International marriages were special celebrations when I was the director of the English program for foreign students at a Midwestern university. Gloria from the People's Republic of China and Prapat from Thailand were the first to take the step.
In the 1960s, when China was closed to Westerners, Gloria was our only student from her country. She had gone to a school in China run by Roman Catholic missionary nuns, and had made her way to middle America via Hong Kong and England. Prapat, like many Thai boys, had spent a year as a Buddhist monk. But he agreed to be married as Gloria wished, by a priest.
"I wish I could let my mother know about my marriage," Gloria said sadly. "I don't dare write her. She might get hurt if she got a letter from the USA." Finally, she wrote to her friends in England with an enclosure for her mother on the chance that it might get through. Two days before the ceremony, an envelope came from England. It contained a picture of her mother in her Chinese worker's uniform. There was no letter, but on the back of the picture was one Chinese character, "Love."
The marriage of Marino from Venezuela and Rosa from Iran was more complicated. Marino was Catholic; Rosa, Muslim. A marriage of a Catholic and a Muslim? The priest was dubious. Their Iranian friend Behrouz was a member of the Bahai. Rosa joined that faith. The wedding could proceed.
Then Marino remarked, "I was born in Italy, so I'm really an Italian citizen." Iran did not recognize marriages of Iranians with Italians. Rosa's marriage would not be legal in her homeland. Marino took a plane to Venezuela and returned as a naturalized Venezuelan.
Both sets of parents came for the wedding and were installed in rooms at a mansion that had been given to the university by a wealthy townsman. Early in the morning on the wedding day, the two mothers joined forces in the kitchen to prepare the wedding feast. Rosa's mother brought nuts and spices for Iranian delicacies. Marino's mother cooked savory Italian dishes. They communicated amicably with smiles and gestures.
The wedding vows were spoken in three languages: French, which Rosa's mother and Marino's father understood; Italian for Marino's parents; and English for their friends. But there should be a Bahai ceremony in Farsi, the language of Rosa's parents. It should be performed over running water. In the marble foyer of the mansion was a fountain, unused for many years. Plumbers were summoned. New piping was installed. Rosa and Marino joined hands over the flowing water while Behrouz, in Farsi, again proclaimed them man and wife.
When Nerissa from Brazil and Bob from Ohio became engaged, there seemed to be no problems in their way. They would marry after they had completed their master's degrees.
At graduation time, Nerissa's father came from Brazil and approved his prospective son-in-law. The wedding was set for mid-July in Nerissa's home city of Porto Alegre, Brazil. Nerissa had been promised a professorship at the university there. Bob set about learning Portuguese. Surely with his degree in economics he would find a job.
Bob's parents could not go to Brazil for the wedding, but they bought him a new suit to be married in. They flew to New York with Bob's brother, Joe, to see Bob off. At Kennedy Airport they searched for the garment bag with the new suit in it. But Bob had left it in Joe's car at the Cleveland airport - and the plane for Brazil was leaving in a few hours. Joe looked at his watch and, without a word, dashed off.
Bob's plane was loading. As he started down the jetway, brother Joe came panting up and handed him the suit. "Nothing to it," he declared. "I got a plane to Cleveland right away, then caught one back to La Guardia, and took a helicopter over here."
But that was not the end of it. Bob had to change planes in Rio. Carmen, a fellow Brazilian student, met him. They chatted, forgetful of the time. Bob made his plane to Porto Alegre. But the suit! He'd left it at the Rio airport.
When Nerissa's father drove her to meet Bob's plane in Porto Alegre, a tire blew out two miles from the airport. Nerissa flagged down a passing motorist and got a ride. When she arrived, she jumped from the car and stumbled into a ditch of dirty water. She got to the terminal just in time.
"I have a confession to make," Bob told her after he took her in his arms. Then a loudspeaker blared his name. A message from Carmen in Rio: "Suit arriving on next plane."
Bob didn't understand all of the Portuguese in his wedding ceremony, but he correctly repeated the responses he had memorized. And he looked splendid in his new suit.