded. However, some Brown parents compromised their traditional values and preferences in American culture by allowing their children to live fairly freely (read: be completely uninvolved in children's lives so long as they got good grades) until it was time to "grow up" and get married. My match-minded aunties regularly inform cousins reticent to be matched up with another Brown person that, "White people are for fun, Brown people are for settling." As open as my mom is about dating, she definitely embraces an unofficial hierarchy of options: Tamil, other Brown, Jewish, whatever.
As long as there are more kids in the world, there will always be the art of dating or marrying forbidden fruit. It's the classic tale we've lived and recounted in stories like Romeo & Juliet, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Jungle Fever, Mississippi Masala, The Lion King 2, etc. It's a timeless story, but there's always going to be that older generation struggling to maintain the traditions that they were raised in. For immigrant populations working to keep their own heritage intact, it's all the more important to find "one of your own" to marry and make babies with in order to stave off cultural degradation.
Preserving one's culture may be important, but to impose that on the romantic proclivities younger generation, for whom it's irrelevant or potentially harmful, is a losing battle. Sure, teach your children the various values of your culture, but don't force them to carry out a weird vision of cultural integrity. That shit's probably racist.
Image via Musaffar Patel/Shutterstock.